CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Even bananas reflect about their work

Students pausing in the making to reflect and share about their work
Every two weeks, rain or shine, banana or grapefruit, we pause in the making to reflect and share artwork. It is important for artists to learn to talk about their work and the work of others with respect and insight, so we practice. 

If an artwork is finished, students have the option of displaying their work, storing it in their portfolio, or taking it home (3D work goes home if not displayed). Displayed work is always accompanied by an artist's statement. 

Work-in-progress is acknowledged as a normal state of affairs. In our program, the student decides when a piece is finished - or if a piece gets finished. Not all work is brought to a finished state, although there is a persistent idea among adults that students need to learn to finish what they start.
Objects painted silver but then abandoned
There are many reasons why artwork does not always reach a finished state. I feel it is up to the artist to make this determination. 

"I'm done!" declared an 8th grade needle-felter.."No wait! it needs feet!"
 When I speak at Art Educator conferences around the country, one of my favorite questions to ask an audience of art teachers is "How many of you have work at home that is unfinished?" Most hands go up. Next I ask "When are you going to finish that anyway?" Sometimes I add "It's due Friday." They get the point. Not all work gets finished. That's an authentic artistic behavior.


Last spring three tall boxes arrived containing our new art stools. In true art-teacher-form, I prized the boxes as much as the stools, and stored them in the art closet all summer, waiting for kids to return to make good use of them.

 I offered these treasures to any artist or collaborative team who could provide a plan worthy of the box. 


A group of three 8th graders design the first (Outer space box).
8th Graders researching images for "Outer space Box"


Three 5th graders designed the next (Aquarium box) and a solo 6th grader designed the last (Robot box).
5th graders prepare their box with gesso

"L" (grade 5) created the sketch for her team's box painting, which wasn't complete until four cats were created to look over the top of the aquarium.

The 3-D paintings adorned the school atrium for a few weeks becoming an interactive exhibit for students to arrange and rearrange. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

No Grades: Follow-Up

"I loved the idea of no grades because my work was my own...It wasn't for a grade. It was for my love for ART and how art helps me become a better person." ~8th grade girl

For years now I have been polling students as they finish a term. First, I ask: "If you were grading yourself in art, what grade would it be?"
Then, of course, I ask "Why?"
After that, I inquire: "If there were no grades in art, how would this affect you and your work?"

21% think grades have a positive affect on learning & creating
  9% think grades have a negative affect on learning & creating
70% think grades have no affect on learning & creating  

 Based on the data I collected and my observations over several years, there are no grades in art this year. Strictly speaking, I am piloting this change and observing if there is any (change). We have just completed the first term in art, and students responded to this item on their final reflection: "There were no grades in art this year. How did this affect your work?"

The overwhelming majority of students replied that there was no difference for them, or it was better, because there was "less pressure" or "less stress" (I wasn't really aware of that much pressure or stress previously...but that is just from my point of view!) One student so far (out of 40) commented that he did not stay as focused, and another said that it made him "not so precise about my work." 
I look forward to collecting and compiling this new data set as the year goes on. 
"Out - In" handmade paper collage, by "H" Grade 8

 "The no grades didn't affect my work because I come with an expectation that I have something to do and I am going to do it even if I am graded or not." ~8th grade boy

Annotated handmade paper collection, By "J" & "C", grade 8
 "I think that having no grades did not affect my work this year. I think either way I would have done my best." ~Boy, grade 8
Needle-Felted Creature, By "A" grade
"I liked that there were no grades because I felt freer in expressing myself through my art." ~Girl, grade 8

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Spiral Curriculum

Papermaking has made its glorious return after a year off. I have determined that I will offer papemaking every other year, and alternate it with batik. Both of these ephemeral centers feature processes that take extensive set-up, some safety training, and tend to dominate the room. 
two tone paper
 It is interesting to observe the different approaches and products of students who are first-timers, those just testing the water, devoted papermakers using the center each day, and old hands who have experienced papermaking previously. Like any technique, there is a learning curve, and students need to practice the basics before they become innovators.

Rainbow paper
 Like many artists, my students sometimes design tools to aid them in their work.  Here (left) a student devised a separator so that more than a single color-pulp could be poured into the deckle (paper mold).
inset circle
Students who have the opportunity to return to a medium or technique over time gain facility and look for ways to make their work unique, interesting and innovative. 

This 8th Grader is using a collection of her handmade papers to create a product for a Social Studies assignment
A small hand-bound book sits atop a pile of handmade papers (Grade 8). We use our antique book press to flatten the papers and resulting books.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Authentic Assessment

How do you know what a student "knows and is able to do" in Art?

Marvin Bartel, in The Learner Directed Classroom (2012, Jaquith, Hathaway),  highlights the usefulness of looking at more than just a single artwork when engaging in critique with a student. This process provides a rich opportunity for asking observational and affirming questions about the work - questions that don't judge or find fault, but instead ask the student to look closely and and make "positive choices" (pg. 139)  about the work. Questions such as 'What do you notice first " or "How do the rims differ in these two cups?" lead the student to reflect on specific qualities in their work. 

This line of questioning avoids both value statements or empty praise, and instead is used to guide students through an authentic assessment of their work.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Materials Challenge

Every art teacher is grateful for material donantions for the art program. But alas, as I admitted in a previous post, I can be somewhat of a hoarder, keeping stuff that is too-good-to-use tucked away in the art closet. Well, the art closet is bursting its seams, so when we got a recent donation of a mixed array of good stuff, I decided to bypass the sorting and the storing and put it right out in the studio for immediate consumption.
I labeled the box "MYSTERY CHALLENGE" and invited students to create something using only materials from the box. I whipped up a soft-sculpture to try to drum up business, but with mixed results.

A few 6th graders made an attempt to get something going, but have since set these aside to pursue other interests. 
It turns out, sewing is slow-going, and not everyone has the stick-to-it-ness to have satisfactory results. 

"J", grade 8, employed hand-applique and machine sewing techniques to create this soft-sculpture made from items found in the mystery box. She demonstrated a working knowledge of the Studio Thinking Habits: "Envision", Develop Craft" and Engage & Persist."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

PUPPET Center Debut

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that this is the first time I have opened a Puppet Center at CBMS. I have been here five years, and puppet making is one of my favorite things. So why have I held back? It's simple: all the great stuff I have saved for years in the bins marked "puppet making" is TGTU ("too-good-to-use.") Many art teachers suffer from "too-good-to-use-syndrome" (TGTUS). The main symptom is hoarding.

An "ephemeral center" in the studio, Puppet Making is here-today, gone-tomorrow (will likely stay up for a few weeks)
 Thanks to all the generous donations parents have sent in to the art studio, the storage closet is overflowing with good stuff. It is high time to let loose the puppet making paraphernalia and let the puppet making begin!
"I," Grade 6 is specializing in paper-bowl stick puppets.

"E" prefers sock puppets

Monday, September 8, 2014

How to Handle a Cup

6th grade “K” arrived today hoping it was her turn on the potter's wheel, because she knew what she was going to make. She told me about a tea cup her mother bought from a friend at a yard sale (originally from Amsterdam I later learned). It had a handle that was cut from the rim. Did you ever hear of such a thing? I never have.
Here is the cup that inspired "K"

“K” was delighted when several people ahead of her on the wheel-list declined their turn, allowing her to get right to work. She quickly threw a nice round cup shape and then debated whether she should cut and attach the rim/handle right away, or wait for the clay to firm up by covering it lightly overnight.

Not one to hesitate long, she “went for it!”
"K"='s" cup - ready to dry

“K” was able to plan for her time in the studio today before she even set foot in class. Since tools, materials, references and resources are arranged in studio “Centers” for student use year round, students can rely on having what they need when they come to work as artists in their studio. This makes possible the kind of creative planning and idea-execution that “K” demonstrated.

And isn't this a groovy new way to make a cup handle?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ephemeral Centers: Bookmaking!

Two years ago, a 6th grader made a series of books right after I opened a “Bookmaking Center.” Last year, she had no interest in this activity, even after I set everything up hoping to entice her. Now an 8th grader, she asked: “when are you going to open the bookmaking center?” My response? “Tomorrow” of course!

Temporary center occupying flex-table

Sometimes these “ephemeral centers” pop up overnight like a flush of mushrooms on the lawn. I try to keep one table free for this sort of flexible use. This week, the Bookmaking Center appeared here. When interest wanes, a new offering will take its place.

The center contains tools, materials and references of the bookmaker. For tools we have; an awl, large needles, a bone folder, beeswax, binding clips, double-sided tape, hole-punches, a Japanese book drill and an antique book press. There is a box of “cover stock” (mat board and cardboard donated from the local frame shop), a box of papers in various sizes for pages, and another box containing my collected hand-made books which serve as inspiration and models for possible books styles and designs. Several books about bookmaking are there too, including “how-to's” and a collection of amazing artist-made books. 
Artist-made books and classroom experiments

Instead of providing “how to make a book” lessons for everyone, interested or not, I encourage interested students to browse through the sample books, leaf through the instructional manuals and then engineer their own book in their own way, for their own purpose. 

Today a 6th grader asked for some help binding her book. She already designed a cover and a back and selected her page-papers. She needed a way to secure the pages within her beautiful cover. Together we worked, private-lesson style, to find solutions to her technical issues while also addressing aesthetic considerations. Together we learned to create a hinged front cover so the book could open freely. After examining several of the model books, this artist decided to try an interesting Japanese binding which would hold the covers in place and secure the pages. I was needed to tug the needle through the holes that she drilled with an awl – a job that required considerable hand-strength and a pair of pliers!

"E's" beautiful book
While we worked, I kept an ear an eye on the rest of the class, which was buzzing happily along. The fact that each artist in the room could work with autonomy allowed me to focus on the one-on-one bookmaking lesson. In the future, this new bookmaker will be able to help peers by sharing what she now knows and coaching others, just as I coached her. 

In this way, the studio-learning setting cultivates both learners and teachers: all teachers can be learners and all learners can be teachers.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Week ONE - Really?

"A" stuffing a hand-sewn neck-pillow for a special teacher

It is 2:15 in the art studio, on the first Friday of the 2014-15 school year. Two eighth-graders are outside the art studio door, working on a collaborative sculpture project that they started on the first day of school. Two fifth grade boys just left – they came during their guided study time to tie up some loose ends on the fiber-art projects they were making art for family gifts.
Needle felted finger puppets in progress
Lace overlay textile for pillow construction  By "I" grade 6

Revisiting printmaking
I am a little stunned to recount the following (partial!) list of activities students have engaged in during the first 4 days of school:

  • Potters wheel practice, resulting in 5 bowls and 1 cup
  • Clay slab bowl
  • Clay whistle project (on-going)
  • Clay sculpture - butterfly
  • Color-mixing experiments and resulting paintings
  • Cardboard sculpture – architecture, mechanical objects
  • Bookmaking/bookbinding
  • Drawing: from observation, from memory, from imagination, from digital reference
  • Digital designing
  • Pillows on sewing machine
  • Hand-stitched objects
  • Needle-felting
  • Soapstone carving
  • Mono-print printmaking
  • Styrofoam printmaking using the etching press
  • Scratchboard drawings
  • Origami

"Wings!" by "A" grade 6
Team-work in Sculpture Center
 How is it possible that so many art projects with such a variety of media and techniques are going on simultaneously in the studio in the first week of school? The answer is that the studio-setting we have established facilitates student-directed artistic inquiry. Returning students can get right to their work, knowing what studio centers are available and how to use them. Students new to the studio are learning how to work autonomously, after each new center is “opened” for the very first time. Authentic work in a studio-setting means that student-artists choose their idea, materials, and process. Observing these artists at work during Week One assures me that this is a great way to learn.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The End of Grading

Assessment in Art
            One important goal I have as the art teacher at CBMS is to support intrinsic motivation and nurture student-directed learning in an authentic art-studio setting. What I hope for my students is that they find and develop authentic interest in making and responding to art. I hope that my students discover meaningful connections to their lives, interests and personal knowledge-base, that they challenge themselves to try new things and get better at those they find rewarding, that they develop individual purposes for making art, and discover genuine enjoyment and satisfaction from both making art and experiencing the art of others.
            Over the past several years I have conducted an “action research” study to examine the effect of grades and grading in art. With the help of the CBMS student body, I have learned that for most, grades are not an important factor for learning and growing in art. A minority of students feel grades improved behavior and participation, and for some, grades are detrimental to the creative process.
First I asked students: If you were grading yourself in Art, what grade would it be and why?

Next, I asked students: "If there were no grades in Art, How would this affect your work?"
            Based on surveys, observation and discussion with students over four years at CBMS, I will begin to pilot a program that is free of letter grades, number scores and percentages. Instead of grades, student work and achievement will be assessed through self-reflection and self-assessment, art sharing/critique/display, individual consultation and my observation of and interaction with students at work as artists in the studio. These authentic assessment practices are already in place in the CBMS art studio so the only change students will notice is that they will no longer see grade updates in PowerSchool. Students will “know how they are doing” based on the assessments and reflections they routinely participate in and will see my comment on their report card at the end of a term.
     This new initiative in art is at once a small change and a ground-breaking one. By setting aside grades and scoring, we further support intrinsically motivated learning and growth. This approach is very well-suited for the learner-directed studio-classroom that is already well-established at CBMS. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Teaching for Artistic Behavior Summer Institute

It seems appropriate to sub-title this post: "What I Did On My Summer Vacation," although planning for the first ever TAB institute was a year-long endeavor! 

The summer TAB institute was a big success: 43 teachers from 18 states attended, lauded author and researcher Lois Hetland (Harvard Project Zero) delivered the keynote address, and
Massachusetts College of Art and Design provided the venue, including a gallery for a TAB student art show, studio, dormitory, classroom & meeting space.

Attendants were given free TAB t shirts - why are only 4 of us modeling them?
Authors and TAB founders Kathy Douglas and Diane Jaquith, along with Clyde Gaw and I were instructors and organizers for the week-long program offered for 3 graduate credits. Field trips to the historic
Fenway Studios and the Gardner Museum and time for side trips to both the Museum of Fine Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art provided a rich visual art experience to balance classroom lectures, round-table discussions, and studio time. 
Lois Hetland relates her "Studio Thinking Habits of Mind" to choice-based art pedagogy in the opening Keynote

Teachers in "Track II" set up studio centers from their classrooms to share with the group and participated in a lively "demo-slam," demonstrating how content can be delivered in a brief whole-group lesson format. 
Art teachers found needle-felting to be just as addictive as my CBMS middle school students!
Thank you CBMS for loaning the drum wool carder for the week so teachers could learn to prepare wool for felting
Centers were open in our gallery/studio each evening for artmaking and conversation.

Our view from "The Tree house" dorm where we stayed
Thanks to Dr. John Crowe, Anne Bedrick, Ellyn Gaspardi, Candi Price, Jeff Pridie, Ian Sands, Colleen Rose, Cameron Sesto & Renee Nolan for providing inspirational sessions for the first national TAB institute. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Thank You North Country Credit Union!

The art program at CBMS was just awarded an education grant from the North Country Credit Union! We can now purchase the Drum Wool Carder of our dreams. Louet

Needle Felting is a tremendously popular activity in the art studio, and now, with this carder, students can help prepare the wool they use in this process.
Thank you also to Carol Collins, at Singing Spindle Spinnery in Duxbury, for the many hours of patient instruction, knowledge sharing and wool fleece she has provided in support of our artistic pursuits.