Monthly Mentor

Jody Boyer (August)
Jody Boyer is a visual artist and arts educator originally from Portland, Oregon. In her studio practice she explores the broad interdisciplinary possibilities of traditional and new media with a specific interest in personal memory, cinema, landscape and a sense of place. She received her B.A. in Studio Arts from Reed College, her M.A. in Intermedia and Video Art from the University of Iowa, and her K-12 teaching certificate at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  Her artwork has been shown in over 25 exhibitions across the country. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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Monday 11.30.15

Creating the Right Moooo’d During the Holiday Season

From: Hester Menier

The real question at the holidays isn’t, “What do you want for…?”, it’s how to keep the peace as the craziness of the holidays commences. This year I found some inspiration while driving home from an art workshop, listening to NPR (National Public Radio). As I listened, a story peaked my interest about a small town near where I grew up called Fairfield, Iowa. Fairfield is home to the Maharishi University of Management (MUM), a school founded in the 1970s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the known guru to the Beetles and other celebrities. At the university students practice transcendental meditation and other consciousness activities in order to improve their academics and quality of life. 

But the story wasn't about the students at the university, it was about cows. Radiance Dairy and Farmer Francis Thicke, use music from the MUM university radio station in their milking barns. While milking the cows enjoy Gandahara Veda, an Indian/Persian music that is designed to be in tune with nature, which reduces stress on the cows while they're milking. Research has shown that when the cows are calmer they produce better and more milk. Silly as this may sound both the University of Indiana and the University of Leicester in the UK have done extensive research on the effect of music on cows.  

So, if this works for cows, I wondered would it help my students be less stressed and more productive. 

So I did a little more research. Gandahara Veda music changes throughout the day as the dynamics of the day change. Each melody is designed to match a three hour time period called a Prahara; at sunrise, morning, midday, afternoon, sunset, evening, midnight and late night. In addition you can also listen to Ragas, which can be played anytime day or night. The music is written to work with the correct sound currents for each of those time periods. A sound current is a vibration sent through any type of noise. According to Vedic tradition the music resonates with the natural frequencies of the universe and allows those who listen to it to feel more connected, calm. Best said by their website “to create balance in nature and peace in the world.” Couldn’t we all use a little peace in the world! 

I gave this a test run on a very special group of students. Once a week, I have a self-contained class of ED students who visit my classroom for some supplemental art time. It was a rainy morning, so I chose a Rainy Melody by Patanjali Greek I found on YouTube. At first the students didn’t even notice the music. I taught a lesson on Zentangle and when we started to draw the first string, I pointed out the music. I wanted them to slow their hands to the pace of the music. As they started to draw I saw a change, they were so quiet and their usually frantic movements slowed to calm strokes with a permanent marker. They were very focused and worked for more that 30 minutes with little talking. This was the complete opposite of the regular behavior they exhibited during these visits. 

CTE7UhTUwAQ-FUw.jpg-large
2nd grade working on patterns to decorate their journals 

Since then I have used the Gandahara Veda music with all of my classes and often leave it on while I am on plan. The students don’t mind it at all, and a few even request to have it played. I never had this reaction when I played rock or country. It always seemed to cause mass groans or boisterous sing alongs. Either way it distracted from the work in the room.  Something about the slow repeated sounds definitely brings a calm and focus to the room. If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, you may want to see some of the other selections the cows enjoyed. Either way, setting up the classroom enviroment with calming sounds can create a less stressed, more focused space for your students, at a time when so much crazy is happening around them. Wishing you all and “Udderly” Delightful Holiday Season!

Monday 11.30.15

Creating the Right Moooo’d During the Holiday Season

From: Hester Menier

The real question at the holidays isn’t, “What do you want for…?”, it’s how to keep the peace as the craziness of the holidays commences. This year I found some inspiration while driving home from an art workshop, listening to NPR (National Public Radio). As I listened, a story peaked my interest about a small town near where I grew up called Fairfield, Iowa. Fairfield is home to the Maharishi University of Management (MUM), a school founded in the 1970s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the known guru to the Beetles and other celebrities. At the university students practice transcendental meditation and other consciousness activities in order to improve their academics and quality of life. 

But the story wasn't about the students at the university, it was about cows. Radiance Dairy and Farmer Francis Thicke, use music from the MUM university radio station in their milking barns. While milking the cows enjoy Gandahara Veda, an Indian/Persian music that is designed to be in tune with nature, which reduces stress on the cows while they're milking. Research has shown that when the cows are calmer they produce better and more milk. Silly as this may sound both the University of Indiana and the University of Leicester in the UK have done extensive research on the effect of music on cows.  

So, if this works for cows, I wondered would it help my students be less stressed and more productive. 

So I did a little more research. Gandahara Veda music changes throughout the day as the dynamics of the day change. Each melody is designed to match a three hour time period called a Prahara; at sunrise, morning, midday, afternoon, sunset, evening, midnight and late night. In addition you can also listen to Ragas, which can be played anytime day or night. The music is written to work with the correct sound currents for each of those time periods. A sound current is a vibration sent through any type of noise. According to Vedic tradition the music resonates with the natural frequencies of the universe and allows those who listen to it to feel more connected, calm. Best said by their website “to create balance in nature and peace in the world.” Couldn’t we all use a little peace in the world! 

I gave this a test run on a very special group of students. Once a week, I have a self-contained class of ED students who visit my classroom for some supplemental art time. It was a rainy morning, so I chose a Rainy Melody by Patanjali Greek I found on YouTube. At first the students didn’t even notice the music. I taught a lesson on Zentangle and when we started to draw the first string, I pointed out the music. I wanted them to slow their hands to the pace of the music. As they started to draw I saw a change, they were so quiet and their usually frantic movements slowed to calm strokes with a permanent marker. They were very focused and worked for more that 30 minutes with little talking. This was the complete opposite of the regular behavior they exhibited during these visits. 

CTE7UhTUwAQ-FUw.jpg-large
2nd grade working on patterns to decorate their journals 

Since then I have used the Gandahara Veda music with all of my classes and often leave it on while I am on plan. The students don’t mind it at all, and a few even request to have it played. I never had this reaction when I played rock or country. It always seemed to cause mass groans or boisterous sing alongs. Either way it distracted from the work in the room.  Something about the slow repeated sounds definitely brings a calm and focus to the room. If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, you may want to see some of the other selections the cows enjoyed. Either way, setting up the classroom enviroment with calming sounds can create a less stressed, more focused space for your students, at a time when so much crazy is happening around them. Wishing you all and “Udderly” Delightful Holiday Season!

Monday 11.16.15

Getting Boys Interested in Art, Again.

From: Hester Menier

If you look back through the history of art, men have dominated the field until the most recent past. So it may seem surprising that getting boys interested in art class would be difficult. When art class is competing with classes more preferred by male students, like P.E. and computers, it can be hard to find ways to engage boys effectively in the art classroom. It is disheartening to hear from parents of struggling boys at parent teacher conferences, “Art never has been an activity our child liked, even when he was little, and it still isn’t their favorite subject.” Some years I can find that one idea that really captures the attention of my boy artists and other years, the same concept flops. Frequently what works is something linked with current popular culture, like Minecraft, Legos, NASCAR, etc. But I think I found the secret to success this year, offering a wide choice of opportunities that boys can’t wait to try. Here are my top 3…

#3 Architecture is an artform that is sometimes difficult to offer in an elementary art room due to lack of storage space and materials. I have solved this by making it a temporary work of art that lives on in a photograph. At the end of construction, students use an iPad to save an image of their work to a Google Drive.  This allows it to be shared with family, friends, and on a Smartboard with the whole class. Boys love to construct and problem solve with building materials.  I offer Keva planks, foam blocks, pentominoes, and small wood scraps. If you need materials on the cheap, get the scraps donated from a local construction site or the high school industrial tech class. To get them started I do small lessons on the basics of architecture, like what makes a building strong and durable (like a foundation and proper material choice), how to make the building functional for its intended purpose, and aesthetically pleasing. I offer books on architecture, blueprints and lots of building images. They make the most amazing things! My biggest success so far, a student who frequently refused to even enter the art room many times in the past, built this multi-story building with a weight bearing cantilevered deck. Now he enters the art room with a smile ready to work each week.

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Building with cantilevered deck by a 5th grade student who often refused to participate.  

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Marble Race track from a 5th grade student with poor effort in the past.

#2 Sculpture which is similar in many ways to architecture, but with many more options for materials and subjects. Again, this can have significant storage issues, so my solution, think small like postcard sized. I even have a size tester like the airport has for luggage. Materials for sculpture abound, especially if you can get parents and staff to save you recyclables. Teaching students that there are more than 10 different ways to attach materials really opens their ideas to the possibilities, beyond just glue (see pipe cleaner attachments below). Boys love the challenge of building sculpture when you offer a problem to solve. Because there are so many possibilities for subject, narrowing the field down by offering a problem to solve focuses their ideas. If you add a competition component, it peaks their interest even more. Things I have done with great success are Medieval Castles that need to have defenses to protect the royal family, robots that must stand on their own, and cars that actually roll. Plus an extra bonus, these projects can often connect with the curriculum being taught in the science and social studies classes.

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4th grader making a building with straws, pipe cleaners and foam sheets.

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3rd grader’s beginning parts for a bus. You can see the wheels, chassis, seats and roof with windows.

#1 Sewing and Weaving, traditionally thought of as girly, are a huge hit with the boys. I don’t know if it is because art gives them “permission” to do something usually associated with women, or if it is the practical nature of what is created, that creates the draw. But my boys beg to use the fiber art materials, and often create more at home. There is no need to go big here either, keep weavings, soft sculptures and other fibers projects around the size of your average cell phone. Some of the biggest hits have been finger weaving, ugly dolls and necklace weavings on cardboard. The repeated weaving and stitching movements, often lead to high success rates for boys who usually struggle with the fine motor control that drawing requires.

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Small weaving necklaces by 4th grade boys.

Here is how I know that offering these opportunities are the secret to engaging boys in the art room... I had 2 parents stop me in the hall to tell me their sons were upset to miss art class due to a holiday, because they couldn’t wait to come in a work on a particular project in class. These were boys who had history of not caring much for art class which showed in their work. And the parent, of a child I didn’t teach in Kindergarten or 1st grade, told me at Meet the Teacher Night, “Good luck with my son, he hates art class.” A few weeks ago at the end of class, he begged me to let him bring dad down to the art room to see what he had made. After school that very excited student dragged dad in, and excitedly showed him the wonderful work he had created. Making sure to offer opportunities that boys enjoy can ensure they are as interested in art as the girls.

Monday 11. 9.15

Teaching Artistic Behavior (TAB)

From: Hester Menier

One of the biggest personal battles I have faced in beginning TAB in my classroom, was my comfort level with true kid art. For years, my students produced beautifully crafted boards of artwork that made everyone ooh and ahh, after direct instruction.

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But when students direct their learning, by choosing the media, subject and technique the product is quite different. I don’t think that this is just a TAB issue, all art teachers struggle to find the balance between students copying and creating.
 
When I read Choice Without Chaos by Anne Bedrick, this really stuck with me…
 
“One of the biggest questions people ask is what about skills? My question is, “Why are you so sure that they were learning them when you were directing them?”
 
This was my initial hesitation with the TAB, which led to many questions.           

* How do I know my students are learning?

* When I was using direct instruction to have students produce amazing artwork, were they going through the motions or did they truly learn?

* In a TAB room when the art looks poorly made does it still have value?

The answers to these questions have all become very clear to me as the first few weeks of open studios are wrapping up and students are thinking they have finished work.
 
How do I know students are learning?
I hear it, even if I can’t see it. While students are working, I frequently, just listen to the conversations they are having. This is something I did when I had a direct instruction classroom, but now the conversations are different. Before I heard about video games, vacations and birthday plans, but very little about art. Now I still here a few discussion of video game strategy and other pressing social issues, but they end quickly when an art problem needs to be addressed. I have overheard students comparing 2 different types of glue for making a collage, noticing that the rubber cement didn’t work as a seal like the Modge Podge did. Students have asked others for help on holding a sculpture in place while they added more bracing, with the 2 discussing options. And eight 3rd graders taught each other to make brown and compared what they learned to placement on the color wheel. When you talk with them about the choices they are making, they can tell you about the work very descriptively using selective art vocabulary. So the answer is YES, they are learning. They are learning what they need to at the time to solve the artistic problem they have designed. Some will learn more and others less, but that is where you as the teacher need to know your students and push them to reach their best potential and beyond.

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When I was using direct instruction to have students produce amazing artwork, were they going through the motions or did they truly learn?
I think there was some of both happening. Unfortunately, I am finding that much of what I had taught them in the past seems to have floated away with the wind. The bits that have stuck were often lessons where they had to make discoveries themselves, or were allowed to experiment with materials. For example, those 3rd graders learning to make brown, we do this in kindergarten and 1st grade. Back then I told them how, they did it and used the brown to paint a cat or something else. It was just another fact to remember with no lasting impression or personal meaning. As 3rd graders they couldn’t remember what we had done, and I told them to experiment and figure it out. So they started randomly mixing colors until someone got brown. Which led to the greater conversation about how the colors were arranged on the color wheel, and how they could use that information to make brown. Watching their excitement as they found multiple ways to achieve the same means made me proud. That is an learning they will remember, because the learning was deeper and more meaningful to them.

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In a TAB room when the art looks poorly made does it still have value?           
I have decided that the answer here is YES, and this goes back to Lowenfeld’s Stages of Artistic Development. We all think of the scribble stage being only for drawing and toddlers, but every media and skill in the art room has it’s own scribble stage. Even adult learners may need time to scribble when they approach a new medium. If we don’t let each child experience the scribble stage with those media and skills they can’t move on to produce artwork at high levels, because they don’t have a basic understanding to build on. Many students who can make lovely drawings may not have the same instant success with paint, because they haven’t had the opportunity the “scribble” or experiment with it before. They need to smash the brush and splatter, mix every color to make a page of mud and add too much paint creating a hole in the paper. This type of artwork, doesn’t look as polished as those well crafted direct instruction pieces, but they may have significantly more educational value. Without the scribble stage students have less tools or tricks to handle mistakes with the media or skill, which can lead to frustration and ultimately dislike for the media or skill. This is the person who says, “I can’t draw”. The key as the teacher is to understand your students, knowing when they need to scribble and when they are ready to move forward.

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So my comfort level with kid art is getting stronger, because I have changed my view of the purpose of art instruction in my classroom. Art class should be more focused on the process of creating art, the product will come when each student artist is ready.

Monday 11. 2.15

Learning, the Never Ending Journey

From: Hester Menier

After teaching elementary art for 20 years I have experienced a variety of situations in which I had to learn or sink. Teaching in multiple buildings requiring travel, working with non-English speaking students, working with no budget, being on a cart, large class sizes, the list goes on and on. But in many of these situations I was not in control of the change or situation. But this year, after attending a wonderful workshop on teaching TAB (teaching for artistic behaviors), one for which I was reluctant to attend and initially skeptical, I decided to make a major change in the instructional model of my classroom. This adventure has felt like being a first year teacher all over again, but this time I had one great advantage, I am much more aware of how my students and I learn, and how this understanding will make us all better in the end.

Learning can be understood through the 4 Stages of Competence, first introduced in the 1970's by Gordon Training International. This concept basically discusses how individuals go through 4 stages in their journey to learn a new concept or skill. I felt that this not only applied to my journey through this instructional change, but what my students are going through in each of the studios without the direct instruction I had used in the past.

The first stage is Unconscious Incompetence. You don't know that you don't know. And you might even deny that their is a problem or lack of understanding. This is where most of my students are right now. They absolutely love the change to a studio format and have jumped in enthusiastically. They are engaged and excited. Once they start working, the room is a buzz of on-task chatter, creative problem solving and collaboration. But the work they are creating doesn't quite reflect the the atmosphere in the room or the goals they are setting for themselves.

I asked them on the 3rd day of open studio to close their eyes and imagine their first TAB artwork and decide was it eh, something they could hang on the fridge or gallery quality. With almost every class, the majority felt that what they had made at this point was gallery quality. At this point I knew we had a blissful lack of understanding of what quality artwork looked like and was already generating a plan to help them get to the next stage and increase the quality of their work without sacrificing the enthusiasm and risk taking that was happening.

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Stage 2 is Conscious Incompetence, here the learner does not understand something, but they are aware that they don't understand, and want to learn and become better at a skill. This is where I am currently feeling as a teacher. I know that I don't know everything about TAB and I am not sure how it's all going to work out, but thankfully I have a lot of tools and resources to help me learn and get better, even after 20 years. With this in mind, I began to introduce several resources to help students move forward too.

First we discussed the value of making mistakes. Mistakes happen, and are the best learning experiences, since we find out what to do and what not to do. I love the book Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, since it shows many ways to fix a mistake. Using the book to teach into this concept, I also hung up posters in every studio with lists of ways to fix a mistake. There are several different versions available on Pinterest. Like this...

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Second, I started sharing other projects and student work on my Fab 5 wall. These are 5 examples of work I felt showed thought and effort, and exemplified the mini lesson fro the week. Students can get inspired by veiwing the successes of others.

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Finally, I started to conference with students while they worked. I attended a workshop earlier in the summer about the Conferring Method in Readers/Writers Workshop used in the regular education classrooms. Using this method I am better able to offer tips, techniques, materials and visual resources to help students learn more about what they don't currently know, as it relates to their personal work. Hopefully, sending them to the next stage.

Stage 3 is Conscious Competence, where the learner knows how to do something, but they have to really concentrate in order to accomplish the skill.  Each child fills out a plan before they start, and part of the plan asks them to set a goal for what they would like to learn more about or get better at doing. This is where the true growth happens, so this is the stage where I would like to see many of my students working during class time. If they are at this stage I know they are working on something new, it requires a lot of mental effort, problem solving and time to work through the process. They get it and they are getting a handle on how to to it well.

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The final stage is Unconscious Competence. This is when the new skill becomes "second nature" and often they can teach it to someone else. This is the moment all teachers dream about, but not every student reaches at the same time. This is why I really love the TAB format. I will have students at every stage of learning, but since they are each doing their own project and working on their own goal, I don't have to worry about leaving anyone behind or not stretching others far enough. Those who need the help at stage two can get it from someone at four. And someone at stage three may inspire or or open the eyes of a student at stage one since they are so focused on mastering the goal.

And just like me, trying something new for the first time, they will eventually go through all 4 stages. Then coming out the other end with a greater understanding, only to discover a new skill, concept or adventure awaits you and the process begins all over again.