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 08.31.09

Part of the CIA - Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment

Yes, as art teachers, we are part of the CIA – we are main components of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in our schools.  As the school year has just begun for many of us, for some teachers it may just be starting, and for others it never ended, just continued – there are big plans in all our minds for an art-filled school year with art and along with those ideas are questions like:

    • How do I best reach my students through my content area? 
    • What projects and content is grade level appropriate?
    • How will assess my students’ learning and understanding of art skills and/or concepts?

    While we do not have the same teaching styles, set up our classroom the same, or have the same resources and materials available, we (teachers) find a way to support our curriculum, our instruction, and our assessment of student learning.  My school year has only begun, but I have so many plans for projects and assessment this year – so many more than previous years.  Time will fly, and we have already had eight full days of school – wow!  – Where is the time going? 

    Because my students have similar, yet different learning goals, I want to honor those and share those with the students.  Last Friday, students revisted their goals they set the first day of school, and this week I will share with them a compilation of goals to show similarities between the classes and so we can develop a plan to help each other grow – teachers and students!  I am hopeful to team with other teachers in other content areas to develop common assessments and learning goals for our students.

    Besides the regular curriculum, instruction and assessment planned for the year, I have introduced the idea of a Visual Art Club and a Student Art Curriculum Committee – which many students have ideas for both groups.  I have to find times for these groups to meet and to leave time for implementing the ideas from both groups.  I shall see how it goes this year, but whatever the case may be, I am excited at the opportunity for students to have more choices for their learning and art making this year.

    Keep making art, sharing art, and teaching art!  Find professional development that works for you as an art teacher and find support systems for teacher learning and student learning.  I am grateful for the opportunity to be August’s Monthly Mentor – thank you for reading, pondering, and sharing your thoughts.  I plan to check back and post updates to some of the blogs throughout the school year, so I encourage all of you to do the same.  I wish every teacher the best in their new school year, and please keep in touch!

    Artfully Yours,
    ~ Nikki F. Kalcevic
    Art Educator, Ramay Junior High School

Friday 08.28.09

Art Room Environment Revisited

During my intial blog entries, I discussed setting up the art room environment so it would foster student learning.  I would like to revist that idea briefly.  Learning environments are works in progress and should change depending on the project and learning that takes place, I feel like my art classroom is getting close to being an effective learning environment for my students.  It is not fully operational in all areas, yet, but it is definitely getting there.  Below are some photos…


I would ideally like to have the books and library portion available for students to view the books more readily instead of asking to go behind my desk/teacher area.  Eventually, I may shift the bookcases and/or the books to the bookcases on the right (with the bike on top).


I love having technology in my room, and this year students will keep digital portfolios, create animations, use photoshop to manipulate photos, and create group presentations.  Many thanks to the school board and our administration for the funds to support the technology in my room.
Things like tables and chairs will probably always get shifted a little, but the room is starting to feel like an effective learning environment.  How does your art room environment look?  What suggestions do you have for other art teachers that may have an art room or even an art cart? How do you stay organized?

~ Nikki F. Kalcevic

Thursday 08.27.09

Art Criticism – Getting Students to Dialogue about Artwork

I have always encourgaed students to talk and share ideas about artwork.  However, somewhere between open, talkative primary level students to the junior high level, the students become more self-conscience and scared to discuss ideas about artwork.  Last year at the junior high level, it was difficult to get students to talk about artwork.  The students waited for me to tell them what to think… so what was I to do.

I attended a session in Minneapolis at the 2009 NAEA convention featuring secondary student critiques in the art classroom presented by Gaylund Stone.  Mr. Stone called his method Dialogic Critiques, and he discussed the ways he uses the dialogic critique with his classes at the secondary level. The premise is to get the students to self-assess and assess each other through writing and then through oral conversation. The four areas students are to focus their comments or questions about student work are: Expression, Content, Form, and Technique.  Students post their artwork on a wall – higher on the wall if they feel the work is going well, lower on the wall if the student feels the artwork needs work (the firt part of assessment in this method).  Then, students give comments on the artworks.  Each artwork should have at least three comments.  Then after gathering and viewing comments on their own works and others, students comment on comments and questions on their work and others.  After hearing the ideas from this session – I thought, well, I can do this and it gives students who do not want to talk an opportunity to share and still participate.

I reserved a space in our school each Wednesday of the first semester so my art classes can have our dialogic critiques.  I wish that I could have these sessions in my art room, but there just is not enough wall space for five classes.  Luckily, we have a large group room with lots of wall space.

This past Wednesday was our first dialogic critque, so it took a little time to set up guidelines and discuss what is appropriate as a comment/question and what is not.  After that was out of the way, the students commented, questioned, and discussed.  We used the entire 50 minutes of class time.  What I loved was the fact that students were talking to each other while viewing artwork, comments, and making comments.  My ninth grade classes are further along as far as using art vocabulary in their comments, while my eighth grade classes will get there through more practice and crtical assessment.  I was extremely pleased with my classes’ progress on the first day and I am looking forward to more of these critiques all year.  Thank you, Gaylund Stone!!!!!!!!

What kinds of student or peer critique methods do you use?

~ Nikki F. Kalcevic

Monday 08.24.09

Still Hoping to Find Balance between Artist and Art Teacher

Balance – are you out there?  I need a little help!  The artist, Nikki K is having a difficult time finding a compromise with the art educator sometimes known as Mrs. K.  I had a couple of custom jewelry designs to make the first week of school, and while I completed them and they are beautiful pieces, it was difficult to split my personalities and time between what I do as an artist and what I need to prepare and do as an educator.  I know the first few weeks of school are tough to get into a routine, but I am worried that if I do not try to find a compromise I main loose my mind.  As I have mentioned, for me, it is difficult to ignore my love of education and learning, but I do enjoy art making.  Anyone have any tips on how to find time to be an awesome art educator while also being true to the artist self?  Okay… back to work on planning and preparing projects for young art inquiring minds.

~ Nikki F. Kalcevic

Sunday 08.23.09

First DAYS of School

Our first official day of school with students was August 19, and the first day went well.  Of course, it is an exciting yet sometimes anti-climactic day.  Students and teachers are very excited to see old faces and new faces, but it is also a day of policies and procedures.  It is true that I had to give the same info to each class about their drawing shelves, supply fees, sketchbooks, objectives, goals, and the list goes on. 

One decision I made this year is to keep an index card for each student.  Each student wrote their name, contact information, and then completed a short pre-assessment answering four questions:
1. Why did you want to be a part of an art class at Ramay?
2. What kinds of art projects have you completed in the past?  (examples: ceramics, collage, etc.)
3. What would you like to learn in art class this year?
4. What is your goal in art class this year?
I explained to the students that it was important to answer honestly, and that perhaps they did not want art class but their other electives were not available.  I do not want students to tell me answers they think I want to hear.  This year’s answers are different in many ways from last year.  Many students – about 75% - want to learn how to draw better and their goals ranged from creating a graphic novel to maintaining good grades – including a good grade in art like their previous year of art in middle school.

The students are going to revisit their notecards during the second week of school, and as a class, we are going to chart the classes’ goals and think about ways we can help each other achieve our learning needs.  The students will revisit their assessments throughout the year.  Last year I took on that burden by reviewing each handwritten goal and think about how I could help that student learn.  However, this year I am going to schedule dates when the students revisit their notecards to reflect and assess their learning needs.

So far, my classes are grand – truly!  I am hoping this grand trend continues, and we can all learn and grow together.  Have you started school with your kiddos, yet?  What do you have planned for the first days of school?  Happy Learning!

~ Nikki F. Kalcevic

Tuesday 08.18.09

Professional Planning and Student Learning

So… refering back to my professional development sessions I had last week on Wednesday and Thursday -  Jeff Burgard and Gateway to Mastery (  I am not going to try and give a sales pitch, and I realize everyone has there own methods for instruction, but these sessions really brought everything together for me – curriculum, instruction, and assessment.  Jeff spoke about giving the ownership of learning to the students – learning is not dictated from authorities as we teachers think we should be in our content areas.  Okay – this is something I believe and feel the students should always have ownership of their learning, projects, and more… so Jeff kept teaching and the teachers kept learning.

There were several ideas that resonated with my teacher brain.  One idea was a student curriculum committee where Jeff had students apply and meet to discuss ways that would better serve the students’ learning and understanding of concepts.  Jeff would try them in class and if they worked or didn’t work, the students and classes would discuss why the method for that topic did or did not work for learning. I love it!  Since my content area at my school does not have a Knowledge Map (essential knowledge for a given content area that students should know), I have decided to also ask the students to help form the visual art Knowledge Map.  Students have ideas and we should honor them and facilitate their learning. That does not mean to give up the classroom to a free for all for the students, but really allow the students to have choices in their learning.

Last year, I began the year with a formative assessment of my students – Why did they take art?  (Or maybe it wasn’t a choice in their electives selection?)  What was the last art class they had?  What art materials had they used?  What would they like to learnabout art?  What were their goals?  I took all of the information, read over it, and felt obligated to reach and convince the non-art lovers that art can be about their process and choices.  What I did not do was share the students’ experiences with each other and take the obligation solely off myself.  So – this year I am going to take it a step further and share the responses with the entire class and chart their enthusiasm of art.  There is so much more I can do with the information Jeff Burgard gave the faculty last week, but I am going to build from what I have been doing and go from there… the great thing about learning is there is always room for growth! 

What assessments are you going to implement in your instruction and art classroom?

~ Nikki F. Kalcevic

Monday 08.17.09

Professional Development and In-service… It has been awesome!

I was a little worried about some of the professional development (PD) sessions coming up for the start of the school year. Sometimes you just never know if the PD sessions are relevant to art teachers – as our last NAEA Monthly Mentor and colleague, Leslie Gates spoke of in her July blog.  I can say without a doubt that I have thoroughly enjoyed my PD sessions and teacher in-service this past week.

Monday, the art teachers took a tour and a hike to see the fabulous new museum for American art being built in the NW Arkansas region - Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (  This is going to be an amazing resource for our community and abroad – not only for artists and art educators, but also for science, math, history, and language arts educators and classes. The education department is planning great things!  In the photo below, you will see an image of the building in progress. They are about 30% done with the construction. We cannot wait for this amazing museum to be utilized by so many in our region and abroad!  I encourage you to visit the website to see the progress of the structure and to learn more. 

Crystal Bridges construction (2)_448

 Crystal Bridges construction - August 10, 2009

Tuesday, I presented my session presentations and others from this year’s past NAEA conference in Minneapolis, MN.  I also shared a multitude of materials and resources I collected for our art department in Fayetteville.  What was so great about this in-service was that many of us art folk shared ideas with each other about things that worked and did not work in our art classrooms.  I also felt like I got to know so many of our art teachers in our department so much better, too.  A big thank you to our art department for all that you do and share with so many!

Then on Wednesday and Thursday, we had a speaker, Jeff Burgard, talk about Gateway to Mastery ( This was something some teachers were doing, other teachers were not, and many of us that had just joined the team a little over a year ago weren’t really sure what Gateway to Mastery meant.  Well, I do not even know where to begin about the fantastic ideas and thoughts spinning in my head with the ideas from these sessions, so I think I will chew on those ideas some more and come back in my next blog and write about the ideas Jeff Burgard gave to all of the teachers.

I am very excited for this upcoming school year – it did not take too long to make up with my first love – art education! I hope that my other love of art making can forgive me for its neglect while I get ready for the school year.

Are you looking forward to a new school year? What are your professional development sessions like?

~ Nikki F. Kalcevic

Saturday 08.15.09

Getting Ready for an Art-filled Year!

Apologies – it has been a while since I posted to my blog.  I have been caught up in the wave of professional development sessions and getting my art classroom ready for student learning.  If you recall from previous posts, I was skeptical about starting a new school year.  I was wondering if I took too much time to rejuvenate the artist within this summer.  Well, I think it was a good thing, and I just have to find a way once the school year begins to continue making art and enjoying the little things in life. Sometimes that is tough for me – I usually throw myself whole-heartedly into being an educator and take it quite seriously, so this year the challenge will be finding a balance between artist and art educator.  That balance has been difficult already during the first 2 weeks of getting ready for another art-filled school year!  I hope I can figure out a schedule for Mrs. K, the art teacher, and Nikki K, the artist.  Are there any tips any of you art educators can share about the balance between artist and art educator?  Happy Blogging…

~ Nikki F. Kalcevic

Tuesday 08. 4.09

Looking Backward, Planning Forward

I can shake this summertime slump and get back into art education mode! I am getting back into my ideas and plans for this school year each time I revisit past lessons, projects, and my school. The summer of creative rejuvenation has served me well! I think I can, I think I can…

I am very fortunate to work in my school with my very own art room! My principal and assistant principal are extremely supportive, and I work with an outstanding, caring staff and faculty. I was granted more than generous funds this past year to purchase technology and a new kiln by my principal (thank you!) However, the learning environment (i.e. art room) is still a work in progress in my mind. I had always shared a room, traveled to several schools, or lived out of baskets and boxes of supplies in my car. All of those experiences where resourceful education tools, so I’m glad I had those experiences. However, I have been an educator for 9 years – this adjustment to having my own room should be easy, right? Have you ever felt like this? Parts of the new position are easy, but having my very own room to move things and to suit the lessons I need to cover – this was and is sometimes still new!

As I look back at the changes my art room endured this past school year, I cannot believe it. I began my art teaching position at Ramay in July 2008. When I was hired and introduced to my art classroom last summer, there was a lot of work to be done. Years and years and years (did I mention years and years) of stuff had been left in the room – many good things – and many things were faded, molded, and destroyed from years of neglect or from the recent pipe burst that Spring – so many things were recycled, tossed, or reclaimed. I am an art pack rat, too, but some things could not be salvaged! As I think back to a year ago – wow – I had barely scraped the surface of what I wanted that art room to be for my students’ learning, so it was a work in progress all year.

So… The first teacher in-service days and school days of 2009-2010 school year are drawing near, and I am rethinking the layout of my room again. I thought I knew what the learning environment should be. Is there a right answer? Where should I place my technology? The storage shelves for students to keep their work? The art tables and chairs? I welcome you to post your own ideas and inquiries about classroom arrangement.

~ Nikki F. Kalcevic

Monday 08. 3.09

The Summertime Slump: Getting Back Into the Swing of Art Education

It is the beginning of August … and as I think back to the beginning of June when school ended, I had so many plans to be in my art room rearranging, painting, reorganizing, and reworking the curriculum all summer. Even though I did a lot of thinking and reading about art education, I did not go back to my art classroom until last week. I enjoyed spending time with friends and family, gardening, cooking, and I even made some of my own artwork. This is the first summer I can remember where I took time to do therapeutic things for myself, and it has been wonderful. However … hmmm … where has the summer gone and more importantly how do I make up for lost time on art education? Is it necessarily a bad thing to have taken time for myself?

I think it has been refreshing to take time to find my interests, again. There were past summers filled with working and teaching art classes, which I loved, but I have enjoyed my time to find the artist and imaginative creator this summer. Does that make me a selfish educator? Part of me feels like I have been thoughtless about my role as a professional, but don't we all need to recoup and refresh our minds. So, why do I feel like I had a cheap, tawdry affair on my long time love, art education?

So … now it is the end of July/beginning of August 2009, and I am wondering where the summertime went and how much I truly want to accomplish in these few short weeks before the hustle and bustle of students are in the art room … Not to mention professional development courses I will be taking and presenting. Panic begins to settle in my body – my first love, art education has found out about my new found love of summer fun. Can I get all of my tasks accomplished? Can I still enjoy being an artist once I get back into my school mode? Stay tuned…

In this month’s blog, I am going to explore the ideas of art educator, artist, and how both are important as many of us (art educators) begin thinking about and gearing up for another art-filled school year with our students. I look forward to hearing from many of you as you respond with your own ideas and thoughts to my posts.

-Nikki F. Kalcevic