Monthly Mentor

Carrie A. Jeruzal (June)
Carrie Jeruzal has been teaching art for 15 years and has taught every grade level including higher ed, both in public and private schools. Currently and for the past 10 years Carrie teaches a wide spanning K-12 Visual Arts curriculum at Pentwater Public School in rural Pentwater, MI. She attended Hope College, (Double Major of Art and French - Teaching Certificate), earned a B.A. in 2001 and then graduated from Western Michigan University with a M.A. in Art Education in 2010. Click to read full bio.



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Monday 06.12.17

6 Reasons to have a Stress-free Summer Student Art Show!

From: Carrie Jeruzal

Remember that art show that you put together in (insert month), at the same time you were teaching (insert number), different classes each day, coaching or advising (insert after school activity), as well as dealing with that one personal drama (insert any problem of humanity), all at the same time? Remember selecting artwork, organizing, matting, mounting it on the walls and hoping it doesn’t fall down, labeling, typing up artist statements and filling out other paperwork still spelling that one student’s name incorrectly, sending home letters and invitations to parents, notifying and typing up a press release for the local newspaper, posting it all over social media, coordinating judges, handing out awards, making cookies and punch for the reception, and finally hoping that your students, parents, staff and administrators have time to take notice in between all of their usual duties and disasters in order to marvel at the art and appreciate it all? That’s a lot of work, right? Even though many of us don’t get paid for coordinating art exhibits, and the endeavor of putting together a student art show is completely stressful, I think many of us can agree it is also completely worthwhile. What if you could downsize, regroup and make this process a bit more stress-free by doing it in the summer? Whether you move your one “big show” to the summer season or are looking to add in a “supplementary art show” to reach a wider audience and promote your program, this blog post asks you to consider just that and offers 6 reasons why you might want to give it a try!


1. You have the time.

To say teachers don’t work in the summer is really a farce. In the summer teachers may take Masters level courses, attend or instruct Professional Development sessions, work on organizing their classrooms, plan and write curriculum, get a summer job and/or become full time caretakers of their own families. But the school work done in the summer is typically well balanced, reflective, mindful, and re-energising. It’s not as fast paced or taxing. You can actually choose to focus in on a single task instead of feeling the strain of being pulled in multiple directions. A Summer Student Art Show provides you with the option of putting together an exhibit at a time when you are typically not bogged down with a million other school related duties. You aren’t in a rush. As long as you remember to hold back from sending all the artwork home in June, you actually have time to be mindful of the curation and installation processes. Getting the work done at a slower summer pace means you may even enjoy it!   

Flyer: Social Justice Issues: Art Objects and Installations
Flyer: Traveling Art Exhibit: Character Creature Features!

2. It can be small, flexible, manageable and non-competitive.

The summer art show does not have to feature one piece from each student, keep it small. I recommend that you perhaps discern by featuring a single class, a single assignment or narrow your number of artworks under a unifying theme. Perhaps your selected pieces need to simply fit in the venue space provided or be strictly 2D or 3D. Either way you decide to structure your show, set it for a time that works for you. Set it up when you can and take it down when you can. With three months to choose from, coordinating with a venue in the summer can be much more relaxed than during the school year when other teachers are also trying to “fit it all in”. Consider making the show unjuried; non-competitive. This removes a whole layer of pressure for both you and the students. It’s less work for you and allows for more freedom in selecting conceptual pieces that might not be your typical “judge-pleasers.”

3. The venue needs you.

Get the art out of the school. Select a venue that gets some summer traffic. Contact your local arts council, public library, theater, or bank. The venue can be non-traditional. If it doesn’t work out that you have access to a typical gallery space, settle for alternative display spaces such as lobbies, waiting rooms, and vestibules. You may find that your little art show is just what the venue needed to fill a void while professional artists are busy claiming summer residencies or caravaning through art fairs. Whatever the arrangement, the venue can only benefit from the summer flair of student artwork.  

4. It gives your students’ art a wider audience and advocates for your program.

I first started doing small summer student art shows three years ago when I felt the overwhelming need to offer my students’ work to a wider audience. At first it was 7th grade/3rd grade technology based collaborations that triggered student-made videos through Augmented Reality. And then it was powerful visual metaphors for Social Justice Issues created by my high school students. Their art was so good and so powerful I was compelled to get it out of the school and share it with the world. Also it was a solution to timing and space. Artwork that is created in the Spring was too late to fit into my annual Spring art shows and much of it didn’t actually physically fit into the art display cases. The summer show gave this work and these students the opportunity to share with the greater community which in turn advocates the quality and necessity of my art program.   

5. Reception optional.

Don’t have a reception. Or do. Consider this element of a student art show as a nicety that isn’t always necessary. Try a set it and forget it approach. People are busy in the summer, especially high school students with summer jobs, so allow them and the community to view the artwork at their convenience whenever the venue is open to accommodate its usual summer clientele. If you can arrange the artwork to be on display for a month or more it’s likely that more people will see it over a longer period of time rather than all in the same night or week anyway. This way you can avoid giving a speech, baking all those cookies, cookie fingerprints on the art and all the inevitable awkward conversations with parents (I’m terrible at small talk!). However, if you do chose to hold an official show opening or reception try to couple it with another event at the venue instead of a stand-alone soirée. This way you can share a budget for food and advertisement, accommodate the venue’s schedule and once again attract a wider audience.   

6. It elevates collaborative art.

In education today, we as educators, are facing tremendous pressure to embed collaborative learning in our classrooms. Yet there are very few opportunities for collaborative art to be displayed in traditional art shows. Collaborative artwork is inconvenient to judge and makes awarding prizes, scholarships, and traveling opportunities expensive or impossible. There may only be one ribbon to hand out, one scholarship to award or one opportunity for a free master class. I am happy to report that the Vans Custom Culture Contest and the Meijer Great Choices Film Festival are two exceptions to this rule against collaborative projects, but still, these platforms are very specific in media and process. Plus, they are highly competitive. Collaborative learning is research based, inclusive and offers insight into the “team process” that is practiced by most renowned art contemporaries. Consider that artist Ai Weiwei didn’t make all those ceramic sunflower seeds by himself, so why should we as art teachers only honor student artwork made by a single person? The summer art show offers the perfect solution to promote, highlight and elevate the amazing collaborative work created by my students.    


Tuesday 06. 6.17

Chunk and Bundle: The Bundled Assessment Approach for Demonstrating Teacher Effectiveness

From: Carrie A. Jeruzal

Navigating the world of assessment can be daunting, especially assessment in the arts. Arts assessments come in a variety of forms all dependent upon a variety of factors: resources available, specific arts discipline, grade level, etc. While information and research regarding assessment in the arts begins to mount, and the importance and pressure of reporting data from assessments becomes critical for demonstrating teacher effectiveness, I would like to offer up a “take a deep breath,” “let’s get organized and take it one step at a time,” practical approach to Visual Arts Assessment in the secondary classroom. Chunk it and Bundle it.

I teach K-12 Art in a small rural public school that serves just under 300 students in the entire district. I teach 2 hours of High School Art, 2 hours of Junior High Art, and 2 hours of Elementary Art each day. Just writing that makes me tired! Providing data on all these students at all of these different grade levels is too much and would literally become a full time job on its own. So to keep data management realistic I have selected a small portion of my population from which to pull my data. Since my High School students have a summative exam already worked into their semester schedule, the practical choice for me was to start with a selection of 16-25 high school students from which to pull data. That’s right, instead of trying to pull data from all 200+ of my students, I focus in on a manageable set. 

The data that I collect from these students is a bundle of 4 chunks:
    * MAEIA High School Level 1 Visual Art Performance Assessment Data
    * Digital Portfolio Performance Data using Google Classroom
    * Pre and Post Knowledge Data using Google Forms and Flubaroo add-on
    * Pre and Post Perception Data using Google Forms and Flubaroo add-on

This style of data collection requires forethought and organization at the very beginning of the school year. I often incorporate my assessment plans right into my curriculum maps and I store the data digitally. I also use an Student Learning Objective (SLO) document to serve as a kind of roadmap for my bundled approach. Although this type of document may not be necessary in every district, I do find getting organized in the very beginning very helpful. Also I feel using a bundled approach gives my students many options and chances for demonstrating their growth as opposed to relying upon a single assessment that may not be holistic. It’s comforting to know that my students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their growth by using 4 different assessment methods.    

MAEIA Performance Task
This year my High School year long curriculum consists of three-dimensional art and design. The MAEIA assessment that I selected was the V.T409 3-D Wire Sculpture. MAEIA stands for Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment. After administering the task to my students, I collected performance assessment data by way of digital photos submitted to students’ Google Classroom Accounts.  I also collected numeric data (point scores or grades), based on the rubric included in the MAEIA assessment. This process lasted approximately 5 class hours. 

Digital Portfolio
The second chunk of data that I collect is actually collected by my students. Students post all of their work into a digital file organized and housed in their Google Classroom accounts. When reporting my data I often have students select, print and document their own pre-proficient work and also proficient work. This method allows students to visually self assess their own learning and report that learning in a visual manner. I use the 5 C’s strategy (Content, Craftsmanship, Creativity, Communication, Composition) to guide students through this evaluation process midway through the year and then again at the end of the year. 

20 Questions Pre and Post
This set of data regards Knowledge Data. Think of a traditional multiple choice exam. I select 20 questions mainly focused on knowledge of key terms, concepts and image recognition. It is given within the first two weeks of school and then again during the final exam. I use Google Forms to administer the test and the Flubaroo add-on to grade the assessment and then chart and report the data. This chunk of data is collected fast; It only takes the students 15-20 minutes to complete. Technology is a huge timesavers and the forms can be reused again when I reteach the same curriculum.   

Perception of Growth Survey
The final set of data I collect and report is Pre and Post Perception Data. This answers the questions: Does the student know and realize when he or she is meeting a standard?, Is he or she trying to meet a standard?, and, how does the learner perceive his or her own growth? This is where a student offers up a short narrative of his or her perceived growth. There is power not only in the numbers and visuals of student growth data, but also in the student’s own story. Confidence, knowledge, experience, goals and learning in the arts are addressed in the student’s own voice. 

Bundle up all these chunks of data in a cohesive digital dossier and present them to your administrator during your final evaluation to demonstrate your effectiveness in not one, but in four different ways. This kind of data bundling presents visual, numerical and reflective narrative that all highlight the growth and learning of your students through cohesive methods.   

For more information on the Michigan Arts Instruction and Assessment project as well as additional assessment resources, please visit




Tuesday 05.30.17

Failing forward

From: Mary Elizabeth Meier

As art teachers work to develop assessments to gather information about student learning, I argue that we should assess habits and concepts which are of great importance in creative idea development. When I ask, “What matters most?” as I plan teaching and learning experiences, I consider the idea of failure. That is, making mistakes and exploring responses to failure. I attend to my role as teacher-facilitator to create a classroom culture of creative exploration in which students are empowered to play, exercise choice, make creative decisions that are not always successful and then work in collaboration to revise.

I remember exploring the idea of failing forward for the first time in a design-based thinking workshop led by Randy Granger, Past President of the Pennsylvania Art Education Association. Randy teaches his high school art students to work through many iterations of designs. Several years later, students enrolled in my art education methods course posed the question, “How should we support k-12 art students who are afraid of making a mistake in their artwork.” Together, we investigated the idea of “failing forward” as a framework for gathering information about student learning. (Students gave me permission to share our class discussion and some of their written reflections here).

One student, Letty, wrote in a reflection, “Instead of allowing failure to be one changeable mark in a whole composition, we [teachers tend to] assert failure as the sole, final mark” (Letitia Cawley, personal correspondence). Letitia observed that we must do more to help students understand creative mistakes as changeable and fruitful shifts along a meandering path of possibility. Therefore, failure is part of students’ experience to engage and persist (Hetland, et al, 2013) in their artistic process. Failure and its ambiguous role in creative process is worthy of our energy to document it. We can work in partnership with students to gather information about the role of creative failure, healthy risks, and momentum in artistic process.

Another pre-service student in our class, Beyona Eckstein, described the value of assessments of process by working with students as they develop a portfolio. Students can evaluate (find value) in their own work and the work of their peers by reflecting on their work as it unfolds over time. She wrote, “The idea of failing forward is about rethinking the way teachers have students document growth, how students are critiqued, and how they are assessed” (Beyona Eckstein, personal correspondence).

Beyona was making connections between “failing forward” as an assessment strategy and its value as part of a teaching philosophy rooted in her artistic practice as a ceramicist. Beyona wrote, “Not only is failing forward a method of teaching I want to practice, it is also a philosophy I want to follow... Art is the expression of human imagination and creative skills; when applied to students it is about eliminating the concept of finished work having beauty. As an artist, I find myself focusing on the making and the steps to a finished work, and rarely is the finished work ever complete. The process and method of failing forward is just that, [a] focus on the experience of creating. Finally, failing forward is about realizing mistakes and making them your motivation to work or create more” (Beyona Eckstein, personal correspondence).

Beyona asserted her intention to facilitate a studio-classroom where students are confident that failure is acceptable and is not permanent. She observed that help student to develop this stance of failing forward would help them grow as individuals in many of their life pursuits.



Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K. M. (2013). Studio Thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Thursday 05.25.17

Assess What Matters Most

From: Mary Elizabeth Meier

Teachers and students in k-12 classroom studios can work together to build a culture of creative idea development. The events that unfold are worth documenting. Documentation is a pedagogical orientation that students and teachers can take up together. Teachers can facilitate routines to fuel rigorous, spontaneous, and artful teaching/learning practices in which students’ artistic and creative exploration and growth are of primary importance. By documenting these experiences, we can reflect on them and expand them. By analyzing the information we gather, students and teacher assess what matters most.

Teachers who feel administrative pressure to comply with institutional assessment mandates might use a written quiz to assess students in their ability to identify discrete concepts (e.g., elements and principles of design). However, I urge art teachers to move beyond the format of quantitative, selected response quiz for assessments. We can use qualitative assessments as opportunities focus our attention on broad concepts, habits, dispositions, and events that are indicators of the most important aspects of student’s and teacher’s creative and artistic practice.

I use qualitative assessment design as a means of gathering information about student learning in order to fuel each student in idea development and artistic process. I teach pre-service teachers and coach in-service art teachers to do this work. I also reflect on my experience as an art teacher in elementary, middle level and high school settings. My first task as a teacher-facilitator is to attempt to identity what matters most for students to learn and then find ways to document and describe the qualities of experiences that unfold in the journey of learning. Secondly, I remain open to all of the rich experiences that will unfold in collaboration with students, especially those that I could not predict. Even as I attempt to pre-plan what matters most, I recognize that I cannot predetermine all that each student will learn. Furthermore, my information gathering teaches me what students find to be most important and most interesting about their experiences. My pedagogical orientation keeps me attune, awake, and listening to what students are learning. My assessment practice is rooted in gathering this information. I remain open to what students bring to the learning experience and what transpires in the real-time bustle of the studio classroom experience. Assessment is a back and forth process of gathering information as the story unfolds. Together, we assess what matters most, not what is easiest. We use the information we gather (students and teacher as collaborators) as an integral part of creative idea development. In this way, our assessment process is aligned with what we believe about art education. It is a contemporary, emergent process.

The ideas I set forth here correspond with an invitation to re-think assessment literacy for k-12 studio classroom contexts. I am developing open-ended assessment tools to empower art teachers to design their own information gathering methods. Our field is in need of bold art teachers who can advance new assessment practices. These practices will support what they believe is most important about working through artistic practice and advancing the unique work of art education in the art of teaching-learning.

I believe the creative idea development and processes of thinking via making are worth teaching, and therefore worth assessing. What do you believe about art education? What are the most important concepts and experiences, which are tied to your core beliefs? If these ideas are worth teaching, then they are worth assessing.


Wednesday 05.17.17

Assessment is Gathering Information About Student Learning

From: Mary Elizabeth Meier

Typically, the term, assessment is associated with numerical grading scales, objective testing, and quantitative accountability measures. In the art studio-classroom, I recommend that we shift toward a qualitative process of gathering information about student learning. When we gather qualitative information, we focus on qualities of experience rather than quantifications or arbitrary numerical representations. I advocate for a method of assessment that moves beyond simplified criterion based evaluation. Instead, rich descriptions and documentation of the qualities of emerging experience, process, questions, thinking, and making that fuel each students’ artistic process are important.

What does this look like in practice for teachers and professors who work in a studio-classroom context? One example of a shift toward gathering qualitative information is to work with students to develop open-ended lists that describe qualities of idea development and artistic behavior. For example, using the Studio Thinking 2: Habits of Mind (Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2013) as a framework, teachers and students can work together to explore the ways that an artist can “stretch and explore” or “engage and persist.” Students can learn to identify, analyze and reflect on the habits and dispositions that are related to creative thinking.

When I teach idea development in my University level Printmaking I course, I use the following student learning outcome (SLO).

Student Learning Outcome: Students will creative and revise ideas in stages of creative process.

SLO Assessment task: Students will 1) develop a sketchbook into a research notebook, 2) analyze and reflect on sketchbook entries, and 3) develop a series of prints that grows from individualized research and creative idea development.

Students made frequent entries in a spiral bound blank sketchbook. They used the sketchbook as a place to gather evidence about their individual creative process and in generating and revising ideas in the stages of monotype, monoprint, and relief printmaking methods. There were four opportunities during the semester for students to demonstrate their learning and processes. At two times during the semester they selected 5 pages from their sketchbook to photocopy and share with me, the professor. We conferred about their ideas using their visual and narrative analysis of their sketchbook entries. Students made their analysis visible to me by using sticky notes and marginalia to annotate the photocopies of sketchbook pages they selected. Later, they expanded their annotations to write a reflection paper as an interpretive analysis of their sketchbook work. Lastly, students developed their unique idea development workflow as they created a culminating print project in which they made many choices and exercised freedom in demonstrating 1) their understanding of the process of research in developing imagery as meaning making and 2) creating a hybrid process of making prints using two or more methods (e.g. planographic and relief).

The following are descriptors of habits for creative idea development. I have written them into an open-ended, flexible list that is a tool for assessment. I use these descriptors to encourage university students majoring in graphic design, art education, art therapy, and studio art to use their research notebook/sketchbook in the idea development phases of works in progress. These descriptors appear on the checklist under the heading, “engage and persist” (Hetland et. al., 2013). The list is not intended to prescribe precisely how students will engage and persist. Rather, I use it to provide ideas for a student to begin their own working process. There is also a blank, open field in the list for students to write in their own descriptors of their process.

* Poses new questions, expands an idea that originates in wondering, questioning
* Experiments and refines work with tools, materials, methods, techniques
* Tries new approaches, ideas, with curiosity
* Takes risks and plays with error/failure
* Pushes the limits, imagines more possibilities
* Plays with ideas and concepts using multiple approaches
* Seeks alternatives, finds what is missing, views the problem from a different perspective
* Moves between what is and what could be
* Adapts a known model

This assessment task draws on formative (sketchbook pages with annotated analysis and written reflection) and summative (culminating project) components. To give students feedback about the information we were gathering about their learning, we used one open ended checklist as a scoring tool to give individualized feedback in the form or written comments as relevant to three sources of evidence (10 pages from sketchbook, reflection paper, and final artwork).  To meet the University administrative mandate of the SLO, I set the target/goal for 75% of students show strong evidence of the qualities of generating and revising ideas in stages of creative process. We met our target when 79% students in the Printmaking I course demonstrated proficiency in the following dimensions of the assessment rubric:

* Research and making connections with artists and movements
* Observational drawing and sensory observation
* To engage and persist in idea development and technical methods
* To stretch and explore in idea development and technical process
* To reflect, revise, and refine stages of creative process

I believe that idea development and habits of creative thinking are worth assessing. We must empower art teachers who may feel caught up in institutionalized assessment practices (e.g., grading, testing, SLOs, and teacher evaluation) to find support in contemporary assessment literacy that is aligned with what we believe about art education. I argue that we should assess what matters most. In the next blog post I will expand the idea of failure as part of the principle, “assess what matters.”



Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K. M. (2013). Studio Thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.



Monday 05. 1.17

The Practice of Assessment as Information Gathering

From: Dr. Mary Elizabeth Meier

In the role of University professor, I mentor art educators as they consider structures and routines to support k-12 art students in creative thinking, idea development, and other emergent learning experiences. The process that an art teacher undertakes to design learning experiences for students is related to developing ideas in stages of artistic process. More specifically, I encourage both pre-service and in-service art teachers to think about their process of curricular and assessment design as alike to their own working style as an artist.

Recently, students (the undergraduate art education students enrolled a University course I teach) and I were comparing methods to support high school art students with timely feedback about their work in progress. We debated the role and value of a final, summative critique to fuel students’ process of learning and idea development in art. One student expressed a preference for in-process critiques to occur at the mid-way stage of making hand-built ceramic work. She explained that well-timed feedback could allow a student to implement suggestions immediately. Positive, specific feedback is one facet of assessment that is designed to fuel students in their artistic process.

In this series of blog posts, I will outline a set of recommendations for contemporary art education as related to the practice of assessment as information gathering. These recommendations are those that I teach in my undergraduate and graduate University courses and are the basis for many professional learning workshops that I lead for in-service art and music teachers. The six ideas listed below form a basic framework for a “teacher’s toolkit” in assessment practices that is responsive to emergent curriculum, creative choice, and qualitative methods. Here is a brief look at some of the ideas I will write about this month as the NAEA monthly mentor for May 2017:

- Assessment is gathering information about student learning
- We should assess what matters most
- Assessment fuels each student’s artistic process with well timed, specific feedback
- The work of assessment is shared by students and teachers
- We can develop assessment tools to support exploration and idea development in students over time


Thursday 04.27.17

Shinique Smith in the K-1 Classroom: Discovery, Transformation and Crazy-Pants Art! Evaluation and Reflection - Part 2

From: Jennifer Childress

The effect of fear of judgment on creative work has been studied by a number of psychologists. Consider this article from Psychology Today, in their special issue, “The Enemies of Invention”:

Fear of Failure Narrows Vision
Wide-ranging thought requires a sense of freedom from consequence
By Peter Gray

“Support for this idea comes from Harvard Business School psychologist Teresa Amabile, who, in numerous experiments, sought the conditions that enhance or diminish creativity. She asked participants—sometimes children, sometimes adults—to produce a creative product, such as a collage, a poem, or a short story. Then the products were evaluated for creativity by a panel of experts. Though performed independently, the judges' evaluations were quite consistent from one to another. In general, they deemed creative those products that were original and surprising, yet also somehow meaningful and coherent.

“In several experiments, Amabile told some of the participants that their products would be evaluated for creativity by an expert panel. For others, she then added that their product would be entered into a contest—with prizes for the most creative products. A third group of participants were told nothing.

“In experiment after experiment, the participants who made the most creative products were those who didn't know their work would be evaluated. They were just playing—not concerned about judgments or rewards.

“These findings support the work of another psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She theorizes that positive emotions broaden our perception and thought—allowing us to put ideas and information together in new, creative, useful ways—while negative emotions narrow our perceptions and thought, because we are focusing primarily on the stimulus that initiated the emotion (for example, an evaluator, or the consequences of failure).

“Both these ways of perceiving and thinking are useful; both are products of natural selection. When not faced with immediate threats to our survival, we use our minds to find new ways of doing things and help one another. Faced with immediate threats, we use our minds to deal with the threat (if a tiger is chasing us, it's best to use well-learned ways of escaping from it, not dream up new ways of doing so). Fresh ideas run the risk of failure, so we're biologically constructed to cut creativity off when failure has serious consequences.

“Evaluation, when it is not asked for and when it has consequences, as it does in school or at work, is a threat. It inhibits new learning and new insights. Of course feedback from an expert can be helpful in improving any idea or product, especially if it is sought by the creator. But creativity is stifled if the main goal becomes feedback—either receiving the positive or avoiding the negative. It's no wonder children are less creative when classrooms are centered on evaluation. For students who take academics seriously, continual testing creates continual threat. Their minds are focused on fears: How do I deal with this test? How do I please this teacher?

“…It's hard to be creative in such conditions. Feedback generally promotes effort—because we want to impress the evaluator—but effort is insufficient for creativity. We can't be more creative just by trying harder. We must relax in a way that permits the full engagement of unconscious mental processes—ones that generate unusual associations and new ideas. These work best when we are playing, not when we are striving for praise or a reward (Gray, P., 2013).”

While Gray points out some not-so-surprising-for-teachers study results, we must ask ourselves, is the expectation that we not grade students on artwork or not give feedback realistic? Appropriate? Practiced by artists in their personal lives and artworld?  The answers lie somewhere in the juncture between the purpose of a lesson or a class, the age of the students, their expertise levels, and the appropriate when’s and how’s of feedback.

As we know from being makers of art and observing our artist colleagues, artists move back and forth between periods of dampened frontal lobe work (which allows suppression of judgment in order that many ideas to be allowed to generate) when they are in a state of flow, and periods of self-evaluation (editing, rearranging, etc.) as the works are iterated and take final form (Lano, 2012).  Then works are subjected to other reviewers, and eventually the public. Sometimes an artist revises work based on outside feedback, sometimes not; but usually as a result of some kind of final self-evaluation.

Increasingly, newer studies point to cooperation between the brain’s default mode network (the network that is active during creative flow) and the executive function network (self-control, judgment, etc.) in relation to creativity. The salience network is actively involved, helping the thinker to switch modes, based on stimuli. From the abstract, “Default and Executive Network Coupling Supports Creative Idea Production” (full publication available, see citations at end of blog post):

“…network efficiency was found to increase as a function of individual differences in divergent thinking ability. Moreover, temporal connectivity analysis revealed increased coupling between default and salience network regions (bilateral insula) at the beginning of the task, followed by increased coupling between default and executive network regions at later stages. Such dynamic coupling suggests that divergent thinking involves cooperation between brain networks linked to cognitive control and spontaneous thought, which may reflect focused internal attention and the top-down control of spontaneous cognition during creative idea production (Beaty, et al, 2015).”

Combining these studies with observations of how artists work, it would seem that judgment or evaluation is a critical (no pun intended) aspect of creativity, rather than the anathema suggested by Amabile and Fredrickson’s studies. We all have those terrible memories, however, of art teachers in school, or college professors in our degree programs (those looooooooong critiques) who did not spur us to work more freely or inventively, and sometimes damaged our budding efforts to become artists. Could it be that growing robust, resilient artists with thick-enough skins – whether in school or across a lifetime – requires a very delicate balancing act between internally and externally-directed focus? How do we become more aware of and sensitive to providing those opportunities in our classroom, and honoring the value of each? Of teaching our students to grow into adults who can manage a personally calibrated balance for themselves? What then becomes the purpose of assessment in art classrooms?



Beaty, R.E., Benedik, M., Kaufman, S.B., Silvia, P.J. (2015, June 17). Default and executive network coupling      supports creative idea production. Nature. Retrieved from         

Gray, P. (2013, May 7). Fear of failure narrows vision: Wide-ranging thought requires a sense of       freedom from consequence. Psychology Today. Retrieved from         

Lano, A. (2012, July 25). The science of creativity: Music-obsessed otolaryngologist Charles Limb believes his   studies of the brain could lead to improved treatment for hearing loss. The Hub. Retrieved from

Wednesday 04.26.17

Shinique Smith in the K-1 Classroom: Discovery, Transformation and Crazy-Pants Art! Evaluation and Reflection - Part 1

From: Jennifer Childress

As the lesson was completed, Erica evaluated the student work, but the evaluations were not shared with students, as the purpose was for Erica to determine where students had issues and strengths. Other reasons for not sharing evaluations with students included the possible negative effects of evaluation on work that was meant to be exploratory and discovery-based, especially for this age level.

In her reflections, Erica wrote:

Looking back at the student work that was completed during the guided discovery portion of the day’s lesson, I found that several students went above and beyond in creating their forms. Although this was evident in the work of several students, I will discuss only three. J___, a first grader, combined materials in unconventional ways that I did not demonstrate during class. She wrapped styrofoam bricks in socks and fabric, tying multiple segments of yarn onto the forms. A___, another first grader, tied consecutive knots in her yarn, more than the required double-knot, and created woven-looking segments. N____ is a kindergartener who brought in a figurine as her found object from home. To transform the everyday object into a beautiful sculpture, she decided to make a cape for her figurine out of fabric and yarn.

This lesson was full to the brim with opportunities for talented and gifted students to exceed expectations and discover many ways to transform the materials outside of what was demonstrated. Options were given in terms of which provided materials to use, how to combine, interchange, and transform them, and what materials could be brought from home. Options had a wide range of difficulty levels. This ensured that all students had choice and opportunity to determine their own level of challenge and adventurousness.

…The last day with the students will provide 15 minutes to complete the Shinique Smith lesson, as well as post-assessment. In order to increase this success in the last 15 minutes next class, I have prepared different opportunities for students to challenge themselves during the collaborative session where they will work together to form a large floor sculpture out of their smaller individual parts. I will bring rocks, pipes, and other small found objects for students to arrange in addition to their own sculptures. How they arrange these objects will be up to the students, as I will only demonstrate that the objects can be set side by side to make a line, like Shinique Smith has shown in her sculpture. It is my hope that they will get creative and find other ways as well.

Erica’s evaluation of the student work can be downloaded here (Insert ET_Visuals and Student Work Evaluation_Smith-Complete). The following images have been extracted from from her evaluation presentation.

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When looking back on her lesson, it seemed obvious to Erica that the students needed more time for her very ambitious lesson; time to talk more about Smith’s work and their own; to think, wonder, play, explore, etc. Yet the need for structure and guidance remained as necessary to promote the best conditions for creativity for all students, carried out in a physically, socially, and emotionally safe classroom. 

In Erica’s final reflection, part of a letter to an incoming lab teacher, she wrote:

Though you may want to be the kind, nurturing teacher you remember loving as a child, you still need to be firm and fair. This was something I struggled with during the beginning of the semester. As a people-pleaser, it is hard for me to be assertive at times, and I tend to have a very nurturing demeanor when it comes to children. While it is good to be nurturing as a teacher, especially with younger students, you cannot maintain control of a classroom without learning to be firm, fair, and assertive.

Students enjoy a good mix between fun and firm, they need that balance to feel like they are in a calm and collected learning environment. Without the balance, chaos will be imminent, and students don’t learn well in a chaotic learning environment. My advice is to save yourself the trouble and implement rules and consequences early on. Make sure you follow through with them! If you implement rules and consequences without following through, students will see that they can push your boundaries of what is acceptable behavior. There is a time and place for freedom in an art lesson, but it needs to be bridled, and structured well.

On the topic of behavior management, one of my best moments during the lab teaching semester was during my final, discovery-based lesson. After using the first few lessons as a way to develop basic artistic skills and behavioral expectations, I used my last lesson to give students the structured freedom of discovery. Watching them work independently, following behavioral expectations, and inventing new ways to use the sculptural materials, was a culmination of everything I had achieved with them. It was also a reminder that in order to have a calm and fun learning environment like the one I had achieved, rules and consequences were absolutely necessary.

This idea of constraints providing both a balance and spur to creativity is explored in depth in Sydney Walker’s book, Teaching Meaning in Artmaking. I will bring this into sharper focus in the next post.

What if the kindergarten and first grade had more days for the lesson? What new levels of creativity might have been explored? For example, what other shapes could the wrapped, tied, knotted objects have been arranged to form? Could objects be stacked? Painted on? Tied together and bundled? Put in one long line down the school halls? Could field trips be arranged for older classes to gather usable found objects prior to making art?

Fortunately, Erica was able to revise and extend her lesson and present it at the 8th grade level in her student teaching the following semester. It was very satisfying to give the lesson more breathing room, and see how different ages responded to Shinique Smith’s artwork.

You may view Erica's presentation here. If you are interested in learning more about Erica’s lesson, she welcomes you to contact her at


Tuesday 04.25.17

Shinique Smith in the K-1 Classroom: Discovery, Transformation and Crazy-Pants Art! Days 2 & 3

From: Jennifer Childress

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As Erica planned for day 2, she made some changes in her original expectations for Kindergarten and first grade, as she had anticipated might be needed. Both grades made a few more objects with increasing independence, including wrapping or altering items they brought from home, such as stuffed animals, shoes, and the like. Items from home brought about both nostalgic conversation and lots of hilarity.

Erica asking for student advice on which shapes to put whereErica asking for student advice on which shapes to put where

Then each student arranged his or her objects on a cardboard “slice” to connect solid objects linearly, like points that make a solid line. She demonstrated how to “compose” the line by asking herself questions first, using the “think aloud” method to help students develop self-talk. “Hmmm- I think I’ll start with this tied pipe and put it… here… then maybe this one? No – this one – it fits better…” By the third object, she was asking students for advice and to explain their reasoning. Once students moved on to independent “line-composing,” I observed them asking themselves and each other similar questions, and thoughtfully arranging, then rearranging pieces.

First grade working on lining up objects -2

First grade working on lining up objects (above and below)

First grade working on lining up objects -2

In addition, Erica brought in extra items they could incorporate, adding even more discovery opportunities to the lesson:

I will bring rocks, pipes, and other small found objects for students to arrange in addition to their own sculptures. How they arrange these objects will be up to the students, as I will only demonstrate that the objects can be set side by side to make a line, like Shinique Smith has shown in her sculpture. It is my hope that they will get creative and find other ways as well.

Attaching the objects proved to be much more difficult and time consuming than anticipated, even with an extra helper in the room, Erica’s fiancé, whom the students called “Mr. Erica.” First grade was able to move on to the collaborative organization of their individual “slices” of cardboard, while Kindergarten did not. For K, that was saved for the 15 minutes grabbed from a third day, which was slated for student review and reflection on their full ten-lesson portfolio.

Erica reflected:

During day two of this lesson, the first graders exceeded my expectations in terms of the number of forms they were able to make and how creative they were with their problem-solving. Because of this, it was hard for me to slow their momentum when it was time to move on from the discovery-based portion of the lesson to begin arranging their forms on the slices. This caused me to run out of time for the collaborative session as well as an opportunity for real closure. I sacrificed a successful closure to give the students time to arrange their forms on their cardboard slices. This ended up taking a lot more time and effort than I thought it would. With the kindergarteners, I decided to end with a successful closure rather than attempting to fasten their sculptures to their slices after seeing how long it took to do with the first graders.

I think that this happened because the lesson was so discovery-driven, and I think I tried to cram too much into just two days. I’m very lucky that I will have 15 minutes during the last lesson to catch up with both classes. However, I’m glad that I didn’t cut the students too short from the discovery portion because they were all so engaged. Each student challenged themselves in a positive way and I would hate to have stopped the students before they had completed their last forms. However, I know by sacrificing closure I lost other important aspects of learning. Never enough time!!

The appropriate solution for this problem would be to create a successful closure in the next lesson and try to reflect on both days.

The final and third day, first grade students had wonderful conversations about whose slice should go where, as they took turns organizing their individual “lines” into an explosive, circular composition on the floor. Kindergartners created their lines, and the slices were carefully transported in to the hallway. Later, Erica and some of her lab peers worked on attaching any loose objects.

The results, as seen here in the lab school’s art exhibit, came out wonderfully! The two class’s installations greeted visiting parents, teachers, and students as they entered the gymnasium, where the spring semester exhibit was held.  The art exhibit features K-8 artwork, from two different art ed lab teaching courses – Curriculum and Assessment in Art, and Methods of Lab Teaching. These photos were taken an hour before the opening. The panoramic shot also includes the school principal, caught asking a question mid-photo.  

Kindergarten InstallationLab School Spring 2016 Art Exhibit

Kindergarten InstallationFirst Grade Installation

Kindergarten InstallationKindergarten Installation

Kindergarten InstallationKindergarten Installation Close-Up


Monday 04.24.17

Shinique Smith in the K-1 Classroom: Discovery, Transformation and Crazy-Pants Art! Day 1

From: Jennifer Childress

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Another lab teacher from our program, Erica Taussig, had already investigated Shinique Smith as a primary artistic influence on her personal studio work. She wanted to introduce her kindergarten and first grade lab classes to Smith’s investigative spirit and highly tactile sculptural installations. Her success as a contemporary black female artist with urban roots, and her wonderfully inventive artwork – on a very large scale (about 25’ in diameter) seemed like a great inspiration for our young students, and that definitely proved to be the case. 

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Erica thought these facts about Smith, gleaned from her research, were relevant to the lesson she was developing:

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The lesson’s primary purposes were to allow students to use discovery learning to make artworks, to make art from entirely unexpected materials, and to experience the joy that comes from independent problem-solving and working with colorful, exciting and highly tactile materials. The artistic strategies of using one solution to generate new questions and new problems to explore, and to see everyday items from a fresh perspective were key to this lesson. As Art Markman noted in his article on promoting creativity in Psychology Today,

“When you ask most people to do something creative, they quickly get stuck in a rut. Studies by The University of Alabama's Thomas Ward and his colleagues asked college students to draw animals from alien planets. Nearly all the animals people drew resembled real ones from Earth. They had similar sensory organs, legs, and arms and were symmetrical. Even when asked to be creative, people based their work on known examples. And that observation forms the basis of a crucial technique for generating new ideas.

Your memory automatically calls up information that is related to what you are thinking about… If you want to change the way you approach a creative problem, then you need to change what you are thinking about. You need to describe the situation in a new way. That will change what you pull from your memory and the knowledge you use to solve the problem…

A key strategy for changing what you think about is to find the essence of the creative problem you're trying to solve. Start by looking at how you described it. Then, see if there is another way to frame that issue and explore where that takes you (Markman, A., 2013, May 7). (emphasis mine)

In other words, look at things like an artist does – from multiple angles, and from different associations.

The results of the 2-day lesson (plus another 15 minutes on a third day) showed that both kindergartners and first-graders were capable – and unsurprisingly, very eager – to explore and invent new forms by combining everyday items like cloth scraps, socks, foam blocks, stuffing, yarn, string, etc.  As our lab teachers were required to write reflections on each lesson, throughout this post I will share Erica’s thoughts on this lesson and how it changed from her expectations.

Erica wrote:

Students expressed great fascination in transforming everyday objects like socks, yarn, clothing, and styrofoam into beautiful sculptures. They yielded a widely differing range of forms, and were eager to solve technical problems which arose during the art making process, like how to tie a knot, wrap yarn, stuff socks with styrofoam, etc. Many students went an extra step with their creative problem-solving by adding extra yarn to their sculpture, or tying a bow with their yarn, rather than a simple knot.

I feel that by choosing an artist who solves problems that are very approachable to students of this age level, I was able to really engage all students in this lesson. The media not only had a tactile appeal to the students, but created a tactile challenge as well, as students this age are learning to tie their shoes and are at that point where developing fine motor skills like the ones addressed in the lesson are critical. Student interest and learning increases when ideas that students are familiar with are re-contextualized. In this lesson, students were excited to solve the creative problem of transforming everyday objects into beautiful sculptures because the everyday objects were taken out of the context that they are used to.

On day 1, after having conversations about Shinique Smith’s artworks, what they were made of, and her ways of working and thinking, Erica demonstrated different ways to make forms. Before demonstrating, however, she increased the level of palpable excitement in the room by handing out bags of surprise materials to small groups that could not be opened but kept secret. Student helpers eventually were in charge of passing out certain materials at a time to their group, to help students stay focused on one task at a time and listen carefully to directions and demonstrations. Day 1 was considered the “skill-building” day more than the exploratory day, though plenty of new discoveries were taking place.

From Erica’s reflections:

As eager as the students were to transform everyday objects into beautiful sculptures, the students are still developing the fine motor skills that this lesson addresses, so we didn’t end up having enough time for the free-creation time that I had scheduled into the lesson. This was fine though, because I realized students needed to really practice these skills to get them down.

Using the classic method of gradual release, first Erica showed one example, then had students follow her step by step in how to stuff a sock with a foam block, and make a colorful rectangular solid.  Students were allowed to “finish” the block in whatever way they wanted (to deal with the leftover sock material). The next form was demonstrated and after students repeated back the steps, they proceeded on their own to make a tied form.

Erica demonstrating to KindergartenErica demonstrating to Kindergarten

For the next solid, a wrapped spherical form, students had to first use their deductive powers to figure out how it might have been made, then demonstrations followed. The forms provided much challenge for the 5 and 6-year-old’s fine motor skills, so Erica ended the day with a brief review of Smith’s work and how they had problem-solved their forms, rather than the free exploration she had planned. This was a good reminder that another important artist’s strait is to PRACTICE constantly, not just explore and invent. But the quality and nature of that practice is important. A particular frustration for our lab teacher was that in the Kindergarten class, which took place in the children’s regular classroom, the aide had to be discouraged from doing the activity for struggling children, rather than assisting/coaching from the side so that the child did most of the work. This did not happen in Grade 1, whose teacher expected the first-graders to develop more independence.

She wrote:

As much as I didn’t want to, I did end up tying knots and wrapping rubber bands for those students who absolutely could not perform the task on their own, even after re-teaching how to do so. In my kindergarten class, I noticed that the classroom helper, Mrs. ___, got up and began helping students by actually completing these tasks for them, rather than letting them do it themselves.

I feel that I did have to help the students who absolutely couldn’t complete the tasks even after I re-taught them how. This was especially true for my kindergarten class where some students simply hadn’t ever learned how to tie their shoes or wrap a rubber band. I can’t expect them to be able to do that after 1-2 tries, they need lots of practice. However, Mrs. ___ was reinforcing their “I don’t know how” way of avoiding a task by completing it for them without attempting to re-teach them first.

In day two of the lesson, there will no doubt still be students who are not developmentally at a point where they can complete some of these fine motor tasks. However, I plan to stress before independent art-making time that I want students to be able to try as hard as they possibly can to complete the task before receiving help because they had a chance to practice the skills last class. It is my hope that after repeating this expectation multiple times, Mrs. ___ will not feel as inclined to complete tasks for the students before re-teaching and making absolutely sure that they cannot do it themselves.

… Although I had planned moments where single students could come up and help demonstrate, I decided to cut time and exchange participation during demonstration with focusing on helping students strengthen the fine motor skills required during the times when I circulated the room. This is not to say that there was no participation during demonstration, because I had the entire class participate by telling me how to tie a knot, double knot, rubber band, etc. …I exchanged moments for demonstration participation for time to practice skills because I felt that skill acquisition was more important than participation during this [day of the] lesson. Although it sacrificed participation during demonstration for this lesson, I feel it was still a wise choice because extra time spent practicing sets the students up for success during the free-creation time planned for day two of the lesson.

I also planned an opportunity for students to participate on a personal level by collecting an everyday object from home and bringing it in to incorporate into their sculpture (with parent/guardian permission). Students were very excited about this.

For day two of the lesson, I want to push the students and encourage them to get really creative with the materials and discover what they can do, now that they have practiced the fine motor skills required. In addition, I will provide a segment of time for students to discover how all of the sculptures they made can then fit together to form a larger whole, allowing them to realize the positive impact of collaboration with peers. Over the course of the lesson, the level of discovery-based learning will continue to grow incrementally, until reaching its peak at the moment the students discover the larger whole.

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Markman, A. (2013, May 7). The danger of starting in the same old place: Reframing known problems offers   a creative fix. Psychology Today. Retrieved from