Monthly Mentor

Jill La Grange (December)
Jill La Grange has been an art educator for the past 25 years. La Grange is passionate about nurturing within students a lifelong love of Art and learning and encouraging them to find joy and a personal voice through their art making. Jill LaGrange’s student art experiences reach beyond the traditional “four wall” classroom environment. Students are encouraged and challenged to integrate their art forms and appreciation of art into school, community, state and national art venues. Jill has been recognized by her peers as the Wisconsin Art Educator of the Year and has served as the Wisconsin Art Education Association President, Webmaster and Membership Chair.



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Thursday 12.18.14


We pulled up in front of an old Texaco station, painted white, gas pumps removed, and a cantilevered overhang, much needed in the winter storm tonight. Without being asked we blurted out, chocolate, mint chocolate chip, banana, strawberry, and black cherry, my mom always ordered the same. Through the window and bright, blinking, illuminated business signs we watched as each scoop was perfectly formed, placed perched on an ice cream cone and gently secured to a cardboard tray. My father appeared with a huge grin next to my mother’s window, she swiftly cranked down the window of the 1969 white Pontiac station wagon.  First placing her cone on the open glove box door, and then passing each cone to the back.  One by one, all of our hands became clenched with napkins, our tongues catching all the drips and bliss.

You can imagine my delight when I realized my memories aligned with artist, Wayne Thiebaud (CBS Sunday Morning). His art depicts the array of food served at picnics of his childhood and his memories as a restaurant employee. His work brings smiles to my face and smiles to the faces of my students. What better way to get students excited about art and explore how to read images and understand the meanings carried by objects, learn that throughout history experiences are recorded in a variety of visual forms, including fine art, folk art, designed objects, movies, television, and multimedia images, that document their time and heritage, and reflect upon the nature of art and design and meaning in art and culture.  

Project description by works of art
Ice Cream Sundaes by First Grade

Logan's ice cream sundae

My first grade students were inspired by the work of Wayne Thiebaud and created their own ice cream sundaes. Utilizing drawing skills, oil pastels and their own memories of favorite toppings.  Gummy Bears, ice cream flavors, sprinkles, caramel topping, chocolate topping, maraschino cherries were discussed in detail and stories of their own trips to the local ice cream shop. We displayed their work and to create more memories and inform our parents, grandparents and friends of the value of art we celebrated with an Ice Cream Sundae with a Wayne Thiebaud Spirit Exhibit and Ice Cream Social following our first grade holiday program. I wonder (know), when my students are all grown-up too, they will have a story to tell, one filled with joy, art and ice cream. Bliss!

Works of art displayed for exhibit

Parents preparing a sundae for their child; Palette of toppings for Ice Cream Social

Parents and grandparents view works of art

Holiday Program prior to Ice Cream Sundae with a Wayne Thiebaud Spirit

-Jill La Grange

Wednesday 12.10.14


Good Chaos, the day of an art teacher. A before school meeting, an all-school assembly, kindergarten-fourth grade classes, taught several modified lessons to accommodate special education students, a Parent Teacher Meeting (P.T.A), a letter to the Milwaukee Art Museum to arrange visiting artists, made rodeo hats for the holiday program, loaded the kiln, prepared clay for a project, uploaded art to Artsonia and of course write this blog post. I believe all of us would agree this is a typical day for an art educator, Good Chaos. So with all of the good chaos how do we instill within students the importance of art and offer them opportunities to aesthetically transform their own environment. Keep it simple! Three simple career transforming words of advice I received from a phenomenal physical education teacher colleague.

Keeping with the theme, keep it simple, one of my student’s parents shared an amazing idea of having our students make a Buddy Bench for our playground and she sent me this link. So during a follow-up discussion about the project she offered to secure wood, a carpenter, paint to create the bench and to also approve the project with the principal! By simply collaborating and welcoming project ideas from parents, our students will benefit and large scale community projects will be more doable.

Buddy Bench being delivered by carpenter

Buddy Bench in process

Buddy Bench Project details:
* Idea originated in the United States by a second grade student named Christian
* Christian’s father explained to him that Buddy Benches are in Germany
* Buddy benches are for fostering friendships

Summit Artists use their ARTISTIC FLAIR to create their own Buddy Bench!
* Create maquettes
* Entire school votes on the best designs
* Top 12 designs of 16 are selected
* Each side, back splat, seat are designed by different students and combined to create one bench
* Design is transferred to wood by students
* Carpenter cuts wood and assembles
* Parents, students and teachers are invited paint Buddy Bench during Open House
* Art club completes Buddy Benches
* Funded by P.T.A.

Buddy Bench Maquette

Buddy Bench Maquette-4-in.x 6-in.

Buddy Bench Project Essential Ideas
* Artists can transform the environment aesthetically to reflect the interests and values of its inhabitants
* The quality of human life is affected by environmental and cultural interdependencies
* Involvement in art develops aesthetic awareness which can improve the quality of life
* Creative behavior involves divergent thinking, problem solving, and extension of the imagination as evidenced in both the general learning process and observable behaviors

Left: Students entangled with their work of art | Right: Students painting Buddy Bench

Last week was the unveiling of the Buddy Benches, so during our all-school morning meeting time each classroom teacher discussed with their students how the Buddy Bench is a place to meet a friend during recess. Samuel, a shy kindergarten student whispered in my ear at the start of art class (good chaos) on Friday, “Ms. La Grange, thank you for the Buddy Bench, I found a new friend!”

Buddy Bench Ready for Creating New Friendships

-Jill La Grange

Tuesday 11.25.14


As Thanksgiving approaches, it seems appropriate to think about the word "thankfulness." According to the thesaurus it may mean gratitude, appreciation, or recognition. In previous posts, I have written about the museum as another place for learning about art, the importance of instilling a growth-mindset in our students, and how I have learned to get high school students talking.

The topics I have considered this month are all different aspects of our profession. In this, my final post, I want to tell you about a few things for which I am thankful:

I am thankful for the opportunity to have been the November Monthly Mentor as it has allowed me the chance to slow down, if just for a few hours, to reflect on some of the things that make our profession and my job important.

I am thankful to work in a field such as ours where I really feel like I am making a contribution. In this day of high-stakes testing and emphasis on math and science, to the (almost) exclusion of the humanities, the arts play a key role in helping students learn how to think critically about, and connect personally with, content that gives meaning to their lives.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work in museum education and to share art with high school students. Every once in a while, they remind me, with that spark in their eye, of what turned me on to art. Their enthusiasm for art keeps me striving to keep it fresh for them.

The element of surprise is also something I appreciate as I slow down, wonder, and connect with the art alongside my students. How wonderful for me to be reminded that studying the same work of art again and again can offer a different perspective when looking at it through the lens of different students.

Finally, you don’t have to be the Monthly Mentor in order to reflect on your practice. Try to take a few moments just once a week to consider your work and how it impacts your students. Being more reflective has energized me as I think of new ways to reach my students. I encourage you all to give yourself this gift.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Elisa Patterson

Wednesday 11.19.14

Get Them Talking: What I’ve Learned from Working With High School Students

Museums are in the process of change as they evolve from a model of ultimate authority and transmission of knowledge to one that fosters the collaborative discovery of meaning.  ~Carole Henry

Getting high school students to engage in discussion while viewing art in the museum can sometimes be challenging. Students may feel uncertain or reluctant to participate in this potentially unfamiliar environment. Although museums are different settings from classrooms, we are, nevertheless, still interested in the same things for our students.We want them to slow down and look carefully, to think deeply and critically, and to feel comfortable enough to participate in rich discussions. My experience has shown me that providing structured looking activities, especially those that encourage peer-to-peer interactions, can “get them talking.” 

To help students find personal meaning in works of art, we might start with a simple looking exercise called Think/Question/Explore (adapted from a Harvard Project Zero Thinking Routine). Students are asked to respond to the open-ended prompts, either verbally or in writing. Then, we discuss their responses as a group. As the quote by Carole Henry suggests, allowing students to do this collaboratively can be very empowering (The Museum Experience, the Discovery of Meaning, 2010). High school-aged students are generally interested in the opinions of other students and conversations in peer groups can spark their curiosity, leading to divergent ideas and questions. My role as an educator is to listen and strategically weave in content about the topic that builds on students’ interests, pushes thinking forward, and provokes new questions or ideas.

Another activity, textual analysis, asks students to connect visual evidence to ideas the artist has written or to quotes by a contemporary critic. This can help students be critical about written sources. It is always fun when the students either disagree with the source or with each other. When this happens, they are asked to make claims to support their arguments based on evidence in the art or text.

Sketching is another tool to facilitate close observation. I introduce it as a looking exercise rather than a drawing one. For example, students may do short gesture sketches while looking at a sculpture, and they are encouraged to move around the piece, looking and sketching from different points of view. Their sketches provide a visual jumping off point to discuss what they see. AttachmentAfter spending an hour or so doing these kinds of activities, high school-aged students generally come to the realization that they can discover a lot just by taking the time to look carefully and to discuss, ideally with a friend, what it is they are seeing and thinking about a work of art. By making the experience more social, we are able to “get them talking.

-Elisa Patterson

Wednesday 11.12.14

The Importance of Mindset

Let’s dispel the myth of the artist as creative genius propelled by innate abilities, and instead, let’s celebrate hardworking artists who spend untold hours and energy diligently pursuing their art. Throughout history there have been a number of artists who could have worn the “creative genius” label—Leonardo, Michelangelo, Vermeer, and Picasso. Yes, they excelled at their craft but they also thought outside of the box and advanced art (and sometimes, science) through creative breakthroughs. However, I think it is important for our students to understand that most successful artists have to work hard at their art.  

Recently I read Mindset, The New Psychology of Success (Balantine Books, 2008), by Stanford researcher, Carol S. Dweck. She researched how we view ourselves and how this can affect the way we live our lives. She identified groups with a growth mindset as those who see challenges as something to overcome in contrast with those who had a fixed mindset and see themselves as limited by intelligence and abilities. So what does this have to do with teaching?  Dweck cites several examples of students who were told they were good at something (the artistic genius), only to become unmotivated and, in some cases, failures. They were victims of the fixed mindset. In other examples, with the encouragement of a growth-minded teacher, students who practiced or studied would excel in their pursuits. These teachers didn’t dwell on what the student could or could not do, thus labeling them.  Growth-minded teachers put the value on efforts and the process of getting there. This will sound familiar to art educators as we already value the process as much as the finished artwork.  

Here at the NGA, we had the opportunity to host the second day of the NAEA Creative Industries Studio conference. This two-and-one-half day conference for NAHS students from across the country featured talks by creative professionals, workshops with artists, and visits to museums. I was particularly moved by the keynote speaker, Maria Fabrizio, illustrator, designer, and blogger of Wordless News. She described her work process: gets up at 4:45 every weekday to review major news sources, processes the information, formulates ideas into sketches, and completes a wordless illustration of the news story, posting it on her blog by 10:00 am. Then she begins her day job as a graphic designer! Maria Fabrizio’s work ethic and almost total immersion into her work exemplify what I believe is the life of today's serious artist.  

Photo.MariaFabrizioMaria Fabrizio from the NAHS Creative Industries Studio

Teachers are not miracle workers and there are “no short cuts” to achievement.   
It is our responsibility as art educators to place the same value of practice and hard work as a means to success as is expected in other disciplines.  

-Elisa Patterson

Monday 11. 3.14

Museums—Another Place to Teach Art

I am reminded from time to time that those of us in the art education world can forget that art doesn’t just take place in the classroom. Seeing original works of art in the museum can also have a transformative effect on students. I know this from first-hand experience because it happened for me during a 6th grade field trip to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. We understand that on a field trip to an art museum there are other lessons beyond just learning about art. A recent study on the educational value of field trips conducted by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art concluded that students not only recalled factual information about the art, but they also achieved high scores on critical thinking, empathy, tolerance, and interest in museums. To this day I can recall some of the artists I saw during my elementary school field trip—George Segal, Lucas Samaras, Jackson Pollock. I credit that visit to the art museum, along with the rich art instruction in the public schools I attended, as significantly impacting my career path and journey in this great field.

I have had the privilege of working in the Education Division at the National Gallery of Art for over 25 years, and for the past 10 years my focus has been on high school-aged students. I try never to forget my first museum experience when developing programs, understanding that it might be a first-time visit for some impressionable student. Art education is an evolving field. Today, we are less likely to lecture as we guide students through the galleries, and more likely to use an interactive approach. The new visual arts standards, released this past fall provide a set of guidelines for art instruction.  I think museum educators quickly realized that these new standards were building on the strengths of how we already approach our teaching. Learning about art is important, but so is creating, presenting, responding, and making personal connections to art. These have long been goals of museum education programs. And every time we reach that 6th grade girl or boy and see that look in his or her face, we know we have perhaps transformed the life of one more child.

-Elisa Patterson

Friday 10.24.14

Teaching Children with Disabilities

I hope you had a chance to check out the resources I posted in my last blog for teaching art to special needs children. Since 1973 with the passing of the Rehabilitation Act, we have been the ones in the forefront of including students with disabilities into our art room. I vividly remember when a class of children who were Severely and Profoundly Impaired (Life Skills) were introduced into our elementary school. I had never seen children with such serious disabilities, let alone interacted with them. As I began to teach them through art, I got to know their personalities, their strengths and limitations. It was  a remarkable experience that blossomed into the Masters in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations.

These days more and more children are being diagnosed with a Learning Disability, Autism and Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder and they are being included in the art room. We are the ones who are teaching them as well as a classroom of “typical” children. We are beginning to stockpile relevant information, share art lessons, and get practical information through articles, conferences, and graduate courses. Here is a fantastic site for art lessons posted by Lauren Stichter. These are lessons from college students in a college course she teaches.

The Special Needs Issues Group (SNAE) of the NAEA was founded in 2001, when like-minded art educators teaching children with disabilities came together at a NAEA Conference and established SNAE.  And it has been only a few years that Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) has had an Arts in Special Education Topic for convention proposals.  Now we, under the leadership of Beverly Levett Gerber, are petitioning the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) to establish a Division of Visual and Performing Arts Education (DARTS). Just think, all of the arts under one roof where we can collaborate, and publish both research materials and best teaching practices, for children with disabilities.

We are beginning to find ways to come out of our classrooms and share ideas through the NAEA Issue Group of SNAE. Hopefully, we can bring all the arts together in CEC under the Division of Visual and Performing Arts to ensure the best arts education for all our students with disabilities.

-Lynne Horoschak | Distinguished Professor
Program Manager of MA in Art Education
Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia

Friday 10.17.14

Art Educator Resources for Special Populations

One of our readers asked if I would post resources for the art teachers in her state, which I am happy to do. I sometimes forget that not all art teachers have had the opportunity to find resources to help them effectively teach their children with disabilities. I know that I learned by trial and error – mostly error – only to find that new found strategy is a failure the following week. So one tries again. As I pointed out in the first blog, coming together to share stories, challenges and celebrate successes, no matter how small, is very important for us as art educators in order to sustain our energy and optimism.

I encourage you to seek out conferences and workshops in your area that brings together teachers to talk to one another. And if you can’t find any – start one. All you need is a room (coffee shop) and one other person – this is a beginning. When news gets out that you are finding success through collaboration you will have to take over the entire coffee shop. We have an Art & Special Education Symposium each year in November and each year it is met with rave reviews. And the secret is simply that we bring together people interested in the education of children with special needs, we listen to those with experience and expertise and then we talked to each other. We each bring our own bit of wisdom to the table. Oh – and whining is not allowed – finding possible solutions is. This success led to a Mini-posium in March where we listen to art teachers who share successful art lessons and then we make exemplars so we could hit our art rooms with exciting lessons on Monday.

The Special Needs Art Education (SNAE) Issues Group website is full of resources. Check it out. Look under links and resources. And while you are there, think about joining our Issues Group.

Reaching and Teaching Students with Special Needs through Art edited by Gerber and Guay, and Understanding Students with Autism through Art edited by Gerber and Kellman, both published by NAEA, are loaded with great ideas.

In addition, professional papers written by experts in the field can be located here. The second and third titles listed are full of very readable articles from Adapting Art through The Importance of Collaboration in Art Classrooms.


-Lynne Horoschak | Distinguished Professor
Program Manager of MA in Art Education
Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia

Tuesday 10.14.14

The Generous Spirit of Art Teachers

Last week I spent three days at an art education conference that was in a state other than my own. I knew a few educators but not many so the conversations began the way one would at a party with people you are just meeting. Questions like “What level do you teach? Where do you teach? How long have you been teaching?” But what was constant in every conversation was the dedication and concern all art teachers had for their students. Everyone had the most talented. Everyone wanted their students to pursue a career in the arts. Everyone was willing to go above and beyond what is written in their job descriptions to make sure all available avenues were open to their students.

That reminded me of an alumnus from my graduate program who began teaching in a Public School this year. There were no art supplies and no money from the school to purchase them. She sent out a plea on social media. She would take anything and would come to you to pick it up. Spending additional time and energy to track down supplies that should be a given in a job turns out to be part of the job. And she is not alone in this.

A few weeks ago she noticed a student being bullied because there was a hole in his sneakers and his foot was peeking through. Discreetly, she got him a new pair of sneakers. She said, "Nothing prepares you for the poverty you see."

I am reminded once again of the generous spirit of art teachers. We are empathetic. We give our talent, money and resources to teach art. To insure that our students know their worth by successfully making art. And we are there to listen and give emotional support where too often there is none. I am very proud to be an art teacher. I am in such excellent company!

-Lynne Horoschak | Distinguished Professor
Program Manager of MA in Art Education
Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia

Monday 10. 6.14

The Importance of Professional Development

Speaking of supporting your own with a little one-on-one conversation – yes, we were speaking about that - attending the state and national art education conferences with others of like mind, proves to be time well spent for you as an art teacher, an artist, and a member of the global society. Not only do you have the opportunity to share art lessons and strategies you know have succeeded in your classroom - yes, please do submit proposals - there are hundreds of opportunities for you to hear what your colleagues are doing.  

My biggest problem is that I can't be in two or three places at the same time (although I have tried to master this feat) choosing a demonstration or a presentation that will help you engage your students, improve your teaching skills, shed a light on classroom management, and/or take the mystery out of teaching 33 students, eight who require special attention due to their disability is a daunting task but one well worth the scrutiny of the conference catalogue. Hint: Start before you step into the conference lobby. The choices seem endless and the time is short, so do get a head start.

And don’t forget to engage your fellow art educators. Talk to the person riding the escalator with you. Talk to the person at lunch. Ask what they have learned, experienced, discovered. Sifting through your notes each evening - you are taking notes, aren’t you? –is an important way to keep the information fresh and ready to access. I confess that too many times I left the conferences with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head and they continue to dance right out with nothing concrete getting accomplished.

The State Conferences and NAEA National Conventions are filled with people who are great resources just waiting for you to take advantage of them.

-Lynne Horoschak | Distinguished Professor
Program Manager of MA in Art Education
Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia