Bootcamps are a simple and effective concept. The idea is to compress essential instruction into a short amount of time, creating a strong enough foundation for students to be successful working independently.
In practice, Bootcamps can be tweaked endlessly. This year I added a few components to my Art 1 Painting Bootcamp, where students learn the basics of color theory and how to use watercolor and acrylic paint. All the painting described below is done with color mixing from warm and cool primaries, plus white and brown. All my teaching is organized by my Artistic Thinking Process.
My Painting Bootcamp
Day 1: Color theory and setup with acrylic.
I start by asking kids to make a chart that they will use compare and contrast acrylic paint, pictured above. I ask them to take notes about the materials needed for each as I describe the setup and procedures we use as pass out materials.
Next, I ask my table groups, which have 3 to 4 students, to select a page from a magazine. Then I tell them about the color mixing challenge and overview basic color theory. Groups have half an hour to mix matches for as many colors in their chosen magazine page as they can. They get immediate feedback by placing the paint right on the page in the area they are trying to match. If the color is exact, they circle it and add it to their total. If it's off, the group problem solves about what they need to change or add to get it right. When time is up each group shares their total number of matched colors, along with something that they learned during the activity.
I leave lots of time at the end of this first class to teach clean up procedures and check for mastery. Then, if time allows I ask students to write what they think about acrylic paint in the +/- section of their comparison chart.
Day 2 and 3: Acrylic and Watercolor Techniques
I teach the techniques for watercolor and acrylic over two days by demonstrating then having students try. For acrylic I teach smooth gradient, painting with visible texture, layering and dry brush. For watercolor I teach dry brush, wash, layering and wet on wet. I discuss the basics of atmospheric perspective as I demo layering in each medium. I frequently mention that they are collecting information that will help them decide which type of paint to use in the summative assignment, which is to create a landscape painting .
Days 4 - 7: Development and Creation
I ask students to create a landscape painting for the summative artwork for this Bootcamp because:
For the Development stage I ask students to pick three of the following tasks:
- Search for and combine reference images (I require students who do not have a photo they've taken to compile at least two online images with a compositional sketch).
Students spend at least a full 90 minute class on Development, sometimes two. At this point in the year I am still establishing my expectations for ownership and this part of the process needs to make abundantly clear that the student needs to put in the work to build an artwork. I do not give them answers - they make their own path.
After Development, students move on to Creation, which we'll finish early next week. I'm excited to see how these birch trees turn out. :)
How do you make the slow, tedious work of colored pencil drawing fast?
Last year, when I taught my Art 3 students a colored pencil Bootcamp, I didn't. We spent two weeks with prisma technique and producing finished work. The work was pretty and highly polished, but there was an over emphasis on realism. Many of my kids really, really wanted to make drawings that looked just like their photo references - even the kids who typically had a very different style.
This didn't sit well with me. I'd agreed when asked by my department to include colored pencil instruction in Art 3, so skipping this Bootcamp wasn't an option. This year, my goal was to make it better.
I had two things I wanted to accomplish:
Broaden students' view of success beyond representational work and shortening the timeframe to no more than a week.
One way I set about meeting my goal was introducing the work of two colored pencil artists; Marco Mazzoni and Lui Ferreyra, work pictured above. Examining and discussing their worked helped expand students' assumptions about what colored pencil work can and should look like. I wanted them to play around with different styles and to try something other than replicating an image perfectly.
I decide to start class with drawing tasks so short that my kids would have to draw without over thinking.
10 Minute Challenges
Day 1: Cup in arbitrary color.
Day 2: Plants. I had students select a palette of three colors first, then got out the plants to force them to "make it work".
Day 3 and 4: Word illustration. I handed out words on slips of paper as kids entered the room. They had 2 minutes to plan, then 10 minutes to draw. At the end groups switched tables and tried to match other groups images with the word they depicted. On day 4 I passed out the words again, only this time they had to illustrate the opposite of the word's meaning.
Colored pencil is not my favorite medium and realism is not my favorite style. However, some of my students like both. Many are doing very realistic drawings for their summative drawing for this Bootcamp, and that's fine, because they know that there are other options out there that are also valuable. I'm happy with how this Bootcamp turned out because it became more open and supported a range of styles. Plus, quite a few of my kids are taking lessons they learned in the 10 minute challenges and applying them, which goes to show that deep learning can quickly!
I start Art 1 with Bootcamps because they do two vital things very well:
Bootcamps are my version of opening centers. Once the weeks of Bootcamps are over, students know how to use, as well as have access to, a broad range of media. The trick, for me, is to keep the Bootcamps short in order to provide the challenge of choice and the deep learning that comes with it for the maximum amount of time. In my experience, students bring a range of capabilities for independence to my class. Some are ready to generate their own ideas from day 1, while others are unsure and need to learn the steps of ATP to feel confident with self directed work. To support the needs of both extremes, as well as all those who fall between, I make sure to plan Bootcamps to include both open ended options for work, as well as more concrete options.
My drawing Bootcamp this year took 5 days. I told students at the beginning to few the first two days as a time to collect ideas, as they would be expected to apply new learning to plan and create an original drawing in the media of their choice. I frame the exploration stage of the Bootcamp as research, which helps kids shift their mindset from expecting answers to knowing they will be in charge of important decisions.
Day 1: value in graphite and charcoal, with a short whole class demo of shading a sphere with graphite, followed by the group challenge pictured above in charcoal.
Day 2: Draw Around the Room, inspired Diane Jaquith and Cynthia Gaub, with centers set up that students rotate through for chalk, oil pastel, colored pencil and pen.
Day 3: Development starts for the summative drawing students will create in a drawing media they'd like to explore further. Students complete two Development activities from the Artistic Thinking Process.
Days 4 and 5: work time with a gallery walk at the end of the last day.
This year's drawing Bootcamp went well, in large part because I was very consistent in referencing the ATP for every stage. I see the shift I'm looking for happening already; students are starting to view the tasks I assign as a way to collect information, not steps to complete for a grade. They are starting to consider their personal goals and needs instead on focusing on what they need to do to earn an A.
In my classroom, the first day of school is for games. Kids learn more when content is connected to fun and I want them to start internalizing my Artistic Thinking Process (ATP), the framework I structure all class content around, ASAP. So I build games to teach it, as well to get to know each other and have fun.
This year's version, Can You Build It?, had three rounds, meant to introduce a variety of Inspiration and Development strategies, along with collaboration and problem solving.
As kids come in the classroom I hand them a card which tells them what table to sit at, keeping groups even. The class period starts with a brief survey using Google Forms. I ask about student's experience, goals for the class and a bit about them. During this time I ask everyone to write one verb on the card I gave them. I collect the cards to be used for round 2 and start the game.
I've written about each section below using the ATP framework.
Round 1: Cup Stack
Challenge - stack the cups as high as you can in ten minutes. No adhesives. Points for height and aesthetics.
Materials: styrofoam cups
Inspiration: New media.
Development: Experiment. Give groups a few minutes to mess around with the cups to figure out a plan for stacking.
Creation: Students stack and build for 10 minutes!
Reflection: Each group shares their strategy with the class.
Round 2: Active Illustration
Challenge - communicate the work on the card your team selects by acting it out. No sound. There must be a visual element created by the team. Points for craftsmanship, clear communication and use of humor.
Materials: Verb cards that students created during the survey, plus a range of materials for construction. I let my kids use paper, construction paper scraps, newspaper, markers, tape and scissors.
Development: Brainstorm. Give groups a few minutes to list ideas for communicating their word.
Creation: Quick! 15 minutes to create presentations and the visual component.
Presentation: Each group performs, then the class attempts to guess their word.
****Not pictured because I was laughing so hard during the presentations I forgot to take photos!***
Round 3: Table Mascot or Logo
Challenge - create a mascot or logo for your table group using symbolism.
Materials: choice of 2D media, poster size paper.
Inspiration: Guiding question.
Development: Research. What do you have in common? How can you communicate it visually?
Creation: Students work together to create images.
Presentation/ Reflection: Each group presents, sharing how they used symbolism to represent the group.
Now I know my kids better and have some pretty awesome decorations.
The start of a school year always feels like New Year's Eve to me. It's exciting to have a fresh start to try out new ideas and build on past successes. I'm especially excited for this year, because, after 4 years of teaching in pretty challenging conditions and having to share storage with multiple other teachers, I have my own brand new space. I'm looking so forward to not having constant challenges to deal with from the physical structure of my teaching space but what I have big plans for is building the intangible - community, culture and the capability of my students.
3 Exciting Ideas I'm Working On
1. Developing participatory art opportunities for my school community.
Why can't an art show be more like a concert or sporting event? I want to expand on the successful Pop Up Art show my Art 3 kids put together last year. I'm also inspired by the Art-o-Mat I got to check out at my local and amazing North Carolina Museum of Art, as well as their upcoming Monster Drawing Rally. What would a drawing rally during the intermission of a play or half time of a game look and feel like? I don't know, but I'm excited about figuring out, with my students, ways to make art fun, inclusive and participatory for everyone in our school.
2. Building TAB community.
I'm totally jealous of the Michigan TAB teachers. They have TABstock every summer and have built a community where they can collaborate, support each other and share ideas. In person. I want that for my school district and state, so I sent out an email about forming a PLC (Professional Learning Community) to the art teachers in my district. I wondered if anyone would respond, but 12 did!! I'm really looking forward to meeting with teachers from all levels once a month this school year and I hope it's the start of something really powerful.
3. Tackling Tough Subjects
A huge part of the value of the art is it's power to address complicated themes and challenge subjects. I want to take on the subject of stereotypes as part of a unit this year. It's something I've been interested in addressing but wasn't quite sure how until I saw this perfect resource posted. I want to create a space this year where my students can examine challenging issues and express diverse opinions visually.
Last year was a busy one for me. Between finishing The Open Art Room, writing for the Art of Education and working on National Boards (okay, it was a little much, I see that now) and teaching two new classes I felt like I couldn't give enough attention to anything. The one thing that demanded my attention, constantly, was my art history class.
I approached it chronologically, and spent hours researching everything from Assyrian Lamassu (and their destruction by the Islamic State) to medieval church architecture. I had students take notes in visual journals, planned group activities, made sure to include discussion about marginalized groups and experimented with student directed content. Over the span of the course I noticed some elements that worked better than others. My students agreed, and gave me great end of the year feedback.
My Re-designed Art History Class
Work by Kirchner, an artist whose life and life's work was destroyed by Hitler.
My goal for this school year is to develop an art history class that is global and student directed in content, that connects to culture, current events and social justice and that uses museums and themes as base for exploration. I'm excited!
I have art show issues. When our department's had them after school much of the student body misses out. The kids who come are often art students or their friends. Those who have jobs or don't have transportation miss out. This has bothered me for years. Instead, I wanted an art show that's aimed at the general student population, at those students who've maybe never considered an art class. I also wanted something that everyone can attend.
Last year I tried setting up a one day show in the media center. Teachers signed up to bring classes and it was well attended, but still lacking the passion and energy I wanted to create. Lucky for me a colleague staged a field day in the school's courtyard during lunch a few months ago with a DJ and games. YES - this was the energy I was looking for!
The next day I asked my Art 3 students to brainstorm - what kinds of activities could we include in our show? We decided on henna tattoos, free BYOS (bring your own shirt) screen printing and micro drawings. The kids were excited about bringing people to the event during lunch and used social media to get the word out.
We scrambled to set everything on the big day, wondering if people would come. When the bell rang for first lunch a herd of girls with t shirts poured through the media center doors. The henna line stretched forever and the micro drawing table was busy as well. Tons of students and staff wandered around and looked at the amazing art we'd spend months making and were duly impressed. "You should sign up for Art 1", I'd say.
Next year will be even better.
Grading is something I’ve always hated. How can teachers be asked to determine what’s meaningful about a child’s academic journey, then rate it and rank it? Of course, the realities of teaching dictate that all teachers are asked to do just this, daily. Grades, in theory, should capture what a student knows and can do and communicate that information to interested parties. The reality of grading often falls quite short of this ideal and frequently serves much less noble purposes. All too often we use grades to encourage compliance.
We use grades to punish, taking off points when work is late or when students’ leave off their names or, god forbid, vear from our project’s intended direction.
Because we have to quantify our teaching, we base grades on arbitrary requirements, defining what “good” application of technique looks like, when the one thing that art history tell us is that “good” is a moving target that’s always in flux.
Grading like this seems at best a waste of time and at worst lacking the moral compass that should govern our interactions with children. Instead, we need to develop grading systems that reflect our values as educators.
What are those values? I'll start with my goals:
I want students who make decisions instead of following the steps I sent.
I want students who experiment, take risks and grow into independent artists.
For me, a grading system that reflects these goals and values looks like, in part giving students a weekly grade that reinforces their use of the Artistic Thinking Process as they create original art during class.
I've been capturing grades like this, along with grades at the end of units and a final portfolio grade the the end of the course, for a year at this point. I've found that grading this way aligns with my value system and reinforces the artistic behaviors I want to foster in my students.
Drawing people is hard. It's so easy to skew proportions and one little mistake throws off the whole effect, leaving the work looking silly instead of representational. Kids feel real pressure from portraits, but mastering the figure opens up a world of potential material for art. In planning for this semester I knew I wanted my Art 3 students to leave the class with the ability to use the figure in personally meaningful, self directed work, so I planned to get them there in the best way I knew: a Bootcamp.
Formulating a Bootcamp for this group was a challenge - they'd learned different things in previous classes, about a third had taken an additional drawing class and, for four of the students, this was their first high school art class. To plan something that would meet everyone's needs, I started by collecting some data.
"Draw a face or a person" I said. "You have half an hour."
As they drew, I look for ability to plan out the face, knowledge about drawing features and use of proportion. From my observations, and from what the group told me about what they wanted to learn, I planned an investigation of figurative work.
We started with some optional small group lessons - reviewing (or learning for the first time) how to draw facial features, facial proportions and how to approach drawing the face from the front. The whole class worked on drawing the face from the side and from an angle.
Next we moved onto the figure, learning body proportions, then spending a few days on a combination of gesture drawings of different lengths and longer drawings. For gesture drawings, I took their pencils, asking them to try pen or marker or charcoal instead. This was terrifying for many, but the loss of the ability to erase freed them from obsessing about mistakes.
To finish the unit I asked them to complete a figurative work, in any media, that did two things:
- Showed what they'd learned.
- Used the face or figure expressively.
And they did!
This student did a series of portraits on sticky notes, with the goal of drawing the face from different angles and the body in challenging positions.
Realistic proportions were a struggle for this kid (who's never taken a high school art class until now), but he was able to wonderfully blend what he learned about realism with his anime inspired style.
Megan painted on plexiglass, so these images show the two sides of her piece about anxiety.
Complaining is something high schoolers excel at. However, making art out of it is a different story! I showed my Art 3 kids this episode of The Art Assignment and had them use the theme of complaining in their own work. Complaints ranged from serious to small but they were all personal and students did an excellent job with the hard part - figuring out how to visually communicate complex ideas.
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.