I hope when you read, “What is your purpose here?” You can fully envision the scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest. If not I think the image, below, is linked to a gif. (Hit me with a comment if you know the response to the question from the movie.)
I suppose it’s fair if you are wondering what this has to do with art education…
I met with art collaborative team leads recently and posed a question about the purpose of art CTs. Some quick answers included “to collaborate,” “to share ideas,” and “to share best practices.” Yes, these are reasons we get together, but why do we do these things? Why do we collaborate? Why do we share ideas?
TO IMPROVE STUDENT LEARNING!
I am surrounded by this language all the time in the instructional services department. If a similar question were asked of a group of my central office colleagues we would probably all respond in unison.
This interaction with my art instructional leaders helped me realize that this is a message that I should work harder to promote. It’s a mindset that can impact how we interact with our work. Everything we do should be with the goal of improving student learning.
I’m sharing some recurring judges comments from Regional Scholastic Art Awards adjudication. If you missed the last post and want a brief description of the judging process, you can read it here.
This one is about little distractions. It’s not uncommon to hear a judge comment with something like:
This is a really strong work, but [that one little thing] really bothers me.
The variable is that one little thing. I wish I could tell you what all the one-little-things are so you could make sure to avoid them — or make sure your students avoid them, but the number of possibilities is too great. Here are just a few examples to give you an idea:
One poorly drawn hand/foot/etc.
A distracting blotch of color that is, perhaps, unharmonious
An artist signature that is too prominent
In a portfolio, one artwork (of eight) that is not as strong or doesn’t belong and throws the whole portfolio into question
It may be impossible to know what all of the one-little-things are that bother judges, but knowing that one little thing can distract them from seeing the rest as fully successful is a good step in the right direction.
I met with a friend and colleague for lunch today to chat about his new role as a fine arts supervisor in a nearby school district. I didn’t go in with a specific list of advice to give, but after some reflection, here are a few things I hope he will take away.
This is a little seed that gets in my teeth every once in a while… “Which lesson is this from?” It just makes me crazy! (And not because it ends with a preposition.)
Spooky Hut by Julie Brodzik, art teacher
It’s not always the same words. I hear it in all different forms…
Which lesson teaches this standard?
We can’t change this because everyone teaches lesson X.
What’s the 4th grade printmaking lesson?
We shouldn’t do a lesson about this in 3rd grade because it’s too similar to that 2nd grade lesson.
None of these are inherently wrong, especially in the context of a small group of teachers that works together to plan instruction (a collaborative learning team). What bothers me is the assumption that common lessons are used in all of our schools, and that these lessons mustn’t be messed with. (See! I ended with a preposition again. It’s just the way I am. Sorry.)
I’ve got at least three problems with this way of thinking:
It’s false. We are not all teaching the same lessons. I promise. There are model lessons that are available to all teachers, but there is no expectation that all teachers use them. In fact, if I have an expectation, it is that NEW teachers to our district use some of these for a short time to become familiar with our curriculum, and gradually begin to modify and create their own lessons that meet the learning goals. If this were the case, a teacher with more years of experience would be using more of their own lessons and fewer and fewer of the provided model lessons. But the inverse is often true. Most who talk like art teachers are teaching the same lessons are… Hmm… How do I put his lightly? Well, many of them are older than me. It’s not about age, mind you. — it’s about the way things were done 20 years ago. Common art lessons were incredibly important and necessary at that time, but things have changed.
Those who do teach the same lessons, in name, are sure to teach them differently. I believe this is a good thing. Art isn’t all the same. There is not one right answer to the assignment. Why should there be one way to teach a lesson. We cannot give the title of a lesson and assume everyone is on the same page, but that is often the assumption by those who ask, “what lesson is this from?”
To make decisions based on existing, or even widely-used lessons is a sure way to prevent innovation. This is the one that really gets to me. Comments like, “We can’t change this because everyone teaches lesson X,” are the equivalent of saying, “nobody wants to change what they have been doing for 20 years, so let’s just leave it alone.” Well, what if we can do better?!
The ideal for art education within a particular district has two simple parts:
All art teachers have a common understanding of the learning outcomes expected at each level.
Each art teacher uses their creative problem solving skills, independently and with their collaborative learning team, to develop unique, innovative lessons to meet these learning outcomes.
It’s that simple — and if that was the reality, no one would be asking, “which lesson is this from?”
If art educators intend to teach students how to create, we must teach them — not just how to use media — but also the various approaches to engaging in the creative process. So what are these approaches? I believe there are only two.
I interview a lot of art teacher candidates this time of year, and I always ask them about assessment. I ask them to explain how they know whether or not students have learned what they set out to teach, and I also ask how this translates into grading in their classroom.
There are inventive and helpful people out in the world, and this is especially true in our schools. An art teacher friend of mine shared this problem-solving story that displays the power of STEAM.Continue reading STEAM Hack→