Archives for category: Expectations for art experiences

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStudents taking my professional development courses often ask me how to evaluate and grade artwork that their students have made. Unlike other curricular areas such as math or history, art is a subject that doesn’t result in answers that can be marked “right” or “wrong”, so how should a teacher go about grading it? The answer — in my opinion — is easier than you might think.

When I’m evaluating student artwork, I focus mainly on two things: their effort and their involvement.

Where art is concerned, people tend to get caught up in what the finished piece (or outcome) “looks like”, rather than the quality of the process that got them there. Differences in art exposure and experience will produce vastly different outcomes between students, so that hardly seems an equitable approach to evaluation. For example, as a trained artist, how my final art piece compares to the work of someone who has never held a paint brush doesn’t make sense. But EVERYONE can demonstrate a high level of effort and involvement when creating art, and I believe this is the key.

Rather than “getting the right answer” — in the form of a finished piece that looks a certain way — I believe that authentic art experiences should encourage exploration of subject matter and materials. Sometimes this exploration results in an end product that is expected and satisfying to the maker and the viewer… sometimes not. But both should be valued as creative growth and as successful.

With older students in particular, I often list requirements or expectations for a given art experience. This lets the students know in very specific terms what techniques and/or materials I expect them to use during their work. When such a list is part of the assignment, then naturally the use — or omission — of them becomes part of my evaluation process. If a required element is not explored or included, that counts “against” the grade. This circles back to my original premise of evaluating effort and involvement, because if a student hasn’t attempted the requirements, they clearly haven’t demonstrated their full effort, nor have they been fully involved in the assignment.

An example came up this week with a professional development student of mine submitting photos and an evaluation to me of an art lesson she taught to her own students. Of one student’s work she remarked, “His piece ended up just looking like a lot of black on the paper, rather than distinct lines.” Nevertheless, she included that piece in the display, and I applauded her for that. What I said back to her was that for that particular student, his process of drawing the lines — though he did it over and over again until his work was a mass of black — was a more important exploration and experience, than of having a final piece that looked a certain way. Did he demonstrate effort in the creation of his piece? Yes! He took the process of drawing lines so far that they became indistinguishable from one another. Was this student involved in the process? Absolutely! And do I love his teacher for not getting “hung up” on what his final piece looked like, and for accepting his creative effort and involvement for what it was? You better believe it!

If you have questions or thoughts about this topic, please share them in the comments section. If you’re looking for some fun, affordable, and convenient professional development credits, click here to find out more about the distance learning art classes I teach. (No previous art experience is necessary — but your full effort and involvement will be!) Thanks for reading.  😉

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I love this time of year! This season of magnificent color presents an exciting opportunity for students to notice and record what they observe happening around them. If your students aren’t already keeping “art journals”, I suggest that now is the time to have them start! You can read my earlier posts about the ease of setting up and using art journals here, here, and here. There’s also a post here about observational drawing that you might find helpful.

My proposal is simple. Have your students observe leaves, one at a time — over time — as they change colors throughout the fall. While many different approaches are possible, I would suggest that you begin by simply having them each select one leaf to bring into the classroom. For this first observation, I would encourage you to suggest that they look for leaves that are primarily green. You might say something like, “We’re going to go outside (to some specific area) and spend just a few minutes while you each find one green leaf to bring back inside our classroom.” This sets a few basic parameters as well as your expectations: A) we will all be staying in the same area together, and B) we will be spending a very short amount of time doing this.

Once back inside, the process of carefully observing their leaves can begin. (Having each student set his or her leaf on a small, pre-cut square of black or white construction paper will help simplify the background, and will make each leaf seem “special” as if on display.) I would not have any pencils or paper out at this time to help focus their attention on their leaves only, and on LOOKING. Oral language and sharing would be great here… what do they see? Students can share their observations with a neighbor. Perhaps you could make a list of class observations. Vocabulary words like line, form, shape, color, and texture can be introduced or reinforced.

When it’s time to draw, journals/paper, pencils, erasers, color pencils, crayons and anything else you might make available can be distributed and the drawing can begin. You might encourage your students to draw one large image, or perhaps you might encourage them to draw several smaller images — or “studies” — of the same leaf from different angles. (This is great for those students who always finish at light speed! Ask them to move their leaf and take another look at it from this different angle.) Most of all, encourage them to take their time, to slow down, and to really look at what makes their particular leaf special and unique. The trick to observational drawing is to actually draw what you see in front of you, not what you THINK you see. Every child in your class has seen a leaf, and generally knows what leaves look like, but today you want them to do the best drawing they can of the particular leaf that is right in front of them.

If you have the time and the inclination, you might attach a writing component to this activity, having students describe what they see, or perhaps how they felt looking at their leaf and trying to draw it, or maybe even compose a poem about it. This writing could be as structured or as “free form” as you want it to be. The writing and drawings can be shared aloud with a partner and/or with the class. Another idea is to have everyone leave their journal open on their desk (or their paper out) and everyone moves around the room doing a “journal walk” or “gallery walk” to enjoy everyone’s work. (If this type of activity is new for your students, you might need to spend some time talking about how important it is to value all efforts, and to stick to constructive comments.)

As you notice the leaves changing colors over the next several days or weeks, explore this same process all over again, but this time you will encourage your students to select leaves that are say, yellow. Maybe a few days or weeks after that, everyone will select red leaves. Reinforce for your students how amazing it is that while you are returning to the same area over and over again for leaves, they have changed color dramatically.

This simple, multi-step journaling practice can be repeated using a multitude of subjects, some of which include growing plants, trees budding out in the spring, or something rotting like a small piece of fruit — kids LOVE the gross-out factor of this last one! Once kids get the hang of what you expect from them out of this process, this type of drawing can even be something that your students can do independently like at a station or center, or perhaps when other work has been finished. When practiced frequently, observational drawing is so much more than an art exercise for students, but rather it becomes a thoughtful, meaningful way of viewing, thinking about, and of understanding their world.

IMG_1778It’s never too early to encourage students to begin thinking about careers that interest them. This simple, yet powerful art experience called “Career Cubes” is a fun way to do just that, while incorporating critical thinking, writing and even a little research if you desire.

You will need the following materials: Light-weight cardboard — used file folders work great here, masking tape, construction paper scraps, scissors, glue, color pencils, crayons, and markers. Additionally, things like yarn or string, staplers, brads, and discard magazines could also be included.

Each child will need 6 light-weight cardboard squares. They can be any size, but I’ve found 4 inches by 4 inches to be a nice, workable surface. Depending on the age and ability level of your students, measuring and cutting out their 6 squares can be great math practice. You could also provide a template for tracing, or you could provide the squares to them already cut out. (The more carefully the squares are measured and cut, the better the resulting cube will fit together.)

The reason 6 individual squares are used, rather than a “cube pattern”, is that the separate squares provide a more challenging set of 6 individual compositions, and a more interesting approach to cube construction.

I would suggest deciding ahead of time what your expectations are for each side of the career cubes. (Your specific requirements for your students will vary greatly based upon the age and ability levels of your students, but even for the very young, I would be sure you have some sort of guidelines established for them.) For example, if your students are older, you might require the following: One side devoted to “naming” the career, three sides will be visual representations of that career, one side will be a written statement about why the student has chosen that career — or is interested in that career — and one side devoted to some basic research on the career such as schooling required, etc., for a total of six sides.

Before handing out the first square, encourage discussion and brainstorming about what types of careers your students are interested in. Talk with them about how different careers could be visually represented… for example, what sort of symbols might one make if they wanted to become an architect? A nurse? Make a list if you like of the many possibilities your students come up with. After you feel your students have been sufficiently motivated, concentrating on only one square at a time, have your students begin the process of surface decoration. Depending on your available art supplies, the squares could be decorated with a variety of materials, or you might limit them to just using cut and/or torn construction paper. The choice is yours. If you decide to require a written component, you might like students to write in their own best handwriting, or perhaps you’d like them to write and compose something on the computer that they can attach to one square. Depending on your schedule, you might have students work on this in one, uninterrupted block of time, or perhaps you might break the process into smaller, shorter work sessions. (Squares, along with bits and pieces, can be easily stored in ziplock bags while in progress.) Lots of options here to make this work for your students, your curricular objectives, and your time frame.

When all 6 sides of a student’s career cube are complete, the cube can be constructed. First, lay out four sides. Be sure to leave a small amount of space between squares to serve as a “hinge”, and tape with masking tape like this:

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IMG_1780Then attach the remaining two sides to the four you just taped like this:

IMG_1782Now bring all sides together to form a cube and tape securely.

IMG_1785Masking tape used neatly on the “outside” of the cube is fine and can become part of the surface decoration. Once complete, each student will have created a unique, concrete representation of his or her desired career choice. Career cubes are fun displayed individually on student desks, stacked up as a group, or can even be hung from the ceiling if you are clever. Your students will love not only making them, but looking at them as well!

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!)

Here’s a fun way to engage your students’ powers of critical thinking while allowing them to explore their individuality and creativity at the same time. The “Secret Door Ornament” is a lesson that works for virtually any grade level, is easy to present to your students, and uses materials you probably already have on hand at home or in your classroom.

You will need the following: construction paper in a variety of colors, glue or paste or rubber cement, crayons and/or markers, tape, scissors, and old magazines. Optional items could include things such as yarn, glitter, buttons, brads, cotton balls, rubber stamps, sticker dots, and more.

Depending on the age of your students, you will want to either have large ornament shapes pre-cut, or allow your students to draw and cut out their own shapes. (I would suggest using 9X12 or 12X18 inch construction paper for this.) Invite the children to decorate their ornaments any way they like using any materials you have available for them. For older students, expectations could be set very high and be very specific about the level of involvement and sophistication you expect in their surface decorations. Once anything that needs to dry has been allowed to do so, cut the secret door flaps in the ornament. (You might want to do this part depending, again, on the age of your students.)

Next, have the kids look through old magazines for a picture of their own “special wish” that will be placed “inside” their ornament. These wishes could be anything such as a vacation, a toy, or even a special thought. What matters most is that it has special meaning for the child. (You could opt to have your students draw their wish if you don’t have magazines available.)

Finally, have each student tape their special wish to the BACK of their ornament so that it will show through when the secret door is opened. The kids are fascinated with this and will have fun opening the little doors again and again to reveal the special wishes of their classmates. (Be sure to display these on a wall or bulletin board so that your students can reach them.)

While these large ornaments are spectacular and fun for their own sake, opportunities abound for connections to other areas of your curriculum. For example, ornament decoration could be related to a specific area of your curriculum such as science, math, social studies, or even to a book the class is reading. You can make many language arts connections by having students share orally with the class — or even just to a buddy — about their secret wish and why they selected it. You might ask students to journal about the process of decorating their ornament, selecting their special wish, and about what makes that wish meaningful to them. These journal entries could be kept between teacher and student, or could be shared with the class.

If you’re an elementary school teacher, you know that young students are very enthusiastic about art. They are willing to try just about anything, and they are willing to try it with gusto. The older children get, however, the more reluctant they become to try their hand at art. When art experiences are authentic, they usually say a great deal about the artist, so by their very nature can make one feel vulnerable. By the time students become young adults, many have completely shut down artistically.

As a teacher at both the elementary and the secondary levels, it has been my experience that the single most important way to engage the reluctant older student in art, is to first meet them where they are. Initial lesson designs should rely heavily on skills that they likely already possess or will find less intimidating. (For example, painting a still life realistically using watercolors would probably not be a good first lesson choice, but using a pencil to create an abstract design using thick and thin lines might be.) Beginning with art experiences that virtually guarantee success, and showing students that you value their authentic efforts, will build their confidence and enable them to move on to ever more challenging art production.

A second approach that I used time and time again was that of providing a specific age context for the work they were doing. For example, while keeping expectations for involvement and exploration of materials very high, I would ask my high school students to imagine they were creating a particular piece of art for a viewing audience of very young children. This would allow them to “play” with images and design like a child, while still remaining their “cool”, older selves. It consistently produced wonderful results.

By presenting thoughtful lessons, and by demonstrating interest through questions and constructive suggestions, the teacher can create an atmosphere where otherwise reluctant older students will feel safe and are willing to take creative risks as they explore new materials, skills, and concepts in art.

If you’d like some tried and tested lesson plans that are sure to engage students of all ages, please check out my professional development class offerings through Fresno Pacific University.

A recent article in the February 2012 edition of Educational Leadership magazine — published by ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) — had me cheering and wanting to share! This article, entitled All Students Are Artists, by Linda Nathan, makes a wonderful case for the importance of including the arts in education — something I have known and felt for years — and she presents the facts to support her case.

One point that really grabbed my attention, was her discussion about how much of today’s educational system is focused on “doing well on the test”. Nathan says, “What if arts education, with its emphasis on process, could help us think about not being finished, instead of failing?” What a concept! Since art expressions come from within, there are rarely “right” answers, but rather “explorations” that cause students to think, question, and puzzle things out for themselves. (As opposed to math for example, where 2+2 always =4.)

As our world continues to grow, expand, and change in ways inconceivable only a few years ago, perhaps our expectations need to change as well. Can we embrace the fact that learning — in any subject area — is a process, and that what’s important is the desire to learn, accepting that all students will not “arrive” at the same time? In fact, what if there wasn’t a “learning destination” at all, but rather a continuum of curiosity and a thirst for learning that lasted our entire lives? This doesn’t mean that there are no educational standards. On the contrary, as an art teacher, I continually push my students to higher levels of learning, making sure that everyone understands my expectations of hard work, patience, and practice. I fully expect that everyone will work to the best of their own abilities — pushing themselves to meet the objectives set before them. What I don’t expect is that everyone will be able to meet those objectives at the very same time. Making measurable progress toward the objectives? Certainly. Meeting them all on the same day at the same time — as with standardized testing? Not necessarily.

As Nathan puts it, “Students crave opportunities to figure things out — things that matter.” Including meaningful art experiences in the classroom curriculum can inspire this type of meaningful engagement with school and with learning, which in turn will have far-reaching effects on the students and their lives beyond their involvement in the arts.

To learn more about this article and Educational Leadership, go to ascd.org

To learn more about my Professional Development art courses, click on Courses for Credit, or Fresno Pacific University at the top of this page.

So my last post was VERY long, and I promised this one would be shorter — so here goes!

If you’ve been able to get your students started working in an art journal of some sort, here are a few tips to keep in mind that will keep the journals relevant, meaningful, and fresh for both you and your students.

1. Collect the journals and comment in them periodically. Don’t make this a huge chore… just gather them up every so often and check out how your students are using them. This can be an excellent time to get a feel for any improvements/challenges in their writing, and also for checking out their attention to detail in their drawings. Keep comments to a minimum. Things like, “Great observation!”, “I agree with you here.”, “Love the detail in this drawing!”, are all things that will encourage your students. I wouldn’t think of this as “correcting” their journals, but rather just an opportunity to touch bases and see that they are being used as intended. (For example if you see lots of drawings of cartoons, you might want to speak to that student and remind them of how their art journal should be used.)

2. Work as a whole group periodically. Just as you did in the beginning to establish your expectations for the art journals, work every so often as a whole group to reinforce those expectations and offer encouragement while your students are actually working in them. One fun thing to do is to observe and draw something seasonally as a group. As a first grade teacher, there was a small tree in a planter right outside of my classroom, and a few times a year — at the change of seasons — we would all take our journals outside to carefully observe and draw this tree. The students loved looking back at the drawings they had done previously to see how the little tree had changed. It was a simple, but powerful way to help them be more aware of their everyday surroundings. Many would report back to me about how trees were changing around their own neighborhoods, “just like our tree”! Imagine!

3. Don’t keep a journal with your students. I’ve touched on this before, and I can’t emphasize it enough: DO try keeping an art journal of your own, but please DON’T  draw in it along with your students. First of all, if you are trying to observe and draw in your own journal, you will not be able to monitor and be engaged with your students as they work. Secondly, if you are working in a journal, your students will lose interest in their  own journals and will want to watch what you are doing. Finally, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself! Your students don’t need to see you draw to be able to have a meaningful experience drawing in their own journals.

In my next post, I’ll give you a few more suggestions about how to keep your students on track and engaged with their art journals, as well as easy ways you can incorporate them into the curriculum you are already covering in your classroom. As always, if you find yourself in need of Professional Development credits and/or are looking for ways to bring some meaningful art experiences into your classroom, click on the Fresno Pacific University link at the top of the page for information about courses I offer. Also, I’d love to hear what you think of this blog, so drop me a line if you’re so inclined.

I hope my last post got you thinking about taking the simple first step of bringing more art into your classroom by introducing the idea of Art Journals to your students. Whether you’ve decided to purchase actual blank books, give each student loose sheets of copy paper in a folder, or you’ve chosen to do something in between, here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started. Let’s begin with expectations.

Make Your Expectations Clear: It’s very important that you introduce the journals to your class as such… art journals. Let them know that these are special and are only to be used for recording their observations (things they see/think about) in both pictures and in words. Let them know that you expect work in these journals to be careful and thoughtful — and that everyone will be working in them the first few times together as a class so that they can understand exactly what you mean. (More about that in a future post.) I would suggest making a little list that you might post someplace in your classroom — this list can then be referred to as needed to reinforce your expectations.

When Students Can Use Their Journals: It’s up to you when you’d like your students to be able to use their journals independently… perhaps during station time, when other work is finished, or when waiting for help… decide what works best for you and let them know.

Art materials to be used in the journals: Again, this is up to you, but I’ve had great success in allowing simply a pencil and an eraser. This places the focus squarely on their drawing and writing — use other art experiences to explore other materials. This also eliminates the problem of them not having what they need to work in their journal — remember, we’re making this easy!

Observation Subject: I’ll talk about observational drawing in a future post, but for now while you’re thinking about expectations, I would suggest that you let your students know that the object(s) they choose to draw/write about in their journals should be something that they can easily see from their seat — it might even be something at or in their desk. Trust me, the last thing you want is for your students to start wandering around looking for things to draw — and believe me, they will! Moving around looking for the perfect thing to draw becomes more important than the drawing. You might guide them to select something that doesn’t move so that they can get a really good look at it — which rules out things like drawing their neighbor!

Next time I’ll talk about observational drawing and how to get your students off to a good start in their journals. Laying a foundation for use in just a few brief sessions as a whole class will help ensure the ease and quality of their use for the remainder of the year. If you’re interested in learning more about teaching art to your students and perhaps need some Professional Development credits too, click on Fresno Pacific University at the top of the page and you can read more about each of the courses I teach. (Specifically ART 900: Drawing Magic, and ART 904: Ideas To Draw From might interest you!) If you like what you’ve read here, I’d love to hear from you — JGomasFaison@gmail.com