Tag Archives: education

What are you working on?

I ask this question frequently when I visit an art room, “What are you working on?” I even ask when I already know the answer.

Recently I went into two art rooms at the same school. The classes happened to be the same grade level and I was excited to see the two art teachers were collaborating. In this case, that meant I saw the same lesson happening in both classrooms.

I asked my question in both classes. I one room I got answers like these:

  • Just drawing
  • Just doing a contest (it was not a contest)
  • We are doing this (points to paper)
  • We are doing… (reads title of paper)
  • (shrugs)

In the other classroom the response to my question was an enthusiastic explanation of the project, and each person at the table wanted a turn to describe their ideas to me. 

Now, this was not a thorough study. I asked just a few students in each room, but the difference was astonishing! In the latter example, students were clearly more engaged and using higher order thinking skills. In the first, students barely knew what they were doing, let alone what they were learning. 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?!

What can you do, as a teacher, to make it more likely your students will respond to, “what are you working on?” with enthusiasm, awareness, and evidence of thinking and learning?

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What is your goal?

Several very busy days have passed since, but I don’t want to lose the opportunity to acknowledge and reflect upon the fall art teacher in-service.

There is nothing more exhilarating than a back-to-school kickoff event with over 300 art teachers in one place! Now, before you conclude that I must have a very boring life, let me clarify. I don’t mean exhilarating like when you ride a roller coaster or something like that — but having this many like-minded professional educators in one place just before the start of the school year does create an atmosphere where the excitement and anticipation are palpable. And this year, everyone was feeling a little extra enthusiasm because we arranged to meet at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

We were able to take care of business in a general session, had an excellent presentation from our hosts (Thank you, Briana and Elizabeth!), provided opportunities for collaborative teams to meet, and had some much valued time in the galleries.

The day before the in-service, I asked a question of one of my colleagues who was preparing for her own teacher meeting.

What is your goal?

I think I asked this question for myself as much as any reason. Our in-services are only a short half-day and our big opportunity to influence the direction for the whole coming school year within our discipline. Many times in the past I have felt overwhelmed with the number of topics that I felt too important not to address during the meeting, but the reality is most teachers will come away with just one or two ideas they will really carry into their classroom.

With this realization, I have tried to focus these professional development days, and design them with one goal. By happy coincendence, the presentation from the museum staff reflected this line of thinking for teachers. The session was organized first by asking the teachers to consider what type of people they want their students to be in the future, then connecting to those ideas through the discussion activities, and encouraging the teachers to consider their goals for their students as they interacted with the exhibitions.

So, what was my goal?

I kept it simple this year. My goal was for teachers to feel inspired and excited for the new year. Spending time with the art teachers certainly motivated me, and I hope they found some inspiration in the activities and artworks they encountered at the museums!

Art and Our New Superintendent

A Leadership Conference marks the beginning of each new school year for the school and central office administrators in our school system. This year’s conference was our first real opportunity to hear from our new superintendent, Dr. Scott Brabrand

https://www.fcps.edu/news/fairfax-county-school-board-confirms-scott-brabrand-fcps-superintendent
One of the prominent ideas he spoke about was mindset, which he illustrated with a personal art example. Dr. Brabrand shared his efforts to challenge his own mindset regarding his drawing ability. Any artist or art teacher has probably had to listen politely to hundreds of people explaining that they can’t draw. (Read a related post HERE.) Dr. Brabrand recognized his own mindset on his ability and set out to challenge it. 

First, he spent 15 minutes drawing a cat, with unimpressive results. Then he asked an art teacher to help him for one hour, and drew another cat. This time, the results were quite impressive. With only an hour of instruction, he was able to grow from a child-like line drawing, to a well-defined, natural form of a cat including value, shading, and texture. Well done, sir!

So what’s the point?! 

As educators we must consider our own mindset around teaching and learning. That means we must, first, recognize our mindset, and second, be willing to challenge and change that mindset. We cannot expect to be successful, as educators, if we don’t believe in the human ability to learn. And we won’t meet our mandate to reach every child if we have anything less than this growth mindset for each and everyone of our students. 

If you’re interested in reading more about mindset, check out these posts:

Thankful for What We Have

I don’t usually talk directly about where I work, but today I am feeling particularly proud to be part of the Fairfax County Public Schools art program. I have been communicating with an art teacher who left our school system a while back to live in another part of the country. She is excited to finally have a Fine Arts Supervisor in her division and has been talking with this supervisor about some of the wonderful things we have been doing here in FCPS.

She wrote:

Our new fine arts coordinator shared several goals she has for the future of our program. They all aligned with what FCPS is doing or has done. She was thrilled to hear more about my FCPS Fine Arts experience.

This supervisor is especially interested in supporting new teachers, and would like to emulate some of the resources we provide to our new teachers and the way we share resources to all art teachers through our blackboard organization. Nothing of that kind currently exists in that school system.

Another common interest was found in an art teacher exhibition. Many of you have read about our annual Artist Teacher Exhibitions through this blog.

Another big change for this year is a Art Teacher Exhibition, which she was unsure if/how it would work but wanted to give it a shot. I told her I know that it would work because I have seen it and showed her an article and youtube video of your last FCPS Exhibit that solidified her vision.

While it’s wonderful to think of all of these supports and programs being emulated, it was especially good to hear her views on our curriculum.

She also noted that all FCPS curriculum and lessons I use and have shared with her are very rigorous and I shared that it is easy to teach with rigor and many moving parts when you aren’t creating every single piece on your own. The resources, training and support make all the difference.

She repeatedly told me that she couldn’t wait to meet “these amazing people” and is curious to learn how they built this program and all of these resources… I am inspired by her hopes and vision for our program.

Wow.

Working within a system like FCPS can make you hyper-aware of its challenges and shortcomings, but notes like the ones from this teacher are a great reminder of how good we have it. Despite any criticism we may have or hear, FCPS is still providing a world-class art education for its students, and other school systems are trying to get to where we are. I’m proud to be a part of it!

What is your purpose here?

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. 

Stitchery

I admit to being on the fence about some media techniques we teach in elementary art. Take stitchery for example.

Stitching Techniques by Virginia Wright, art teacher

Is stitchery a medium and art form artists might choose to express their ideas in an artwork? Absolutely! Is stitchery a useful skill? Sure. Is it a skill all children should learn while in school? In this century, maybe knot (oops, a little mispelling there).  Is stitchery a fundamental art skill that must be included in a quality art program? I’m gonna go with no.

I guess this is one of those art vs. craft arguments. I put stitchery in a class with weaving, leatherwork, sewing, basket weaving, carpentry, and pottery (I’m sure there are others). Functional objects are at the core of each of these crafts, yet in every case the skills and materials of the craft can be applied to create meaningful works of art. Where to draw the line is the subject of a long-argued aesthetic debate.

What do you think? I’d like to know.

The amazing, blanket-sized stitchery techniques display shown above was created by one of our passionate stitchery experts in the elementary art program. Thanks, Virginia, for sharing your work with everyone!

Ten Things Better Than a Color Wheel

Let me get right to the punch line. Don’t waste perfectly good instruction time having your students make a color wheel!

https://www.guirys.com/the-color-wheel-company-the-big-wheel-classroom-color-wheel

There’s a reason there’s an uninspiring, frumpy old lady shown in this photo. Color wheels are boring! If you need to hang one in your class for reference, FINE! But there is far too much to learn to ask your students to make one. 

I may be a bit biased from one of my own teaching experiences. I once had a colleague who’s Art 1 students spent nearly the full first quarter painting a perfect color wheel. The result? By Halloween they hated art and wished they never signed up!

Here are 10 ideas better than a color wheel:

  1. Practice gesture drawing with primary paint colors.
  2. Collaboratively sort, arrange, and rearrange hundreds of different color objects or 1 inch squares from color print (magazine) pages by color groupings or relationships. 
  3. Set up a competitive painting challenge in which students complete as many tasks as possible in a given class session. Each task combines color theory and painting skills. For example: create a gradient wash with a vibrant hue. Create a natural texture using dry brush technique and a neutral color. Create a gradient blend of complimentary colors. Etc. 
  4. Play with layering color gels and filters. 
  5. Make artwork by layering colored tissue paper with a wash of glue (creating a transparent effect).
  6. Challenge your students to fill a hundred or more squares on a painting surface, each with a variation of the same hue. (Use this as the ground on which a meaningful artwork is created.)
  7. Collaboratively reproduce a “pixelated” image of a famous artwork or school mascot using food coloring and water in plastic cups arranged in a grid. (Photograph from above.)
  8. Provide precut papers with all of the necessary colors and have table groups race to arrange them into a color wheel as a warm up. 
  9. Have students use color relationships to arrange themselves in different ways according to the clothes they are wearing. 
  10. Have students photograph objects with their phones and arrange the images by color. 

And if none of these suit you fancy, just have them paint! They will learn more about mixing and using color in an authentic context than they will by making a color wheel. 

Got other ideas? I’d love to hear them!