CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Secret of Sewing

Anyone who has ever offered sewing in their class has made this observation: Boys love sewing, even more than girls.
I noticed this when I was a preschool teacher. I used to clamp a huge quilting hoop to the edge of the table. There would be boys above and boys below, passing the needle back and forth.
In elementary school, when a sewing machine was donated to the art studio, it was the boys who sewed pillow after pillow after pillow.
Now, in middle school, the secret is finally revealed. According to an eighth grade boy who came to the studio during his study hall to sew: “Sewing’s kinda cool. I like sewing, it makes your anger go away.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Purpose of Art

Here are some of the responses I received from 5th and 8th grade artists this semester, when I asked "what is the purpose of art?" When their quarter in art begins, I ask that students write that question and their answer on one side of an index card. On the other side of  the card I ask students to describe their "Hopes & Dreams" for art this quarter. This is where they can list their plans and ideas, and let me know what I can do to be ready for this crop of artists.
At the end of the quarter I will return the cards and ask: "Have you discovered any additional purposes of art?" And on the flip side I will ask if they accomplished their hopes, dreams and plans - if so - how? If not - what did they do instead?

Reflection is an important artistic behavior, one we practice daily during work sessions, weekly through written self reflections and group share sessions and at the end of each quarter, when we look back and see what worked, what didn't and what's next.

This quarter I have just 5th and 8th grade students, representing the newest and the most senior middle school students at CBMS. It is an interesting juxtaposition to observe those just entering the program,  testing their wings as artists while others are putting together final projects and artistic farewells.


color blind?

What happens in a Studio-Classroom when clean up falls short? In our studio, it is understood that if a center doesn’t get cleaned up properly, it closes.

If a center is too difficult for students to maintain, they are showing the teacher that they are not ready for that responsibility, and things are simplified. Instead of 5 center choices, maybe 4 is the right number for a while. Or, maybe instead of three kinds of paint to chose from in the painting center, just one is available for now.

Students earn back center privileges by demonstrating that they can handle and accept responsibility for tools, materials and fixtures in the studio.

Centers rarely close in our studio, because a warning is always issued first, giving students the opportunity to make things right. Often, students will rush from all corners of the room to “save the clay center!” or “keep sculpture open for all!”

Hands to Work

Team TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior partnership of teachers) is preparing to debut a bimonthly column for Arts and Activities magazine. The column will be called “Choice-Based Art” and will feature stories and information from art classrooms around the country where student-directed learning is supported. Our first article will appear in the September issue. To help prepare for the column, CBMS students have generously lent a hand – by volunteering as hand models, in order to provide a collage-banner for the column. On any given day, in any given class, it is astonishing to see hands engaged in so many different artistic behaviors! Please enjoy a glimpse of student hands at work as artists in the studio.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Studio of Absurd Joy

Magnetic poetry + middle school students = daily amusement
for the art teacher
 I get endless entertainment from the magnetic poetry set I got at the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art last summer - I stuck these little magnetic words all over the door frame at the entrance of the art studio. They annoy the custodians, but provide a sometimes hilarious dialog between "them" and "us" (adults and kids). I finally had to remove certain words from the "artist set" I purchased - it's AMAZING how suggestive these little gems can be in the hands and minds of 7th and 8th grade students!

The art studio is one place in school where kids construct and alter their physical environment. It's not uncommon for students to create signage for the walls in response to their strong feelings about art or their desire to instruct others.

Dr, George Szekely, art education professor at the University of Kentucky, urges teachers to turn over the privilege of door decoration and bulletin board display to the children -they are the natural-born decorators and designers in school - why do the teachers, he asks,  keep this very important job all to themselves?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Knives, Swords and Implements of Destruction: Weaponry at The Sculpture Center

“You said no weapons!” complains a 6th grader witnessing an older student who came to retrieve his model of a “potato masher” which is a German WWII bomb. “Did I?” I don’t think I have said that for years. I do know that there is a whole room set aside for weaponry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Somebody must agree with the kids that weapons can be art!

Later I watched a small clutch of eighth graders building paper rifles – a craze that started when the first boy crafted one that had moving action (what’s that part called that you slide down the barrel and back to reload?) Now three or four others are making variations. I think there is a shot gun, and a futuristic one…made with such attention to detail -  an eye for proportion, moving parts, reinforced areas – things of beauty, if you are a 14 year old boy in Vermont.

I strike up a conversation with these 3D artists: “Some people might ask if it’s ok to make weapons in school…”

“I say,” replies one student without missing a beat, “they are made of paper.”

Students know that these objects pose no threat to anyone. They also know that they are challenging and engaging to make. There is a lot of problem solving going on, and skill development, and envisioning.

I press on: “what about the concern that making weapons might lead to violent thought or violent action, that it might contribute to a culture of violence that glorifies war and killing?”

The conversation that follows goes something like this: “I am a hunter, I use my gun to hunt deer – not people.” “I like to target shoot – I do it with my dad.”

“Again” says the first boy, “they are made of paper!

 Just what are we afraid of, I wonder?