CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Power of Mistakes

"It's okay to make mistakes." How often have we heard teachers say this, or at least give lip-service to the idea. I know in our school the idea has gotten a lot of play - educators know that it is important to move away from the 'one right answer' model of teaching and learning, to allow for and even celebrate mistakes. Is the message getting through to kids?

 My question to 7th graders: 
"How did having no grades in art affect you and your work?"

One answer (by the artist who created the above oil pastel painting): 
" I thought it meant that I could make mistakes in my art and not be punished for it."

If my math is right, to this learner, 

Here is another: 
"It felt that I didn't have any limits."


Okay, one more and then I'll stop - this one from a 5th Grader:
"It made me feel like I could be myself."

Wait! Wait! I have to add this one too (Grade 5):
" I think (having no grades) affected my work in a very good way because it makes me feel like I am good at things."


In our art program, we have transcended grades and grading in favor of more authentic assessment and evaluation of learning and creative production. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Effect of No Grades

I always look forward to collecting students' final reflections at the end of the term. I get a lot of good feedback to help shape the program, gain insights about what is working and what is not, and usually a surprise or two.
Our first trimester ended this week. Here is one 7th-grader's response to the prompt: There are no grades in art - how did this affect you and your work in art?

"In art we aren't stressed as much as all the other classes. In art there is still a task, but no grades. Knowing this makes us put all our effort into a piece of artwork as to when and where we work. On other class projects we don't give our all because of time limit. In art we can spend as much time as we need to. "

I am especially interested with the last phrase in this student's response. "...as much time as we need to." Not "want to," not "can," not "get to." Need to. In a choice-based setting, learners are provided with the time, space and stuff they need. 

e-Portfolio Header Image
It is interesting to me that we started this trimester together by pondering Olivia Gude's question adorning the entryway of a high school in Chicago. A mosaic tile banner over students' heads, as they enter the building each day, asks: "What do you need to know?" On the first day of this trimester, I handed out index cards and asked students to respond to Gude's question. I wanted to provoke students to take an even more active role in their course and to realize that here, in the studio, they can pursue those things they need. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Very Tall Cup

measuring up

The tall cup, standing out in the crowd

All fired up
Does it work?

Through Young Artists' Eyes

Hand sewing to the left, machine sewing to the right.
 I take a lot of pictures in the studio to document learning, celebrate innovation, record collaborations and capture humorous or joyful moments. I was about to snap a photo to show how popular the sewing machines suddenly are with the current batch of 5th graders, when I noticed a student at my elbow. I handed the camera to her, and these are some of the moments she recorded.
Thanks to a large bag of donated stuffing, we are going pillow-crazy
 Children compose photographs differently than adults. It is interesting to see studio activities from this fresh perspective. Thank you "P," for documenting a slice of today.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Up and Running

7th-graders. already familiar with our Choice-based studio, are eager to pick up where they left off last spring. All studio "centers" opened right away for this bunch, although we held off on the potter's wheel until week two, so my head wouldn't explode.

7th grade clay artists are becoming more confident, more independent and more skilled. Some are more willing to take creative risk (note the tall tower "cup" built with the coil technique!)

There is little doubt that CBMS students love their access to clay.

5th grade artists, meanwhile, tell me they know just where to find clay, over by the Waterbury reservoir. Some want to know, is that where I get our clay? These enthusiastic newcomers promise they will dig some up from the reservoir this weekend and we'll see how it performs. 

Welcome back everyone - I missed you!

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 is somewhat flagging.

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. 

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.

 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 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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

TAB on a National Stage

I'm heading out to Chicago this afternoon for the National Art Education Conference. I am part of a "Hot Topic" panel with other choice-based art teachers from around the country. 
Below is the description for the panel discussion, join us if you are attending the conference!

NAEA Hot Topic Panel: Saturday 3/19 8:00 AM

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: Shifting Teacher/Student Roles

Experts in Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) and choice-based art education will share how they implement learner-directed programming. Join TAB founders, plus those from K-12 classrooms for timely dialog.
Purpose: To encourage teachers to examine ways to transfer ownership of both creative process and product to their students for more personalized, meaningful learning outcomes in art.
Professional Learning Outcomes: Teachers will gain a new perspective on the relationship between teaching and learning by assessing the merits of learner-directed, studio-based programming from a panel of experienced educators.
Overview: This panel, made up of uniquely qualified TAB teachers, brings their cumulative knowledge and experience with Choice-Based Art Education to disclose ways teachers can support student-led learning in studio-based settings at all levels, K-12.
Content: In art programs designed around authentic learning in studio-based settings, teachers’ roles shift away from mostly teacher-directed lessons toward more emergent curriculum and student-led content. By applying the principles of constructivist teaching and learning (Brooks & Brooks, 1999), students engage in learning through a program that is “just in time” rather than “just in case” (Partnership for 21 st Century Skills). Instruction and assessment focus on differentiated experiences to meet the varied needs, interests and learning styles of all the individual student-artists in each unique community.
There is a great deal of interest in student autonomy, both in general education and art education, as a result of Common Core and Core Arts standards, which identify learner-direction and choice as key to independent learning.  There are frequent questions about implementation of a learner-directed program, given the many constraints that art educators face in their jobs. This panel seeks to clarify misconceptions about choice-based pedagogy and offer real solutions to planning, management, accountability, and advocacy in the choice-based setting.

TAB founders and three teachers representing contemporary K-12 art education combine their 75+ years of Choice-Based pedagogy for this panel. The group consists of published authors, bloggers and frequent speakers at NAEA, State Conferences and professional development workshops and institutes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reflecting on Reflecting

"I am convinced that the time spent by the teacher in digging out of the child what she has put into him, for the sake of satisfying herself that it has taken root, is so much time thrown away. It's much better, I think, to assume the child is doing his part, and that the seed you have sown will bear fruit in due time. It's only fair to the child, anyhow, and it saves you unnecessary trouble." 
~ Anne Sullivan on her switch from teacher centered learning to student centered learning that lead to her pedagogical breakthrough with Helen Keller (This came to me via Facebook - is it really from Anne Sullivan? what is the source? Whether it is bona fide or not, I find the content interesting, and will endeavor to varify it so I'll know).

It's "grading" time again. 8th-graders have one more day of art. Some, forever. Some will go on to take art in high school and beyond. Some will continue to make art in their home studios: their kitchen table, a workbench in the cellar or the desk in the bedroom. It is a time for taking stock, of measuring, in one way or another what was learned. It is also a time to survey students and ask: "what was of value?"

 In the art studio, students show me each day what they "know and are able to do."
  • Can students generate an idea for artmaking, or explore with materials and tools in order to develop an idea? 
  • Are they able to choose appropriate tools, materials and technique to express their idea?
  • Can students use media appropriately, creatively, skillfully?
  • Can students take care of tools and materials?
  • Are students willing and able to clean up and leave the studio ready for the next artists who enter the space?
  • Do students reflect about their work - before - during-after creating it?
  • Do students consider "what if?" and "what's next?"
  • Do students participate in group discussions, conduct themselves respectfully toward others and engage with interest in the topic?
(the above list is taken from personal communication with TAB founder Katherine Douglas, and revised by me)

In the past, I scored to what degree students are able to meet the above criteria.  Some routinely and enthusiastically practice and apply the studio thinking habits of mind, which characterize the work of artistts. They would score the highest. Others are less engaged, less willing to take creative risk, less willing to work hard enough to learn a new skill, less motivated to break away from their peer group, or less able to sustain the focus required to craft an image or an object. Their scores would reflect this. Some students disregard much of what is offered, are unwilling to engage in artmaking and instead practice the art of disruption. They would receive the lowest, possibly failing, grades. Everyone would "get what they earned," or, perhaps, "what they deserve." But don't they get this anyway, with or without a letter or a number? The knowledge and know-how each student takes away, at the end of the term, is unique to each learner. The complexity of learning transcends traditional grading designations. At least in the art studio, we have left these conventions behind.

I make a few remarks, observations mostly, on students' report cards. I encourage students to keep learning. My few sentences disrupt the report card format and cause additional pages to be printed. Several sentences are too many, one is never enough. Assessment, grading and reporting is moving away from standardization, as is teaching and learning. New forms and practices will need to be designed to accommodate these changes.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Where Do Artist Get Inspiration?

The latest obsession in our studio sprang from my recent visit to our local clay studio. There was a "Seconds and Student Sale," sort of a white sale, studio-style, going on last month. While I didn't buy a single new student, I did make off with these two guys:
Tripod animal jars by Abby Dreyer
Abby Dreyer, the potter who made these, is well-known in the area for the  exquisite clay bird houses she makes. I have admired her work for years, so I was thrilled to find these little clay jars she made, and chat with her about them. She told me a little about how she made them and suggested that it's a great clay project for kids. 

Well. That is an understatement! My students and I have made around a dozen of them already. The simple structure of the jar lends itself to endless variation and combines the concept of form plus function This makes the idea tremendously appealing to my middle school clay artists. Thanks for the great idea Abby!

I wonder if I bought enough clay? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Mid-Year Reflecting

Grade 6 at work on a collaborative mural project

     This week marks the beginning of the second half of the school year. A new quarter is one-week in, and a new batch of 5th graders are getting familiar with studio routines. 
     I am a week late in posting "grades." I actually don't give grades in art anymore, my students have made it clear to me that grades are not useful for them. Instead, I write a short narrative to sum up each students' work, approach, successes, innovations, and challenges in art. Our report cards are not set up for this, my sometimes lengthy additions throw off the formatting. But just as I ask my students to write a little about their experience as an artist is the studio after each term, I do the same on their behalf.
Print-maker in foreground, drawing group in the background
      Today I am reporting on the 6th graders who just completed their quarter in art. Below are the words of one student who I will not see back in the artroom until grade 8, because next year's 7th graders must choose between French and Art. French-learners sacrifice a year in the studio so they can be prepared to take French 2 in high school, or because they love learning French, or both. It can be a cruel choice to make. 
Paper Marbling is a temporary center students look forward to

Q; What did you like about art this quarter?
A: " I didn't like art this quarter, I LOVED art this quarter. I really enjoyed art because it felt like a 'safe place.' It was always calm, and just an enjoyable place to work. Also I liked art because there was no 'right' or 'wrong' way, you could just do 'your way.'"
      This year is the first in our implementation of Vermont's mandated "Personalized Learning Plans." Statements like "J's" above let me know that in the art studio, learning is always personal.  


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Easy Does It

Aptly illustrates how I feel this week
There is a ton going on in the studio this week. I cannot believe it is only Wednesday, and that we are just three days in from our holiday break. We are neck-deep in: 
  • Soap stone carving
  • Mosaics 
  • Sumi-e ink painting
  • Paper marbling
  • Mural painting
  • and everything else
I have no one to blame but myself - it's just that there are only two weeks left in the quarter and 6th-graders keep bringing up things they want to do before they are done with art. Done til next year, or, in many cases, until the year after that. We are in a frenzy trying to get everything in that students love or want to try. 
 Meanwhile, my new batch of 8th graders are being treated to a couple of "8th Grade Only" options, like working with soapstone and designing mosaics. Add this to that, and, whew! It's a lot!
Today's button-popping pride moment went like this:
"Nan, can we grout our mosaics?"
"Of course" I say, pulling out all the gear and materials needed for this and swiftly setting up at the end of a table, on our last scrap of newspaper.
"Do we mix the grout?" asks one 8th grader to another
"No, Nan has to do that."
(Nan thinks - um...why do I have to do that? I bet they know how...)
"No," says Nan, "You guys can mix it up."
So they did. Perfectly.

Note to self: Release control of the things kids can very-well-do on their own, or with minimal supervision or coaching. Why is this such a hard lesson to keep learning?