We all have them. Kids who sit, unworking, as the rest of the class creates, or students who ask question after question, continually unsure. I've always had these students in my classes, but this year, because of larger class sizes, I'm impacted by them more. It's been feeling like there are not enough minutes in class to spend the time I need with everyone.
This week I went to a short PD session at my school about supporting kids that struggle within the general education classroom. One point that really stuck with me was that some kids need help organizing the steps of a task. I do this, a lot, but as one of our special education teachers described a student with his head down, avoiding a task not because he doesn't care but because he doesn't know what to do, I saw a few of my kid this year in her description. I realized that the resources I have in place to help kids follow the art-making process may not be enough for all my students.
She talked about how people who tend to be successful at school make mental "buckets" to group and store information. I realized that I needed to help some of my kids with organizing the steps of the Artistic Thinking Process we use as the foundation of all the work in class. So I made this form.
*Read more about what the Artistic Thinking Process is here. *
I created it on Thursday, thinking I would occasionally use it with a few students when I introduce new content, printing them out so kids could have individual copies of the process I write on the board.
I ended up using the form seven times the next day - and I wasn't introducing anything new.
The first student I tried it with has been a kid who's done little in my class this year. He's been suspended multiple times and has missed a lot of content, plus he often just seems unwilling to work. I constantly have to ask him to turn off his phone, remind him what he should be working on and redirect him. Often he just gives up when he doesn't draw something perfectly the first time. Other times he won't even try. I've worked hard to build a relationship with him but it hasn't translated into engaged participation yet.
I saw him with his head down, looking at his phone and not doing anything close to the assignment at hand. I brought over a printed copy of the form and told him that I wanted to make sure he knew what to do. I sat there and filled it out with him, making sure to help him identify the materials he needed and where they were.
He worked for the whole class, independently, and finished what he'd planned to make.
That he was able to do this is beyond huge to me and, I'm sure, to him.
I used the form with six other students who exhibited qualities of being unsure of the next steps. It helped students identify what development activities would work best to give them the information they needed to start their artwork and to keep a very accessible record of what they needed to do next.
The thing about it I loved was that it proved enough support for each of the students I used it with that they were able to work independently for the rest of class, when typically that would have needed support from me multiple times to stay on task.
An optical illusion of a 3D staircase created by a student. He was ready to give up after making the image on the left. I filled out the form with him, which helped him identify that he could ask me for a demonstration as a development strategy. The image on the right is what he was able to draw after.
I'm a firm believer that all students can be successful with the right support and if they won't or can't do a task it's my job to figure out how to help them. I'm really excited about how this resource has already started to make content in my class more accessible and how using it has impacted comprehension and engagement for kids who've been struggling.
If you'd like to try it, find it here.
I didn't know what to expect last week when I planned and taught a new challenge about original symbols. I hoped that my Art 1 classes of mostly freshman would leave the experience knowing a bit more about how to avoid trite symbols. I did not expect that so much of the work would be deeply personal, or that kids would be so open with their peers as they presented the work.
I was struck by how much of themselves my kids put into these works and how honest they were. Sharing their art in presentations was a powerful way to end the experience and it allowed them to connect with each other. Sometimes it's easy for me to forget all the serious issues that high school students deal with daily. I wonder how much they never share with anyone.
I love being done with Bootcamps. My Art 1 students have spent the last four weeks learning about painting, drawing, printmaking and collage. More importantly, they've learned how to confidently make decisions and move from finding an idea to a finished work of art using my Artistic Thinking Process.
Now that the foundation is in place, the fun begins!
This week I challenged my kids to make artwork using original symbolism. As I told them about this, their eyes got big and they looked ready to run. It's a challenging thing, to be original.
To make sure they understood the difference between overused, conventional symbols and original or personal symbols, I lead an exploratory group challenge. I gave them a series of four words and asked the groups to list or draw as many symbols as they could that were related to the word. They shared after each round and we discussed how some common symbols were listed by everyone.
,The words I used - love, patriotism, freedom and mortality, in that order - worked well because they were organized from less challenging to more. Plus, the are all ideas that have many possibilities for complex interpretation. Additionally, they let me introduce my expectation that everyone's beliefs are respected. There were very different interpretations of patriotism listed in some groups, which addressed a range of opinions on gun ownership and standing or kneeling for the pledge, which lead to important conversations. By the time we got to listing symbols for "morality" students were thinking allegorically, identifying groups of symbols that worked together to communicate meaning.
On day two I shared four examples of artwork and asked students to write down any ideas or connections they had as we talked. I started with Running Horned Woman, then The Two Fridas, Remembering, by Ai Weiwei, and ending with Flint, By Ti-Rock Moore (pictured below).
"Flint" is a powerful work that's impossible to really understand without background knowledge. I gave each of my table group and aspect of the Flint water crisis to research and had them report what they'd found. Going through this process to identify how Ti-Rock Moore used imagery from segregation to call out modern-day racism was a powerful experience for my kids.
Still, on the next day as I asked them to use the Artistic Thinking Process to work through their ideas, I wondered if I was asking too much. Would these kids, many of them just 14, be able to do what I was asking?
I gave them the directions below, then began conferencing with each of my table groups.
Almost everyone had an idea.
Work is still in progress, but I want to share a few examples of what I'm seeing. Each of this students is a high school freshman.
I'm so proud of the work coming out of my Art 1 classes right now and excited about what's next.
I've been annoyed for the past few weeks because I'm out of clay and materials for screen printing. Since I didn't have the materials I needed to teach the clay and printmaking Bootcamps I wanted to use in my Art 1 class, I had to rethink my plans. I decided to teach a short Bootcamp that combined collage and printmaking.
Collage and Printmaking Bootcamp
Day 1: Engage and Explore
I started this Bootcamp by asking kids to think about their previous experiences with collage and printmaking. My students remembered formulaic lessons from elementary school - things like handprint turkeys and gluing together pre-cut shapes. So when I showed them this video their peridigm shifted, which was my goal.
As kids watched the video, I had them list techniques and materials they saw the artist use. Next, I showed the class this presentation, as we continued listing and discussing the approaches the featured artists used.
We identified the following techniques:
- Combining small parts to create a new image.
- Juxtaposing large images to make new meaning.
- Using magazine images.
- Cutting paper or painted paper.
- Tearing and combining drawings.
- Layering with paint, drawing or printmaking.
Next, I had the class rotate through four centers, spending around 15 minutes at each, with the goal of research different collage methods as part of planning their own work.
*These kids are familiar with this style of learning, which allows me to shorten the time spent at centers.
Days 2 and 3
I started day two with a short group activity. Kids shared what they were inspired by dring day 1, as well as any plans they had for the self-directed collage they would start work on today. I assigned group roles for this activity - a facilitator to make sure everyone shares, a recorder to summarize the conversation and one or two reporters who presented a summary of the group's conversation with the whole class at the end.
After this quick planning activity the class got to work on collages of their own design.
I'm proud of the results from this Bootcamp. The work made was personal, diverse and interesting, but the shift in how my kids think is just as important. It's our third and last Bootcamp of Art 1 and my students have learned how to use the Artistic Thinking Process (ATP) to work independently to create art. I've been extremely consistent with using the language and structure of ATP in all we've done so far and it's resulting in almost universal confidence. Over the last few days I saw everyone invest in the experimentation I offered in centers, then easily apply what they discovered to their own work. Next week we'll start what i've designed everything to support; investigating broad themes with open choice of media and process.
I'm an high school art teacher who's really interested in student choice and creating opportunities for self expression. I'm also a writer for The Art of Education and co-author of The Open Art Room.