It was great to see a few of my fellow arts supervisors from around the state today. Meeting with these folks is a great opportunity for us to share the things going on in our districts and support each other’s work.
Q: How often do art teachers hear the words, “I can’t even draw a stick figure”?
A: Often enough that we have to muster a significant amount of self control not to smack the person who says it.
I was talking, recently, with some colleagues about anticipated changes in our department. We were getting a new director and were sharing some of our hopes for the new arrangement. The people in the conversation were all what you might call — in education — “non-core,” so it surprised me that the comment that really struck me came from a friend in Instructional Technology.
So what have we covered so far?
There’s this great concept called a big idea, but the words “big idea” can be interpreted in different ways. At least one of those ways lends itself so well to art instruction that one of the ten largest school systems in the country uses big ideas as a conceptual foundation for their art courses, from kindergarten through grade twelve. These themes are the basis for making meaning in art and are built into every artmaking challenge.
A baby grows up in a house with a dog. Quite early the child learns the word “dog” and can reliably use the word to refer to them when she sees, not only her own, but other neighborhood dogs as well. One day she goes to visit her aunt who doesn’t own a dog, but has a cat. When the child sees the cat, what does she say?
From A Story Told in Parts by Deirdre Forgione, art teacher
“Dog!” Why? Because she has an idea in her mind of what a dog is, perhaps something like “a dog is a furry animal that walks on four legs and has a tail.” This is the paradigm, the previous knowledge, she uses to name the new animal.
This is also the paradigm that allows the parents and aunt to teach a new word, “cat,” and with practice, the child will be able to distinguish a dog from a cat, goat, squirrel, and other animals. All of this learning happens through connections — links to something the child already understands.
Some concepts we teach are difficult to understand, abstract, or foreign. For students to learn them, we must make connections to something the students already understand.
Now that we’re clear on what I mean when I say “Big Idea” (See Big Idea 1 and Big Idea 2) let’s discuss how they are used for instruction. I won’t pretend that this is done consistently across my district, but there is a model promoted to the teachers through curriculum, resources, and professional development.