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Last Friday we had our Spotlight Sharing at the IU. It was the final day of a 4 year journey for some. I have been a part of Arts Educator for 3 years. Each year had its unique characteristics and challenges. What I loved especially about this year was the Affinity Grouping that brought each group together that first day back in the Fall. I still remember sharing my statement, not having a notion of where I would fit, and the whole group basically pointing out who else I belonged with. As we sat together and began to formulate our inquiry question for the year, I was struck by our similarities. I felt like I was coming home.

Now our final meeting, as each group presented it was so obvious to me how we ended up in the groups we did. Each group’s approach was so different from ours. Yet, it was it was clear that the individuals within the groups were connected to their inquiry question and bonded in their efforts.

For me in my group, it all came together on our final work day. When we started thinking of our spotlight. It was one of those times that I have found myself in a group when there was no disagreement. Everyone was on the same page. As I reflect on that I realize that each of our CIG meetings and other days together had that same kind of simpatico.

I have a way of looking at the world that seems to aggravate and frustrate some people at times. I am not capable of taking a negative view and sustaining it. If I looked at my students, administrators, parents, and fellow teachers the way many of my colleagues do, I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning. At the risk of sharing too much, I’m sure I was born with this temperament, but childhood tragedy and a lifelong approach to healing from it have also shaped my character. The world can be dangerous and downright deadly. If I allow myself to dwell in a place of negativity I know I will succumb to it and disappear. Finding hope and self-knowledge through the arts has been a sustaining factor for me and drives my teaching practice.

For many years I have felt alone among my colleagues. When I began Arts Educator 3 years ago, I immediately felt more connected. As we were placed in our groups I met some other teachers with whom I felt an affinity. Sometimes our group did  not agree (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but again I was reminded that not everyone shares my life view. Being a part of the Inquiring heARTS has shown me unequivocally that I am not alone. Our teaching style, lessons, age groups and subject matter my be different, but there are at least 4 other people on the planet that see the glass half full through rose colored glasses. There are others who treasure their own heart and those of every other human we come in contact with. There are those who look at each child who enters the classroom as something unique and beautiful, to be appreciated, treasured, and reminded of their exquisiteness.

I am struck by the differences from class to class, 9 weeks to 9 weeks, period to period, semester to semester. I wonder how much it is related to the time of year. It could be the mix of the group. It could be me.

The 2 sections of art 1 that I had first semester were so creative and self-motivated. Posing the big inquiry question to them “How can you influence the story of our school through your art?” felt risky, I guess because I had never done anything like it before, but the response was unequivocally powerful and prolific. Although there were some days of confusion as they sorted out whether to work in groups or alone and then began their planning, soon the classroom was a buzz of art making, problem solving, and collaboration.

Fast forward to second semester and a new group. A big one-30 students, same as first semester period 1, but now it is period 4, the last one of the day. The group was not cohesive, very cliquish, some students who just downright do not care to be there, and filled with early dismissals and other disruptions. All factors that played into the general ennui. Was I less enthusiastic? Possibly, but certainly not consciously. The end result? I did not pose a “big” inquiry question to them, like I did to the others. We did make lots of cool art, all my lessons, units, projects, are posed in the form of inquiry now, and even the “too cool for school kids” were somewhat won over in the end (they love the altered book project). I can’t help feeling like I failed somehow with this bunch by not giving them the same experience the others had.

On March 2 our CIG met at the Uniontown High School to help out with a program taking place.  The Invisible Children program came to present their video Kony 2012. IC has been presenting an assembly at the Uniontown District for the last 5 years. Their non-profit organization raises awareness for the plight of children in Uganda affected by the 20 year war. These children are constantly threatened with kidnap, torture, sexual slavery and being forced into fighting. Each year as the students see the new informational video and hear from the young Ugandans who share their stories in person, they respond with compassion and generosity. This compassion seems to manifest itself through art. This year the young people have planned a 5K run followed by an art and music festival.  Many times students respond n a very emotional way through their art making. These pieces are then part of the festival and may be experienced and purchased by the attendees. I have seen first hand how art making answers the deep seated question “Ok, I see this terrible need on the other side of the world, but what can I do about it.

I heard an interview on NPR’s Tell Me More,A Memoir Should Be More Than A History Lesson back on February 1, 2012, and one statement seemed to hit at the heart of inquiry.

“Lorene Cary, one of the reasons we’re so glad to talk with you is that you have penned one and you wrote one at a pretty young age. It was about your experience as a student at a New England boarding school, the first group of girls to attend this school and you and I share that experience, oddly enough. So I wanted to ask what made you want to write one?

I wanted to out that experience. You’re talking to me, by the way, just a few months after I’ve been appointed to the School Reform Commission here in Philadelphia and for me, going from public school to a boarding school in New England was an experience of going from an education where, basically, many of my teachers as I was growing up looked at us and tried to figure out what was wrong with us in order to try to fix us and get us better to an experience where all of these people looked at us as if to try very hard to figure out what was special and exquisite about us.”

As I have pondered and inquired on our group’s theme (How can we help students discover who they are and their connection to the world through the arts?). I feel more and more that the arts are invaluable to connect with a child’s heart. As I listened to this interview in  the car I immediately thought of our CIG.

I feel an evolution of our thinking taking place. I think many of us become teachers because we want to “help”. We want to make children’s lives better. There is nothing wrong with that. But, in the beginning, I did look at my students as “broken”. I see now how condescending this is. As I have grown as a teacher through Arts Educator, I naturally began to see how special the students are. Our inquiring hearts theme is a way of trying very hard to identify what is special and exquisite about each child and then reflecting it back to them.

I wanted to share with my fellow AE these 2 videos made by a group of students in Art 1. These are the responses of this particular group to the inquiry question; How can we re-tell the story of our school?

I would appreciate your feedback, especially any help with editing out the sound noise on the final rap video.

 

Preview of Sunshine video:

http://vimeo.com/33917005

 

THE Sunshine Video:

http://vimeo.com/33917437

 

 

 

Please check out my classroom blog, it contains photos and a short video.

http://uhsvisualarts.blogspot.com

On November 17, 2011 the Art 1 students of UHS held an exhibition of their current works. Teachers, parents and administrators were invited and light refreshments served.

I was delighted with the enthusiasm of these art students as they selected and displayed their work. This was an excellent formative assessment for me as we are 1/2 way through the course. I can see much more clearly how far we have come and in what direction I am interested in us going. What a great experience. Feeling grateful for the position I am currently placed.

Adolescent Themes and Contemporary Art Practice  Hafeli, Mary      Art Education; Mar 2008; 61, 2; ProQuest Education Journals
pg. 59

additionally:
Shifting the Curriculum: Decentralization in the Art Education Experience   May, Heidi
ART EDUCATION May 2011; 64, 3  pg.33

As I reflect on my classroom experiences since my first post, I am struck by the shift that has taken place. The statement that Heidi May makes in her article on page 39 might have been made by any observer in my classroom this week.

“There is potential for the art teacher to become a facilitator of critical inquiry among active participants, encouraging multiple viewpoints, within a curricular model that invites self-reflective practices.”

Since my last post was an actual practice about to take place in my classroom, it only seems righ to follow up with what has transpired since. A timeline might be the most expedient method to describe what has taken place.

October 20-23 I attended the Keynote address: “Dedicated to an Unfinished Artmaking Practice” by Sidney Walker at the PAEA in Gettysburg. In this presentation I saw student artists re-telling the story of the newly renovated Library on their campus. This gave me an idea for my Art 1 classes. It seemed most timely, since our school is under going renovations right now.

Week of October 24-28

  • Watched with students the “Identity” episode on Art 21 (PBS)
  • Facilitated brainstorming session on the “story of our school”
    • What stories we tell
    • What stories others tell
    • What is the “official story?
    • What story would you re-tell? would your imaginary/mythical self image be a part of it?
  • Full choice of media, collaborative partners, installation spaces (with administrative permission), etc…
  • Each group/individual shared their ideas with the whole group-other students asked questions and offered suggestions and ideas began taking more shape. Many students were encouraged by Kerry James Marshall (from Art 21) and his description of an artwork going through its ugly phase before it became the final product.
  • Studio Bulletin board Collaboration-this idea came from another keynote at PAEA “Classrooms Dedicated to Conveying Pedagogy” by James Rees where he showed us the classrooms of many highly effective art teachers.

Week of 1October 31-11/4 Media exploration

  • Facilitated an exploration of creative videos, PowerPoints, slideshows, stop motion, etc from the internet, including Boyerstown”s Art is My Life Advocacy video (also seen at the PAEA)
  • Use of technologies such as projectors’, cameras and various editing software made available thanks to ArtsEducator 2.0
  • Plaster craft for sculpting
  • Some projects beginning to take shape
  • Also, some students felt inspired by the plaster craft and began making sculptures of their choosing not related to the “re-telling” project.

Week of  November 7-11

  • Midterm essay (in PSSA format) each student given a passage about one of the 4 Art 21 artists with the following prompt: Read the passage provided. Explain ways in which an artist may attempt to re-tell the story of a place, an idea, an everyday object or interaction. Use at least two examples from the passage to support your explanation. overall, I was pleased with the paragraphs, they demonstrated an understanding of the concept.
  • I, as studio facilitator brought in an artwork I had done which was similar to the last work that they had created (A likeness of themselves as an imaginary mythical creature-see previous post). I then told the mythology behind my artwork (in a bit of a dramatic fashion). Art students then created a Spark page, which was the story of their mythological self. I explained their mythological self and its story needed to be in a form ready for exhibition by November 14, as artists always have deadlines and usually they are related to an exhibition.
  • Began creating invitations to the “The Untold Story of Us” Art 1 Art exhibit which will take place in our art space during parent/teacher conferences (November 14). At this exhibit all the re-telling projects will be presented in whatever state of readiness they may be. As well as other works that student artists have created during the 1st 9 weeks.

This week coming up we will be busy preparing for the show, which will include refreshments and musical entertainment. I hope a few parents come. We get notoriously few who attend at our school.

I have a sense of awe about the re-telling stories in general. I purposely did not steer them to take a positive spin on our situation at our school, which can be quite negative. But, all their projects do have a positive leaning. To say to a kid, “If you could have people start to think of your school in a new way, what would it be? If you could re-tell the story of this place in some small way, how would you?” and they take it seriously. I don’t think they even doubted that it would be possible. I am very inspired by them!

As I reflect on what has been happening I am struck by the way the art space has become exciting and  collaborative. The periods go by quickly with students questioning, trying, failing, trying again. Asking me questions, and I encouraging or asking questions right back. Any “downtime” also seems to be productive as it involves conversations with their groups, or sketching, or working on a side project completely student directed.

I so related to Hafeli’s statement  on page 11 of her article, that we need to “direct our gaze more locally to focus on our own art worlds going on in our art classrooms.” Sometimes I doubt myself, that maybe I am giving the student artist too much credit. After all, some of them are only 14 and this is the first high school art class they have ever had. Yet, they truly are sophisticated beyond what I was at 14, surely due to this visual culture all around us. Where every other TV commercial is a work of art. And Youtube videos are watched for hours and admired for their message, absurdity, or technical skill. Yet, I am  I feeling a sense of comfort in this role. After all, I have been teaching for 12 years under the philosophy borrowed from Picasso, that all children are artists, and my job is to help them not forget this when they grow up.

The natural arc of the high school semester long art class currently puts my Art 1 students ready for a new direction. This group is made up of 2 large (20-30) classes. They are 9-12 graders with varying abilities, maturity, and attitudes. In the last 4 weeks they have been indoctrinated in Betty Edwards and the very technical, albeit expressive aspects of representing an experience with the natural world in a “realistic manner” using pencil and paper. They have grown in confidence as they have learned how artists see, as well as their way around the studio and materials. They have also gravitated into cliquish groups and many would now much prefer to visit with one another rather than “pose, develop and explore”.

What can I do to motivate my students to begin to approach their art experience with wonderings?

I began to develop such an exploration today, but once I read over Reading # 1, I immediately went back and began re-framing. For example, I originally wrote, Drawing Yourself as a Mythical Imaginary Creature, and re-framed it to, How can I draw a likeness of myself, that others will recognize as me, as a mythical, imaginary creature? We have already done drawings of ourselves in 3 different ways; I am hoping that they will naturally gravitate to one of those techniques to capture their likeness; they may even take a previous drawing and build from it. This is not as open ended as I would want, but I hope the next phase will be.

The next question I will pose is, How can I give my figure a sense of place/environment? I intend to apply 2 parameters.

  1. You may choose to work in collaboration with another artist or not, but each of your imaginary creatures must be included.
  2. Be a cooperative, productive member of your shared studio space. Return all materials to their proper areas/ bins/ drawers/ shelves and clean up all messes.

I plan to list the following available media:

  • Fabric/notions
  • Found objects
  • Various paints
  •  Various drawing materials
  •  Cardboard boxes
  •  Plaster craft
  •  Ipad, netbook, camera, zoom
  •  Printer/projector

I plan to prepare a presentation of various artists and styles. Expressly not within the theme of this exploration, but to suggest the myriad of ways this problem could be approached creatively. The next step would be to brainstorm. I hope to hear things like:

  • Photograph a 2 or 3D representation of my imaginary creature in a staged place using a camera/stop motion/video
  • Collage (hand done or photoshop/gimp)
  • 3D shadow box-found objects
  • Mural-large paper format-use ladybug
  • Installation-my piece could take up a corner of a room-include sound/video

It will be exciting to witness this as it unfurls in the classroom and share it on the blog. I welcome any feedback from my fellow AE in suggestions to make this exploration richer. I don’t feel that this plan supports my students in posing, developing and exploring their own questions. Yet, considering this group, I don’t think the majority is quite ready for such a leap. I hope that this exploration will open an avenue that makes the next exploration even more open ended.

August 2017
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