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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.

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When learning necessary art and music skills, where can the balance between inquiry-based and teacher-directed instruction be found? (or: which instructional strategies work best)

I have found that my inquiry has changed as time changes and needs change in my class. I wanted to do stained glass with students but didn’t have the supplies at first. Becuse of this, I had to become creative in getting materials. I created a “business” for my class. We decided to sell our art to buy supplies for our class, which motivated several students that were not motivated for school in general. We decided that the students would supply thegalas for a project and I would supply everything else. We would then talk in a collaborative way on how we would maout our projects and to whom we would sell our work.

To give a better understanding I will attempt to explmanga few of the many changes that took place from inquiry and collaboration in my room.

One student hated being in school but loved art. He would not do assignments on painting because he didn’t feel he was good enough. He actually approached me about stained glass which opened up this entire thought. He had to buy glass since i didn’t have those supplies. I didn’t fee it was right to have him pay for having class so we decided to sell what he made to Supplement getting more glass for more projects.

We decided to do Christmas ornaments and sell them to the school. This raised several questions, such as what will they look like, what will we sell them for and who will we be marketing our product to. We also had to decide how we were going to inform the school that these items will be for sale. I let the student decide how he was going to get the “word out” to the school, and he came up with at first just word of mouth. Then as that progressed, he started to realize that we had a morning announcement session in our school and he could place our items on that which is shown across the televisions in every room of the school. The ornaments were for sale for 15 dollars each, which he thought was a high price and no one would buy. We ended up selling 27 or so, and even to members of his family which were not at our school. The students and teachers would have to place an order deciding what color they wanted and which ornament they would pick. they could also have them engraved with a special message or the year if they decided. They got to choose from two different things.

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These items creqated a flury in my class and this student in particular. He started to see that he could make money creating art, and he was actually getting good at it. His excitement gained momentum as he started to get more people asking for other art projects to be made for them. This once again opened up another inquiry process.

We could not fill the orders required if we did not have more students involved doing the work. This student took it on his own to recruit other students to do jobs that he felt they could handle to fill the orders. We stayed for hours after school to finish the orders and made enough money to pay for what he bought and also to buy more materials for future projects to be sold. We then had to decide what the next thing was we were going to try to market. We came up with the fact that Valentines day was the next holiday we could prepair for. The students went back and fort with many ideas and made prototypes of each piece they thought would be good to sell and how they would market these items.

We as a class ended up agreeing on picture frames with a heart on either corner. Which was in itself a great idea, but caused the students to start to think further into the future rather than just on the completion of the project at hand. They decided that the next project should be a picture fame designed just for seniors in the highschool. Which touched on the subjects we were discussion about target audiences for their crafts. They made a prototype of this frame and began marketing it. I will post a picture to follow and then discuss how they decided they were going to get the word out to the school.

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The student that did not like school and felt there was nothing in school that was going to help him started to actually come to school more often. His attitude changed in a dramatic way. He was no longer wishing to miss school, and was actually coming to my class every morning and any free time he had throughout the day. He would ask other teachers if he was caught up with his work if he could come to my room and work on his projects. He also stayed for hours after school on many occasions with me and other students to continue his “new job”.

His new way of reaching students was to utilize facebook. He posted a picture of this picture frame and tagged every senior that he had on his list. He asked that they forward it to friends that he might not have on his list and took comments for what they though of it. Which in its own way once again opened up the need for collaboration and inquiry on his, my and other students parts. He had to come up with how much he was willing to wave as to the colors of the frame, special orders and things of that nature. We talked about how it was not practical to buy every color of glass to be able to fill any type of order we may get. So he limited it to specific c0lors and a black or white tossel cap for boys or girls. The year is made with twisted metal wire we had in the class. He has begun orders and has set a deadline for them to be able to make sure he can fulfill the ruquired orders before the end of the year.

Since that he has also embarked on making different stained glass pieces which are not to be sold at the school but rather to community businesses. His biggest work is that of a chess board. NOW. With that being said. He also has spent hours getting community involvement in these projects. He contacted his aunt who owns a wood salvage business “dealing with drift wood and rare findings wood”. She gave him a very special type of wood that is three hundred years old to complete his chess board. He utilized his father who is a contractor to build the base for his work. He also did research on the internet to find cheaper project materials and the actual chess pieces. He is looking to sell this project to Nemacolin Woodlands marketing to a higher social economic demographic.

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AND YET ANOTHER CHANGE IN INQUIRY!!!!  Now other students that are not totally on board with stained glass started wondering how they can make their art known to the school as well.  So they decided to start going out into the school to find what was needed.  Some stuck with the ceiling tile and teachers requests and other started other projects.  more to come in the next blog.  Have a great day and comment please.

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.

Reading #2: The Construction and Reconstruction of a Teacher’s Personal Practical Knowledge during Inquiry.

After reading three of the articles suggested for inquiry in a music classroom, I chose the article by Mary Beattie titled The Making of a music: The Construction and Reconstruction of a Teacher’s Personal Practical Knowledge During Inquiry.

This article relates the foundations that a teacher, Anne, realized were necessary for her students to be functional inquirers, and the passages she experienced on her journey from being an experienced teacher in physical education to becoming a novice as a classroom teacher to emerging with an understanding that the foundations were the same regardless of the subject matter.  It was about the students, not the subject.

The most profound foundation Anne discovered was the need to nurture a climate of respect for persons first and then subjects in her general classroom, just as she had done in her physical education environment.

This article reminded me of the Culture and the School class in college and assignments on diverse classroom cultures.  It also brought back a vivid memory of student teaching in a Pittsburgh High School where the Orchestra director displayed what might be defined as three personalities. His personality before his A orchestra, which was an outstanding ensemble that played level 4, 5 and 6 music, was the sage on the stage. He put the music ahead of the people and would comment that he knew more than “you child prodigies” and told them to follow his interpretation whether they liked it or not! (Many of these students were the children of Pittsburgh Symphony players, and he seemed to be both arrogant and defensive.) Before the B group, where most of the players were basically good student musicians, working hard to pass an audition into the top group, he was almost grandfatherly and encouraged them and lavished them with praise.  There was a mutual respect in the B group that did not exist in the A group. Then, there was the C group, which had an odd instrumentation and most of the players were beginners and playing on wrecks of instruments. His attitude with these children was completely negative. He told them they were failures and he wouldn’t take any responsibility for anything they did! He also told them they would never make it out of the C group because they were hopeless! I was permitted only to observe in the A group, to play occasionally in the B group and to teach the C group. Discipline in the C group was non-existent and the professor who observed me from my college said they had no goals.  They also had no music, stands and in some cases they might have a bow but no cello to use with it! This experience for me was disheartening and sometimes I wonder how I got through it and landed where I am today.  I recall discussing this situation with the psychology professor who taught the Culture in the School class.  The revelation for me was when I verbalized that the circumstances the C group was dealt were fundamentally disrespectful to all parties involved and they were being made even more unbearable by a teacher who had absolutely no respect for the students. This in turn gave them no opportunity to develop self-respect, or to feel good about what they could do and they never had the opportunity to set or achieve any goal, no matter how great or small.

In the article, Beattie relates that Anne was advised to get control of the situation by establishing an environment where students would respect and listen to one another.  When I student taught, the temporary nature of a student teacher left me feeling that I could not gain control of a fiery situation that was being fueled with the outrage and disrespect that came from the person who should have been creating the respectful climate – the cooperating teacher.  Now, three and a half decades later, I realize that shaping a respectful environment has been a continuous thread throughout my teaching, not just a lesson taught but a continuous response and reinforcement of the behaviors that foster learning and achievement. I am often stunned by the professional attitudes in my high school students, and the progress they make as players is directly related to their attentive musical behavior in the orchestra setting, with attention to detail and the desire to constantly improve their technical skills.

However, I am confronted with a different problem. The respect is warm, but there is a chill when a question is asked.  They seem to go comatose!  Over the last few years, questioning has brought an increasing sense of the students shrinking in their seats – and those “please don’t call on me” looks!

It was related in the article that Anne discovered that it was necessary to create an environment where students would collaborate rather than compete.  She endeavored to build a climate for understanding rather than judgment or criticism, which in turn yielded to a comfort zone where the students supported and encouraged one another.  I do not necessarily find the students I teach to be competitive or even eager to answer questions, but I do find that they continuously defer to someone else…anyone else.  They are reluctant to commit themselves when questions are posed, yet when it is time to work in small groups, there is great give and take, support and caring demonstrated to one another and the progress in these cooperative groups is significant.  When these students critique performances, I have always asked that they write with a positive-constructive-positive format and find that they are quick to praise individual efforts by others, but on the part of the performance evaluation where they are asked to utilize a rubric to identify the level of achievement of the group and then of their own performance, they are very hard on themselves.  In some cases, I would probably rate them as they have rated themselves, but I am often surprised at how harshly they judge their own abilities and rarely is there any over-inflation of scores.

As we are beginning to implement inquiry into the classroom, I am realizing that the comfort zone issues need to transform so we can move into higher order thinking and creativity.  I realize that the students I teach in 2011 are concerned about giving right answers.  Open ended questions are the perfect catalyst to change the deferring game, but they still lack trust, be it in others or even in themselves. So for the present we are using a wiki, where I post a question and students take the initiative to respond.  Though they sign their names they seem to be a little bit more brave and willing to take a risk to share their thoughts.    At this point I am trying to avoid responding with comments so that I do not overshadow them, but I do prompt them with more questions.  The responses have been interesting but the best part is that after about five weeks in the wiki discussion forum they are posting.  The students are beginning to respond to each other and hopefully in the future they will allow their responses to grow and become as comfortable face to face as they are in cyberspace!  Still I believe it is important that the respect be maintained, but there must also be trust for this to happen.

To close, the experience shared about Anne, certainly prompted me to reflect on the need to create a nurturing climate based on respect for all concerned and to reflect on my evolution from the student teaching days to the present.

As soon as I read over Question #5 in our reading, I immediately began thinking about my 8th grade class.  Last year, they learned the art history timeline and how art evolved over time.  This year, I want to expose them to the many avenues of contemporary art and how art has been molded and formed in every way possible.  We have looked at the ephemeral natural sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy, silkscreened popular culture like Warhol, currently we are finishing a fashion project inspired by Alexander McQueen, and plans for installation and performance art are to come later on.  I want to expose my students to these things so that they understand that art is not just pencil and paper.  Artistic skill is more than how well you can use your hands.  There is a conceptual aspect to art, where ideas, emotions, and messages drive the production and creativity.

Installation, performance art, and any kind of conceptual art in general are intimidating to me because of the unpredictable that can and will occur in the classroom.  Conceptual art must include a deep interest and although I know my students to a certain extent, there is no way I can totally plan where their projects will end up.  Conceptual art in my mind is nothing but inquiry.  It leaves both the educator and student in vulnerable positions, working together to create one successful piece.  Collaboration, questions, research, multiple viewpoints, and knowledge on your topic are essential.  I want my students to dive into this.  They have been so excited to see what project is next because it’s stuff they’ve never seen before.  However, I am getting concerned that this is going to be way over their head.  I need to introduce these art forms without overwhelming them.  How can I get them to understand contemporary art without intimidating them first?  How can I get my students to appreciate the sophistication of these art forms and inspire them to really think about their artistic choices?  How can I manage a classroom where the possibilities could be endless, yet still feel structured?

This is my first attempt at this, and I am sure there will be a lot of trial and error.  I doubt I will be able to get everything I want to done within the semester, but with tweaks along the way I hope to have some smooth lessons by the end of the year.

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