It sneaks up on me.
I know it is coming- but the end of the year always seems intangible until it creeps up behind you and yells “BOO!”
I got caught in the tidal wave of end-of-the-year-ness and before I knew it- the kids were out the door and my room was eerily quiet.
I have no idea how everything got completed- but it did. My sixth graders finished clay projects, book marks, cards, and portfolios. My seventh graders completed their still life station drawings, positive/negative bugs, optical illusions, and portfolios. My amazing eighth grade classes completed their surrealism hands, cards, sketchbooks, their digital portfolios on Weebly, and their physical portfolios.
There were interruptions- SLO testing, make-up testing, more make-up testing, performing arts performances, HS color guard recruitment, yearbook signing, 8th grade students going to Disney, the other group of 8th graders going to Six Flags, and not one but TWO 7th grade field trips.
It required many chai tea lattes and one crying session (when the kiln broke the WEEK BEFORE SCHOOL LET OUT) but just like every year, things get done (and fixed) and the next chapter starts.
I'm exhausted- I'm not going lie. The road to this summer break has been a roller coaster but I'm curious to see what next year brings. I'm excited to try new things, reach new goals, and create. Next year is going to be amazing.
The art room has a distinct smell. Glue and paper, paint, and pencil sharpenings come together to form a smell I now relate as my second home.
I learned very quickly in my college observations that there is a level of chaos that each teacher needs to operate. One school may be filled with color-coded, organized, labeled containers of materials while others…well, are not.
Over the years, we all start out with ideas of what we want our classroom to be. Our high expectations never change, the way we reach those expectations do.
When I got to my current (and only) school 8 years ago, I couldn’t walk into the storage closet to the kiln room because it was so full of STUFF. The previous teacher had organized things in a manor unknown to me and I had to wade through the years of fabric and pillow stuffing to get to the kiln room. I was fresh out of college and wanted my classroom to be neat, clean and organized. I did not understand the boxes of buttons. I did not understand the cabinet filled with broken tiles. I spent a full week before school started making the room my own. I organized, I cleaned, I labeled and color coded. I carefully hung up and measured for posters. I took everything out of the storage closet and put it back piece by piece. I had my own keep, toss, and recycle piles. I thought I won a giant game of Janga… but then the kids came and I realized I had to get another game plan.
Over the years, I have become more and more relaxed with organization in the room and have started to embrace the need for organized chaos. I have been teaching for 8 years…and here are my tips that have either lasted, changed, or developed over time.
1) I label all the cabinets and drawers. If a kid needs glue, I just tell them to go to cabinet 4. Scissors? No problem… drawer 24.
2) Decorate the cabinet students use the most in a distinctive way. I have one cabinet that the crayons, color pencils, and markers live in. Behold…the bird cabinet. Really easy to find- and it cuts down on confusion and the "where are the.." questions.
3) I don't number EVERYTHING in the cabinets anymore...but I do have crayons, color pencils, and markers in numbered bins. I have enough for each table to have their own bin. If you sit at table 4 and used a color of blue from the cabinet yesterday you don’t have to look in all the bins to find the color you need… you just get number assigned to your table.
4) My turn-in cart is amazing! It rolls. Kids turn things in on it. What is there not to like? It sits in the corner of my room and it collects art. It is pretty much my 3rd arm.
5) I have a board in my room that I use to hang up nameless art. If the students notice they are missing a grade for a project, that is the first place they look.
I have let go of my original ideals of what an art room should be. I now have my have chaos (semi-organized) in the classroom. The mess is a part of the creative process and it makes the art room a better place to be.
Assessment in the art classroom is a conundrum. On one hand we want to encourage process over product and free thinking. How do can you grade that? Assessment in the art room in necessary on many levels. We need to be aware of our student’s needs and successes. Our students and their parents need feedback. Our schools mandate and require it.
Our VA standards have 5 main categories. Production, Meaning and Creative Thinking, Assessment, Contextual Understanding, and Connections. Each project we do fits correlates to the standards we cover in the classroom. It can be a daunting process to use assessments in the art classroom- but it is required and necessary to give our students authentic feedback and to allow them to assess themselves.
Due to our standards based grading system- we have to classify each of our projects as one of the 5 main categories in order to add them to the grade book. We worked closely with our arts supervisor to come up with which project/activity should go under which category. After working with these percentages, I noticed that Assessment and Reflection might need more weight and I might need to change some things around for next year.
So... how do I assess in the art room?
1. Visual check lists
2. Thumbs-up/ Thumbs-down visual check
3. Tickets out the door
4. Pre and Post tests
Pre and Post tests seem like a difficult thing to do in the art room, but it can be as easy as comparing drawings of a city before and after linear and atmospheric perspective is taught.
5. KWL charts
6. Short answer questionnaire
7. Actual check lists
Students should be given rubrics before the project starts so they know expectations from the beginning. They can also self monitor their progress during the project. Students in my classroom are required to fill out the rubrics and check lists before they turn them in with the projects is order to self-assess and look back at their creative process.
I don't think I follow any specific theory on assessment- I just do what is best for my kids. I'm not influenced by any one person or style or book in particular. I have discovered what works for my students and my assessment strategies have changed and grown over time from that discovery.
I want to point out that ability is never a criteria I grade. I tell students I grade on effort, completion, and mastery of the standards. I let my students grow and experience art without having to worry that they are not good enough. I explain to them that while care and craftsmanship matters, it's the process and the experience that will help them grow.
Clay week is the Shark Week of the art room.
The fun! The excitement! The anticipation!
I love working with clay. I like the feeling of clay in my hands, the smell of clay in the air, and the ability to build with the earth. We create something from nothing and, in the end, have a lasting expression of our creativity and ability.
I used to DREAD clay week with the students. Each grade level has its own clay week, so for three weeks I was on high alert. I was obviously stressed and I was not letting my students truly get what they needed out of the learning experience. The main problem was rooted in my lack of knowledge of the medium. Sure, I created my yearly art projects when I was in grade school. I took my semester of hand building in college. However...I was never taught how to TEACH clay.
Almost everything I know about clay came from my student teaching experience. All the other bits and pieces I taught myself. I have been lucky enough to have built a peer group of very knowledgeable teachers to help me when I have questions. Are their ANY colleges that offer a “Teach Clay to 40 Eighth Graders 101” class?
Things I learned while student teaching or AFTER college:
The parts of a kiln
How to load a kiln
How to use cones
How to set an electric kiln
Why looking at the safety of the glaze is important
How long I need to let things dry
Air bubbles and their relationship to the devil
Ways to create clay projects with an entire class of students and not just as an individual
Class Review Day:
Students spend about two days prepping for clay week. On day one, I talk to the students about the process and all expectations of the project. I explain the project, our standard, and our clay vocabulary. I have even shown a short video depending on the project and my current video resources. They spend the rest of the time working on drawing out their ideas. I explain to the students that this drawing is a 2D picture of their idea and that they can change it however they would like when they get to the clay.
On class review day, I remind kids to cut their nails, and to not plan on wearing rings, bracelets, or long necklaces. I also tell kids that that if they have long hair to stick some extra hair ties in their backpacks. I let them know that they may want to buy a travel sized bottle of lotion for their own personal use because clay is a moisture thief.
One of the things students are asked to bring in at the start of each year is a box of gallon Ziploc bags. At least some of the kids end up bringing them in and I always end up with enough. I pre-cut the clay and put the clay into Ziploc’s for when the students come to class. When you only have 50 minutes for class, it saves some time.
Each student gets his or her own bag of clay. He/She keeps the clay piece and any extra clay in the bag. We take the time in class for students to use a Sharpie to write their name on the top of the bag near the zipper so each bag is identifiable. I gather all materials on one table so I can pass them out easily. We have a bowl for slips, a cup for tools, and paper towels for spills. I also keep a bag of extra clay out just in case it is needed.
I write my set up on the board: our standard, our essential question, any key vocab, and our daily step-by-step directions are written in a localized place for all students to easily see.
The Big Day:
Students come into the art room excited. It’s the BIG CLAY DAY! They know from the minute they walk in what is expected of them. They can smell the clay in the air and they can see the piles of clay at the prep station.
I go over the lesson, we may have a few “watch and do” steps in the beginning. I may give a demo. It depends on the students, their readiness, and the class’ ability to follow directions. The rest of the week is each student’s time to learn, manipulate, create, and explore.
The first day I clean up slowly and early. We clean up together step-by-step to set my expectations for clay cleanup for the rest of the week. As the week progresses, I use a more hands-off approach and students clean up quickly and on their own.
Just Another Clay Day:
Students come in each class period and gather their clay piece from the cabinet. They sit and listen to a brief review, and spend all class working. After clean up, I ask for any questions, review what we did that day, and set the expectations for the next day.
The Last Day:
As students finish their clay piece, I have them show me where they put their names on the bottom of their work before they put their uncovered piece in the cabinet. Students that finish the piece early may draw their finished work and compare and contrast the finished drawing with their pre-work drawing.
Things To Think About:
1. Have gloves available for kids in casts.
2. Peer partnering for students with low dexterity.
3. Setting up an isolation clay station for kids that can’t focus at their own tables. My isolation station is set up at an empty table and I call it Ireland. When kids misbehave I tell them to take a trip to Ireland. It relaxes the atmosphere with a joke and gets them back on task.
4. I’m not a huge fan of taking clay away as a punishment. HOWEVER… sometimes… it happens. Some kids lose the clay after multiple warnings. Maybe they created something inappropriate, maybe they were sticking clay to the ceiling, and maybe they were daring each other to eat it. Having book work ready, available, and visible gives students a little extra motivation.
5. Some students have problems with the texture of clay OR the way the clay makes their hands feel. IF wearing gloves does not help, these students can learn the same skills with air dry or oven baked clay. I have even used play dough.
6. Make extras for students who move to the school after the clay project starts, but before students glaze.
7. Let students do MORE. If a child comes to me with an idea that changes the project, I will normally let them. They have to have a plan, a reason, and they have to ask permission first. My job is to lift up creative thought, not squash it.
8. Buy a big bottle of lotion.
Clay can be one of the most difficult things to figure out as a new teacher. Find a clay buddy to show you the ropes. Search the art education sites for ideas. Don’t be scared to try something new. Ask questions, give choices, and dig in!
*this is only a test*this is only a test*this is only a test*this is only a test*this is only a test*
I am a hallway monitor. My job is to collect attendance sheets, walk the 6A hall, and walk kids to the bathroom or nurse in case of an emergency. I give teachers bathroom/snack breaks during the test. I check for start and end times written on the board. I make sure the 'shhh...testing' and 'no electronics' signs are up. I stare off into the abyss of the hallway and listen to the humming of the vending machines and air conditioning units fill the air in the unusually quiet building.
I have counted the floor tiles- twice. I notice that the tiles were put down so the speckles were going in different directions. I have counted the lockers. I have counted the lights in the ceiling and how many steps it takes to get from one side of the hall to the other. I count my steps again, slower this time, one foot in front of the other. I pick trash up off the floor and examine the posters on the walls. I drink my water and fill it up again.
I look out the window and watch the trees move in the wind. The morning sun tumbles out of the canopies of the trees and leaves a dappling of sunlight in the street behind the school. I think about the 200 unfinished artworks in my classroom. I think about the earth day mural we plan on doing and the digital portfolios that need to be updated possibilities of what those works of art could become once finished. I cringe at the time lost.
Things I do in my own head:
Plan my next lesson
Plan my dinner
Redecorate my living room
Think about a mural I want to paint in my daughter’s new room
Plan out the landscaping in my new house
Count how many weeks left until summer
I peek into the windows of the classrooms and see the students bent over bubbles on a sheet. The most gregarious children I teach look absolutely miserable. The teachers walk around the rooms checking page numbers and making sure students are doing what they have been trained to do- read a question, fill in a bubble, repeat. They look as miserable as the students.
*this is only a test*this is only a test*this is only a test*this is only a test*this is only a test*
I tell students that it is important to do their -but- I make sure to remind them that it is ONLY a test.
Our students are more than a score on a page.
Four years ago, I was part of a conversation advocating for a 8th grade art class that earned high school credit. I was approved to be part of a small group of schools that pioneered the concept in our county. I was lucky to have a supportive administration that worked with me to create the class. Now that we are nearing the end of the 2015-16 school year, I wanted to take a minute to reflect upon the experience.
8th grade Visual Arts Comprehensive (HS Comp) for high school credit is a class in middle school taught with high school standards in a fast paced, high expectation, advanced level setting.
Students are asked to apply for HS Comp at the end of their 7th grade year. They have to be motivated, hard working, and show a love of the subject. Students have to agree to keep a sketchbook in, and outside of, class. They also agree to create and update a digital portfolio and to complete two county mandated assessments.
I have been teaching HS Comp for 3 years now. I see 6th and 7th grade students light up when they find out that HS credit is offered for an art class in 8th grade. I see students who have designated art as their 'thing' feel rewarded when they are part of something like HS Comp. I have seen students create things that I did not know was possible for this age group.
Students who take HS Comp in 8th grade create the opportunity to jump into studio classes upon entry to high school. We noticed that freshmen were being bounced from HS comp to make room for seniors needing a fine arts credit. Taking the class in middle school helped with this issue.
Students who are ready for higher level art classes have their needs met. They are able to work in a faster paced class with more freedom to experiment with art media and tools.
Students inspire each other to try new things and reach higher levels of creativity and success.
You grow as a teacher due to the growth of your students.
Students are given the opportunity to create a digital online portfolio.
Students "get ahead of the game" and are able to take AP Art in high school.
I have had AMAZING work for art shows and contests.
I love it (that counts as a positive... Right?)
Some teachers in the county had a mix of HS Comp kids and on-level 8th grade students in the same class. In this case, teachers were essentially teaching two classes in one period. I am aware that HS teachers do this on a daily basis, but it is a difficult change to make (I have whole classes of HS Comp, so this did not apply to me. This year I teach 2 classes of HS Comp and it is wonderful).
Higher level art students help raise the level of inspiration in the class. On-level students very often raise their own goals for their work when they see what other students are doing around them. I have high goals for ALL students, but sometimes students need to see the higher level work of the students around them to grow individually.
It is a little difficult for some to become accustomed to teaching four grade levels (6th, 7th, 8th, and HS Comp) when you are used to teaching three.
Things I had to change/think about:
I have always used sketchbook/journals in the art classroom. One of the differences between the on-level and the HS Comp 8th grade class is the sketchbook assignments given for homework. In the beginning, I was too lenient with due dates and it created a grading nightmare for myself. After the first year, I figured that I had to stick to my due dates regarding sketchbook deliverables.
I had to learn that not every kid that wanted to be in HS Comp was a fit for HS Comp. I love the passion of the students I teach, but by putting kids in HS Comp who are not ready, I set some of my students up for failure.
On the flip side, I had to learn to not get my feelings hurt when students who were ready for HS Comp decided they did not want to take it.
I had to extend my hours for my HS Comp students. I am here every morning, I am here during a few lunch periods each week. I let kids take work home over the weekend. I extend due dates for projects if needed. I talk with kids after school on Edmodo. I email students who need extra help. I let kids know I would stay after school if they needed me. I have a little group of 8th graders who have made my classroom their second home.
I have to dedicate time throughout the year to take kids to the computer lab so that they have the opportunity to type up and post any assessments to their portfolio and to update their digital portfolios with their assignments and sketchbooks.
8th Grade HS VA Comp Work
The comfort zone can be the sweet spot for many educators.
It is the place where they are confident and masterful in the media, techniques, technologies. Sometimes the comfort zone helps teachers to be their best. It allows them to raise their students' excitement levels and speak unwaveringly with knowledge about the lesson.
As glorious as the comfort zone can be, it can also can create a hindrance in personal growth for some teachers. Yes, the safe zone feels SAFE, but the bright shiny lights of excitement for a new project start dulling as time goes on and the project is taught...and retaught...and retaught. The comfort zone can become a rubber band that bends and stretches but keeps the teacher from breaking free to try new things, teaching styles, or technologies.
At the end of last year, I came to the realization that I had entered into the comfort zone. I had passed the sweet spot and needed a change of pace. So how did I break my own self inflicted band?
I have had a running joke with my department that technology hates me. I feel dumb when I use my smart board. I delete things off the staff drive by accident. My computer refuses to connect to the server. I'm pretty sure that I am the person that can break the Internet.
This year, using Osmo in the classroom helped me to break the band. I also have a new classroom iPad that we use daily for research, art drawing apps, or with the Osmo.
I have extended my PLN, gained knowledge from other subjects, and shared the happenings of my art room with Twitter. I won my classroom iPad by being open to using Twitter at a fine arts meeting. (You can follow me on Twitter @wallerart)
I have made online tutorials and a blog. I EMBEDDED CODE. Come on, people...if that's not a band breaker, I don't know what is.
I changed my projects up this year. Yes, I still use a ton of my old projects, but rewriting my lessons in a new way to bring life back into them.
I created new projects! My students worked BIG (3'x5') and small (#minimarch). We used recycled media in a new way. I gave more time to students for the power of play and experimentation with new media and tools. We now have floor work space in the art room, a collaborative doodle board, and a artist block post-it center.
It’s okay to break the band, try new things, make mistakes, and fail or flourish. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. Growth as an educator will not happen if the band is not eventually broken. Teachers should be changing, growing, and developing the person that they are in order to change, grow, and develop their students.
Examples of student work using Osmo's Masterpiece App:
Earlier this year my amazing media specialist asked me if I was interested in an Osmo . They were having a buy-one-get-one (for a classroom teacher) event and she was planning on buying one for the media center. After finding out what an Osmo was... I was hooked.
So... What is the Osmo?
The Osmo unit is a white base piece that houses an iPad. There is a mirror encased in red plastic that slides onto the top of your iPads camera. The mirror redirects the camera downward and records your hand as it interacts with the different apps available. We use the Masterpiece app and the Tangram app in the art room.
My students love the Osmo Masterpiece app. It is easy AND fun to use. They can pick from the pictures preloaded on the app or they can search the web with the app to find something to draw. The app records the students work as the draw and creates a speed clip of the student working as well as a picture of the finished work.
I have been using the Osmo to record myself and my students working on their projects to see if we could create speed films without looking up pictures... AND IT IS SO COOL.
I started posting to Twitter (@WallerArt) to share the videos my students made and @playosmo started retweeting what I was sharing. My kids love to see their work and my work being shared in the Twitterverse.
I had parents e-mailing me before the holidays asking me what an Osmo was and where they could get one because their kids wanted one for Christmas.
Osmo has sent packages filled with swag on 2 different occasions. The customer service is wonderful and responsive in email and in social media.
What do I use the Osmo for?
Student who traditionally don't appreciate art class (the few and far between) have been coming in to the art room in the morning before school and at lunch to ask to use the Osmo.
I use the Osmo as a motivational extension activity.
Students can work individually or paired up.
It is a great tech tool to use in the art room.
Students struggling with portraiture learn to see proportions in a different way.
Students learn to draw while looking at an object and not their hand.
Helps with focus.
Add on activities for students who finish early.
Creating AMAZING speed art videos.
So... whats the downside to Osmo?
You have to have an iPad.
The iPad has to be out of its case to be used with the Osmo system (BIG problem in some classes).
Kids can get really dependent on it and not want to draw from life or from their own imagination.
I only have 1 Osmo so the kids fight over it.
I loved the Osmo so much that I even bought one for my own kids. Also- I used the Osmo to make my first tutorial! Click on the button and watch me awkwardly explain my favorite Osmo app.
Examples of teacher work from Osmo's Masterpiece app:
The concept of play isn't new in the classroom- but in the 'test everything that resembles learning' era it is harder to validate time for play.
We need to make sure (in our struggle to think out of a box and shove art into a testing bubble) that we make time for the importance of PLAY.
Art lends itself to play with the different materials, media, and technologies we have available to us. We connect! We reconstruct! We blow thoughts up, rearrange them, and come up with brilliant ideas and works of art.
Kids learn better (and knowledge sticks with them longer) when we make sure the power of play is added into our units and projects.
Free days to experiment with new media, catapults, art with food, pop-up art shows, spur of the moment competitions, chalk days, and aesthetic walks are ways to incorporate the power of play into learning opportunities in the art room.
We talk about the power of play being important to students... but did you ever stop to think that it is important to YOU? Tell stories, engage with the students, try new things. Our teaching styles get stale without enjoyment.
I've been known to rock a banana costume, sing loudly, and dance around the classroom.
How do you play?
One of my favorite projects to do with the kids is the Animal Spirit project.
Kids research the animal of their choice and we talk about flora, fauna, and habitat. It is a great way to make connections to other academic subjects! Taking the project a step further I approached my HS credit 8th grade class with the idea of creating a coloring book for the community. We talked about making it a digital download to minimize our cost and maximize our sharing power.
As kids finished drawing their animal spirits and got themselves ready to move on to the next step (watercolor pencils) I took pictures of their work. These pictures have allowed my students to give back to the community. We have sent the link to children's hospitals, assisted living facilities, and local schools.
The feedback has been wonderful. I am so excited that other teachers plan to use the coloring book in their classrooms and plan to create coloring books with their own students!