Tag Archives: instruction

What’s Your Perspective?

Thanks to my colleague, Jean-Marie Galing, for contributing these important insights!

Which of these images reveals the thinking of a second grade student about their neighborhood?

Pre-instructional drawing
Drawing in response to instruction.

Let’s not lose the meaning in wonderful narrative drawings by expecting students to use compositional techniques that they are not yet ready for.  Western art places value on depicting space in three dimensions, and we want students to understand how to use perspective.  But we need to consider what students can understand at different ages, and introduce perspective techniques in baby steps.

Pre-instructional drawing
Drawing in response to instruction

Early elementary students can organize objects along a ground line. By first grade we can add a horizon line and talk about near/far and big/little. Second graders can place near things at the bottom of the page and far things higher up, and attempt to show objects overlapping. Third graders can learn about and apply the use of foreground, middle ground, and background.  Upper elementary students may play with atmospheric perspective using light and darker colors, and by fifth or sixth grade they like to experiment with linear perspective.  At the secondary level, they start to pull it all together to support what they want to say.

So my perspective on “perspective” is to teach it a little at a time, and don’t let the execution of a technique suck the joy out of personal expression.

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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?

Equity and a Healthy School Culture

Pedro Noguero shares three qualities of a healthy school culture that supports equity. 


Each of these start with a verb to which I believe you should add ALL of these subjects: the administration… the faculty… the school culture… the team… the teacher…

1. …Does not blame underrepresented students for low performance.

Do not accept talk by yourself or your colleagues that blames the students or takes the position that “these students can’t.”

2. …Pushes faculty to see teaching and learning connected.

Absorb that, then look back to number one. Don’t make me spell it out. 

3. …Has a coherent, data-based strategy for achieving goals related to diversity.

If we don’t collect meaningful assessment data we can’t do this. If we don’t analyze the data, we can’t do this. If we don’t make a plan to respond to what the data is telling us, we can’t do this. 

P.S., dear art teacher, I am talking to you. I am always talking to you. 

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. 

Embrace the Shake

So you decide to make an artwork. What materials will you use? How big will it be? What is your chosen subject? What style will you employ?

You haven’t even started, but already you have put a number of restrictions on yourself. Why is this such a natural part of artmaking?

In one of my Big Idea posts, Why Teach with Big Ideas, I mentioned Embrace the Shake, a TED talk by Phil Hansen that addresses the idea of working within limitations. Not all artists have something happen to them  (like severe nerve damage) that forces a particular limitation on their artmaking, but whether they know it or not, artists apply limitations to their ways of working all the time.

As educators we should embrace the shake for one very big reason: Working within limitations is the nature of problem solving. I mean, come on… describe a math problem you have ever seen that doesn’t provide parameters?

Consider how you could develop a learning sequence to help students understand that/how artists create restrictions for their artmaking and eventually prepare students for designing their own restrictions.

Realistic vs. Authentic

My school division is all abuzz about Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Performance-Based Assessment (PBA). In comparison with the No-Child-Left-Behind-years obsession with standardized testing, it is refreshing to see more emphasis on these approaches, but I believe we have a scalability problem. The problem is with authenticity.

PBL by Jeff Lonnett, art teacher and PBL specialist
PBL by Jeff Lonnett, art teacher and PBL specialist

PBL and PBA are both at their best when the work that student’s do is authentic. In a learning context, “authentic” is defined as “real-life” or “real-world.”

Take, as an example, a school that is about to begin a renovation. Students at this school could be asked to redesign the school library and the architects and designers could use the student projects to really-actually decide how to renovate the space.

That’s real world! But how often can you do this? My school system has more than 185,000 students. If we were to insist that PBL and PBA be truly authentic, like the example above, we would mathematically reduce the frequency of these real-world experiences to… well, to the frequency with which they are already happening.  (Although we might solve all the worlds problems… with kids’ solutions.)

If we want PBL and PBA to happen more often in our schools, we can’t have every student solving truly authentic problems all the time! Fortunately, we at least have some words from Christopher Gareis to take the pressure off:

Things we have students do are not [always] truly authentic, but we can design learning activities and assessments to be realistic.

In other words, we can design authentic-like experiences for our students. We can create scenarios of potential real world challenges, and through this approach be able to expose students to engaging problem solving experiences.

Make it realistic, and when you can, make it authentic.