CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Amen Ken

6th grade Styrofoam print - learning to get the inking "right"

Ken Robinson is endlessly inspiring for me. The following quote came across my "desk" (aka art teacher Facebook groups) today (thank you TAB facebook and No Child Left Behind ). Just when I was ready to quit Facebook and pursue more space in my life/brain/eyes too. I guess this is why I stay "plugged in," gifts like this one pop up all the time. 

@SirKenRobinson: "That's why I always say that teaching is an art form.  It's not a delivery system. I don't know when we started confusing teaching with FedEx.  Teaching is an arts practice.  It's about connoisseurship and judgement and intuition.  We all remember the great teachers in our lives.  The ones who kind of woke us up and that we're still thinking about because they said something to us or they gave us an angle on something that we've never forgotten."

- Sir Ken Robinson, Learning [Re] Imagined (2014) http://learning-reimagined.com/sir-ken-robinson-learning-reimagined/

6th grader modeling the apron he designed and sewed to wear when he cooks with his grandmother

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mad Helmet Skills

The 6th-grader who designed and built this helmet was enthralled. Enthralled with the plan, enthralled with the process, and enthralled with the finished creation.
Finished helmet along with photo/reference and arm cuff, for extra power.
Once the process was underway, 48 minutes a day to work on it during art class was not enough. This project took dedication- lunch periods, recess, after school, even once or twice it took sneaking away from some other class, just to check on it and fix it up a little. 
I, too, was enthralled: with this boy's dedication to his idea, his careful attention to detail, his passion and developing skill, his ingenuity and focus. Remarkable.

Trying on the helmet when it was nearly done

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Parting Thoughts

As I gather my thoughts and belongings at the end of the day, I can't resist peeking into the kiln to see how last night's firing went.
Look what I found! This woven bowl was made by an 8th grader. She "invented" clay weaving last year (I say "invented" because although she is not the first one in the world to weave with clay slabs, I did not teach or show this technique in class). Last year this student made a few small pieces using this idea that she developed. This large, ambitious, beautiful piece is a testament to this student's ability to employ the studio thinking habits: "engage and persist" and "develop craft." The fact that she started this line of artistic inquiry last spring and continued with it this fall is a tribute to the structure of a learner-directed ("choice-based") art program where students can engage with ideas and skills in their own time and at their own pace and to stay with an idea until they are "done."

This student has art class for 2 1/2 more weeks, and then is done with middle school art. Or middle school art is done with her. I hope she has internalized many of the studio thinking habits practiced in the art studio, has "fallen in love" with some idea, technique, tool or medium, and continues to make art and artmaking a part of her life.

Friday, October 23, 2015

"I'm Very Excited About This New Skill I've Learned."

It is delightful to overhear statements such as this. It is also rewarding to discover that the skill learned was accomplished outside of school, but brought in, with the student, and applied when needed in the art studio.
One-Sock-Doll Mini-Center
In this case, the skill learned was braiding and was just the thing to make a perfect tail for a brand new "one sock doll" (thanks again to Ellyn Gaspardi for sharing this idea and instruction sheet). Learning something in one setting and applying it in another is an example of "transference," something we hope to teach for. 

One of my favorite activities in the studio is to be alert for what pops out of students as they work. Here is my favorite from this week: "You don't have to have lessons to learn" (captured as it tumbled from the brain of a 7th grade boy).

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mosaics for 8th Grade

After having Choice-Based art with me for four years, some 8th grade students are off and running, just reaching their stride.

Others start to run out of gas a bit and need a little pick-me-up, artistically speaking. Brain research tells us that middle school students enjoy and seek novelty. So, I've been keeping an ace-in-the-hole, a little something special in case I notice interest flagging.
Last year, I pulled soapstone carving out of my sleeve, "for eighth graders only." This year, mosaics - ta dah!

 I was disappointed last year when more students did not fall in love with soapstone carving. In fact, few chose it, and even fewer stuck with it. The students I hoped to engage did not even try it.  

So, imagine my delight when nearly a whole class jumped on the mosaic bandwagon!
Next I showed one group of students all I know about grouting, channeling my friend and mentor John Martin, who taught me everything I know on the subject. 
My students were then able to take it from there. 
I was very impressed with the students' "can-do" attitude and their willingness to give it a go.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The First Few Weeks of School: A Retrospective

When student council asked for pictures of the first few weeks of school to add to a slide show for later today, I sent off the ones displayed here.

The current students I have in class now are not new to our choice-based art studio. I am currently working with 6th and 8th graders only (next semester I will see the 5th & 7th graders). These veterans know their way around the studio and returned to school with ideas and ambition, ready to start in where they left off last spring. 
 We have had about 5 weeks of school. How is it possible that all this varied activity is packed into so short time frame?

The answer is: Choice
That, and an unusually warm September, which allowed our studio to expand into the backyard on many occasions.

In these first few weeks of school, students have chosen to explore new media and techniques and have returned to favorite materials, tools and resources. They pursue both new and familiar subjects and/or practice to improve skills. All of these creative styles and approaches are evident in the photos included here. 

Sometimes I am too busy to take photos, and miss the opportunity to illustrate really good learning. In one 6th-grade class today a student learned to use the sewing machine for the first time and another finished a small woven pouch that has been a work-in-progress for days and days, Near-by an exuberant friend-group found they had to problem-solve what to do with papier-mache' helmet-masks too soggy to try on ("we NEED them for TONIGHT!!!")
While all that was going on, across the room, two students tested the etching press and another engineered and tested paper-straw arrows so they would fly true from his redesigned hand-made cardboard bow.
Wool carding continues, this time with alpaca. Students are getting better at using the drum wool carder independently. 
My next class is on a field trip, which give me a moment to look through these captured moments and see that we have a lot of learning and growing going on around here since school started!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Art is Not Sequential

It's like being a juggler - choice-based art. As the teacher/mentor/artist-in-residence/lackey in our studio-classroom, I have a lot of balls in the air. I love this part of the job.

Flip book artist's scrap pile, discovered by me after the class exited the room
 My favorite thing is when students are off and running in pursuit of their own ideas, directions, interests, needs and talents. That's when I can really go to work.
My response to finding the above flip book scrap pile - get down my flip book collection and make a note to either share these resources with the one or two students who initiated flip book art yesterday or design a "Five Minute Demo" for the whole class. This topic introduced in a whole class demo will bump what I had originally planned to introduce Monday. Is flip book art "whole-class-worthy?"
The one problem is, while observing and interacting with students helps me to generate ideas in my mind for what to introduce or what to respond to, it can be difficult to decide which of these to address "next."

Given the web-like, rhizomic nature of our lively learner-directed program, there are many "things" (directions, ideas, concepts, materials, opportunities) competing for "next." 

As I jot down notes and start to make plans for next week, I rely a bit on an old Vermont expression: "let's see how it all sugars out."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Inside Out

The forecast this week is for: SUMMER! A week of warm sunny days is forecast, so we are moving outside, while it lasts.

 I lived in Colorado for a while, where one sunny day follows the next, but here in north central Vermont, it is rare to get two sunny days in a row, let alone a whole week! Wow!
 The Picnic table we added last spring from a gift from Across Roads Center for the Arts is our new favorite work space. 

The little pond built by students in our CBMS Sustainability program is offering inspiration to artists who practice drawing from observation. There are even waterlilies there, and a frog. 

In a scene reminiscent of Wyeth's Christina's World, one student sits alone in the damp morning grass, taking in the distant ridge line and composing a drawing.

 Here (photo right) is how our outside studio looked today: 2 drawing, 1 weaving and 3 splatter painting.
 Meanwhile, inside the studio we had two clay artists practicing at the potter's wheels -
 One fiber artist teaching another how to braid -
 Only one student working in the Sculpture Center today (unusual for this class) -
Two more students are exploring a 3-D design program (our Digital-Art Center finally opened for the first time today) -
 while two others are working on a collaborative painting they started yesterday. These artists left this painting with a sign inviting those who come next to: "Please add to this painting!"

Don't you just love a sunny day?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Welcome Back Artists!

Watercolor, offered in a variety of forms (watercolor pencils, watercolor crayons, liquid watercolor,  watercolor markers and pan watercolor sets), is featured this week in the Painting Center
The art studio is up and running - almost as if we never left! One thing about our choice-based studio is that once students know where everything, how things are used and cared for, and where to store work in progress, artmaking can begin. For the start of the school year, I am working with only 6th and 8th graders. These learners are already familiar with materials and routines, so we can step right back into the swing of things and start making art on the first day. 
By "A" grade 8                                                                               
My friend Clyde Gaw, a high school art teacher in Indiana, observes that artmaking in a choice-based studio can feel and appear "rhizomic" - a setting where ideas are brought together in a charged web of interconnection. It's good to be back in our lively studio-classroom where students  return to explore their ideas, test new possibilities and learn from one another.
The clay center is a favorite place for kinesthetic learners

A broken arm does not prevent "K" from preparing a new batch of alpaca wool for needle-felting.
 Welcome back artists!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Student is the Product

The following was originally posted on TAB-Choice Art Ed Yahoo site, November 3, 2010, Post # 19720 and re-posted here by request. http://tinyurl.com/nftw2o4

I think all TAB teachers may go through "buyer's remorse" when they let go of the beautiful, teacher-directed projects that wowed adults and looked great on the bulletin board. To expect that the authentic art of children will approach this standard is unrealistic. 

It takes some time to adjust and genuinely appreciate kid-art that is developmentally appropriate, but not always adult-pleasing. Our ideas of what should be produced in the artroom is skewed from prevailing practice in which children are manipulated to produce artificial product - products that are naive-chic. 

Have you ever taught that portrait lesson where you ask the kids to draw just head, neck and shoulders? "Like your school portrait" I used to say, often timing it to be near school picture day. Although you specifically instruct the kids to let the shoulders come right to the edge and meet the bottom of the paper, some kids sneak their arms and legs into the picture, resulting in a huge head and neck and comically tiny arms and legs.To them, it just doesn't make sense to crop the image the way you suggest. Cropping is a concept that comes later on. WE like the way it looks, and appreciate how it makes the kids draw big (WE love it when kids draw big).How many of us have have instructed kids that their image needs to touch 3 sides of the paper? That helps make their art look great too ("their art"?). We are experts at this subtle control to produce product.

When students are allowed to explore, experiment, play and discover, it is not uncommon for them to take several steps backwards developmentally (or appear to), back to a more age-appropriate stage, or even earlier, to a less mature stage - if they have had little experience or opportunity to use art materials without adult control. Hand-printing, finger-painting, splatter-painting and swirls of color are all pretty normal step one ("scribble stage") stuff, but can quickly become kind of boring, so most students use these experiences as a stepping stone toward artwork with more purpose.

I had an interesting experience today with a class made up of half old know-it-alls (students I started with Choice-Based art last year who were chomping at the bit to get ALL the centers open NOW!!!!!) and half new-to-me students. I TRIED to open centers slowly but the experienced ones were getting ready to either explode or mutiny, so I opened the Drawing, Painting and Sculpture centers all at once and asked their help to bring the new kids along.

After I said my standard "centers are now open, start your art" one new 6th grader from Russia came to me and said "I listened to everything you said, but I must have missed something - what are we supposed to do? I explained that this was up to her - she could choose a center and begin. I watched as she started a painting. It was as if she had never experienced any of it before - what to do? What to make? How to make it? What next? And now what? Each mark she made delighted her. She made a red heart outline (on a GIANT piece of paper) and filled it in with more red (she was delighted with this) then - made a red heart outline and filled it with blue (it was touch and go for a minute - had she put it too close to the first heart? Would it fit? A Cliff hanger!) then what? "Five minutes til clean -up" I announced. Hurry! Scribble scratch paint a background Oooooo - that doesn't look very nice! Now what? Oh! Fill it with black! Look! It covers all the scratchy background! Time's up! Finish tomorrow.

I wish I video-taped her - it was like watching a baby take her first steps.

Will it look good to the principal? Nope. Was it a good use for a 24" X 36" poster board? Probably not, could have used newsprint. What will it say about the program if I have an art show? Not much. What was the quality of the learning? Enormous. The student is the product, not the painting. the learning is the thing. The thing is not the thing. Will this student charge into the studio tomorrow eager to get to work? I'll let you know (I am betting yes).

Monday, June 15, 2015

It's a Wrap!

Clay Sumo Wrestler packed up with other 7th grade treasures for the journey home
"To-Do" list all done by today's classes

Monday, June 8, 2015

Unexpected Inspiration

I have noticed that even when I take students outside to practice landscape painting, many still depict trees in a schematic manner with a single trunk "stem" and a fluffy cloud top - these are sometimes called "lollipop trees."

I thought students might like to see how professional, adult artists approach the subject, so I recently showed a very old, quite dated film of four  Disney Artists  out painting from observation ("a busman's holiday"!) The film starts with Walt himself introducing idea about creativity and originality and then shows the four artists at work in their day-job as background artists in the Disney animation studio (circa my childhood).

Then it gets to the good part - the 4 artists head out to paint the same tree in their own original styles, with their favorite mediums. 
I was prepared for kids to complain that the movie was old, or boring, but the opposite happened - they were intrigued with the animation process and even more so with the part showing the artists-at-work on their various tree paintings.
Grade 6 artists at easels in the painting center
And then I was even more surprised when so many students went right from watching the film to the painting center, set up easels, and started to paint trees. That was Friday, and it is still going on today, even after the weekend. 

We are fortunate that we can see trees from each window of our art studio, but many students pulled tree images from the internet as references. If it wasn't raining today, some kids would no doubt have been back outside. 

Two of the artists in the film demonstrate painting with palette knives. Students found ours in the printmaking center, because we use these to get the ink out of the jars. 

The results of this new tool was surprising and interesting for students, and was nothing I have shown before.

I guess I'm writing all this to say that I never really know what ideas will be "grabby" for students and I am pretty surprised by all the interest they have had in painting tree-portraits, in our last week of classes, mere days before the painting center (and everything else!) closes down.