Archives for the month of: February, 2013

DSC01110As a teacher of professional development art courses for the past 17 years, I’ve noticed one consistent truth: teachers are reluctant to teach art because they are afraid. Afraid that to effectively teach art, they must “perform” artistically in some way for their students. They repeatedly tell me things like, “I can’t draw” and “I’m not an artist”. My message to them is twofold. First of all, experience has shown me that everyone is creative to some degree — we all just have different levels of art experience and exposure. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, a teacher doesn’t need to be a trained artist, or to be able to draw, in order to present successful, meaningful, and powerful art lessons in their classroom. In fact, I would argue that the most important thing a teacher needs to be when teaching art, is what I would call a “monitor/motivator”, and one of the most profound phrases in the motivator’s toolkit is, “take another look”.

Just as adults can be intimidated by art, so too are the students we teach. It’s no surprise that the higher up in grade level one looks, the more fear and trepidation one will see in the students. This is where the power of the “monitor/motivator” role comes in. By closely monitoring your students as they work on any given art experience, you will be able to support and motivate them as needed, helping to build their confidence. Actively move around the room offering constructive, encouraging words and comments while you closely look at what they are working to create. When students ask for help and want you to solve an art problem for them, resist the urge to do so and suggest that they “take another look”. Ask questions that will encourage their thinking and analysis of their own work, and of the problem at hand. This is critical thinking made manifest.

Because of a limited exposure to art among other things, students often think they are finished with an art making experience long before they really are. This is the crucial point where you can acknowledge what they’ve already accomplished by saying something like, “That’s a really great start!” and then offer the empowering questions, “What else can you do here? Take another look… what else can you explore?” This suggestion to “take another look” lets the student know that there is still more to see and to do, and that your expectation is that they will continue to search for it. You are challenging them to push past what might have been a quick, simple, and safe solution on their part, while letting them know that you have faith in their ability to go beyond it. As you consistently monitor and motivate your students during art experiences, you will see your students look to you for answers less and less, as they begin to trust themselves more and more.

As Maria Montessori once observed, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” Helping your students develop into inquisitive, self-directed, life-long learners is possible, and connecting meaningful, authentic art experiences to your curriculum can foster this development. Please click here to see the affordable, convenient, and self-paced professional development art courses I teach through Fresno Pacific University. (* No art experience needed or required!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhether art is one of many subjects that you teach in your classroom, or you teach in a dedicated art room, organization of your art supplies is a must. And what better time to get organized than spring?!

As one who has taught in both a multiple subject classroom, and in a high school art room, keeping my art supplies organized has made every lesson I’ve taught easier. Whether I’m pulling supplies out in preparation for a lesson, or taking a quick inventory to see what I need to replenish, keeping things in order has really paid off. My sister — a professional organizer! — likes to encourage her clients to think of their spaces as big containers, and then to think of breaking down the things stored within those spaces into smaller containers. This has helped me tremendously over the years both at home and at school.

So let’s get down to business shall we? If your art supply organization is long overdue, I suggest you begin by pulling all of your art supplies out onto tables where you can see them. Gather like items together, such as all of your paint brushes, color pencils, crayons, and glue bottles. (As you do this, be sure to get rid of anything that is no longer usable.)

Once like supplies have been grouped together, I would suggest that you begin thinking about storage containers if you aren’t already using them. These don’t have to be anything fancy or new, just some sturdy containers that will hold your supplies. I also strongly encourage you to think about choosing containers that will serve “double duty” for you. For example, I use little stacking plastic drawers, 4 drawers to a “unit”. These can sit out or be placed in a cupboard, but the main thing is, they not only store things like crayons, color pencils, chalk and glue sticks, but they can also be carried to work tables and desks for the students to work out of. When the work session is over, the supplies go back in the drawers, and the drawers go back into the little “unit” that holds them. As simple as that. Again, nothing fancy or expensive, but highly functional. When smaller art supplies have been “containerized”, you can begin placing things back into cupboards and cabinets in any way that makes sense for you. The beauty of this time that you’ve invested is that now when you need glue, you know right where ALL of your glue is. Crayons? Just pull out some containers and you’re ready to go!

Here are a few other quick and easy storage tips that might work for you. Three coffee cans hold my paint brushes — handles down, brush tips up — roughly separated into small, medium and large sizes. I’ve also found that storing construction paper on edge vertically, makes it easy to pull out what I need, and put back what I don’t, without unstacking everything. (They look like very colorful little book spines.) If you place them in order (ROYGBIV: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) they look beautiful too! This type of construction paper “filing” also makes it easy to see when you are running low on a particular color. Having some sort of scrap paper box is also important for gathering up any usable bits of paper that are too big to be thrown away.

Scissors can present their own unique storage problems. When I taught first grade, our scissors were all kept one of the storage drawers mentioned above. Students knew where they were and took responsibility for getting them out and putting them away when they were finished with them. High school is a different situation. I needed them to be accessible to students, but I also needed to be able to account for every pair at the end of each class period. The solution was to hang the scissors up on nails. The students could easily get a pair if they needed one, and at the end of each class, I could glance at those nails from anywhere in the room and see if all of the scissors had been returned to their place. (The class was NOT excused to leave until all scissors were accounted for and my students knew it.) Very effective.

I’m a big fan of encouraging students’ independence, and the more organizational systems you establish and teach to your students, the more independent they can be. When materials need to be put away, everyone knows where things are supposed to go, and so everyone can help pitch in to get things picked up. For this reason, I would also suggest that you gather some all-purpose containers that can be used for different things during projects, but not necessarily be used for long term storage. For example, I would suggest 3 or 4 round, metal cake pans, and maybe a few rectangular pans as well. These are great when you need to set out things like cotton balls, beads, buttons, and brads for the students to use. During an art experience, my students are able to help themselves to whatever they need, and return items they don’t need for others to use. When the project is over, I then return those items to their long term storage, and the pans are ready to go for the next art experience. A few scotch tape dispensers, a stapler, and masking tape rolls tied to something are also a good idea. (Tying the masking tape rolls to something simply means they’re always where they’re supposed to be.) I also like to keep two stacked paper trays out and accessible for the students — one filled with blank, white copy paper, and another filled with newsprint paper. This is great for a variety of things including quick sketches and notes.

Finally, I’ve listed a few items that I’ve found to be invaluable over the years and that I always keep on hand for art experiences. Small paper cups can be purchased in bulk at restaurant supply stores and can be “pulled open” so that they almost lay flat and can be used as mini paint pallets, as well as a place to hold a small amount of glue. When left in cup form, they are great for holding small items such as beads and brads while students are working. Paper plates, plastic tubs for water, disposable gloves, baby wipes, paper towels, and old men’s shirts (to cover up when things get messy). If you do anything like papier mache, having a “dedicated” small plastic bucket (like one that might hold ice cream), a plastic ladle, and plastic plates are a great idea. The bucket can be used to mix your papier mache, and you can ladle it out onto plastic plates for students as they need it. Plates can then be thrown away at the end of the art experience.

Once you’ve invested a little time and energy getting your art supplies in order, you’ll discover how much easier and more fun it is to plan and then implement exciting, successful art lessons for your students. You may just find yourself connecting art to lots of lessons, because your spring cleaning and organizing has made it so much more convenient! If you have any tips you’d like to share, I’d love it if you’d join the conversation and leave a comment on this post.

IMG_1690Whether you include Easter images and symbols in your curriculum or not, this lesson can easily become a part of your spring art experiences. A few simple modifications in presentation and expectations will allow you to teach this as an “Easter Bunny”, or simply a fun, “Spring Bunny”. Either way, these large, torn paper bunnies will add a breath of fresh, spring air to your classroom decor, and your students will have a wonderfully creative time making them. Think your students are “too old” for this type of experience? Why not have them create bunnies for younger student buddies? (I’ve gotta say it… they’d be “Bunny Buddies”!) Or maybe they could make these and you’d donate them to a hospital or senior citizen center where I’m sure they’d be welcomed as decorations. Trust me — the “big kids” like to play too — you just need to spin it so they feel their sense of “coolness” is still intact! 😉

Here’s what you’ll need: White construction paper or white drawing paper in fairly large sheets. (At least 12×18 inches.) Butcher paper will work too if that’s all you have on hand. Small scraps of pink, black, and gray construction paper. Paste, glue, glue sticks, or rubber cement — whatever adhesive you have on hand and like your students to use. Scissors.

Talk with your students about spring, rabbits, and Easter — if it’s appropriate and allowed in your classroom situation. Help them to see that by tearing the paper, a softer, more “bunny-like” quality in the edges is possible. Contrast this with cutting, which would produce a sharper, harder edge. You might slowly tear a random piece of paper, and then cut off another part of that paper to actually show students the difference. (Introduction or reinforcement of the vocabulary word “texture” is perfect here.) Demonstrate and emphasize the process of   c-a-r-e-f-u-l tearing, as opposed to ripping, to get the desired shape.

Have your students work on each part separately. For example, you might say, “Let’s first think about a head for our bunny. What do you think it would look like? Round? Square? Football shaped? Ok, now let’s all carefully tear out a head.” Next, ask them something like, “What do you think we need to add to make the head shape look more like a bunny?” (Ears.) Have them tear out two ears. Do they have to be the same shape and size? No. Can they be? Yes. Can one be floppy and one be straight? Yes. Encourage them to work large, and to explore ways to give their bunny individuality and personality. Continue with this approach for all of the remaining parts: neck, body, front legs, back legs, feet, and tail.

During this process I find I can avoid potential problems and frustrations by saying something like, “I’m not giving out prizes to the person who needs to keep starting over the most… but if you’d like to tear something out again, place the piece you don’t want in our scrap box, and get another piece of paper to try again.” This releases the pressure for them of, “OH NO! What if I don’t like what I make?!” They know they can try again and it’s not a big deal. Additionally, it lets them know that your expectation is that they won’t need to make every piece over again several times. I’ve had great success with this approach at all grade levels.

After all body parts have been made, tell the students not to paste or glue anything down yet, but first place all the parts where they think they’d like them to go on their desks so they can see what it will look like and they can make any changes they may want to make. Once satisfied, they can paste or glue everything together.

At this point, you can give the kids small scraps of pink, black, and grey paper as they might want to make eyes, noses, whiskers, insides of ears, etc. (Use scissors here if desired.) I would suggest waiting to glue all of this down just like before. Have the kids place everything where they want it first, and once they are satisfied with it, they can glue or paste these items in place.

If all goes as planned, you should end up with a spectacular variety of torn paper bunnies each with it’s own unique characteristics and personality. Should you have the time and inclination, enrich this art experience even more by adding a written language arts component by having students write a story about their bunny, and/or an oral language component by having students share their stores aloud or simply describe their bunny to classmates. A journal entry about the process would also be a worthwhile extension.

IMG_1688In my last post, I talked about the importance of having images available to your students for use as visual references when having the real thing in front of them just isn’t possible or practical. Today I’d like to help four lucky people get started on the creation of their own image files by giving away some beautiful National Audubon Society field guide books. (These books are brand new and cost about $20 each.) Each of these books is full of gorgeous, full color photographs that will make excellent reference images for any artist. Each book is focused on a different subject group — one for reptiles & amphibians, one for mammals, another entitled fishes, and finally one for insects & spiders. The pages measure about 3.5 X 7.5 inches, so if you tear them out as I suggested in my blog post, they will fit neatly into a file folder for easy retrieval and distribution later.

If you’d like to receive one of these spectacular National Aububon Society field guides, just leave a comment on this blog post. The first 4 people to leave me a comment by Wednesday, February 20, 2013, by 5 p.m. (PST) will each get one free book. (Subject of the books vary and cannot be specified by the recipient. One comment/entry per person, please.)

And teachers… don’t forget that spring break will be here before you know it. Plan your professional development now by checking out my affordable and convenient art courses offered through Fresno Pacific University. Registration is always open for these distance learning courses — you can view all of my course listings here. No art experience? No Problem! My courses were written specifically with YOU in mind! Imagine yourself completing the units you need on your schedule, from the comfort of your own home. I’d love to see you in class!

IMG_1679For many of us, creating something is much easier with some sort of visual reference. Whether we’re making a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture, having something in front of us to look at helps us get the details right. It helps us with things like proportion, texture, pattern, and color. Here are a few easy suggestions that will help you establish a valuable set of image files that your students can use again and again when they need a visual reference. Why the need for such files you ask? Well, if one is drawing a rose, for example, it’s not too difficult to simply bring one into the classroom. The same holds true for any number of fruits, vegetables, and small objects. But what if your students are trying to draw or sculpt say, an elephant, or a particular type of fish? Not so easy. Enter the image file.

My suggestion to you is that you create a series of files filled with photographs that your students can reference as needed. I want to be very specific here about saying that your images files should contain only photographs — not drawings or paintings of things. The problem with using drawings or paintings of things as a reference is that someone else has already made all of the decisions about color, line, texture, etc. When you have your students work from photographs, they must decide how to interpret the “reality” of that photo into their work. This involves a tremendous amount of observation and problem solving skills that are essential to student growth and learning.

For my own classroom files, I purchased some very inexpensive books of photographs of whatever I was looking for. (Yard sales can be a fantastic source!) Because having an entire classroom of students share one book is not practical, I simply tore the pages out of the books I collected. (As a lover of books, this was kind of hard to do at first, but I persevered and it worked so well, I never looked back.) I used hanging file folders to store these now single sheets of photos, and labeled them by category such as, insects, fish, mammals, reptiles, birds, flowers, etc. (Often these photos also have an accompanying paragraph about whatever is in the photo, which I find to be a real bonus as far as student learning is concerned.) Once these files are established, it’s simply a matter of pulling them out when you need them. So for example, if you’re working on an art project that involves reptiles, you simply bring out the reptile file and you’re all set. If only one topic is being used, I simply spread out that file’s contents on a table for students to peruse. If we’re using multiple subjects, I place the files we’re using in a small hanging file container someplace where the students can look through them.

When I initially set up my image files, the internet was not something we had access to in classrooms. And while it might be tempting to let students search for images on the computer, I would advise against it. In my experience, students will make a selection from this type of photo file within a minute or two of looking over the photographs. How long do you imagine they might look on the internet…?

Trust me that after only a small initial investment of time and money on your part, you will end up with files that will serve you well for years. You won’t be able to imagine how you ever lived without them!

Need other ideas for great art experiences YOU can do in your classroom or with your homeschooled kids? Check out my affordable and convenient professional development courses here. You can register at any time for my distance learning classes, and best of all, you complete them on your schedule. I hope to “see” you in class soon!