Creating Art That Is Spot On!

My class of older students has spent a couple of weeks creating functional art works that are decorated entirely in spots. We looked at Australian Aboriginal artwork as well as the art of Leah Dorian as inspiration. All of these artists use dots to create complex images. Using these ideas as springboards, we moved into creating our own artworks.

Our supplies were fairly simple to get together. I was on one of my frequent visits to the Salvation Army, and I picked up a wooden salad bowl set for $4.00. The wood was nice and dark and the bowls were in really great condition. I then purchased a box of cotton swabs and brought in the usual array of acrylics, paper plates (as palettes) and water jugs.

The students were asked to create functional art pieces out of the re-purposed bowls and this was all the instruction they seemed to need. I didn’t tell them to paint an undercoat on the bowls but a few of them decided to do this on their own. Others just left the wood as-is and started painting dots immediately. Many started with simple patterns on their first bowls and then, on their second, moved in different directions. Sometimes, the materials are the catalyst for creativity, and this seemed to be the case.

Here are some of their works, completed, or in progress:

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Art blog A25, 2014 - 2 Art blog A25, 2014 - 4 Art blog A25, 2014 5 Art blog A25, 2014 6 Art blog A25, 2014 7 Art blog A25, 2014 Art blog A25, 2014-3

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Don’t forget to celebrate what’s great!

These days, Twitter and the media are filled with all kinds of political rhetoric, controvery and general commentary about education in Saskatchewan. This post is not about any of that. Instead, I wish to encourage myself and others to remember that amid all cries of a system gone bad, there are a number of people working each and every day, fuelled by their passion for students, who are supporting amazing growth and excitement for learning by children in this province. Let me share my journey around my school division in the last couple of weeks:

Oct 20131

A principal in one of our schools shared with me her approach to combining assessment and learning, thereby ensuring students achieve the desired outcomes in arts education. Firstly, yay art!! Secondly, the mindful consideration this educator gives to her practice is inspiring.

October 20133 October 20132

A fellow coordinator and I were invited on this field trip one windy October morning. The students were observing the local Canadian Foodgrains Bank Project Field being harvested. They were learning about the interdependence of countries and the impact of Canadian resources on both local and global economies. Local farmers spoke with the students about the project and the canola itself. This real-life example allowed students to make powerful connections and apply their learning to real-life contexts.

October 20134

All over our school division, I see examples of this – students asking their own questions. It could be argued that a question is even more important than an answer. Certainly, honouring student questions is essential for making learning meaningful.

October 20135

I spent an hour with these grade two students as they learned a new concept relating to patterns. It was exciting to share in their experience as each and every student made the learning transfer, using manipulatives. The dedication of the teacher to find just the right combination of guidance and exploration was wonderful to see.

October 20136

Inviting students to reflect on their learning and engage in metacognition is challenging, especially in K-2 classrooms. However, this class made “thinking about thinking” visible, proving that children are smart and their teacher is pretty great, too!

October 20137 October 20138

Student art always makes me smile and these two examples are no exception. Encouraging creativity and innovation is so important to brain development as well as the development and expression of personal identity. Our schools are filled with examples like these. Note that no two artworks are the same – the sign of great creative expression.

October 20139

These grade seven students were preparing for a re-demonstration of learning. Their first assessment had not gone well enough to leave the topic, so their teacher was re-teaching before the second assessment event. The students were taking the science concepts they had been learning and were connecting them in concept maps. It was clear they had learned the material more deeply as a result of the additonal time spent on the topic.

October 201310

On a cold Thanksgiving weekend, I volunteered my time at my husband’s school, installing their new playground. Not only had the school community raised tens of thousands of dollars for this play centre, but over thirty volunteers showed up to help install it over two days. The commitment of this school community brought tears to my eyes. Our communities care about children and this makes the work of schools so rewarding!

October 201311

My colleague and I hosted the grades 1-3 teachers in our division for three data response days last week. We will be having three more days next week for grades 4-6 teachers and then 7-12 teachers will follow after Christmas. Nevermind the time it took these professionals to prepare for a substitute teacher so they could come to these workshop days, but their engagement in the data and in the learning associated with it was a testament to their commitment to children. This photo shows an activation exercise we did at the beginning of the day, when we asked the teachers to reflect on their current instructional practices. We spent our time looking at the data around student reading and refecting on the strategies that offer the highest impact on learning. We then collaborated on what our ELA could look like to maximize learning opportunites.

All in all, much to celebrate and consider. Even when a “system” seems to be in turmoil, there are always people doing great work inside schools.

Visible Thinking

The following photographs show evidence of student thinking and learning. I collected this evidence as I travelled through schools this week:

Learning 1 learning 2

These students travelled to a local gallery to view art by Saskatchewan artist Wendy Weseen. They then created their own art in response. Their work made visible their learning about the techniques the artist used. You can see the learning outcome posted next to the work, which makes the destination clear to students and viewers alike.

learning 3

This is an exit strategy for this classroom. Each day, students place a sticky note with a description of what they have learned over top of their picture. This encourages reflection and metacognition and also serves as a formative assessment for the teacher.

learning 4

Look at these students thinking and learning together. As I stood beside them, I heard them discussing their reading selection. They were working together to capture the main idea and supporting details. They are seated around a low coffee table, which sits at the front of the room. This change in environment seemed to encourage collaboration.

learning 5

Look at this Pre-Kindrgarten self-portrait. Looking at the artwork of these young students really clarifies the developmental nature of learning. This is a student who has moved along quite far on the continuum of body awareness because this portrait has legs and the start of a body. Ears and hair also show a more well-developed understanding of how our bodies fit together. From here, the teacher can decide where she will spend time next, in order to further develop understanding.

learning 6

Pre-Kindergarten in this school has been exploring fall artifacts by collecting them and placing them in jars. The students can then observe what happens to the jars over time. As I was looking at the display, a student approached me and shared which jar belonged to him. This demonstrates an ownership for the learning that occurred. We talked about the objects collected and why they were chosen for the jar. Conversation is essential in early learning environments!

Once again, another week filled with learning.

Creative Chaos

Wow, last night’s art class ensured I fell asleep before both my own children after we got home! It was a whirlwind of excitement and busy-ness, where everyone was exploring for the entire time, so I count that as success. However, I am finding the class make-up this time around requires a little more energy than past years. I have six students who are 4-7 years old and four who are 9-15. I have divided the class into these same groups for the next few weeks and I think that division was wise.

With the younger group, we embarked on an “experiment with colours.” We started with baking soda, vinegar, food colouring, eye droppers, trays and cups of water. We tried various proportions and combinations of the ingredients until we got interesting new colours with proper fizzes and pops of liquid floating in our trays. We then practiced cleaning up all on our own, which was an experiment in-and-of-itself. Nevertheless, we got there and we were ready to set out on our second adventure: Contemporary circles and colours! We used paper cups and acrylic paint to make circles in colours of their choosing (we spend a lot of time practicing sharing, compromise, turn-taking). We then used brushes to fill in details. We ended by making “Respect Monsters,” which was a project one of the students really wanted to do (they have been learning about respect at school and he wanted a monster for his desk. The others felt it was a great idea.) The students responded especially well to the idea of experimentation. We asked questions along the way and I prompted with, “I wonder..” statements to generate discussing and prediction-making.

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clean up

Explosions

The older crew set out on an entirely different adventure: Fashion design. This past summer, while in Northern England, we came across an art show by students which focused on fashion. I was enchanted with the creativity of their arts expressions and I knew I wanted to try this with my own students.

I started by visiting the local thrift store, purchasing a number of interesting clothing items. I then added needles, thread, embroidery thread, beads, ribbon and cloth swatches to the mix. While I got the younger group set up, the older group chose their clothing items and began to plan. They needed very little guidance. The class rolled out as an inquiry, with the students making choices about how to attach things, and doing some preliminary design drawings. Their only snag was learning that they needed to be taught how to finish a stitch. I gave them a mini-lesson and then they were on their way again. I am incredibly excited to see the final products.

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fashion 3 fashion 4 fashion

The Great Portrait Challenge!

Four weeks of art-making resulted in some pretty vibrant final products last night! Most importantly, the students were so proud of their work and I think one or two surprised themselves. The sequence:

  • Learn to draw faces. Focus on proportion, shape, variety of features. Look at each other, look at our own faces. Compare “rules” for drawing a face to real faces by drawing on tracing paper and placing the image over a photo on my I Pad. Found that the proportions varied a little from person-to-person.
  • Repeated practice. We did this through games and invented faces. One game that was really neat was we each drew one feature and then rotated our paper from person to person. We got pretty creative with our features, laughed a lot and ended up with nine different and very funny faces – all drawn to proportion!
  • Focus on a final product. We spent time drawing a face (either from a magazine, from our imagination or even from the wall of the art room). By this time, everyone had a pretty good comfort level. We made sure to fill the page. We then learned to tint our portriats with conte and a blender. It gave the portraits a soft quality. We cut them out when we were finished and set them aside.
  • Prepare the background. I asked every student to find five images in a magazine that they liked. They had to incorporate them into their background somehow. Some glued them on right away and others set them aside. They then chose five acrylic colours and put puddles of paint in five spots on their paper. They worked on spreading the paint around, blending and filling the white spots. We then let the paint dry. Afterwards, we added oil pastel and the magazine pictures (if we hadn’t already). Some students created their own effects through scraping and layering.
  • Put it all together. Lastly, students had to decide where to place their portraits on thier prepared backgrounds. This invited consideration of balance and colour.photo Portarit3 Portrait 3 Portrait4
  • There are more examples to come in two weeks.

How children pull me into joy

What is it about kids? They are joy, plain and simple. I know this may sound a little rose-coloured but I am sincere. I don’t mean everything about them is joyful or that their lives are constantly filled with joy. I just mean that their beings, their energy, their freedom brings me joy.

Today was a tough day. I hurdled through many conversations and meetings. I was facilitating and thinking all day and by the time I got home from work I was more grumpy and tired than usual. Art classes seemed like a mountain I wasn’t sure I could climb.

Then the first student arrived-my new five year old student. She smiled and skipped her way into the art room. She was closely followed by another new addition, who had been thinking about and planning for classes all week. She was prepared to work on a portrait of her grandpa. The others tumbled into the room and gathered around me for my motivational video and in that moment, my challenging, exhausting, adult day fell away and I was immersed in the moment. Teaching has always been like that for me…I slip into a zone of focus and attention to the present moment. It has carried me through many difficult out-of-class situations. Today was no exception.

The beautiful thing about children is that they are so easy to please. Listen to them. Ask for their ideas. Let them make choices. Give them independence. Believe in them. Challenge them. And they give you back joy. Pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Speaking of joy, here is a joyful portrait created by my newest five year old student.

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