Giving Feedback in “the thick of it”

We are a week out from our Grade 4 Exhibition. A week out from trailing the first ‘Spotlight on the Arts’ with Grade 4 as our guinea pigs. Our artists will be presenting a final work based on this stand-alone unit:

Central Idea: Artists use traditional materials and techniques (2D & 3D) to remix their subject matter (Lego) in new, unusual and original ways.
 
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Long story short… I’ve taken the students through a series of traditional observational drawing techniques focusing on tone and value, using Jim Dine as our inspiration etc. etc. the usual stuff… as I am always in the pursuit of student-choice / self-directed artworks / student ownership / whatever you like to call it, I wanted them to enjoy producing something for the Exhibition that is theirs. So, handing them this planning sheet with the premise of remixing all they have learnt and enjoyed in this unit into a final work (more on this crucial step another day). Letting go of the reigns and following their lead; I am their supporter, cheerleader and sous chef. But its not all sunshine and roses, as we are so close to the deadline everyone is under pressure. In this pressure cooker my TA is working tirelessly, students are helping  and encouraging each other, and I, well, I feel like a chicken with its head cut off. Its exciting but I am going crazy! So, the reason I am writing today is because I have had a major break through! On a solitary Saturday morning in the art room, I laid out the student work for Monday morning and strolled through each one in silence, in peace and calm… it is what my wonderful art teaching colleague Naomi Feil and I are always harping on about with our kids, creativity needs time, space, and quiet to work. So, I wrote some last minute tips, questions and prompts on post-its that are otherwise quite hard for me to do “in the thick of it”. The idea is when they arrive on Monday morning they can have their art teacher right beside them in the hopefully make and not break last session. I have planned the rest of the week with spaces to do this again for each class with zero interruptions – I may even lock my door!

Yes you can or Let’s try

A Culture of Permission in the Art Class

Yesterday I was invited to join a podcast conversation centered around “A Culture of Permission” in our schools with Sam Sherratt, Frank Hua and Cathy Brown. Inspired by Sam’s post on Inquiry and a Culture of Permission.

Still reflecting on some of the snippets from yesterday reinforces my pursuit of student driven projects in the art room – where everyone involved are left smiling, fulfilled, proud and really feeling like an artist. With years 10 years of art teaching under my belt, 4 years of fine arts training and years and years of creating art – I do not assume to know what will or will not work for a student. Sometimes, I have a pretty fair inclination that what they want to do may not work. A recent example being, this idea a student wanted to try was definitely a book carved out with a laser cutter – the first reaction in my mind was oh dear this is not going to work, it will not have the effect he is after. But… what will he learn if I say “No, you can’t do that”? That his ideas are silly? That he’s not skillful enough? That he’s dreaming and he should aim lower next time? ARGH! Awful! So, instead I said “Sure, let’s give it a try!”. From the sidelines I encouraged gentle slices, slowly and carefully through the book pages. After giving it a good go this student turned to me and said “Actually, I think I’d like to look for a new idea because it’s not going to work”, very neutrally I said “OK, no problem I said, maybe that was made with a laser cutter?”, “Oh yea, probably” he said. What came after was the golden moment, he happily grabbed a couple of art books flicked through them with a much more critical eye and now his new idea is rocking! And maybe what is even more important is he knows his choices/ideas and creativity are valued. As he heads up to the MYP next year I know he is in a good position as he has figured out how to develop ideas, test materials, reflect and regenerate ideas. I am not sure this could have happened if I had just said “No, you can’t do that, it’s not possible”.

Meaning Beyond Words (grade 4 HWEO art integration)

Meaning beyond words… poetry… meaning… message… intention… interpretation… words… letters… form… shape… design… hmmm Typography (?!) were the stream of thoughts that preceded being asked to be involved with the Grade 4 How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry.

Central Idea:
Being a poet gives us the freedom to express meaning beyond the words
  • Following, adapting and changing the many forms of poetry (concept: Form)
  • Poetry invites us to respond with different interpretations  (concept: Perspective)
  • Reflecting on experiences and knowledge through our own poetry (concept: Reflection)

The students moved through a series of provocations that involved group typography challenges (see some of the final outcomes here). And giving meaning to fake words (fun!). This was all with the intention of students to experience what it is like to deconstruct, reshape and introduce unusual materials to give type/words a new and enhanced meaning. Student to student feedback was used frequently to see if they had indeed done that.

Sounds fun so far right? Here is where it started to really pick up pace and intensity. Each grade 4 student came armed with their poems to the art class. They were then asked to select specific words from their most treasured poems to transform into a typography art piece for their MiniX. We had 3 weeks — enter thoughts of plausibleness…

Did I prescribe the size? No. Did I prescribe the materials? No. Did I prescribe 2D or 3D? No. The only prerequisite was that their artwork enhanced the meaning of the word and the message in their poem. This planning sheet allowed my AMAZING art assistant and I to prepare and plan materials for the students. Did I have enough space? I don’t think so. Did I have enough manpower? Probably not. Did I have enough time? Definitely not. What I did have was an amazing grade 4 team of teachers who were flexible, supportive and encouraging. I had a tech integrator that worked tirelessly with LED’s, circuits, robotics, programming and 3D printing. I had energized students that ran to class and wanted to work through their lunches. I had an art assistant that not only kept everything organized (80+ projects on the go!) she conferenced students through the designing stage and helped them troubleshoot through the creation stage too.

In the end they did it! They finished their work on time, they finished work that they truly owned, they were proud. I finished reading all their reflections yesterday and not a single student wrote they were disappointed in their work. They all relished in the chance to exhibit their work in such a lovely setting. Now, to reflect on the logistics for next year so students have easy access to the materials so more time making and less time “Ms Anna where is the…?”

This is the face I want to see everyday

Yesterday I was shared a link to this video. You may have already seen it shared through social media. Its an animated short film by Daniel Martínez Lara & Rafa Cano Méndez. In a nutshell it is about; educational systems, family relationships and societal values clashing with creativity and happiness. I watched this on a Friday morning with tears rolling down my face as I saw the colour drain from a child’s face as the creativity is stamped out of him. This film could not have come at a better time. As I was suffering a bit of the old teacher fatigue, this reminded me why I do what I do, why I love what I do and how lucky I am to do what I do. I love seeing these faces (at 2 minutes 14 seconds) everyday. I love it when  children enter my class like the character does at 1 minute 48 seconds. And do you know what? If I am not seeing those faces or they are not entering my class like this then it is time to reflect and work out what I can change so I can make this happen.

“It’s a Miguel”

“It’s a Miguel” is turning out to be one of my favorite quotes of the year. A new school and a new country comes with many challenges and changes but one thing remains at the core of my practice “It’s a Miguel”. This quote comes from a dear Grade 2 teacher at my school that opened her doors and let the new Art teacher come in for seamless, organic integration revolving around students at the core. During the How We Express Ourselves integration our conversations were about providing just the right amount of support and encouragement to the students, not too much to interrupt the flow but just enough to delicately intervene with struggles. Sometimes the students surprised you… they’ve flourished! Sometimes they haven’t quite got there but you know what? “It’s a Miguel!” it may not be the best work but actually, he’s full of pride, he’s accomplished a work of art that’s sophisticated in its concept and for Miguel, it’s rather sophisticated in its construction. I’m proud of him, his homeroom teacher is proud of him, his Mother is proud of him and he’s proud of himself, hooray!

abstract art – grade 7 reflect on the beauty of non-representational art

Originally this unit began as an inquiry into light and shadow in fine art photography. Students explored the inquiry questions ‘What can we not include in our photo’s to create fine art abstract photography?’ with the overall debatable question being ‘Can a photo be aesthetically pleasing if it has no realistic elements?’. After the photos were taken and contact sheets were evaluated the best 3 shots were edited very simply through the photo editing tools inside preview. I love how user friendly and easy preview is for this task… it is also a great introduction into photo editing before launching into Photoshop.

Grade 7 quickly mastered the concept so we extended the unit by completing beautiful abstract 70cm x 100cm acrylic on canvas paintings.

These paintings were based on their photographs with the opportunity to copy directly or add or subtract areas continuing with the main premise of abstract art being non-representational. This was also a great chance for me to teach some skills-based blending, value and tone exercises. Reflecting on the last stage of the unit I realised there is a great opportunity to introduce abstract painters like Robert Motherwell, Georgia O’Keefe and some of my favourite contemporaries like Fiona Rae and  Elham Rokni. Exposing students to a range of abstract painters and having them plan artworks with the artists in mind and their photographs could lead into some exciting individual investigations, next year! For now, I am super happy with their reflections:

“Abstract art is an art, which shows a mysteries photo or image, it can be anything you think.”

“In my opinion abstract art is a kind of art that doesn’t show the main idea of the art work clearly. It gives some space to let people guess what is the artist telling us about. When the artist is drawing, he/she can draw any thing he/she wants… messy lines, points… and we can think it could be some thing like a ball of string, or bird’s nest but it could be anything”

Next time they visit an art gallery with their parents they can impress them with their concept and knowledge of abstract art.

Decapitated heads and amputated limbs… Have I found the perfect artwork to introduce art analysis?

If you don’t already know Camille Rose Garcia she’s a fantastic Los Angeles based painter/illustrator. Students are instantly drawn to her creepy, nightmarish worlds adorned with scary/cute characters that somehow look familiar to them (they are based on Disney characters). Amputated limbs and decapitated heads sit along side super cute ribbons and rabbits – students love it! My deepest apologies Mr Rauschenberg and Señiorita Kahlo you don’t quite capture the attention of my students at the moment, in time you will, but for now Ms Garcia is lighting the way for our art analysis and interpretation.

snow white and the black lagoon

Through a series of group activities I guide my students through a four step process of: 1. Initial Reaction 2. Description 3. Analyse 4. Judge & Evaluate (thanks to this wonderful ANALYSING AN IMAGE document made by Frank Curkovic).

By the time the students reach the judge and evaluate stage they are describing the work as being a commentary on a toxic/polluted environment with the witch being the antagonist in the narrative. The one who has caused suffering.

When we reach this point I have the students read an extract from an interview found here:

“I started it last year during the Gulf Oil spill and I wanted to do a re-telling of Snow White combined with the ecological disaster going on there. The fairytales of Grimm always talked about people that lived in forest that were very close to nature and their environment…I wanted to use the symbolism of things like the evil Queen to represent the evil empire and capitalism; and the white animals and Snow White representing the purity of nature – something precious to be protected. Of course, there’s the battle of good and evil.”

The reaction is priceless. I’ve got them hooked.