Monthly Mentor

Dr. Patty Bode (July)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Patty Bode just wrapped up her second year as interim principal of Amherst Regional Middle School in Amherst, MA. She is an art educator, researcher, lecturer, and activist. Bode’s research, teaching, and community collaboration focus on advancing student and teacher voices in art curriculum reinvention and transformation—opening borders and questioning what counts as knowledge. Throughout her work, she consistently asserts critical multicultural perspectives and teaches racial literacy through imaginative practices in art education. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 07. 9.18

Liberty and Visual Culture

From Dr. Patty Bode

In this second blog post for the month of July, I continue reflecting on the semiotics and symbolism of the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty within the context of our mission statement, which asserts that NAEA “advances visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” The grand narratives that are embodied by the Statue of Liberty hold implications for both fulfilling human potential and global understanding within the public imagination, and will be the focus of this post.

Lady Liberty’s identity crisis. As this blog post goes live, the United States immigration policies are in direct conflict with the narratives of fulfilling human potential and global understanding as children and their parents are traumatically separated at the US border. This conflict is illustrated in the abundance of political cartoons and social media memes that point to the dissonance of the national identity of United States as embodied in Lady Liberty’s image. See how the policy change separated migrant children from their parents in this analysis by the New York Times.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.01 AMCartoon credit: Signe Wilkinson. Washington Post Writers Group. 2018

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.11 AMCartoon credit: Nick Anderson Washington Post Writers Group. 2018

As of this week, the court ordered deadline has passed for the US government to reunite all children under the age of 5 with their parents, with many families still waiting. This and many other recent events around US immigration policy have invoked the Statue of Liberty in image and text both nationally and internationally.

Social, cultural, historical context. Most students in US schools learn about the legacy of “Lady Liberty” as explained by the Library of Congress:  “A gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States, the 151-foot-tall statue was created to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. Designed by sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and officially titled Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue of Liberty has symbolized freedom and democracy to the nation and to the world for well over a century.” President Grover Cleveland commemorated the statue in 1886.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.33 AMStatue of Liberty, New York Harbor. Detroit Photographic Co., 1905. Photocrom Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Sociopolitical context. Works of art, public monuments, and objects of material culture are produced and understood within a sociopolitical context. From its inception, the narrative power of the Statue of Liberty has been embedded with the symbolism of freedom and democracy and how those ideals are rooted in The Age Enlightenment. The enduring potency of its visual and material culture is intertwined with the assertion of social values in the United States. In many ways, the image of the Statue of Liberty has become synonymous with what the United States hopes to be. When there is tension between USA ideals and actions, the image of Lady Liberty moves to the foreground in our national visual culture.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.44 AMMelania Trump, the first lady, departed Joint Base Andrews on Thursday after traveling to Texas. Her jacket reads, “I really don’t care. Do U?”
Credit: Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.01 AMIllustration by Justin Teodoro widely circulated on social media after First Lady Melania Trump’s visit to detained immigrant children.

Connecting critically. Teaching about the historical and contemporary context of the Statue of Liberty can guide students to more critical understandings and sincere meaning-making amidst the plethora of visual reference to it in contemporary art, political cartoons, daily news and the seemingly endless promotion of commercial products such as posters, calendars, baseball caps, t-shirts, bath towels, salt and pepper shakers and more. The National Core Arts Standards call for students to: “relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.” Providing students to engage with both the historical underpinnings and contemporary expressions can open possibilities for students’ own interpretations.

Contemporary installations. Artist, Danh Vo’s installation, We the People provides an example of the engaging historical significance within contemporary social fabric. It is explained on  

We The People (2010-2014) is a 1:1 replica of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, recreated by artist Danh Vo (b. 1975) in about 250 individual pieces. Vo’s segmented version is faithful to the original, using the same fabrication techniques and copper material. However, he never intends to assemble all of the pieces of the statue. Instead We The People invites us to experience this world famous icon on a human scale, and to reflect on the meaning of liberty from multiple perspectives.

Vo’s work places various replicated pieces of the Statue of Liberty as installations in a range of museum sites and public spaces. The connections or disconnections are left to the viewer to interpret or conceptually piece together. The provides an education guide for families and teachers, and many other details to engage in the work.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.28 AMDan Vo. We the People. Presented by Public Art Fund. City Hall Park & Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York, NY. May 16 – December 5, 2014

Responding to text and image. Text matters. Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem “The New Colossus” is inextricably bound with the image of the Statue of Liberty, and it is often invoked in public comment and debate. In The Atlantic (January 2018), an article titled, “The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty” by Walt Hunter, assistant professor of world literature at Clemson University provides a cogent argument for re-reading and responding to both text and image. The National Core Arts Standards names the process of responding as: “Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.” Reading and discussing texts can provide pathways to perceiving, analyzing and interpreting the cultural significance of the statue and its relationship to the poem in the public discourse.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.40 AMThe 1903 bronze plaque located in the Statue of Liberty's museum.
Accessed from National Park Service at:

 Younger children and connecting. Younger students may be able to engage in the process of connecting as defined by the standards: “Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context” through children’s literature that provides some sociohistorical understandings. The book, Her Right Foot, by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris provides children with insights into some of the artistic decisions and symbolic choices of the origins of the statue. By studying and discussing this text juxtaposed with current political cartoons, young students may develop their own riffs on the statue, or possibly design a new, contemporary figure to express our social ideals.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.52 AM
Continuing the dialogue.
Unfortunately, it is not a new phenomenon to witness disconnections between our “golden door” - Emma Lazarus’s ending of the sonnet emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty - and the actions of the US government. Many artists have called attention to the incongruities between declarations of rights and exclusionary societal actions. For example, Faith Ringgold’s vibrant work with story quilts is well known among art teachers, and her most famous work published in Tar Beach is widely used in art rooms. Art lessons garner children’s attention to its captivating visual narrative, as well as the accompanying text that calls out racial injustice. Yet, in many schools, the study of Ringgold’s work stops there, and the vast body of her work is ignored. Ringgold’s activism for women and people of color in the art world throughout her prolific career has been well documented  and deserves to be included to guide students in full understanding of the sociopolitical context of her accomplishments (see resources from the National Museum of Women in the Arts).

These two pieces by Faith Ringgold could be investigated as a follow-up to a study of Tar Beach. Using the inquiry-based methods I discussed in the previous blog post, art teachers may guide students in a dialogue about what they notice and what they wonder, with special attention to methods that juxtapose familiar symbols in unfamiliar contexts.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.54.03 AMFaith Ringgold. American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding,
Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 in.
Faith Ringgold. We came to America, 1997. Acrylic on canvas,
painted and pieced border, 74.5” x 70.5 in.

Role of art educators. Given the national climate around immigration rights, especially after the 2016 presidential election, the subsequent presidential executive orders in January 2017*, and the events around refugee rights and family separation of 2018, art teachers and school leaders are witnessing the effects of the anti-immigrant tone and policies on many students and families. I have written elsewhere about how in times such as these, school leadership can make a difference in guiding teachers, supporting families, and setting a tone of active affirmation and support despite society’s messages of discrimination and exclusion (in Nieto & Bode, 2018 see Chapter 3 section titled "Multicultural Teaching Story: Immigration Rights and Family Stories," pp. 57-61). To help fulfill human potential and lead toward global understanding, art educators are especially well positioned to teach students about the significance of current events, provide avenues of analysis of visual culture and set the stage for amplification of student voice through creating art. If not we, then who?

- PB

*See for Executive Order on January 25, 2017: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. See also Executive Order on January 27, 2017: Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.


Almukhtar, S., Griggs, T., & Yourish, K. (2018, June 20). How Trump’s policy change separated migrant children from their parents.  The New York Times. Retrieved from

Eggers, D.  & Harris, S. (2017). Her right foot. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Hunter, W. (2018, January/February).The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty. The Atlantic, X (x).  Retrieved from

Library of Congress. (2018). Today in History -June 19 – Statue of Liberty. Retrieved from

National Core Arts Standards. (2018). Dance, Media Arts, Music, Theatre And Visual Arts.  Retrieved from

Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2018). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education (7th ed.) New York: Pearson.

Public Art Fund. (2014). Danh Vo. "We the People." Retrieved from

Ringgold, F. (1991). Tar Beach. New York: Random House.

I am grateful to the crowd sourcing of imagery and conceptual feedback via Facebook. Special thanks to Sarah Clendenin, Amanda Davis and Jorge Lucero.


Monday 07. 2.18

Global Understanding Amidst Flag Waving

From Dr. Patty Bode

I will be reflecting on visual and material culture that is commonly proliferated during the month of July across the USA, with special attention to the semiotics and symbolism of the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty in this series of monthly mentor blog posts. Each post will consider our mission statement, which asserts that NAEA “advances visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” Practices in art education that may support the mission of global understanding will be discussed in the context of these images. While promoting global understanding can sound like a lofty goal that may seem out of reach for the work of art educators, there are many concrete teaching strategies that can move us closer to this worthy aspiration.

IStock-621909850Accessed from

Show the image of the US flag to students of any age group or grade level in most US schools, and ask: “What does this mean?” and you will likely hear similar responses such as: “Freedom, liberty, patriotism, pride, unity, justice for all.” In such discussions, documenting the students’ words and ideas on the board shows all students that their voices are heard. This can open a dialogue about visual and material culture and the how society imbues specific symbols with meaning.  You can help students think about: Where and how do we learn these messages? Who teaches us, and how do we know the meaning and definition of certain symbols? This supports metacognitive reflection about “how do we know what we know?” It adds a layer of critical introspection about social messaging.

I have used this lesson-starter dozens of times in many different school environments and the initial answers about the US flag are usually the same in urban, rural, suburban, public, private, charter, religious, and secular PK-12 schools. After discussing these responses and the way we learn about the meaning of the flag, I pose another very simple question: “Might it mean something else to somebody else?” Students quickly reply with variations on ideas such as:

“It could mean fear to somebody in a country where we are at war.”

“It could mean hatred to some indigenous people who wish their land was not invaded.”

“Maybe it could mean confusion to undocumented immigrants who want to be here, but are worried about being imprisoned or deported.”

“It could mean inequality to families of African American heritage because of the history of enslavement.”

Just giving students the invitation to consider others’ perspectives can be a transformative act.  Context matters. Listening to and considering the ideas of others does not negate some students’ positive or patriotic feelings about the US flag, rather it widens their perspectives, so that their own ideas and feelings can be understood in broader sociocultural contexts. Artists and communities of social practice also use symbols and image proliferation in a variety of contexts. They may appropriate iconic symbols and recontextualize them in art materials, installation formats or by juxtaposing other imagery.


For example with this image by Juan Sánchez (1989),  I find that students can spend up to an hour studying closely through inquiry-based dialogue led by the questions, “What do you notice?” and “What do you wonder?” I use these dialectical practices rooted in Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, combined with  Harvard Project Zero’s Artful Thinking, the work of Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine on Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), and Terry Barrett’s frameworks for Reflecting, Wondering, Responding to art. I keep asking and listening and repeating what students say. I do not give answers. I do not pre-teach information about the image. Student voice and student questions are emphasized while community dialogue is prioritized spawning collective uncovering of ideas and interpretations.  Students notice and question with phrases such as: “the US flag appears in opposite colors and why did the artist chose to do that; the heart means love, but the nails in the heart seem to mean suffering; there’s barbed wire, and who is it keeping in or keeping out; the Puerto Rican flag and the silhouette – who is that; those documents must be important; the statue of liberty and why is she cropped off; the text, the words, the story...”


In the final portion of this lesson’s discussion I display these two images side by side and ask students: “Both of these images contain the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty: Do they mean the same thing? A lively dialogue ensues with students explaining semiotics, symbolism, social context and arguing over artists’ intent.

Of course there are always more questions to ask such as: Why flags? Do flags unite or divide us? Are there flags that go unrecognized? Who decides? What flags matter to you? Why?

One avenue to promoting global understanding is to help students cultivate multiple perspectives, that is, to examine commonly held viewpoints through the prism of criticality and inquiry. There may be a wide variety of lenses through which meaning is made of a symbol, yet students may have not yet been exposed to the range of possibilities and understandings of such symbols.  The United States flag and the Statue of Liberty each hold iconic status in national and international visual and material culture. Within one’s individual belief system and affiliation groups, there are likely common understandings of these images. However, there are multiple interpretations of these images. To make an effort to see oneself, one’s perspectives, one’s group, one’s society or one’s flag, through the eyes of others can develop empathy for the experiences of others, and strengthen participation in democratic dialogue. Rather than teaching that there is one correct way to understand an image or object, we can help students expand knowledge about that various meanings of these objects, and learn about the roots of these perspectives. In this way, art teachers do not proselytize their personal, regional, political, religious, or national views, but they provide an educational setting in which all views can be considered and the origins of such views may be investigated, discussed and added to the mosaic of understandings.

Next week, I will investigate other imagery that takes up the US flag and the statue of liberty and how these can support art projects in the PK-12 art room and college classroom, including these two pieces by Faith Ringgold.

Faith Ringgold. American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding, 1967. Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 in.

Faith Ringgold. We came to America, 1997. Acrylic on canvas, painted and pieced border, 74.5” x 70.5 in

- PB


Barrett, T. (2003). Interpreting Art: Reflecting, Wondering, and Responding. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Saturday 06.30.18


From: Renna Moore

In my last article, I talked about connecting the Art class to other areas. I thought for my last post I would give you the information on two Science and Technology based photography projects that my students have really enjoyed.

Image 1 june 30th Image 2 june 30th

The 1st lesson deals with using a 3-D Printer. 3D printed photos, also known as 3D Printed Lithophanes, are an extremely unique and creative application that with teach your students how to 3-D model and give a creative way to display their photography.

Lithophane is a 3D representation of a photo that can only be seen when illuminated from behind. Lithophanes where originally etched or molded artwork in very thin translucent porcelain or basswood. A gray-scale representation of the image is created and then depending on the color it is then converted to a calculated 3D printed height. This allows a specific amount of light to shine through. Darker colors block more light and the opposite relationship stands for lighter pixels. Each pixel in the image undergoes this process and a very unique art piece is created.

Image 3 june 30th Image 4 june 30th

I have a step by step printout of what to do to program the lithophane available if you need it.

There are 2 files. One has the step by step screenshots of the 2 programs I use (Cura and imprimindo3d).

Image 5 june 30

The other has the overall lesson of how to create Lithophanes.

Image 6 june 30th Image 7 june 30th
Image 8 june 30th

The 2nd lesson deals with biology and chlorophyll.  The chlorophyll process is an organic alternative photography process that uses sunlight to bleach the surface of a leaf. If you have ever tried drying leaves and flowers as a child you might have noticed how they lose their color as they dry, especially if you leave them in the sun. This photo sensitivity can be used to make prints of your pictures.

Image 9 june 30th

The step by step process is also available at this link:

My main advice on this lesson is to have the students experiment with the types of leaves and how much water they will need. I have found that tropical type leaves work way better if you are unable to keep the leaves watered. Also you can reuse the transparency photos. I found that this project was also very budget friendly. The only supplies needed were leaves, old pieces of glass I already had (by putting them on drawing boards, I made “frames”, tape, and copier transparency.

If you are teaching younger classes that do not do photography, you can also have them draw a positive/negative type picture on the transparency and use that to create an image on the leaf.

Image 10 june 30th Image 11 june 30th

I hope these 2 techniques can help you develop some fun and educational activities in your classroom.

Enjoy the rest of your Summer!


Thursday 06.28.18

Connecting Your Art Classroom to Your Student’s World

From: Renna Moore

 “Why do I have to take Art? I am not going to major in it.”  “My teacher said I could come back to his/her classroom during your class, since it is just Art.” “Why doesn’t my child have an A in your class? It’s Art.”  I know we have all heard these things at least once from students, fellow teachers, and parents. Its statements like these that can suck the joy out of teaching Art. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a fellow Art teacher post about something like this in one of the many Art teacher Facebook groups.

Each teacher has their own way of dealing with these comments. When it comes to my students, instead of waiting for the whining about being in my classroom, I try to deal with it head-on on the first day of class. After going over all of the usual information, I divide my classes into groups and do the usual teambuilding problem solving icebreaker. I try to change it up each year. Last year we did the balloon tower challenge.

Image 1 june 28th

After the class has finished, I sit everyone down and ask everyone to tell me what they think the point of that was. I get a lot of answers about how it was to get to know their classmates and how it was fun. I tell them I agree with them, then I ask them why we would be doing that in an Art room. Sometimes I have students get it right away, others not. But as a class we have a discussion about how the challenge was Problem-solving and an opportunity to be creative. I then tell them, even if you have no plans on pursuing art as a career, you do need to be able to solve problems. That is what my art class is for, to help you come up with creative solutions to whatever “problem” or “challenge” I give you. This usually opens up the conversation about how Art relates back to whatever is their other interests.

Image 2 june 28th

To help with the idea of how Art connects to other areas, I made this set of posters for my hallway.  The Info on each poster deals with how other subjects are found in Art. I found this on the incredible art website in an article written by Tina Farrell called “Why Teach Art?” I was so inspired by it, I had to use it.  I attached the link below.

Finally I have found that when it comes to other teachers, principals, and parents having a list of facts, ready to be quoted at any point and time, shuts down the naysayers.  My personal favorite has to do with medical schools, such as Harvard, Yale, and Penn, requiring art classes for their students (links below).

I would also make sure you have read over the NAEA Advocacy page. They have an Advocacy Toolkit that has great information to use.

Find whatever facts or data you find interesting and have those ready to go whenever you have someone question Why Art is Important?



Wednesday 06.27.18

Public Relations 101

From: Renna Moore

While on my mission to advocate for my classroom, one of the 1st things I realized was that in order for my art department to be valued, it needed to become a solution for one of the biggest problems my school was dealing with. In our case, it was Bad Public Perception. It can be disheartening to see your school or students from your school featured on the 6:00 news story for different negative issues. Instead of focusing on the different successes from our teachers and students, the spotlight was basically saying that there was nothing good coming out of our school. This wasn’t painting a fair picture to the community and parents.

After doing some research on Public Relations Campaigns, I started pursuing different ways to highlight my students’ successes in my classroom. I started out with social media, displaying student work on Artsonia and starting an Art department Instagram. I also encouraged each of my students to have their own separate Instagram for just their artwork and pictures of the process. This gives them an online “portfolio” and has really helped when it came time to create their AP Studio Art portfolio. Plus this has helped many of my students receive commissions and help make a name for themselves, while using an App that they already use in their everyday life.

Having highlighted my students online, I moved on with focusing on artwork within the school and community. I was already displaying artwork around the school, but having artwork and awards posted on the schools website and in school newsletters helped bring more focus onto art.  As for the community, there are lots of ways to improve outreach. Try partnering up with a local business. Not only can you use them for art shows/displays, but if your department is lacking supplies, it is mutually beneficial to create artwork/murals/signs for the businesses. Students from your class or school’s chapter of NAHS can work together to create artwork in exchange for donations (supplies or money) to the art department/art club.

Another way to be visual to your community is to be involved in local events. One of my favorite ones from last year was having my students participate in an art display with our local Craftsman Guild. They not only where able to display their Batiks at the Crafts Center Museum, but were later invited to participate in the Craftsman’s of the Future show.  

Image 1
Another fun event was our local interactive arts festival, VERGE, where the students created an interactive printmaking display at the festival and at a pop-up show at the MS Museum of Art.
  Image 2
Image 3

You would be surprised at how many events are available once you start looking.

Finally, I learned very quickly the News could be your best friend. Local media outlets are surprisingly excited and eager to feature successful initiatives and are on the lookout for good human interest stories. Most stations have some kind of special segment that will focus on education, such as “What’s Working” or “Cool Schools”. 

Image 4
To get you classroom spotlighted, first see if your school district has a communications/PR person or department. Make sure to send every award, community service, and interesting activity to them. They will be able to get your information into local newspapers, news stations, and your District web page.  I also found it beneficial to contact the stations’ new reporters/correspondents, because most of them are actively looking for stories that will get them an on air story.

Image 5
I hope that you will be able to implement some or all of these tips in your art program.

- RM

Friday 06. 1.18

Becoming an Art Room Advocate

From: Renna Moore

It’s Finally Here! Summer! It’s the time to rest, renew, and reflect on your past year and decide what worked and what needs to be tweaked. Coming up on my 14th year of teaching art and having the opportunity to write this blog, I thought I would first focus on something I feel has strongly helped the atmosphere in my classroom and improved the value of art in my school.

I teach at an urban Title 1 school in a failing district, where a large percent of the students are more concerned about getting to their part time job that pays the light bill and other teachers and administrators are more interested in test scores or school image.

I hear time and time again how art teachers feel underappreciated and devalued based on their subject matter. I even hear art teachers themselves refer to their classes as “Well it's just Art.” Okay I admit it; even I used to do that. But the more years I have under my belt, the more I realized that by downplaying Art and being willing to be treated as an Elective, Extra, or “Specials” teacher, I was making my job a lot harder on myself. Students know when a class is not considered important. Why would they obey, turn in completed work, or fully participate, when it doesn’t matter.

So a few years back, I made it my personal mission to become an art advocate for my classroom at my school. It has taken a while, but my art classes went from a 100% dumping ground to a classroom that is considered one of the strongest in the school and a subject that is held in respect with students, other teachers, and my Administration. In my June NAEA Mentor blogs, I am going to talk about different approaches to make your classroom stand out, fun Interdisciplinary lessons that bring art into each and every classroom, and different ways to be an Art Advocate of your classroom.


Monday 05.21.18

Planning for Play

From: Leslie Gates

In my first post, I proposed that given the structures of schooling, teachers have to work creatively and subversively to design curriculum that honors the artistic process. I have since described the importance of play and its suspicious absence in art education and want to provide some practical examples of how art educators might make overt plans for including play in our classes.

The National Visual Arts Standards directly identify play as essential in the generation and conceptualization of artistic ideas and work (Anchor Standard 1). Play is represented or suggested throughout the grade level standards, such as:

- VA:Cr1.1.K Engage in exploration and imaginative play with materials.
- VA:Cr1.1.1 Engage collaboratively in exploration and imaginative play with materials.
- VA:Cr1.1.7 Apply methods to overcome creative blocks.
- VA:Cr1.1.HSI Use multiple approaches to begin creative endeavors.

The standards can act as catalysts for lesson planning and assist teachers in defending the importance and value of such experiences, if necessary. 

Teachers interested in designing opportunities for play might want to consider how to frame play as inquiry and facilitate a debrief that helps students articulate what they have learned through play. Selma Wasserman’s (1988) Play – Debrief – Play model is one approach to do this and can be applied to learners of all ages.

Consider how allowing students to play with a material might be an alternative to students passively observing a teacher demonstrate a material or technique. Students could have ten minutes to explore a material with a question such as “What can this material do?” or “What reasons might an artist choose to use this material rather than another?” and then report out what they learned.

Another suggestion is to plan a unit based on artistic behavior, such as “Artists play.” Focusing the class on an artistic behavior using artists and resources I’ve mentioned in previous posts makes play not just the vehicle of learning, but also the content to be studied. I appreciate Wasserman’s (1992) unabashed promotion of such a model:

Is it possible that serious play is, in fact, the primary vehicle in which learning occurs? If that is the case, might we consider serious play at all stages of a students’ learning, from kindergarten through graduate school? Given the present climate in education, such a proposal is tantamount to heresy. But what the heck? If you’re sailing on the Titanic, you might as well go first class. (p. 133)


Wassermann, S. (1988). Teaching strategies. Play-debrief-replay: An instructional model for science. Childhood Education. 64(4), 232-34.
Wasserman, S. (1992). Serious play in the classroom: How messing around can win you the Nobel prize. Childhood Education, 68(3), 133-139.

Monday 05.14.18

Why isn’t there more play in art classrooms?

From: Leslie Gates

To be frank, the structures of schools are based more on controlling students than on their learning.

The accountability movement present in public schools in the United States has resulted in standards and objectives that define what students will learn and be able to do. Moreover, teachers are required to quantify and measure that learning to demonstrate their effectiveness.

Learning objectives do more than define learning: they often end up controlling it.

Play has unpredictable outcomes and the learning is rich when those who are playing have control of the play. In the context of school, where so much “serious learning” must take place, play may be seen as a waste of time and materials.

"When I watched children create on their own, they would oftentimes use what adults consider unnecessarily large quantities of paper, glue, tape, and staples…Yet, as a teacher my thinking shifted to thoughts of budget, conservation of materials, and what constituted a finished piece. How much of this thinking impacted the way I interacted with my students and therefore had an effect on what they created? For me, I believe it came down to an issue of control. I wanted to control the students' access to materials and monitor their use. Once I started to shift my perspective and saw these control issues as my personal idiosyncrasies rather than necessary educational practices, a new world opened up that reverberated throughout every aspect of my teaching philosophies and methodologies." (Rufo, 2011, p. 22)

Despite knowing the value of play, art educators’ reality of small budgets and large numbers of students (i.e., the structures of schooling) may cause us to control artmaking and in so doing, limit opportunities for play, choice, and creativity.

If art educators want to teach in a way that presents play as a foundational process for artmaking, they must be shrewd in order not to let the structures of schooling prevail. Sydney Walker wrote,

When art teachers include such artmaking practices as purposeful play…they communicate that artmaking is about searching for and discovering meaning…However, these practices do not occur spontaneously: they must be planned for as overtly as the more obvious aspects of artmaking instruction. (2001, p. 137)

In my next post, I’ll provide some practical examples of how we might make overt plans for including play in our classes.


Clemens, D. (2016, Aug. 31). Student learning outcomes and the decline of American education. The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Retrieved from
Rufo, D. (2011). Allowing artistic agency in the elementary classroom. Art Education, 64(3), 18-23.
Walker, S. (2001). Teaching meaning in artmaking. Worcester, MA: Davis.

Monday 05. 7.18

“Play is essential."

From: Leslie Gates

At the time one of my classes was reading Eland’s School Art Style (1976), another class had just watched Cindy Foley’s TEDxColumbus talk, Teaching Art or Teaching to Think Like an Artist? in which she stated, “Play is essential. Play is a sure-fire way to kick-start ideation. Artists play. They play in a number of ways. They either play with materials until ideas begin to manifest or they play with ideas until they realize what media or materials they need to bring that into reality.”

Play is emergent, sometimes ambiguous, and in its best form, self-directed. In fact, during play, children often can’t answer what it is they are doing exactly. As an art educator, you likely have had experiences as a maker in which you have played with material without a specific goal in mind. Perhaps the sheer pleasure of manipulating material was the purpose.

Sometimes through manipulating material, as Cindy Foley suggests, ideas begin to manifest. An intention for an artwork may emerge slowly through play. To think more about play as an essential part of contemporary artists’ practice, I recommend Chapter 7 of Sydney Walker’s Teaching Meaning in Artmaking (2001) and Art:21’s episode Play (2003). 

Play is an important part of artmaking and an important part of learning. So, it would make sense that play is then foundational in art education. However, play is noticeably absent from much of the art education that I observe within schools. Why? Stay tuned; I’ll provide my thoughts in the next post. Until then, what do you think?


Eland, A. (1976). School art style: A functional analysis. Studies in Art Education, 17(2), pp. 37-44.
Foley, C. (2014). Teaching art or teaching to think like an artist? TEDxColumbus. [video file]. Retrieved from
Sollins, S. (2003). Art:21 Season Three. Play. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved from
Walker, S. (2001). Teaching meaning in artmaking. Worcester, MA: Davis.

Friday 05. 4.18

Reflections on School Art Style: A Functional Analysis from Arthur Efland

From: Leslie Gates

One of the required readings in a class I teach is Arthur Eland’s (1976) School Art Style: A Functional Analysis. Every time I read this article I am challenged in a different way. I’ve decided to shape my writings this month based on the ways this article continues to challenge me as an art educator in order to promote some discussion and hopefully offer some provocations based in this important work.

In the article, Efland attempts to analyze the existence of the genre of “school art,” observing that the “game-like, conventional, ritualistic, and rule-governed style…doesn’t exist anywhere else except in schools” (p. 38). His analysis leads him to argue that school art is the result of the ways schools are designed to function. He famously concludes his analysis by proclaiming, “We have been trying to change school art when we should have been trying to change the school” (p. 43)!

When I read this article again in February, I was struck again by how the structure of schooling resists some of the processes that are foundational to artmaking. I am convinced that without art teachers who can work creatively and subversively to design curriculum that honors the artistic process, the functions and rules of schooling will continue to ensure the art activities in which students engage in school do not reflect contemporary art making practices of artists outside school.

I am not the first to suggest this. My students also read works by Tom Anderson & Melody Milbrant (1996), Smith (1989) and Olivia Gude (2013) that build on and challenge Efland’s work.

In my next post, I will specifically deal with play as an artistic process. I will identify artists that have used play in their work and the ways in which school structures and accountability measures often resist play. I look forward to your comments and input!


Anderson, T. & Milbrandt, M. (1998). Why and how to dump the school art style. Visual Arts Research, 24(1), 13-20.
Efland, A. (1976). School art style: A functional analysis. Studies in Art Education, 17(2), pp. 37-44.
Gude, O. (2013). New school art styles: The project of art education. Art Education, 66(1), 6
Smith, P. (1989). Reflections on "The school arts style." Visual Arts Research, 15(1), 95-100.