Monthly Mentor

Diane Wilkin (July)
Diane Wilkin is an energetic secondary art educator interested in pushing the classroom boundaries and placing art in the school and community- far beyond the classroom walls. Recognizing a civic role for the arts, Wilkin sponsors a National Art Honor Society chapter which has developed an Empty Bowls service project where students, faculty and community members raise funds each year to support a local food pantry. Wilkin teaches 9th – 12th grade students at Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania. She teaches design thinking through a wide variety of media ranging from drawing, and painting to ceramics, sculpture, film photography and digital arts. Curiosity is a main focus in her teaching- keeping students asking questions and learning through exploration.

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Monday 07.25.16

CREATING – The spaces for CREATIVITY (second of the four C’s)

From: Diane Wilkin

It takes great effort to maintain a flow in my own creative work. My mind is filled with ideas for improving my classroom practice and space.

Blog%206%20-%20Pic%202%20Taos%20Studio

Blog%206%20-%20Pic%201%20Taos%20studio Taos Clay Studio – a classroom space in Taos, NM

I have a file of photos like these at the Taos Clay Studio in NM. We teachers are always exploring the best methods to organize studios for students. 

Blog%206%20-%20%20Pic%203%20KutztownKutztown University studio space in Kutztown, PA

But, how about our individual creative spaces; what do they look like?

I have learned to be diligent in scheduling time for my own artwork. If you’re saying you can’t make, take or find the time – let me assure you, time already exists and is not hidden. Our artwork starts with making the DECISION to use the time we have as we choose.  Once decided, the challenges become staying focused and dedicating space.  ‘=

BLog%206%20Pic%204%20Escherik
Wharton Esherick’s space -  wood sculptor printmaker – ARTIST!

Wharton Esherick built his studio in Malvern, PA. The space changed functions and grew over the years– he maneuvered in this space until his mid 90’s. (No photos were allowed inside- but I’ll bet you know the interior staircase from photos!)  

Blog%206%20Pic%205%20EscherikWharton Esherick’s silo addition to his studio

For me, like many of you, the creative space has manifested differently as my life and family have grown and changed. At one time, a portable bag, then a tabletop, then a whole dining room. As life situations change, our spaces do too.  What’s your creative space like?

Blog%206%20pic%206%20wall%20in%20hall“A Wall in a Hall”

Blog%206%20%20pic%207%20board%20in%20a%20bedroom“A Board in a Bedroom”

Blog%206%20-%20pic%208%20rented
“A Rented studio”

Perhaps yours is a drop-cloth in a dining room, a transitioning TV room, a Kiosk in a Kitchen, or a traveling tote. Jackie Thomas, PA artist and retired educator carries her artwork with her-  EVERYWHERE is her studio. You can see her work on display at Eagles Mere Art Gallery.

If you find yourself struggling to maintain a creative space in your life (physical or mental), take a look at Matthew Kelly’s book OFF BALANCE: Getting BEYOND the WORK-LIFE Balance MYTH to Personal and Professional Satisfaction. We can all aim for that personal and professional creative satisfaction where we are ‘the best versions’ of ourselves. 

Hope to find you CREATING in your studios, wherever they may be!    

-DW        

Thursday 07.21.16

COMMUNICATING BIG MESSAGES – First of the Four C’s

From: Diane Wilkin

Communication in 2016 happens in Very Public Spaces. Even the text messaging that you might believe is private can be recorded and shared with others in ‘screen-shots’. In this year of political posturing with the presidential election and heightened campaign messages about to be released, (I write as the Republican National Convention is taking place in Cleveland, OH) it’s important that we learn and teach how to safely maneuver in this very public space, participate ethically in the discussion and be aware of the impact that this space has upon us. 

BLog%205%20Pic%201%20Breed%20specific%20legislationSummer Feliciano is passionate about the prejudice shown towards bulldogs.  She created this large public piece in the school cafeteria to illustrate that perceptions are different in other places.  The breeds pictured are all banned in various parts of the world. She posted a variety of statistical information next to the piece.  Students, teachers, and a regional community group joined the conversation.

Students want to take part in the discussion and often expand my own knowledge because of their passion about an issue. Kara Walker’s black cut out silhouettes are powerful images exploring issues of race, violence, sexuality - tough subjects for any classroom.  Her work proved inspirational to Summer, whose work is pictured above. Kara Walker Art 21 Episode  

Learning to communicate Big Messages of personal importance, Truman HS students researched facts, and then provided information and large format visuals to inform, educate, and impact the perception and possibly the activity of the viewer. 

Blog%205%20-%20pic%202%20beesUsing Digital media, Brett Sommerer designed a large poster to inform others about the problems being faced by the bee populations and the impact that these problems are anticipated to have on the human population.

Check out the drawings in the February 2015 SchoolArts article by Carol Horst “One Wish” describing student responses to “Can Art Change the World?” We also look at "Running the Numbers" by Chris Jordan. I saw this show in NYC a while back and I STILL remember being drawn in to a powerful moment – a realization of the impact of huge statistical numbers representing injustice, violence, consumption and trash. Jeanne Leffingwell’s A Million Bead Project brings huge numbers into an elementary perspective. These are powerful examples of communicating BIG NUMBER Messages.

Recognizing that what we communicate has an IMPACT and that there are ETHICAL considerations to be made, our photography class discusses ethics when comparing the Newsweek and Time Magazine cover photos of the McCaughey parents, using the guidelines for photojournalism as a reference. AP Code of Journalism

Blog%205%20Pic%203%20mc%20caughey%20Septuplets%20-%20altered%20bobbiComparison of Newsweek and Time Magazine covers – Mc Caughey Septuplets

Always looking to enhance lessons, this week I found additional resources to use when discussing BIG SOCIAL MESSAGES – the following story directly relates to the magazine comparison above.

In Rich Smith’s book, the Leap *How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great, he tells the story of Sylvia Lagnado in 2002 working at Unilever on an advertising campaign for the Dove brand. Looking at the statistics surrounding women and poor self-images, she and her team wanted to make changes. The team was motivated but management was not convinced about transforming the brand. The team had trouble gaining momentum until they were able to “film young daughters of C-level executives. We asked them what they didn’t like about their bodies. We told them they could name one thing only. I don’t like my freckles, my hair, my butt, I’m too heavy, I’m too short.” I’m ugly. 

“Then we added music and played it back to the people whose daughters we had filmed. Here were grown men sitting in a wood-paneled executive conference room watching their own preteen daughters, cute young girls, saying that they didn’t feel pretty – slender ten-year-olds saying that they were fat. It was as emotional and powerful as you could get…. It was uncomfortable, but they got it.”

http://www.dove.com/us/en/stories/campaigns/my-beauty-my-say.html

http://www.dove.com/us/en/stories/campaigns/real-beauty-sketches.html

http://www.dove.com/us/en/stories/campaigns/choose-beautiful.html

Sometimes we’re not aware of the BIG MESSAGE, sometimes we are. Most likely, whether aware or not, we’re affected by it. Let’s educate ourselves and our students to take an active, ethical role in communicating big (and small) messages in the very public spaces of our lives. Let us also teach and learn to critically analyze the messages we receive and then create quality content to contribute to the conversation.  

-DW

Monday 07.18.16

EXPLORING: to Boldly go ...

From: Diane Wilkin

It’s been a year of technological learning, pushing boundaries and opening up those ends to those questions. Our school introduced google classroom as a platform - syllabus, assignments and student submissions all in one. Still making adjustments, but I love it! 

Technologies: Embracing the ubiquitous cell phone in the classroom as a research tool with internet access, as a test answering device, and even as a creative tool, means adjusting old school policies.  

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Two students explore the details of two very different objects – an old trumpet case and a large tape dispenser. (R.King and A.Holbrook)

Add a MACRO Lens – those low cost clip on accessories for cell phones! Explore textures and macro compositions: eyeballs, lint, skin colors, joints, and more- make it a puzzle, a visual quilt, a repetitive pattern. In a culture of speed and photography access – it takes time to work beyond the ‘point and click’ mode – to develop real visual explorer skills, and compositional mindsets. 

Blog%204%20pic%202%20Jimenez%20-%20Macro%20TelephoneThat OLD telephone has a microphone similar to 21st century models. The phone inspired students to create experiments for dialing friends and family- from voice activation, speed dials, and taking time to look something up in contacts (S.Jimenez)

The compositional mindset to check all angles finally hit home for my photo students when they had to explore objects through a macro lens. (Some students did use digital class cameras and then cropped to macro details in Photoshop.)

We then translated that same skill to larger objects and looked at David Hockney’s collage photo work.

Blog%204%2c%20pic%203%20Dail%20hockney%20collage2
Grammas old vanity chair by E.Dail

While photography explored digital imagery, an Intro to Art class of 9th graders explored alternative materials.

Blog%204%20pic%204The face explorations  TP Tiny Totems

 How are you exploring in your classroom and the world at large?   

Blog%204%20-%20image%205Wouldn’t you know it? There’d be a book on the subject!   

-DW

Wednesday 07.13.16

Stay Curious and Collecting!

From: Diane Wilkin

It’s such a curious thing – that desire to piece things together, and make new out of old, or larger out of smaller.  My sister does it with quilting; I do it with found object art and planning lessons, our Conference Administrator does it with proposals and events.  I share here two kinds of work where things are collected and arranged – one a classroom lesson, one not.  One is small scale completed in six classes; the other is larger, envelops us in the experience, and took much longer.

Blog%203a-%20Pic%201%20%20mary%20girlGirl by Mary Ajibolade

Students found new use for discarded fabric samples and scraps from a local seamstress.  The variety of the imagery and color palette choices are a testament to the creative abilities of the human mind. 

BLog%203a%20-%20pic%202Turtle by Nicole Bowker

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Trees by Marcus Johnson

Perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that students often work in the same palette that they choose for clothing.  That’s a curious thing too!  That’s an observation to track next year with photos as students work in class.  A display of the working process with the final work could demonstrate this phenomenon and also be an ‘advocacy’ display by showing the kind of learning and problem solving required in the art classroom.  Jason Blair suggests ‘process’ displays in his School Arts April 2016 article “Art as Process”.

Blog%203a%20-%20pic%20%204%20%20%20-%20lintel%20over%20door%20%20057
The lintel over the door to the Cabinet of Curiosity - Alice in Wonderland – quoted

Anne Gulley has created a whole space in her home in North Carolina as a Cabinet of Curiosity.  As a painter who loves the outdoors (one son became an archeologist), she keeps an eye out for what the world has to offer.  We’ve known each other since 8th grade.  She introduced me to paper made of Kudzu, piano jazz, lots of good books and provided lessons in the art of taxidermy- something I will never try.  She includes her paintings and aesthetics in all aspects of her life.  This one room gathers her many experiences, collections and interests into one space.  I love visiting to see what new curiosities have been added and how life has expanded.

Blog%203a%20%20pic%205%20frog%20%20frog%20small
The knitted frog

Blog%203a%20-%20pic%206%20%20%20nne%20cabinet%20of%20curiosity%20&%20driving%20049-%20smallGifts from the field

Blog%203a%20pic%207%20cabinet%20curiosity%20room%20copyThree views of the Cabinet of Curiosity

Stay curious and collecting and refashioning your interests into new beginnings. 

What’s in Your Cabinet of Curiosity? 

-DW

Friday 07. 8.16

Deconstruct and Reconstruct!  

From: Diane Wilkin

“Still talking about books?” my husband asks. And of course, I reply “Yes.” He knows me well.

Blog%203%20-%20pic%20preview%20-%20Morgan%20%20smallerBook sculpture by Morgan Williams, Truman HS, Two views

My Craft and Design Class, after sorting through a VERY LARGE box of discarded books, were asked how they envisioned the library of the future. It proved to be a very tough question. They posed a question back, Is it even a ‘Place’ of the future? We had a rich discussion. We didn’t have an answer.

But people are resilient and creative. What to do with those books that seem to have become useless due to digital media, television, audio text, our face paced lives, and….(you too, could fill in a blank)? Here are some examples from all ages constructing and deconstructing books.

1Courtney Kipp of Truman HS created a Flower Garden – a beautiful object from a discarded one

One group of students was given the prompt to create a self-portrait using artifacts in the style of Joseph Cornell with a wide variety of materials made available. Tina Ney chose a set of art books. “My Box is an open book which describes who I am…On the inside of my box there are mirrors so I can visually see myself within it. There are upside down figures because my life is sort of crazy and unexpected. I used art text books for the foundation of my box and a paintbrush to express my passion for art.”

1aTina used artifacts from her personal life; her dad helped attach and then carve out the inside of five volumes from a set of art books to make a Joseph Cornell ‘box’ construction. (The inset photo shows construction.) 

Just having books available, students will find uses. Some even take time to read portions of text and rescue books, or incorporate the text into their artwork with intention.

These Bald Eagle SD middle schoolers were challenged to create “a place that will never be forgotten” by their middle level teacher Janet Riggio.

2A place not forgotten

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Basketball Court – Bleachers and all

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On the water in a canoe – Never to be forgotten!

We adults approach de and reconstructing as well. Leslie Gates, Assistant Professor at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, created this book.

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Ann Wessmann, a Massachusetts College of Art and Design professor, expanded the intimate scope of a book to create an installation “Memory - Loss”. It is shown in its entirety at the Crane Art Center Philadelphia exhibition in 2012, accompanied by a detail image (Kingstongallery.com). A 1937 handwritten journal was de and re-constructed as a piece, larger than 6 feet across in diameter. A story expanding its impact, on a continuous journey.

6Ann Wessmann’s installation  -  Memory – Loss

7Detail: Memory – Loss (Kingstongallery.com)

Re-constructing into functional objects is another approach. Ten Thousand Villages offers a variety of functional objects from across the globe created by re-constructing a variety of printed text materials. 

8Printed newsprint is rolled and woven to create a journal cover from the Phillipines and students shape bowls from rolled and flattened magazine pages after seeing an example made in Japan. 

Let’s continue to design ‘useful’ purposes for those discarded and ‘useless’ books.  

-DW

Tuesday 07. 5.16

Stoking the Fires!   

From: Diane Wilkin

The Fourth of July weekend was cookout fun with a whole day to read and organize shelves. A final note for those readers out there. —I DO KNOW that we are not all readers.

These books surrounding me are an eclectic group, given by friends, librarians, and students. And, full disclosure, I rarely just pass a bookstore and don’t make a purchase. I won’t mention the art biography and media books on the shelves - YOU KNOW what I’m talking about! So here are my 4 summer goals:

Goal 1) To read books my students read, in order to engage students in conversation about books. I saw a student reading The Power of HABIT by Charles Duhigg for her Sociology class. I’m re-reading it for fall. I’m also on the look-out for new graphic novels appropriate and relevant for class. 

1The pile by the bed…a mix from students and friends. I’ll let you know how I do...

Goal 2) To become a better leader in my field. This means becoming better organized, pro-active, and staying current with the literature. Digital LEADER by Erik Qualman kept me up until 2 AM recently, but my emails are manageable! The art magazine pile still awaits.   

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                 Half of a shelf                                The other half

Call it ‘self-help’ or call it ‘growth and improvement’; I continue reading as I pursue both professional and personal satisfaction in my life. As the summer wanes, I’ll go back to Teach Like a Champion and The First Days of School – both titles I have begun sharing with student teachers. It’s all about Mindset (Carol Dweck). 

Goal 3) To bring more reading AND new ideas into my classroom. This is an all-the-time goal that we educators live – to design and deliver Art education that fully engages students.  

4Here’s a pile of books for our Photography Class (YES, we have a darkroom!)

Goal 4) To enjoy the images and experiences created by those artists who use language in lieu of paints and brushes, pastels and gouges. I hope I can inspire my students to engage more in language exploration, as well. Victor Stabin comes from the language side and engages students with vocabulary through visual images. 

5A photo of the Daedal Doodle curriculum book by Victor Stabin

Check out Victor Stabin’s daedle doodles. I had the pleasure of meeting Victor in Harrisburg, PA, where his English Art Educators Conference was located next door to our Art Educators Conference. Happily so. He’ll be presenting at the PAEA Conference in Philadelphia this fall, October 7-9! May you be inspired! 

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I’ve collected dictionaries from teachers who now use online dictionaries. Lots of uses for these in the art room!

What books do you recommend? Care to Share? – Comment here

Next up! – de- and re-constructing books. I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July!

-DW

Friday 07. 1.16

Summer Break: What’s your plan?

From: Diane Wilkin

1.Image%201%20-%20Emoji%20sculptures  The Emoji – Text Emotion made Visual

While this is ‘summer vacation’ time, many of us are still busy with professional activities - summer camp programs, teaching summer classes, curriculum reviews, lesson writing and prototyping, and finally catching up on professional publications. We need to dedicate time for our personal growth, healthy living, creative productivity, and, of course, rest and rejuvenation. A busy summer ahead! What’s your plan? 

How about a book? I’d say it’s time to get away from the screen and delve into some regenerative reading, (I LOVE THE FEEL OF A BOOK) but I have to admit that a good ¼ of my reading is on an app. One device is just less cumbersome; and audio books - Wonderful invention! That being said, no matter HOW you read, let’s talk content. 

A good fictional escape is a required summer read for me, and while I find new titles, I re-read Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime every summer. I don’t know why. I suppose it reminds me that those childhood imaginary worlds live on within us. When I read about Jack Spratt (partnered with Mary Mary, of course) investigating Humpty Dumpty’s murder, I ‘see’ pictures from the stories I read as a child. Imagery and story are interconnected. Fforde expands the life of characters and involves us in the ‘backstage’ action, the before and after events surrounding the written tales. He does with literature, exactly what we ask students to do with visual images. 

Our students interpret images and tell the story: What do you think happened before this? What do you believe might happen next? We discuss Barbara Kruger and Shepherd Fairey and juxtaposition for meaning.  Students research the events surrounding an iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo. Students use text as a medium. Meaningful Story. Perhaps it is time to read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind (again) and pass a copy on to an administrator. With states and districts moving to provide a more ‘well-rounded’ education for students under the new ESSA law, we have an opportunity to create or continue a powerful dialogue regarding the placement of the visual arts in the required curriculum. We have the power to move the process!

2.Image%202%20-%20Tagxedo%20imageTagxedo.com was used to create a digital portrait with meaningful text

3.Image%203%20-%20Text%20value-%20smallPortrait of Abraham Lincoln – valued in his own words

4.Image%204%20-%20TEACHTEACH in the style of Shepard Fairey – testing a tutorial in photoshop

-DW

Tuesday 06.28.16

Guest Artist? Yes, Please!

From: Josephine Langbehn

As you have learned about me, I love to connect my classroom to the community. Another way I love to go beyond the walls of my classroom is to invite a guest artist. I have found there are many valuable lessons from having guest artists in my classroom. It shows students that art is very alive and not created by a bunch of dead white guys; it shows students that being an artist is a real and viable career; and it introduces students to local artists which also can promote how interesting your city is.

The first time I thought about bringing an artist into my classroom, I quickly overwhelmed myself with worries. How will I fund this? Are the kids going to behave? What will the materials cost? Will the artist engage the kids? How much do I pay the artist?

Once again, you will have to do a little extra work, but it is sooooo worth it, and, really, when don’t we do extra work?!? Not only do the students get exposure to another form of art making, but they also get to hear another voice on what makes the visual arts so interesting. It also changes up the daily routine, which not only do the kids find invigorating and refreshing, but so do I. There are two approaches I will take into consideration when planning with the artist. If I can afford it, and my class sizes are not too big, I will have the guest artist work with the kids to create a permanent installation. If that option does not work for my budget or class sizes, I will choose to have the artist in for one visit to talk to the kids about their work and then the students will create a small individual project they then can take home.

Here are some helpful tips that I have found effective when having a guest artist:

1. Find an artist with a media and subject that will engage your students. For example, I have brought in...a graffiti artist because my kids love graffiti; a mixed media artist that creates polyhedron sculptures which connected my students to math in an interesting way; and a cartoon artist because my kids love graphic novels.

2. Meet with the artist to see if they are willing to work with your kiddos, what they request for payment, and time frame of the visit. Often times artists are very willing to work with students because they also see the benefit. I am very upfront with my budget. This will alleviate any confusion later. I will tell the artist, “I only have 'X' amount of dollars for you and the materials.” I also like to think of the project as a collaboration. Oftentimes the artist has worked in other schools or on other projects that has involved kids and they might have good insight on what you would like to do. I really want the artist to be excited about what they will be doing in my classroom, so I want them to have just as much voice in the project.

3. Make sure to keep your principal and school treasurer in the loop. Your principal will be more willing to support you if they know what is going on. I am super lucky and have a very supportive principal. They may even be able to find you more money to fund the project. For example, my principal was able to give me extra money to take a small group to the visiting artist’s studio. This totally made the project more meaningful for my students. Your school treasurer or secretary also knows all of the low-downs and will also be a great resource for your budgeting.

4. Keep your eyes peeled for local grants to help fund the artist. In Nebraska, our arts council has grants available for this very thing. Also, there are some local organizations that also have grants available. Oftentimes the artist is more than willing to work with your budget, but I really like to pay them what their normal rates are.

5. Ask another staff member(s) to come hang out in your room that day. I usually will ask one of our guidance counselors, who used to be an art teacher, to come hang out in our room for the day. This helps with classroom management and it gets more people (staff) involved in the art department and even the project.

These tips have really helped me have good working relationships with the guest artists. I have had these working relationships turn into great friendships, too. I also think having a guest artist not only benefits your students, but it can also benefit your entire school community. A guest artist not only gives your district something to talk about, but also gives your school positive news to share. Positivity for your students! Positivity for you! Positivity for your school! Positivity for the arts! Positivity for everyone!

-JL

Wednesday 06.15.16

Community Connections with a Service Learning Focus

From: Josephine Langbehn

Connecting my students to the community has always been a pedagogical importance to me. I find great value in my kiddos connecting to the people and community beyond the walls of my classroom. This is when education becomes real. When we have taught our students that we can use the visual arts as a tool to connect to people, document current situations, and make a change, then we have accomplished something great not only for our students but for the larger community. 

I make it a mission to have at least one project a year that connects my students to the community. I always keep my eyes peeled and ears wide open to find something my kids can connect to and create for. Often times I will find organizations to connect to on social media or through people I have built relationships with. Another great way to get your students connected to the community is through service learning. Service learning can be a rich collaboration between the community, a local organization, and your students. It goes beyond community service and gives the opportunity for learning to take place. All parties benefit.

At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which is centrally located within our community, they offer training on service learning and even offer grant funds to go towards service learning projects. Within their model a service learning project includes the involvement of the University in some way, a local non-profit partner, and of course K-12 students. For my service-learning project my students worked with Joslyn Art Museum, Siena Francis House (a homeless shelter) and then the university. Our mission was to break the stereotypes of homelessness by not only learning about homelessness but also hearing another’s story that they might not have heard before. The students and guests of the homeless shelter interviewed each other and photographed each other’s hands. Then from what they learned about each other, used color and words to visually interpret the other person’s story. 

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The project itself was beautiful! My students were so nervous at first to go to the shelter and then to interview strangers but once they got there and got started they instantly relaxed. It was amazing to witness all of the smiles and teamwork happening in the space. The parents were proud, the artwork spoke for itself, and the director of the homeless shelter was touched to know a group of middle school kids wanted to work with the homeless. 

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Service-learning projects can be effective and meaningful tool especially when it is focused through the visual arts. Communication and teamwork is the key to any successful project as well as giving students ownership of as much of the project as possible. There is much good work to be done in our communities. The sooner our students understand and are empowered, the sooner they can have a positive impact and make positive change happen in their community.  

If you have never participated in service learning here are some helpful tips from what I have experienced:

* Your initial idea and mission might change over the course of the planning to fit everyone’s needs. The key to a successful project is everyone benefits from the project. Remember, service learning is not community service.
* Act in the students’ best interests. When working with other non-profits they might not understand what your students are capable of doing and what might be too much for them. Be an advocate for your students.
* Create the mission of the project right away and continually assess if what you are doing matches the mission.
* One great thing about service-learning projects is the learning is real and applicable. Make sure to allow plenty of time for learning, because you can really dive into the project and explore every detail not only of the non-profit you are working with but also the topic. There were so many areas we just didn’t have time to explore that would have been so neat for my students to learn.

Happy planning and creating a rich learning experience for your students.

-JL

Thursday 06. 9.16

What do the walls say?

From: Josephine Langbehn

One of the greatest reasons I love being an art teacher is because we are able to use our expertise to have great impact everywhere. We can collaborate with other teachers, our community, and even in our very own school building. We use the visual arts to encourage change and to be leaders. We can immerse ourselves in lots of areas because the arts connect to everything! One of the greatest questions I had been informally asked is, “What do the walls of your school say about your school?”  Although the question wasn’t just meant for the art teacher in the room, it invigorated and inspired me, and that question instantly got the gears of my brain turning!!! (P.S. This question was posed at a Renaissance conference. Renaissance is a really cool program that builds student achievement and school climate.) So it got me thinking, what are on the walls of my building? Well, lets see…. there are photographs of past principles (some living some dead)…ummm…there are poorly designed motivational posters that nobody looks at, and of course there are pictures of past teachers who have won a prestigious award. What our walls were failing to tell our guests in our building was about our amazing students, all the learning that was taking place, or about our own community at Monroe. Except for that one mural my seventh grade students completed with guest artist Gerard Pefung. The visual arts did it! The mural my seventh grade artists created with Gerard DID tell about the community of Monroe and brought life into the school.

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Three questions motivated this project; “What would get my students excited about art?” “How can I get my students to feel empowered to better their community while expressing their identity?” and “How can we create a permanent piece of art for our school?’”

First question of how I was going to get my students excited about art was easy! Graffiti! Why graffiti? Because the kids love it but yet they don’t quite understand the civic responsibilities of it. It was the perfect opportunity for a teachable moment. So, I found a graffiti artist to come work with the kids. Once we got started working on the project all of the other answers fell into place. The kids brainstormed ways our school community was brought down and what actions and attitudes raised it up. They came up with words of how they play a key role and belonged to Monroe’s community. The project wove a closer community and students expressed how they were a part of our school. Gerard took the kids artwork of their words and juxtaposed them all together to create one big image. He graciously created it, and it is now permanently hanging in the main commons of our school. It is one of the first images guests see when they walk into our building.

So I challenge you, what do the walls of your school say about your school? This is still a question that inspires me to this day. It has inspired other art installations in our building and has even helped motivate me, in collaboration with others, to create banners for students who have achieved a certain grade point average. Extra work? You bet! But I want guests who walk in our building to get a positive feeling when they enter. I want students to know their mission when they are at school by looking around at the visual clues. I also want to show that the arts can be a powerful tool to build our school climate, and that the visual arts can play an important role in shaping the aesthetic of our schools to encourage a place of learning.

-JL