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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.

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.

My idea for my independent learning project for my Communications class came from:

This article is about creating oral history interviews. I asked my new substitute if he was up to trying to start my project because I hope to be back in the classroom soon.  Being a star, he was excited about my ideas. The first step is to have the students review the results of the survey, see what everyone was interested in doing. Then we need to get the students to choose what they would like to do for the oral history project. They will need to choose a topic, a method of presentation, independently!

Again, I really like the idea of interviews. They can interview kids who lived in other states, different school districts, people who had a bad experience and lived better because of it.  Key is finding someone they feel comfortable interviewing and learning how to ask open-ended questions. Maybe we can find some interviews on YouTube -good and bad. I really wish they would consider older family members-get family histories. Some kids don’t have grandparents. Parents who have been incarcerated would be great!  I’m excited:)

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

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.

I believe the most important point in this article is summed up at the end when the author says, “..until art teachers consider students’ ideas and experiences as valid content – on par with those of artists “out there”- we are at risk of operating under dated assumptions about what constitutes authentic and contemporary studio practice.”
The article lays out a very smooth scenario based on one student’s artistic process and behavior through journal reflection. Although it’s portrayed with an idealistic tone, for example the students seem to be older and more mature and they have computer and internet access making it easier for them to independently research and remain intrinsically motivated, I do think that teachers need to constantly remind themselves or make it a point to listen to students. Basing lessons and projects around things that inspire or relate to them should be a main focus in the classroom.
This article allowed me to reflect on my own approaches in the classroom. Typically behavior is an issue, leaving me always on edge with giving the students “too much down time”. I also find myself shortening reflection and journal writing time more and more because I am nervous that my students aren’t actually thinking about what I want them to. But is that such a bad thing? What if they are instead thinking about a conversation they had with their friend at lunch that’s way more interesting to them than, ‘How does weather make you feel?’ or ‘If you could have one super power what would it be?’. I don’t know any teacher who wouldn’t want to tap into something that would motivate a student more or enhance their learning. It’s figuring out the balance of when to step in to guide and when to trust that a student will make a discovery on their own that is challenging me. Art is just as much a social subject as it is physically creating. Of course art class can’t just be gossip hour, but perhaps more often a time when students can find a way to channel what will naturally be on their mind and using that for deeper learning, expression, and motivation.

September 2020

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