Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 06.29.09

Reflections , Communities, and Communications

In my last post as June’s Monthly Mentor, I would like to encourage each of you to reflect on your practice and ask yourself:

  • What accomplishments make me most proud?
  • Where do I want to make improvements in teaching and learning?
  • How can I build community with like-minded teachers?

I am proud of my students’ abilities to self-direct, question, collaborate, persevere, pace, build knowledge, and reflect through their artmaking.  This summer, I will be improving my choice-based art curriculum by planning discussions on constructing meaning and making connections with the contemporary art world.  The Minneapolis NAEA conference has provided me with good resources to start this essential work.

As for community, I have two supportive art education groups.  The first is comprised of elementary art teachers in my district.  We meet monthly to share curriculum and strategies specific to our community.  The second group, Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), is comprised of choice-based colleagues.  We meet daily in our online Yahoo forum, at regional TAB seminars, and annually at NAEA.  You can find like-minded colleagues online through the NAEA Ning communities and related art educator list servs.  It’s safe, fun, and you will discover good ideas for improved learning in your classroom.

Building Communities

You may even realize that, through online posts, you enjoy writing!  This is how I built up courage to write a book on choice-based art education with Kathy Douglas.  Kathy and I examined every aspect of choice-based teaching and learning so we could present this pedagogy clearly and accurately.  The journey was long and arduous; ultimately we are very pleased with our book, Engaging Learners Through Artmaking.  Our publisher, Teachers College Press, has been extremely supportive throughout the entire process.  Once you start posting online, you may also become inspired to write for other venues.

I’d like to extend my sincere appreciation to Linda Scott and NAEA for this exceptional opportunity to communicate with all of you.  I look forward to upcoming Monthly Mentors – perhaps you will be one of them!

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Thursday 06.25.09

Deconstructing the Studio Centers

Our students’ last day was yesterday and today I am packing up for summer vacation.  In my choice-based art classroom there are six basic studio centers:  Drawing, 3D Sculpture, Painting, Clay, Fiber Arts, and Digital Arts.  As centers are taken apart, packed in boxes and placed in storage, I reflect on each of the components that enable students to work independently. 

Drawing Center 3_400x297 

Right now, I am in the Drawing Studio Center, which has drawing media, tools, visuals, and books.  Individually marked containers of markers, pencils, color pencils, pastels, charcoal, craypas, crayons, gel pens, stamps and ink pads are reviewed for quality and combined in large boxes.  Paper in various sizes, weights, and colors, always accessible, is stacked for storage.  Another box holds clipboards, for students who like to draw on the rug, and photographic reference books.  New this year is an assortment of graphic novels, which were so popular that they got their own table, along with templates for creating cartoon panels.  I tuck several shallow boxes holding drawing tools and templates are into cabinets.  Signs with visual prompts, vocabulary, directions, and exemplars come off the bulletin boards. This year, M.C. Escher, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Laylah Ali were our featured artists in the drawing center.  It will be fun to select new artists for next year!   Lastly, I place the many objects used for still life and observation drawing into a large box: plastic animals, wooden human figures, realistic plants, shells, and models, all showing loving use over the years.

Drawing Center 1_400x300  

The students who frequent the Drawing Center are an enthusiastic bunch.  They come armed with ideas and reference materials.  Some students create new drawings every week.  Others work on the same drawing over weeks or even months.  The girl in the photograph has pursued stylistic flower drawings for several years.  She worked on this particular drawing periodically throughout her second grade year.  Students at this center are very disciplined and determined, driven by intrinsic motivation to pursue topics of personal relevance.   I am so proud of their accomplishments!

 Drawing Center 2_400x301

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Monday 06.22.09

Choice and TAB

Are you curious about choice-based art education and its origins?  Choice-based teaching and learning differs from more traditional whole-class art education because students are encouraged to be fully self-directed.  To facilitate for students’ autonomy, a very carefully planned structure is in place.  Classes begin with a whole-class lesson or demo; students choose to follow the demo or work on their own.  Studio centers contain materials, tools, and reference materials and children are trained to set up and clean up each center. Small group and one-on-one instruction, as well as support and assessments of student progress keep the choice-based teacher busy during studio time.  Everyone meets together at the end of class to share artwork and experiences. 

This pedagogy is not new - Kathy Douglas, Pauline Joseph, and Sharon Henneborn were all teaching in choice-based classrooms back in the 1970’s.  They did not know one another at the time.  In fact, they did not know of any other art teachers who facilitated authentic art making experiences through students’ choices of media and content.  It simply made sense to each of these highly skilled educators, and because of them, the practice has grown throughout the US and beyond.

Thirty years ago, it was not easy to meet like-minded colleagues.  The social networks that we take for granted today were not in existence then.  NAEA was (and continues to be) a vital networking event which brings together educators with similar interests and concerns.  I met Kathy Douglas at NAEA in the late 1990’s, after meeting and training with Pauline Joseph.  At NAEA 2001, a small group of choice-based art teachers met at a NYC restaurant and formed the Teaching for Artistic Behavior organization.  The name of this group refers to our philosophy of educating for the acquisition of artistic behaviors.  TAB is the philosophy and choice is the methodology; together, they create the pedagogy we call choice-based art education.  

The following sites provide more information on choice-based art education and Teaching for Artistic Behavior:

Diane Jaquith
Co-Founder, Teaching for Artistic Behavior, Inc.
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Tuesday 06.16.09

Action Research Improves Teaching and Learning

Recently I wrote about my action research to evaluate our all-school art show.  Action research is a form of inquiry performed by the person directly responsible for making improvements.  You may be familiar with this practice and may have even tried it yourself.  To become involved in action research, the teacher first must identify a concern.  Richard Sagor (2005) recommends three probing questions to determine if a query is worthwhile:

1. “Is the focus on your professional action?”
2. “Are you empowered to adjust future action based on the results?”
3. “Is improvement possible?”
(Sagor, R. (2005). The Action Research Guidebook.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, pp. 4-5.)

Action research is among the choices offered in my district for individual professional development.  When I wanted to learn more about student cohort groups who frequent the drawing and 3D sculpture studio centers, I interviewed students working at these specific centers.  From this action research, I confirmed that ideas, not media, are central to the work of drawing students.  This explains the passionate discussions that frequently arise in at the drawing studio center!  For 3D artists, the opposite is often true.  The promise of surprising materials attracts a large number of children to the sculpture area.  Artworks emerge from the collections of wood, cardboard, foam, patterned papers, fabric and other odds and ends found on the shelves. 

This year, I focused on girls’ engagement for action research.  I observed students and listed varied artistic behaviors on a checklist.  A few of these behaviors are: generation of ideas, innovation, collaboration (or not), revising mistakes, seeking assistance, peer coaching, development of style and technique, working in a series (or not), and reflection.  This information helped me to identify girls with high, average, and inconsistent levels of engagement.  Knowing the artistic behaviors of highly engaged students enables me to improve teaching and learning for those with inconsistent engagement.

Next time, I will explain the origins of “choice-based art education,” “teaching for artistic behavior,” and TAB. 

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Thursday 06.11.09

Honoring the Graduates

My youngest child, Luke, graduates from high school today.  As my family prepares for the ceremony, I would like to take this opportunity to extend congratulations to all of this year’s graduates.  Their achievements are numerous and they deserve our recognition as they head out into the world, prepared to wrestle with life’s challenges. These are our students!  Long after they have moved on, their names linger in our memories.  These are the children who made us laugh, who made us question ourselves, and who made us proud to be in the teaching profession.

Standing silently beside each graduate is a teacher who cared enough to set high expectations, who never gave up, and who found a way to reach every child.  My son has had superb teachers who encouraged him to develop his intellect and character.  I thank each of them for their special contributions to his life, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  One teacher in particular, Georgia Smith, helped my son see himself as a unique individual with much to communicate through his artwork.  Georgia is an elementary art teacher whose positive and insightful outlook creates a safe and nurturing learning environment for all students.  Thank you, Georgia, for all you have done for my children over the years,

When Luke and his classmates receive applause tonight, we will also be paying tribute to all of the educators who have made a difference in the lives of our children.   

Diane Jaquith
Burr School
Newton, MA

Wednesday 06.10.09

Art Exhibit Survey

At the school art exhibit, we hear praise from parents, staff, and administrators, who see strong evidence of effective teaching and learning.  But what do the artists think about their art show?  I decided to ask my grades 1-4 students through a simple survey.

My questions for students:
1. Do you like to choose your artwork for the exhibit or do you prefer your teacher to choose for you?
2. Did you visit the show with your family or just with your classroom?
3. Were you satisfied with the location and presentation of your artwork(s)?
4. Do you like having an artist statement with your artwork?
5. Did you look at everything in the show, art by friends, or artwork that is like your own?
6. Did you write any letters to the artists?

Each student is given six stickers: red for girls and green for boys.  For each question, students pick place one sticker next to the answer that best fits their opinion.  In the photograph, second graders clearly demonstrate satisfaction with the location of their artwork.

Survey Grade 2_336x426

For each grade level, responses were tallied for girls and boys.  I like to make charts with the percentages because, being a visual person, it makes it easier for me to understand the data. In the chart below, students indicate strong preference for selecting artwork themselves to put on exhibit.


From my action research, I learned that:

  • All grades prefer to select their artwork for exhibit, versus me selecting for them.
  • More girls than boys looked for artwork by their friends and siblings. Almost no students looked for artwork that reminds them of their own work.
  • More girls than boys visited the show with their families, especially in the lower grades. 
  • Grades 1-3 responded favorably to artist statements; grade 4 students responded less favorably.
  • Students in grades 1-3 were very satisfied with the location and presentation of their artwork in the show; fourth grade students were less satisfied.
  • Girls wrote more letters to the artists than boys. 

This information provides me with a lot to think about for next year!

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Thursday 06. 4.09

Students Take Ownership of the School Art Exhibit

When children are involved in the planning of the school art exhibit, their ideas bring humor, play, and youthful sensibility to the art show.  Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework Standard 4 states:  Students will demonstrate knowledge of the processes of creating and exhibiting their own artwork: drafts, critique, self-assessment, refinement, and exhibit preparation.  To meet this standard, fifth grade students at my school help prepare for our art show. 

Our exhibits always have a unique theme, so we begin by generating a long list of possible concepts.  I remind fifth graders to be inclusive of the wide diversity represented in K-4 artworks.  Through democratic process, students vote on themes and the winning names set the stage for our art show.  Dream World was selected as the overall theme for our recent May exhibit.  Within Dream World, students identified smaller exhibit areas and named them: Time Portal, Creature Features, Illusion Fusion, Randomville, Boston Tea Party, and the iMovie Animation Theatre.  These themes are shared with the entire school and often become the starting point for artists’ self-directed work at our various studio centers. 

Blog Set Up_314x191

As the event nears, fifth graders take leadership roles in the design of the exhibit, painting of signs, transporting of work to the gymnasium, and arrangement of displays.  A record number of students joined parents after school this year to set up the exhibit.  They returned to break down the show and delivered 3D work directly to classrooms.  Years ago, I did all of these jobs with a crew of parent volunteers.  One year, lacking sufficient parents, the fifth graders offered to help.  At that moment, I realized how student input transforms our exhibit from good to great!  Now I cannot imagine planning an art show without our fifth graders.

Blog Sign Painting_390x336

Consider inviting your students to assist you in organizing school exhibits.  It is a win/win proposition!  Next time, I will share results with you from a survey conducted after the exhibit in which students responded to questions about their art show.

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Wednesday 06. 3.09

The School Art Exhibit

In the month of June, many of us are enjoying a well-deserved summer break while others focus on a few more weeks of school.  Summer is an excellent time for reflection on the past year.  Looking back, one big highlight for me is our May art show, a greatly anticipated celebration of learning.

In preparation for the exhibit, all children in our elementary choice-based art program select 1-3 artworks representing their personal interests and skills in varied media.  Many students work collaboratively and enthusiastically exhibit their work together.  The art show provides a powerful extrinsic motivation for students to engage in their work.  Just as the adult artist responds to exhibition deadlines with a flurry of activity, so does the child artist. 


Every artwork is labeled with the student’s name, grade and title.  Artist statements provide additional information about ideas, process, and personal relevance.  Parent volunteers help me collect artist statements from K-2 students and older students write their own for each exhibited artwork.  Our staff looks forward to learning more about our students through their artwork and artist statements. 

In one artwork, a first grade boy responds with empathy to his PE teacher’s request for a rock wall. 


His artist statement reads:  “This is a rock wall and I made it for Ms. M.’s gym.  My collage is made from pieces of paper.  I didn’t get the idea to put the clouds at the top and the person at the bottom until I finished the middle part.” 

Our exhibit stays up for two days in the gymnasium.  The event culminates in an evening reception for the artists, when students proudly share their work with family and friends.  Children attend in soccer uniforms, parents socialize, and grandparents take photos.  Viewers write letters to artists which are delivered to classrooms after the show comes down.  As I usher out the last visitors at 8 p.m., a feeling of satisfaction makes the tremendous effort worthwhile.

In my next blog entry, I will discuss how fifth graders plan, design, and help set up our art show.

Diane Jaquith
Burr School
Newton, MA