Thursday, November 10, 2011

Teaching for Artistic Behavior: Art is Not Easy


Ha! I love the way our innermost thoughts work their way to the surface when we create. In this case, it would be this student's struggle to create artwork that matches his standard.

I'm now midway through my first rotation of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) based lesson plans. Currently, four of my classes (the 6th and 7th grades) are working on TAB rotations. I thought it would be good to share my thoughts on this process.

In the event you don't know, TAB is, ultimately, a grass-roots organization that recognizes and supports the validity of choice-based arts education. An organization? Well, yes, but one that is heavily researched, provides conferences and learning opportunities for educators AND is endorsed by many academic institutions. It's also a bit of a philosophy as well. Some students work at the window while others mix color palettes at their seats.

If you've read here for any length of time, you'll know that I'm very interested in how the brain works when we learn. Specifically, I am interested in what the optimum conditions for learning are and how I can create an "optimal" experience for my students. One of my mentors has long encouraged me to do more research and test out TAB in my own classroom. And, I've been reluctant to do so. . .For many reasons.

For one, choice based arts education? The phrase alone sounds tricky, and trust me, when I first mentioned it to my administration I could see the "oh no the Art Teacher is a crazed hippy" look pass across their faces. It can be difficult to help your administration bridge the gap between thinking the students "do whatever they choose" and the students are guided carefully through a structured environment that provides for positive, creative, informative, choice making.

Secondly, giving students choices takes a lot of planning. TAB is no joke. You need to plan and anticipate certain questions, theories, and ensure the materials are available as well as the distribution. And, TAB encourages working in centers. There is no way that would work in my educational environment. The kids would treat it like recess. Which means I had to build kits etc. for different tables/materials so the media was accessible to all.

Thirdly, TAB ain't for sissies. While it does provide for some AH-MAZING authentic engagement, you better have some amazing classroom management plans. Because, a lot of TAB depends upon students being able to task themselves. On being personally responsible. In middle school. in elementary school. in high school.

So, when one of my mentors, way back when, encouraged me to explore TAB, I just nodded and walked away.
Look ma, we're engaged! And, we're all doing different stuff!

But, then came THIS year. You know I moan on here all the time about engagement and authentic engagement. It is soo important, critical, in the middle school years. For many of our students middle school marks the last time they will be actively enrolled in a visual art class. I want them to LOVE it. I want them to take away a lifelong love of some aspect of visual art be it art history, an artist, a style, a method, or aesthetics.

Also, I'm insane and willing to do anything to make this happen. I also, (insanely) want to be the best Art Teacher in the World. Ha! It is nuts. It is super crazy. But, when I think about lesson plans, projects, classroom management etc. I'm always thinking: "Is this the best for my students? Is this the best, period.?

Yeah, I'm crazy. Let's just establish that.
These two students creatively "feed" off of one another. They really are into peer-critiquing one another.

So, far, I'm LOVING how much the students are LOVING TAB. I've polled them -informally- and they really like having a choice. They also really like having their talents acknowledged. Most of all, I see so much more exploration and trying happening in class. And, I don't cringe when I have to say: "You have more talent that this piece shows. I know you can do better," because I know that student has options wherein we can better incorporate his/her talents.
exploring blending and shading -without prompting!

My TAB lessons are not entirely open to the students choosing whatever they want. I'm following a fairly tight structure, because my students aren't prepared for me to just "unleash" them. We don't encourage much independent, divergent thinking anymore at school. And, you should see how their minds are bent by directions that say things like: "You can also choose to do a project that is not on this list. BUT, you must first conference with Ms. J. and plan out your project." I've had a lot option to do this, and with great results btw.

If you are interested, here is how I'm structuring the "unpacking" of TAB right now:

1. I present a topic -usually based on Art History
2. We discuss as a class
3. I introduce a question/statement. I explain this is like an essay question that I expect the students to answer by creating artwork instead of writing. For instance, for the Pop Art project the statement is: "Your work should recognize that Pop Art refers to creating art from everyday objects."
4. I present 2-3 "five minute or less" demos on 2-3 different projects
5. Students can pick a project OR opt to design their own (but must meet with me first)
6. Students get materials and work
7. I keep a projection up with the overall question/statement along with a "To-Do" list and an "Expectation" list. Both lists have less than 5 items.
8. I circulate and aid as needed.
9. My grading rubric etc. refers back to the overall question/statement

What about you? Would you try TAB in your classroom? Are you doing TAB now? What do you think? DO you think your students learn better? Are they more engaged? Do you see more creative expression and exploration? I know my answers are emphatic "yes's."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lesson Plan: Thiebaud Pop Art Cakes and Teaching for Artistic Behavior

My Thiebaud Cake exemplar


This is the Part II aspect to my utilizing the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) philosophy to teach a Pop Art unit.

In case you missed the first post, here's a quick review: TAB recognizes all students are creative and artistic to some degree, and that all engage in creative activities in different manners. Ultimately, the point of TAB is to authentically engage students is to engage in such a manner that they are expressing ideas and concepts of their own choosing that still meet the required expectations of an assignment.

printed TAB packets, ready-to-go

My students are learning about Pop Art. I expect them to be able to express the foundational idea that Pop Art celebrates everyday, commercial, imagery. They have a choice of two projects: a Lichtenstein portrait or a Thiebaud cake. Students will have two packets about each project with step by step written and visual directions, examples, and special references.

blending reference page for students

What I'm not telling my students is that I want them to deviate even further away from the two projects I've assigned them; to get super creative. But, I know if I simply tell them that. . .Many will hear "do whatever you want" instead of "you can meet the expectations of this project utilizing whichever creative means and mediums you choose." I know some will deviate anyway, because that is who they are. And, as students deviate, I'll celebrate that with the class and discuss how these deviations are positive and encouraged.

Baby steps y'all.

Okay, back to this specific project. I love Thiebaud, and you know, in my experience students really get him too. Students will learn about Thiebaud during our Pop Art intro and will use an in-class packet to help them follow the directions to create their own Thiebaud-inspired project.

Here is the packet my students will be using:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lesson Plan: Lichtenstein Pop Art Self-Portrait

My self-portrait exemplar

Pop Art is an exciting genre to teach. I find that my students are easily are excited about any kind of art that they perceive as heavily referencing their culture. . . i.e. "pop" culture. And, even though the Pop Art you and I think of is not really our students' current culture (it is more the 1960's), there are residual elements of that culture still around today.

I love to teach Pop Art, but I'm really over all of the Warhol projects. Honestly, they bore me to death. A lot of this stems from the fact that I'm not exactly a huge fan of Warhol or his art. Was the guy a genius? Absolutely? Did he turn the art world on its head? For sure. Was he a huge jerk who used his subjects cruelly? Yeah. I know the whole "that artist was a jerk" philosophy can be applied to a lot of artists (Schiele, Degas, Michelangelo just to name a few). The issue I have is that Warhol is so contemporary, and when his artwork is filtered down to a student project, I fail to see my (note I say "my" 'cause it might be how I teach to them) students get authentically engaged. Jerkiness + boring = no good for me.

They get bored. REAL bored. They tire of copying the same thing over and over. They "putt" out in the last portions and I'm left with one or two pieces that are truly phenomenal and the rest are just kind of "meh."

Instead, I focus on the still highly famous, but less talked about in the classroom, artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Wayne Thiebaud, and Claes Oldenburg.

I'm trying to incorporate more and more of the "Teaching to Artistic Behavior" philosophy into my classroom. And, as such, my students will have two product choices for our Pop Art Unit: a Roy Lichtenstein inspired portrait and a Wayne Thiebaud cake design. I've seen similar versions of this Lichtenstein project done elsewhere online. This is the version I've been doing for a few years now. I prefer to only do the facial tones in the dot matrix and leave the rest fully painted.

Here is the Power-Point we will use in class. I've modified a great PPT I found online. You'll find the original cited on the front page of the presentation:


Here is my how-to steps for students:


I can't wait to post what the students' products look like!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

FYI: How to Make Slime

We have been using a liquid starch mix as a papier-mache vehicle. Today, I ran out of liquid starch about halfway through a class and began pouring some watered down glue (I had already prepared for such a moment).

After about 10 minutes the noise level got very loud. . . Lots of exclamations. Screaming with delight. Discovery.

Here's the deal. If you so happen to mix school glue with liquid starch you make a cohesive, sticky slime that will mold into stuff.

And, you know, just for your information the slime makes a great projectile. It will totally stick in some weave. And hair. And on clothing. Yeah.

Just Sayin' ;)

P.S. My boyfriend asked me to read this post to him. . .So, I innocently did. THEN, he took my words and made this song with it. Hilarious! You have to click on the link to hear it. http://khu.sh/usersong_4eb1fc7b97799

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Papier Mache with 32 Students

Wow. Just wow. I have 4 different classes working on different papier-mache projects right now. We have already gone through 8 gallons of papier-mache mix.

Here are some images from one class. I wish you could see their faces! I loved editing and looking at these pictures. Sometimes it is hard to assess in the moment -when you are trying to keep everyone on-task and safe- how much fun the kids are having. Based on the pictures, my kids are having a blast!

I, however, may have earned a few gray hairs. ;)