CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio
CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Oh Happy Day


The great, green, glorious outdoors is just outside the art studio door. Today our Fiber Arts center spontaneously moved outside to enjoy the sun and the breeze and the larger view of the world all around.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Grit and Longing


David Brooks writes, in his recent New York Times op ed, Putting Grit in its Place: "We all know why it exists, but the grade-point average is one of the more destructive elements in American education."

A pretty brazen statement! And one that propelled his essay onto innumerable news feeds to be shared, tweeted, and discussed over the last week. Thanks, David, for framing the discussion and suggesting that "people are happiest when motivated intrinsically..." "the G.P.A.," Brooks observes, "is the mother of all extrinsic motivations."

Reading these remarks in the New York Times, is validating. Especially on a day like today (Friday the 13th and a full moon), when intrinsic motivation, at least for 7th grade boys, is somewhat flagging, it appears. 
"I want to do clay in art #Protest" - sign taped to my desk by two students who were removed from the clay center for mistreating tools, clay and each other.
Brooks and I share the idea that it's not grit, necessarily, that we are after in teaching and learning, but intrinsic motivation for thinking, learning and doing. Since grades can undermine intrinsic motivation, I look for other ways to support learning and growth. I want my students to "fall in love" with an idea, process, special tool, or medium. But on days like today, when students are sensing that the end is near, it can be more challenging than usual to cast a love-potion. 
Clay love?
For my more challenging classes, I have been exerting a modicum of extrinsic motivation: a due date and an expectation of a completed artwork. Today one 7th grade class demonstrated that this pressure was not motivating, while the other 7th grade class rose to the challenge. What is the difference between the two classes? One meets at the beginning of the day, the other at the end. Both classes are approximately 3/4 boys, 1/4 girls. Is a 7 hour school day just too long? (today, yes!) Is the make-up of the two classes so different that one class is on target and the other is a miss?

Usually I allow artwork to be finished when it is finished, not on any schedule beyond the artist's pace and idea of completion. When one piece is done, it's time to begin the next. In this way, our bi-weekly reflection/share/critique sessions feature both finished work and work-in-progress. Today all work was supposed to be complete (after a three week period of exploration, practice and preparation). About half was. About a quarter was, in my estimation, work students were proud of.
"The Lazy Man Box" for holding an iPhone in place to watch Family Guy, while lying in bed
 On days when students are blatantly under-performing, I have the urge to say "you realize you are failing this class," but I don't grade students or artwork in our program, so this extrinsic motivator is  not available. And a good thing too, because when we get to that point, a student has two possible responses: 1. "So what? You can't hurt me." or 2. "Yikes! I better shape up and do what she wants!"

And I don't want either of these responses. I want the work to come out of what Brooks describes as "longing."

So that is my homework, as I head off on this Friday afternoon: how best to kindle some longing in my most needy students?



Friday, April 15, 2016

Interdisciplinary Learning in the Studio

I tell my students that "back in the day," when the art teacher thought up the projects and the students carried them out, teachers were often asked to design interdisciplinary projects. Art projects connected to math often resulted in a quiltmaking project, ancient Egypt anyone? Sarcophagus covers or canopic jars were served up. You get the idea.

Exciting use of materials in this piece that visually describes a panda and its habitat. (by L, grade 7)

 What I especially love about our learner-directed program is that the artroom has really and truly transformed into a community studio. Kids know what is here and how to use it. They come during study hall, after school, and at lunch to use their studio.

The students who made this model (work-in-progress) arrived in the studio with a bucket of dry plaster and a plan to "build a bomb." I was able to shift their material-choice to plaster gauze instead, after explaining how their plaster-in-a-bucket works.
In this construct, interdisciplinary work is learner-designed, such as the mixed-media panda habitat above (for a science project), or the atomic bomb model ( for a social studies unit) that doubles as an excuse to learn about building an armature and using plaster gauze. Schools and schooling in the future, according to some who attended the National Art Education Association Fellow's Forum on "The Future of Art Education," will be interdisciplinary.
Tah Dah!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Change Coming


I have a little extra time this week - what a gift! While rummaging around in the art storage room, I found a lovely box of cut cardboard shapes. I must have prepared it for a lesson I never delivered.
Looking at the enticing collection of smallish cardboard shapes makes me want to build something - to construct something. I determined to present this to the 5th graders who are away this week, upon their return, as an "Introduction to Sculpture" lesson.
But that's not all.
As I cut up more shapes, I keep thinking - comparing the simple elegance of these shapes to the conglomeration of materials that inhabit the current Sculpture Center. I have heard it said that this is the center that kids love the most and adults like the least. It's sort of true. The things kids make back there can be very challenging for adults. I am not immune. I will just say it: I am sick of the Sculpture Center. 
It needs a change. 
I am considering changing it to the "Cardboard Sculpture Station." I am wondering about really limiting the materials back there - provoking more thoughtful creating and less...you know...hot gluing. 

Can I pull off such a big change mid year/mid/trimester/mid quarter? Is it smarter to wait for a whole new year and start then?

Stay tuned - it's a cliffhanger!

The Class that Loves Clay

I unloaded the kiln today - 48 pieces came from one 7th grade class (of 14 students). The other 7th grade class produced 8 pieces in the same time period. This class loves clay.
Team Prodigy grade 7
 This is a very concrete example of one of the unique strengths of choice-based art. All students are introduced to clay. All students watch various demonstrations on clay topics. All students observe peers working with clay, but not all students choose to work with clay. And some students work with a lot of clay. 

I did the math: the average number of clay objects per student currently in 7th grade art is 2.3. That's about right - that's what I budget for. But the beauty of this system is that kids who love clay, the clay artists in class, can work with a lot of clay. These interested students can make several objects in series ( see below).
This 7th grade clay artist demonstrates the "studio thinking habits" Engage & Persist" and "Develop Craft" by practicing on the potter's wheel several days in succession. He is currently making lidded jars and learning to use a caliper.
Over in the Printmaking Center, students have been working  on carving rubber stamps from squares of vinyl. While this was going on, someone shared the following picture on Facebook (sorry, I kept the photo, but not the reference!), illustrating the use of clay stamps:
Photo courtesy of Art Teachers Facebook Group
We wondered if our new vinyl stamps would work on clay. This question launched a new creative-inquiry by a different set of students. The class previously had a lesson about rolling slabs from clay, but students usually used their slabs to drape inside wooden bowls ("slump-molds"). Making a slab of clay stand up was a new challenge. 
Notice the skill progression from the vessel in front (made on the first day of trying) to the vessel in the back (made the next day by the same student).
Studio Thinking Habits in practice: "Engage & Persist" and "Develop Craft"
5th grade starts clay after break - I just counted the boxes of clay we have left - I think we will make it!

Teachers new to the concept of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) and choice-based art education often ask about ordering supplies. The impression is that more of everything will be needed when children choose their work, but I have not found this to be true. It seems I order just about the same as I always did, because, as illustrated here, not all students work to the same extent with the same materials at the same time. 2.3 clay objects per student is about what I would buy for, if I had a traditional, teacher-directed program. If that is more than a budget can bare, the "clay center" can have a shorter run, and not stay open as long as our does. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Real Product of Art Education

For years, I have asserted that the product in art class is not the artwork, but the child. The child is the product, the product is not the product. It is good to have validation on this point from one of the leading researchers in the field: (thanks to Kathy Douglas for bringing this to my attention)


"The real product of art education is not the works of art, but the child. We have to keep that firmly in mind–though it goes against several grains. If you are an artist and you want to make good art, I urge you to go into your studio and make good art. What you need to do as a teacher of art is create kids who make good art, create kids who think well as artists, who have an artistic mind.
As artists, kids have to learn to chase the quality of their work. Artists must make the best art that they can make, but that's not your job. Your job is to get your students to chase the quality of their own work and make the best work they can make. So it can be confusing. I think we get really trapped and stuck in thinking that it's our job to make really high-quality work, so that we can put it out in the hall and everybody will say that we have a good art program. I think we have to be careful of that trap because you can turn your class into a production factory and then your kids don't develop artistic minds, even though they may be making beautiful work that is hanging in the hall. What I'm really urging here is more autonomy on the part of the student artist–they need to be making the decisions if they're going to make a better mind."

~ Lois Hetland from Every Art, Every Child: A Look at Lois Hetland's Eight Studio Habits

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Choice-Based Art at National Art Education Conference

There were many sessions presented about Teaching fr Artistic Behavior (TAB) and Choice-based art education in Chicago last month. Each that I attended were packed rooms, in many cases with standing-room only and spilling attendees out in the hall.
Nan speaking on the topic: "Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way" 8am session on Saturday- packed!
 Interest is high nationally for learner-directed practices in art. The panel I spoke on included Julie Toole, an elementary teacher (from Chicago), me (Vermont, middle school) and Ian Sands, a high school teacher (North Carolina) and illustrated how TAB looks in these different settings.