Monday, December 5, 2011

Parody of Welcome to Holland

No one knows why we were chosen to teach, to share our compassion, our knowledge, our perspective on life or our genuine concern for others with our time here on Earth. No one knows.
No one knows what this day will bring, what new colors will be made, what new ideas will be sought out, what questions will be brought up and answered. No one knows.
No one knows who your students will be, what health problems, birth or genetic complications they may suffered, or if they will be perfectly healthy. No one knows.
No one knows where they will come from, immigrants from across the ocean, across the borders of our country, or if their families have lived here for a long time. No one knows.
No one knows how many hurts, scars or rose colored glasses they may bring with them, languages, stories, photographs, learning styles, or if they’ll be able to learn at all. No one knows.
No one knows when they may turn to you, their teacher, because they have a question, they need a hand, a hug or to express that they understand. No one knows.

However, no matter who, what, where, how, why or when, the students that are sent to us are there for us to guide, love and nurture, with what is within our power to.

Best Classroom Practices for all Students

Clear and Common Focus Among all Educators
An important aspect of any classroom is starting with a clear and concise communicatory focus among all interlocutors in the conversation of the student’s best interest for the best possible learning outcome. Whether it be communicating this common goal amongst staff members or relaying that message to the community and families of the students, if everyone is on the same page, real, meaningful learning can then take place.
Where the art teacher is concerned, their voice in the conversation can be a great addition to the student’s well-being, as they are able to observe and monitor a student’s mental-emotional capacity as well as their fine and gross motor skills. The common goal can be achieved, again, through clear communication about what modifications or accommodations can and should be made for each child to succeed.
High Standards and Expectations of all Students
When high standards of excellence are set for the students to succeed, as long as the administration and educators themselves aspire to those as well, then classroom expectations will be met by the student with fervor. All students want to exceed the expectations set upon them, want their teachers to be pleased with their efforts, so that they can be pleased with themselves.
The art teacher is especially responsible for setting high expectations and standards in his/her classroom to help students get the most enjoyment out of an already enjoyable subject. When students can feel like they are reaching their own personal levels of satisfaction, and the satisfaction of the instructor, their artwork and the rest of their curricular work will continue to improve.
Strong Leadership
Leadership can come from anywhere, administration, community members, educational staff, custodial staff, or any other person that is partnering in the educational future of the student, and it’s important for all students (and those people included) to feel that they have someone in which they can look to for guidance and reassurance. A good leader will be able to come up with ideas, based upon the common goals of the school, to influence the learning styles of the students. They will find people who have bought into the common goals and who are interested in the common good.
The art teacher can be the moving and shaking person, vibrant with ideas and focused on the future success of the students and school community and that is where they, as leader, can come in to play their most important role. Through innovation and flexibility, the art teacher can stand as the model for others to follow.
Supportive, Personalized, and Relevant Learning
An environment that feels safe to a student (or anyone) is an environment that promotes physical, mental and emotional safety and stability, its something that can be sensed. Through providing positive support structures, combined with the rigorously high expectations, a school needs to provide each and every student with the idea that they are being personally taken care of, their specific needs met and their minds opened to new and sometimes unusual possibilities that correlate with the world that they live in.
Through art, many students find their voice heard, because it is fluidity from the mind to the piece of work, defining how they interpret the world. Because of this, the art teacher has the opportunity of educating young minds through the basics of art theory, history and method, though at the same time making the effort to let the student know that they are supportive of their vision, with each project personally representing their understanding of the world around them.
Parent and Community Involvement
Where there is a support structure for the student, whether from school personnel, family and friends or neighbors, that student will feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and will feel confident in their decisions made concerning their success as a learner. Not only will the student benefit from this support structure, but the adult in this situation will as well, forming bonds that will influence for a lifetime of learning.
Keeping parents and community involved in art activities for creating and maintaining programs that include the arts, will need to be in the forefront of the art teacher’s mind as they enter into each school year. By letting adults participate in the conversation of their student’s art education and the future outcomes of certain projects (sending letters home for recyclable art materials or signs of progress), an honest and positive bond will be formed between the two parties, thusly showing the student that the arts are a valued portion of their education (determinate by the support of the parent or adult).
Monitoring, Accountability, and Assessment
Every person, every day, with each breath that they take should be learning something new, no matter what walk of life or what age. Monitoring a student’s progress throughout a school year proves to be of importance, to know whether certain materials and concepts are understood, for them to be properly assessed and graduate into the next level of general education. However, a student eventually comes to the understanding that they are being monitored, assessed and therefore need to hold themselves accountable for their own learning. But, this is not always the case, and some students will fall behind if their support structure and needs are not met properly, baulking under the system. This is where a person of leadership must step in, to help adjust or modify to the learning style of the student to encourage their development.
Monitoring the student’s progress throughout the year can be done throughout a project, for the art teacher, where a student can be presented with a syllabus or rubric for their self-monitoring of their successes as they complete the work. However, art projects more often differ from that of general educational work in that the end product is free of rigid guidelines and open to interpretation. Therefore, in the assessment of the student’s work, they prove to be themselves, successful, and thereby positively reinforced to continue progressively moving forward in their learning environment.
Curriculum and Instruction
Through the common goals and high expectations of the school environment, regulated by state and federal governments, educators will find it behooves them to design the models of information to be learned around a framework that best suits the needs of their students. However rigid as curriculums may seem, they are also loose to interpretation by the educator to deliver to the students. It is important to be able to be flexible and adapt to the “teachable moments” that stream through the mind of a student, in order for them to see the relevancy of the information that they are computing into their mind.
The art teacher, specifically, can provide the resources and support of their knowledge to their fellow educators and bring information to new light to many students who may not learn orally, but kinetically or visually. Their collaboration with other teachers, and their ability to do so under their own work load, will prove to be beneficial to many students’ needs. An art teacher can be the best ally for the general educator in that their curriculum (in most states) is not mandated and therefore can be made flexible to adapt to the needs of their students.
Professional Development
Most school district environments are more than willing to provide their educators with portions of professional development each year. They do this because they realize that by and large, not only are students changing in our education system, but the needs of those students are much different each year as well. School districts serve themselves well to create the opportunities for educators to further their own development for the benefit of further developing the future generations in which they are to educate.
While most professional development offered for art teachers tends to be geared toward developing techniques and the use of materials, it would prove to be of the utmost importance for the art teacher to seek out art therapy and/or professional development opportunities with information regarding the vastly changing populations of our current schools (ie. culture, race, ethnicity, disability, and special populations) to better serve the students for whom they are stewards.
Time and Structure
Timelines, daily routines and classroom structure is important, not only for the student to understand their role in maintaining their own accountability, but for the educator to guide them through the materials set out in the curriculum and to provide the information in the best possible manner so that assessment can be gauged properly and accurately. Routines and structure also reflect expectations and can help the classroom environment run like the engine of a car – if not properly tuned and attended to, can detour the movement of the parts to work effectively.
Art teachers, in many states, do not see their students very frequently throughout the school year, as in many states their curriculum and the importance of it are not valued as a core learning experience, so a sound routine must be established and followed for as much learning to occur. And because the art teacher also will accommodate for the various learning styles of their students through each project, there must be room for flexibility, but timelines and structure followed will also be admired and high expectations sought by the student, once the standards of the environment are set.
Though each of these nine steps can be of the utmost importance in and of themselves, they must also work together consistently and parallel to each other in order for the student to achieve their best possible successes in the classroom. It is not only the art teacher who can benefit the student by implementing these practices into their routine environment, but through collaboration with fellow educators as well. These guidelines will prove helpful, and their mutual students will soar under their guidance, for they will have all of the tools to meet their needs as growing, maturing, computing individuals.

Teaching Art in a Diverse World

While educating students in any population, different from their own, can present a challenge to any general education teacher, with all the individual nuances that make each of us special and unique as a snowflake, from the student with a genius IQ to the student with learning and/or physical disabilities, the art teacher, through the use of best practices and effective strategies, is equipped with the versatility to reach each and every student, no matter their learning differences. Through the arts, every student can be taught how to appreciate and embrace their own voice and to build tolerance for the multitude of voices around them, from the past and present. They learn through expression and effective communication in a language that is universal to all.
            The art educator has the opportunity to enhance a student’s learning, whether they are from a different culture, suffer from physical or mental impairments, or learning disabilities. Through the arts and the use of best practices in the art classroom routine, the art educator can accommodate and modify lessons to fit each of their student’s needs, based on the student’s individualized educational plan (IEP) or knowledge of their learning needs. Such practices include keeping a clear and common focus with adequate time and structure in the class, playing a strong leadership role in the school’s community, keeping the parents and community involved with the student’s learning, maintaining high standards and expectations of all students in relation to curriculum, instruction, accountability and assessment of their personal development, and by playing a supportive role in keeping the information relevant and personalized to each student dependant upon their individual needs.
            Through such classroom routines that enhance communication and interaction in and among students, which includes Think-Pair-Shares, vocabulary instruction through group work, the opportunity to pre-read materials before each class and the teacher’s ability to unlock prior schema through personalized example, an art educator’s job will turn into that of helping the student develop a self-motivated, life-long learning experience, no matter their background or learning difficulties. If all interaction in the art classroom is pertaining to the relevant information presented and then linked to the student’s knowledge of the subject in their own personal life, then the art educator only need to help them express themselves.
            The art educator wears many hats and among them is appointment of the responsibility of helping students feel accepted for their uniqueness and learning differences, to allow for personalized and/or alternate methods of communication and expression, to allow them the time to understand the concepts being taught and adequate opportunity for acceptance and involvement in the classroom/school community. For, the arts do not only teach us about pigment, lines, history, method and materials, but they also teach us habits in remembering facts and inferential thinking, understanding main ideas, characterization, sequencing events and relating information to those events.
            No matter the child, if the art educator can unlock the child’s passion and self-expression, to teach them to make good judgments about qualitative relationships, to realize that there are more than one solution to problems, to celebrate the multitude of interpretations and perspectives of the world they live in, through the use of clear and concise methods, full of sensory words and images, with the aid of interesting visual and verbal examples, then they will enable each and every one of their students to succeed, to discover, to believe to say what can not be said by words alone.
Through the arts, the use of best practices and effective strategies (introduced in this class), the art educator is given the ability to include those students from diverse backgrounds, as well as those that exhibit special physical cognitive needs. No matter where the child is on the learning spectrum, the art educator can safely accommodate and/or modify the information to best suit their students. Each, in turn, will help the art educator to play a strong leadership role in the eyes of the student and therefore permit the student to open themselves up to the new learning opportunities around them, to realize that they are unique and to take pride in the voice they have to share with the world.

Jargon and Societal Standards

After a perusal of the Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools and the English-Language Development Standards for California Public Schools documents and given that the articles were 172 pages and 91 respectively, one can see why so many educators in the field may not grasp the idea that implementing the standards into each classroom environment is easier than they might expect. Their goals, the purpose of integrating the arts (I will refer to as the VPA document) and English-language development (I will refer to as the ELD document) for students of all demographics and the benefits is clear, but the legal-ease jargon and graphs (benchmarks) can be a bit daunting.
If we were to break down the two for better understanding, both are set up in level-learning tiers, where when one skill is mastered, then others follow suit building upon each other. It makes sense. Each document states their mission of the inclusion of students equally, the benefits of that inclusion based upon their cognition, and that there are different levels of proficiency, and “that not all learners will acquire skills and knowledge at the same rate,” (ELD, 16) however it does not address their cognitive learning level, merely their grade/age level proficiency.

The VPA document shows educators the benefits of the arts in that they “are a dynamic presence in our daily lives, enabling us to express our creativity while challenging our intellect…the arts cultivates essential skills, such as problem solving, creative thinking, effective planning, time management, teamwork, effective communication, and an understanding of technology…reflect our belief that all children should have access to challenging curriculum content, exhibit a high level of performance proficiency, and be prepared for the world of tomorrow.” (6), and breaks down the how and why into five concepts that the students should be able to communicate effectively: 1.Artistic Expression, 2.Creative Expression, 3.Historical and Cultural Context, 4.Aesthetic Valuing, and 5.Connections/ Relationships/ Applications.

The ELD document also show educators that there are levels of proficiency in language development, especially with second-language learners, as being a beginning, an intermediate and an advanced level of learning when acquiring a proper knowledge base from which to learn and master the Language Arts Developmental Standards of 1.Listening, 2.Speaking, 3.Reading, and 4.Writing. The framework is developed along the idea that it will “create a distinct pathway to reading in English rather than delaying the introduction of English reading” (17) and help the student succeed.

No matter how each of these documents is broken down, because each teacher is a different type of learner, the criteria are listed in black and white: if the student can do this, then they are considered this. All the educator has to realize when dealing with these documents is the importance of an equal opportunity education for all of their students to succeed is based on a mastery of the knowledge and skill set in which they are trying to educate and the students are trying to learn. All subjects have a basic language to be mastered (science, math, language, social studies, geography, art) and levels at which they need to master them. The key, I think, is being able to decipher which level each student is at and to modify content language acquisition of the subject to suit the different types of learners in the environment of the classroom. To conclude, the VPA document states this idea of universal language learning very eloquently: “Dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts have endured in all cultures throughout the ages as a universal basic language. The arts convey knowledge and meaning not learned through the study of other subjects. Study in and through the arts employs a form of thinking and a way of knowing based on human judgment, invention, and imagination. Arts education offers students the opportunity to envision, set goals, determine a method to reach a goal and try it out, identify alternatives, evaluate, revise, solve problems, imagine, work collaboratively, and apply self-discipline. As they study and create in the arts, students use the potential of the human mind to its full and unique capacity.” (9)

An example lesson could look like this:

Art Lesson – Butterflies – 2nd grade – “How to Hide a Butterfly” by Ruth Heller

After a review of the general classroom information based on insects, the class will orally discuss what characteristics a butterfly possesses with the teacher. Then, by breaking the class into groups, students will discuss (think-pair-share) what the title of the book implies about butterflies. The teacher will read the book to the students, pausing to ask questions about other insects that may hide, before finishing the book, and discussing further upon the finish of the book. The teacher will show students how to camouflage an insect or butterfly drawing, using crayons and watercolors.
The students will engage in listening, speaking, reading and writing activities and will have been able to share artistic perception, exhibit creative expression and aesthetic valuing, share any historical or cultural prior knowledge they may have and make connections and apply information that they learned in the general class to this lesson.

If I Were to Become a Teacher Again

If I were to become an art teacher again, since I have already been an art teacher once, I feel that an effective approach to take, as an encouraging educator, would be one that helped to engage and positively reinforce as many students as there were chairs in the classroom. For, students of all learning levels, disabilities, diverse backgrounds and age levels, have one common denominator, a willingness and need to know more and have meaningful experiences in what they are learning.

The teacher’s role (mine) would be a combination of first, controller of the main content to be learned; second, as coach to bring them through the steps and encourage them; third, as manager of providing instructions and feedback on their performance; fourth, as a facilitator to encourage self-development, freedom and self-motivation; and lastly, as resource for students to come to when faced with difficulty in working out their ideas.

Mine would be a classroom that culminates as a combination of those models listed in this module, of teacher-led instruction paired with student-centered techniques within each art class time, as it would be best suited for every student to achieve to their highest potential. The goal would be to give the students the background information necessary in order to perform the project and then to help students discover more about the world around them and their place in it, while constructing and creating new ideas that would help them further explore the world as they grew.

The students that I serve will be unaware of the cognitive learning that they are engaging in (learning without realizing that they’re learning) while the class time flows with meaningful learning, intrinsic motivation, the importance of their own personal time invested and the result of having self-confidence because they were able to perform the task with little to do with concrete facts, but more with their perception of the world.

The ideas given for sheltered instruction, where all students are non-native speakers, a key element in helping any student learn what is being taught. I have used all of the suggestions, including but not limited to regalia, modeling, teacher-made pictures, timelines and real-life activities, as well as linking up information from other subjects, since these are what has helped me learn as an undiagnosed ADHD student, so therefore will help them achieve success in not only art, but other disciplines as well.

Because I have taught, my students perceive me as not a threat to them, but a helpful reminder that all things were and are made through artistic, creative hands and minds. They understand and appreciate the fact that I am also an artist and that I am passing along the knowledge that I have, of maintaining neatness and exploring ideas to them, that their vision is just as important to the world as mine is and that they are also teaching me as I am teaching them, so it is a partnership of ideas and excitable views of the future.

Full Circle Musings of an Art Teacher

When my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Atherton, noticed that I liked to draw, color and construct things from other materials and she also noticed that I fidgeted in my seat and was easily distracted by others, she suggested that doodle in the margins of my paper while we reviewed material and that I write a story and illustrate it. I never would have imagined that I would have been chosen to take part in an all-day Young Writer’s Conference.

It was the year that my parents separated and we moved to another district, so I’m sure that the anxiety of being in a new place was prevalent in my character at that point in time, so for her to suggest such a thing was to take my mind off of the dilemma that I was facing emotionally and to place my focus on something I enjoyed and understood.

A couple of years ago, when I was an art teacher, and last spring, when I wasn’t, I was invited to be a workshop presenter at the Young Writer’s Conference and was able to share my story and also share some combination of writing and art with students. The fact that my life came full circle proved to me that Mrs. Atherton really knew what she was doing to impact my life. She used my talented abilities, of drawing, instead of looking at my disabilities, of distractibility, that led to the semi-focused, self-motivated and high achieving individual that I am today. She knew very little of me, but was observant of my personality and behavior enough to give me information to use for the rest of my life, to modify my own behavior.

In the future, and in the past (as I have stated previously), my hope would be that I would remain the observant and empathetic teacher that I am, noticing the good things instead of the sometimes negative behaviors that students possess, expounding upon the positives and helping them grow and fulfill their life to the fullest potential possible, to think outside the box of a normal classroom and to explore new and unimaginable ideas. But, I won’t know the outcome until they come back and let me know what a difference it made.

Remarks: "Joseph Fitzpatrick was our Teacher"

“There is no such thing as a finished canvas. Alteration is the rule rather than the exception,” states Raymond Saunders in the short article, Joseph Fitzpatrick was our Teacher, a vignette homage to an art educator who inspired both he and legendary Pop Art icon, Andy Warhol. But, like any inspiring educator, Mr. Fitzpatrick must have helped Saunders understand that all of life is purely alteration and change, and much like the included lesson plan, Collage: A Visual Memory, that this short article accompanies, there needs be made room for slight alteration, modification and accommodation.
While I understand that definitive lesson plans in the art room should accumulate all of the listed contingency factors because of Federal Legislation: State Standards, associated Multiple Intelligences, project Procedures, pertinent Vocabulary, student-Assessment Rubric, English-Language Arts Standards, etc., and are a must at this point in our educational democracy for art educators to keep their positions as a major component for intelligent educational practices, I wonder while perceiving this lesson plan as to the strictness of use of materials, scripted student responses and teacher interaction. If all of our best intentions for student education are laid out in a rote routine, how will genuine learning happen, or can this be used as a mere guideline to follow while including ‘teachable moments’?
What I did find interesting about the lesson, Collage: A Visual Memory, is almost a contradiction to the previous paragraph, as it proved by listing, and I realize that the arts include, factors of history, research, vocabulary, reading and writing than most other subjects and that to make a meaningful project come alive, students must first have a background in the artist and type of artistic medium that they are to study. By being asked probing questions, like “what does it mean?” and “how do you know?” the educator sends the student inward and begins developing critical thinking skill necessary for genuine, creative analysis.
Included in this lesson, that I would see myself modifying were I to include it in my unit plans, were all of the major components of a great, well thought out lesson like Bloom’s Taxonomy describe, of learning goals and objectives, of activating prior schema, references of materials, techniques, style and composition, for increasing the student’s cognitive capabilities through recalling information, understanding the process, applying their knowledge, analyzing, evaluating and creating their own, personal work similar to another. Included were also reference to various teaching styles and instructional styles, so as to keep student attention and interest, which I also tend to rely on, keeping it fresh.
To conclude, by keeping it fresh and light, as Albert Einstein once said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid”, so should an educator take on lessons that convey John Dewey’s critical pedagogy of being an agent of change to see students through a world that must be aware of their own local and global impact, as in this lesson and like that of Joseph Fitzpatrick’s influence on his students, namely Raymond Saunders in this case.