Archives for category: independent thinking

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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IMG_2684Congratulations to Juliet Z. from Ohio! Juliet is the lucky winner of the last Art Kit I’m giving away as part of a year long promotion. She received her automatic entry into this giveaway by registering for my class ART 900: Drawing Magic.  You can read more about all of the Professional Development classes I offer here.

Juliet will be receiving not only her Art Kit stuffed with fun art goodies, but also a lesson plan developed specifically to use with them. Click here to see the full Art Kit contents. It’s been a fun year giving away these kits… thanks to everyone who played along.  🙂

Though the kits are gone… I’d still love to have YOU register for one of my Professional Development art classes. (No art experience required!) Each of my 5 classes is affordable, convenient, and self-paced. Imagine earning 3 units of graduate credit per class from the comfort of your own home, with full access to me via email. Your course materials will be delivered to you electronically within 48 hours of your registration, so you can begin immediately if you’d like to. What are you waiting for? (You know it sounds like fun!) Hope to see you soon!

IMG_2355With the holiday season upon us, what better way to decorate your classroom, or another location at school, than by having your students make some festive, one-of-a-kind holiday streamers?! This idea can be used at any grade level, and materials can be as simple or as complex as you’d like them to be.

MATERIALS: You will pre-cut one long, thin strip of butcher paper for each child in your class, plus a few extras in case of any “disasters”. 🙂  A good size for these strips would be about 6 inches wide by about 5 or 6 feet long. Decide what materials you’d like them to use to decorate their banners. Depending on your time frame, the age and skill levels of your students, and how involved you want to get, materials can range from crayons only to things like, construction paper and glue, cotton, buttons, brads, tissue paper, and more. You might consider limiting their color choices, so that all designs will be created using red, green, and black for example.

MOTIVATION: Before distributing the banners and supplies, tell your students that they are each going to decorate their paper strip with a vertical (tall) design. This means that they will work from top to bottom and not from left to right as they usually do. Talk about all the possibilities for holiday images including things like designs, lettering, and symbols. Time spent brainstorming before you distribute supplies will pay off greatly once everyone gets to work. In fact, you might consider making a list of things during brainstorming, so that students have something to return to if they feel stuck. (Great language arts connection opportunity, too!) Be sure to stress that the decorations for these streamers need not only be “representational” art. (Art that looks like something.) Images of pure design (nonrepresentational art) can be fantastic here, too. (New vocabulary words!) This will help alleviate stress for those students who might be insecure about their drawing skills.

Once everyone starts working, you might get questions about how to draw this or that. The way I handle this is to “talk them through it” without solving it for them. Ask them questions about the thing they want to draw or represent, leading them to create something themselves. Depending on your students, you might make little pieces of scratch paper available, so they can work out some rough sketches before committing their idea to their banner. This kind of thinking and decision making is a vital part of any meaningful art experience and distinguishes it from merely being a “craft project”.

Once completed, the streamers can be suspended from a line stretched across your room or will even look spectacular if they are taped or stapled to the walls. If you don’t have space in your room for display, perhaps you might consider hanging them in the front office, library, hallway, or cafeteria? If time permits, invite students to describe their streamer decorations and talk about why they did what they did with the class. (Oral language!) Or perhaps you might have them write about their streamer decorations and their decision making during the creative process. (Written language!) If you really want to try something fun, consider introducing the idea of a “critique”. This teaches students how to be careful observers, and how to speak respectfully to each other about the work that has been done. A thoughtful critique also shows students how many other creative solutions there are to any given art problem. When the time comes for winter break, the streamers can be simply rolled up and held with a rubber band or paperclips to be taken home for family and friends to enjoy.

For more ready-to-use art lesson plans, consider registering for my affordable, convenient, self-paced classes here.

COVER-226x282.ashxI recently came across a terrific little article in the September 2013 issue of California Educator magazine. (Click here to view the digital edition of the magazine and read the article that starts on page 9.)

The article is entitled, “5 Reasons to Bring Back the Arts”, and it’s the magazine’s cover story. I urge you to take a look at this piece because it’s a nice summation — a very quick read, written in a sort of “bullet point” style — about why the arts are essential, and about what they bring to the educational table. Statements like “the arts help students express themselves”, and “the arts make you smarter”, are explored and backed up with studies. If you don’t already see the value of a thoughtfully planned and implemented art program, this short but persuasive article might just make a believer out of you.

If you’d like to start bringing meaningful art experiences into your classroom, but don’t know how to get started, click here for information about my affordable, convenient, and self-paced professional development courses that you work on from home on your own schedule.

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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_1816In northern California where I live, May has arrived with an explosion of flowers. If this is true where you are too, why not take your students outside to enjoy some of nature’s splendor? Help your children really slow down and see the spectacular colors, the interesting textures, and the wide variety of shapes that spring flowers have to offer.

IMG_1819After some careful observation, consider giving them about 15 minutes or so to carefully draw what they see. Have them focus in on one small area. If your students already have sketchbooks, that’s great! If not, a sheet of plain while copy paper held on top of a book for support will work just fine. Don’t make it complicated… just don’t miss this opportunity to teach your students the simple joy of slowing down and really seeing the beauty of the world around them.

IMG_1820If winter-like weather is still in full swing where you live, bring a small potted flower or two into your classroom for your children to observe and draw. This small bit of color and cheer will help you all be patient as you look forward to warmer weather that should certainly arrive soon.

IMG_1809With graduation season upon us, and another school year drawing to a close, this is a great time to help students think about where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re headed. The “My Life” pop-up book is a small, three-section book that invites students to think about significant events/people/places from their past and present, and to imagine their future. Breaking the book down into these three main time-frames will enable your students to more easily focus on significant details without being overwhelmed.

Here’s what you’ll need: Sheets of 9×12 inch construction paper in a variety of colors, construction paper scraps, scissors, tape, staples, glue, and markers. You might also want to include other materials such as brads, cotton, yarn, buttons, ribbon, string, fabric scraps, hole punches, and construction paper sheets larger than 9×12.

Each child will ultimately need 6 sheets of construction paper — 1 sheet for each of the three pop-up sections, and 1 “backing sheet” for each section. Because this book will consist of 3 separate sections, students may begin on any section they choose — past, present, or future. After all sections are complete, the book may be assembled in the correct order.

Begin by demonstrating how to make a simple pop-up tab. Fold one sheet of 9×12 inch construction paper in half, and make two parallel cuts along the folded edge for each pop-up tab you want to have, like this:

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After cutting, open your paper, and push the tabs you just cut to the “inside” of your folded paper. Close the folded paper with your tabs inside. When you open the folded paper back up, your tabs should stand up like this:

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Elements that will pop-up when the book is opened will be attached to the front of these “tabs”. Encourage your students to get fully involved in the surface decoration of each section of their book using construction paper scraps and any other materials that you have provided. For example, if their own birth is the significant event from their past that they want to represent, perhaps they will have a small crib as one pop-up element, with another being a large cut-out of the numbers for the year they were born. The “background” of the scene could be decorated like a wall in the baby’s room, and the “foreground” area decorated like the “floor” of that room. In other words, encourage the creation of entire settings or scenes to fully represent their significant event/place/person, etc.

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Depending on the age and ability levels of your students, a bit of writing for each section can be included to add depth and description to what they’ve created visually.

After a section is complete, a second sheet of construction paper should be folded in half and attached to the back of the section sheet like this:

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Once all three sections — and their backing sheets — are finished, the sections can be connected together using staples, double-sided tape, or glue. (Hint: you’ll need to be very patient if you use glue!) If you desire, you can have the students decorate the “cover” sheet of their book. For a more finished look, you can wrap a larger sheet of construction paper around the outside of all three sections of the book, and after attaching it, trim off any excess. (A 9×12 sheet won’t be large enough once you’ve connected all three sections of the book together.) This then can be decorated as the cover.

Not only will you learn a great deal about your students during this process, but they will love sharing the highlights of their lives with you and with their friends.

Interested in more fun art ideas like this one? Check out the affordable, self-paced, and convenient professional development art classes I teach through Fresno Pacific University here!

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking for a unique and creative way to celebrate Earth Day with your students this year? Allow me to suggest Earth Day hats! (Pictured above is a basic, undecorated scored paper hat shown from the side/back.)

The idea here is to have each student in your class create a hat, and then decorate it using Earth Day as the theme. While the basic hat shapes will be the same, each child’s surface decoration will be distinct and unique, making each hat a personal statement about how that child feels about protecting and celebrating the earth.

You will need one sheet of 18X24 inch construction paper for each child in your class — color choice is up to you. You will also need a stapler, any type of glue, scissors, and lots and lots of discard materials for the students to choose from. This could be anything from a scrap paper box, to things like, ribbon, buttons, cotton balls, tooth picks, fabric, feathers, tissue paper, brads, yarn, pipe cleaners, glitter, etc. This art experience is the perfect time to use up a variety of random things you have on hand, and to recycle old things into something fresh, fun, and new!

To make a basic hat, just make one simple scored line in a half circle shape on the long side of a sheet of 18X24 inch construction paper. (See diagram below.) If you’ve never scored paper before, you will simply drag the pointy end of a pair of scissors — or even the tip of a paper clip that’s been bent open will do — gently across the paper. This “scored” line that you’ve just created will allow you to then fold the paper along this curved line. (Scoring as a technique is amazing! Once you start exploring it, you’ll be hooked!) Attach points A and B together with a staple, and you’re done. Super simple! (In the photo at the top of this post, you can see this stapled connection point at the back of the hat.) If you’re working with very young students, it might be a good idea to have the hats made ahead of time for them so that they are all ready to be decorated. Scoring takes a little bit of practice so as not to cut through the paper while you’re doing it, but after a few tries, you will learn what amount of pressure is just right.

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If Earth Day is going to be your theme for hat decoration, it might be a good idea to spend some time talking with your students about all of the different ways they could decorate their hats to show how they feel about protecting and celebrating the earth. They could cut out letters to include words on their hats, they could cut out, or tear out, and create symbols to place on their hats (think earth, sun, clouds, water, plants), they could add fun, three dimensional things to their hats such as paper streamers, ribbons, and more. (I would strongly suggest that you not use drawing materials such as markers, crayons, or pencils for hat decoration, as drawings tend to lack the excitement and involvement that other types of surface decoration provide.) Perhaps this brainstorming could be captured as a list that the students could refer back to while they work?

By this time, your students will be highly motivated to get started creating their hat masterpieces, so there is little left to do beyond getting their hats and materials distributed to them. They will have a blast making something that is such a personal statement, and the fact that they will be able to wear them when they’re complete just sweetens the deal. (I’m envisioning a photo op in here somewhere!) Have fun with this, and I’d love to hear how it goes if you decide to try it! (Pictured below is a basic, undecorated scored paper hat from the front.)

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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!)