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One of the highlights of this school year has been the funding of my Donors Choose project. The previous year’s request for four digital cameras didn’t even come close to being fulfilled. This year, when I applied for two digital cameras, our goal was reached. Add the digital camera acquired through Arts Educator 2.0 last year to the generous donations from Donors Choose this year, and my classes now have the technology to learn the basics of digital photography. Since I was faced with writing a new lesson plan from scratch for this content, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to use inquiry learning strategies.
And, the result has been successful. Students worked in pre-determined small groups with the goals of producing well-composed images. The unit was broken down into “staged” photos and “candid” photos. For their staged photos, students focused on the elements they could control, like: lighting, staging, orientation, and angle. A box of crayons became their subject matter, and – oh, the ideas they came up with! Each student was charged with taking 5 staged photos (of a single composition or of 5 different compositions – many chose the latter). Of those 5 photos, they selected the best using the grading rubric as a guide. I set the due date for the following day so that they had some time to “forget” what their photos looked like and had a “fresh set of eyes” with which to see their artwork.


They did the same thing with candid photos. Only this time, student photographers were unable to control certain elements, like: lighting and movement. Each student took 5 candid photos of a model (or models) in dynamic compositions. Having completed the staged photos first, the students were setting up their shots to catch the action in the frame. One student (who was particularly critical of the way I taught 7th grade) said to me: “I really like this photography stuff.” I’m glad. I liked the way it turned out, too. The students came up with really interesting shots! Another student said: “I can see myself doing this as a career – taking photos – maybe, even being in front of the camera.”

So, how did I use inquiry? To me, the entire struggle of inquiry is how to allow students as much freedom as possible while still setting a precedent for their success (an end result). What kinds of things could I predict from an unknown outcome? How can I word the objectives and assessment criteria to promote this freedom? I think this is something I can really wrap my head around. It’s like a “what if” game. I try to think about the most unusual idea a student might develop at one end of the spectrum, but also what a student without much interest / motivation would come up with. I write the objective to be as general as possible to accommodate all learning abilities and creativity levels while maintaining a challenging goal for students to attain. Each grading rubric is tied directly to the objectives of the unit. I read over the rubric at the beginning of each lesson so students know what is expected of them, and I urge them to use their own style. I try to impress upon students that I want them to be free to create within the boundaries of the lesson.
This unit seems to be more successful in comparison to my other Arts Educator 2.0 lessons because I pushed myself outside my comfort zone – allowing for more unstructured learning.
At this stage of the game (my third year of teaching at the middle school level), I think I’ve settled on writing inquiry lessons that are built this way. They need to have structure. They need to have a jumping off point and a conclusion – at least to suit my personal teaching style. But, in-between, they can have so many possibilities for learning.
I may have found the balance between teacher-directed and inquiry-based learning for my classroom.

During our last IU day together we decided in how we were going to share our information in our spot light. It was decided that our sharing should be “interactive” to some extent. I was very excited about the idea of it being interactive. I find this Benjamin Franklin quote to be very appropriate to our research this year. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me I learn.” Although, a topic that was brought up during the meeting was a concern that it would be too much and time consuming for the time that we were allocated for the spotlight. While I didn’t feel that this was a major topic at the time, it did give me something to think about. I realized that many times in my classroom I try to cram as much into a 35 minute period as possible and it made me wonder how often we (educators) cause an “overload” due to our time constraints. I then realized that I have noticed this affecting my students in the way that they were not retaining the information that was being presented. I also concluded that so much of the information that I give them is either verbal or written on the board. While some students do remember this most don’t. I then found if I could make my lesson as interactive as possible they did demonstrate better retention. But now the question is where do you draw the line? When is it too much? I believe this to be something that I will continue to search for balance in.

During the project this year I have been focusing on just the older classes (4th and 5th grade) for the most part. To further work on the project I began using the same techniques with some of the younger grades. It was actually my first grade class that surprised me. The class seemed handle the simple patters with the boomwhackers well and picked up each set quickly. I did notice however that they became less successful as the patterns became longer. I was then curious as to if they they would take the knowledge and transfer it to the other instruments. I then took an orff instrument and told the students that they only needed to use the bottom three keys. (In this case they were Do, La and So) One of the students who volunteered to go first was actually able to play the correct pattern in only two tries. I then asked for others. None of them was able to accomplish the task as quickly, but most of them were able to play the pattern. When a student had trouble with the pattern I would then play it on another instrument, ask the student to sing it back to me, just as we had before. After that I would then ask them to sing the pattern as they played. If the pitch matched I would let them continue on, if it didn’t match, would ask them to try another note.

I then began to feel that if the first graders could do this then I should be able to have my older kids use the same process. However, when I actually tried I found a different result. The older kids “want” to be told exactly what to do. It was almost if they were afraid to make a mistake, even though I have always tried to keep my classroom an open and judgment free environment. I then realized that they actually were afraid to make a mistake and felt that if I told them exactly what to do they would not “fail.” It made me realize that if I did not start encouraging the students to use their ear, apply what they know about pitch and how it is related to instrument size and to not be afraid to “make a mistake” at a young age they would have some difficulty with the process as they grow older.

Today I asked a student if I could record them explaining how to do stop motion photography.  I told the student that it would be for teachers who have not done stop motion before.  This student reassured me that he had learned the important steps to creating a video.  Originally, I thought I would be in control and tell him what to say- but sure enough we only did one take and I felt what he said was perfect.  I couldn’t have done it better myself, he kept it basic and right to the point.  He did it in a manner that the participants in our spotlight next week will understand what to do.

I feel my students in 4th grade had the most success with stop motion photography this year.  They had the basics taught to them last year when I used a more teacher-directly instructed approach.  This year, I encouraged student collaboration and inquiry.  The students were very successful, however I don’t feel they would have had as much success if they didn’t have the teacher-direct instruction as the ground work.

If the students only had the teacher-direct instruction I don’t feel they owned their work, nor did they enjoy it as much.  On the other hand, if the students went straight into an inquiry approach I feel they may have missed some of the basic steps of how everything is to operate correctly.

Today we finalized the set up for our CIG spotlight through a lot of collaboration. We discussed logistics and Angie did some sketches of our set up and individual tables. We decided to make our area full of interaction using techniques from our own classrooms inquiry projects. Our mascot has become the Cat in the Hat Balancing with an umbrella, which  Dave is creating. The cat in the hat  reflects our inquiry question in which we are finding the balance between student based inquiry and direct instruction. I am bringing in clips for hanging out props from the ceiling, and Amanda has recorded our voices and taken our pictures so that  she can make an animation intro video. As a group we are bringing in artifacts as well as materials for our interactive collaborative projects. We feel prepared and are planning a short Skype meeting to make sure all our ducks are in a row. All and all a very productive day! 


Today we are making sure we are all caught up on blog posts.  I personally will need to do one more post – Group Inquiry 3.  we are the balancing act,  we have different ways of doing things.  Within that we all encompass an umbrella, under that umbrella are our personal things that we juggle.  I used inquiry in …. way and this is what my students did.

We are working on our Material List for our set up of our Spotlight on Day 4.

We are each bringing in objects to show/represent inquiry done with our students.  My possible objects are as follows:

1. Story boards that the students used to plan their portion of the class animation.

2. Example on computer of student animation example using an inquiry approach.

3. Ipad with pictures of student working. On this ipad, I may also need to show the animation so that I can use my computer for the interactive piece.

4. For audience interaction- Clay and possibly a station set up for people to do stop motion.  I would need my lap top, a video camera, all cords and the clay.  I would need to make a sign explaining how to do it.  ” please contribute to this collaborative inquiry animated project.”  Have student create a video on ipod explaining how to do it.  Need lots of tripods!  Need a large piece of paper to put under clay so that we don’t get the table dirty.  Bring blank cd’s to burn a finished collaborative inquiry piece.

5.  Our personal Umbrella- words which encompass what we are as a teacher- words such as role model, therapist, etc..  Rain drop photos

After teaching my students about Picasso and self portraits, I wanted to transition from realism to cubist style. Collage seemed to be a good choice for both a newer medium as well as a great student inquiry based project to explore. I began by showing a PowerPoint of artists working in the collage technique and asked my students questions like “What shapes, colors, lines… do you see repeated? Why is repeating these elements important? What is unity?. The students, especially the older classes,were able to answer the questions after I mirrored the correct responses for the first slides. The next step was allowing students to create an idea through looking through magazines and sketching. They were each given an envelope to keep all their materials; the requirements are a theme and repeated elements of art. The next two classed were devoted for students creating their collages and maintaining a theme to keep them on track. I was pleasantly surprised with many of the results …




Several of my students shared with me that they created their own collage over Easter break, which really informed me that they enjoyed the lesson, and they were confident enough to uses the acquired skills independently. I am very pleased with the outcome of this lesson.

In the past my 5th grade ceramic lesson an pottery would be sequenced as follows: Acoma pottery video, next week use the coiling technique to make a bowl, glaze the pottery during the next two classes. Since the lesson takes a long time, I would hurry them and give them one week to make the pottery. This year I wanted to give them more time to create. I purposely referred to the video and did not do a demo. The students took their clay and got started. Many questions ensued. How do you roll the coil? How do you keep it from caving in? Can it get bigger? Can I be done? I refused to make a pot for any student, as the class drew to a close some of the students realized that their pottery was caving. To their amazement I said that it was fine and that they could start over next week. Some of the pots keep growing and were shaped very nicely. As the pots dried, the larger heavier ones cracked so they have to start again. They were very excited to come in at recess to make a new pot. Time for this lesson is so valuable. They let me know that they all needed different time to gain the skill need to do this pottery.
When I look back at the construction process, the students really gained a great perspective by watching Lucy Lewis in the video. Their comments and attentiveness to the video impressed me. Next week they will glaze their de

Group Inquiry #2
Reflecting back on this project I think most of my students really began to understand the techniques, composition, and thought processes artists use when they produce an original work of art. I think had a high success rate for this project. The students learned about the history of the work, techniques used, and its creator without the usual drudgery. I think reproducing Art from the masters helped my students to acquire an appreciation and understanding of both aesthetics and technique. By reproducing a painting the students gained insight into an artist’s process, which in some cases helped the student achieve new level of competency with their own composition and technique.

After completing this project I think many of the students began to look more closely at works of art and realized said works can be a factor for the personal growth of a student/artist. I also strongly encouraged students if given the opportunity to see these works in person for not only inspiration but the offerings of texture often unseen from a 2-D photo from a book or a screen. Some of the students realized that study of masters is important part of becoming an artist, as they studied their chosen painting; they saw their learning curve increase tremendously. I stressed the goal is not only to learn a particular artist’s style, composition, or techniques, but also how that artist thought.

At the conclusion of the project the students participated in a critique of each others work. The students were asked to notice and describe the features of the painting; some informal inquiry was discussed on how the piece was composed and some thoughts on its content and meaning. The goal was is not only to learn a particular artist’s techniques, but to inquire about the thought process in creation.
The administration was pleased that my class incorporated thought and writing, which they see as an important addition to the overall curriculum.

Some of the Inquiry questions the students came up with …..
How did the artist approach the work? What techniques and materials were used?
What media was used in production? How is the media different than what is available to artists today?
What feelings are expressed in this painting? What techniques did the artist use to convey those emotions?
I’ll close with some interesting quotations on this subject

(Great works of art) “Are not the product of single and solitary births; they are the product of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice”
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
“Alot cats copy the Mona Lisa, but people still line up to see the original.”
Louis Armstrong
“Only God creates. The rest of us just copy.”
– Michelangelo

Following the success of our foray into installation art this year, I continued the project with the second 9 weeks students. The students saw the same artist examples and were introduced to installation art concepts via the same power point presentation. But, these groups had already seen what the first 9 weeks groups did. This time, I wanted to really focus on the “interactive” nature of installation art. I stressed this by continually asking student groups how their viewers would potentially interact with the space / piece. I viewed my role as “facilitator.” I tried to guide students towards an answer without giving it to them. At times I provided suggestions. But, mostly, they were self-reliant. This is what I really wanted to study this year. How much freedom do I give them to learn and create in an inquiry environment while getting to a solid conclusion (meeting standards, objectives, and / or goals)?

Now that I’ve taught this lesson multiple times multiple ways, I can say that there is a comfortable (and, of course, I refer to just what’s comfortable to me) balance. I want students to have as much freedom within the lesson as possible to be creative, but it has to provide some critical initial content, structure, and / or restrictions. There also may need to be a point at which the facilitator steps in and kind of “pulls it back together.” The students may need to be reminded of the time constraints, limitation of materials, or (in this example) group management. Are all members of the group participating fully? Has anyone finished their task and are they free to help in other areas? Is the group leader role being fulfilled? When dealing with individual inquiry, it may look like this: “Is the student on task?” “Do they need direction / motivation?” or “Are they reaching the goals?”

2nd period stood out among the rest of the installation art groups because of their approach. They chose to mimic Yayoi Kusama’s style, but put their own twist on it. This group worked well as a team. They covered the walls and floor of a small nook in a high traffic area with white paper. Then, they traced and cut out hundreds of circles in varying sizes and colors. One person was delegated to paint “m” or “s” on the circles. One person painted faces on them. One person created a vote tallying poster for students to interact with. Others covered the walls and floor with the paper cut-out skittles and m&ms. The installation begged to be interacted with. In fact, this group invited that interaction. Everyone who walked through that hallway noticed. Most students voted (Skittles won if you were wondering). And, it lasted the longest out of all the installations due to its location – and maybe its popularity.




Other group ideas included: a space-y mural with hanging stars, a sea curtain – – installed in the same hallway as the “why is the hallway blue?” installation, and a stained glass piece I was also rather fond of.



Some of the key factors for success in this lesson were due to the way it was structured. Students experienced an introduction. Then, they planned their installation by way of a loosely guided worksheet (ex. where will you place your installation, what materials will you need, etc.). And, finally, they learned through inquiry. They were making choices as they went: “Will this work? No? Then we have to find another way to make it work. Do we have this available? Yes? Good. Let’s use that.” They were dependent on the group’s success, but also had a great deal of individual creativity and freedom. Frequently, I noticed students going to the leader and asking for his opinion on things to add, change, or remove. In fact, the leader would often get the group’s attention so they could decide as a team. It definitely had a real-world feel. How would the boss of a company accept ideas from his team? How can you make all members feel valued? And, how can you welcome that input while deciding not all ideas are the best ones?

The 7th grade students who participated in the installation art lesson in my classroom recently went on a tour of the Mattress Factory museum as a part of “The Space I’m In” experience. And, this is really the best part: I have clear evidence of their learning! I heard, first hand, the responses they were giving to the tour guides. I read written responses they provided in sketchbooks they carried around with them. And, I know that what they experienced made an impact on them based on their bus-ride-home conversations.

Last year, I didn’t plan to teach installation art in my classroom as a part of “The Space I’m In.” And, yes, the students had a great time using the materials from the mattress factory. But, I didn’t see that they “got it” like this year’s group of students did. I mean, it was all over their faces!
I want students to EXPERIENCE learning art this way. I want to see how many lessons I can adapt to a similar format. I think that inquiry is possible, relevant, and even crucial to student success. I just need to find my own balance within it. Where’d that tightrope go?

September 2020

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