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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Saturday 11.28.09

Raising the Creativity Consciousness Quotient in Education

By Kevan Nitzberg

In recent years in American schools, more and more emphasis has been placed on measurable accountability evidenced through student scores produced through the mass completion of standardized tests.  Various ‘core’ academic subject areas are mandated to have the delivery of the information that they bring to the curriculum assessed utilizing the idea that a test can actually measure all that is important in terms of the comprehension and growth of the students in question.(1)

In a similar vein (but in my view a more authentic one), students in the arts are also being assessed through a variety of competition / skill assessing venues that also seek to measure skill and knowledge attainment. What perhaps makes these experiences more valid is that the arts have always been performance based by the very nature of the craft and composition that is at the core of the activities that they are exploring. 

In my own experience as a visual arts educator, I have been very interested in the growth of this venue as evidenced by a particular series of events that are run in Minnesota in conjunction with the Minnesota State High School League and the Art Educators of Minnesota. Every year, the 16 different sections that the state of Minnesota has been broken into by the MSHSL, are given the opportunity to host their own Visual Arts Competition for the students who attend the high schools in their respective sections.(2) The student artwork that is selected for these events are representative of a variety of categories (both 2D and 3D), that are submitted by participating schools as the best examples of work being produced by the art students in their buildings. 

The works are then judged at the individual section level as part of the Visual Arts Competitions that are being held.  The judging of the work is done by art educators from the secondary and higher education levels who have been trained to look at student work as well as to utilize an assessment rubric that considers not only the conceptual, compositional and craftsmanship elements of each piece, but also considers the student’s own perception / communication of the intent of the work as related in an artist statement.(3)

Each Visual Arts Competition event is handled autonomously in the section that it is being held in.  As the Section Manager for my particular area, I have been able to facilitate not only the judging and award ceremony that follows, but also an opportunity for students (and their parents / guardians), to participate in art workshops taught by art instructors, as well as give students additional time to confer with the judges about their scores.  The students also get the opportunity to view each others work as well, adding to their own mental ‘libraries’ of idea generation and execution. The annual Visual Arts Competitions that I am responsible for has been held at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, located on the western outskirts of Minneapolis. (4)


During the past 4 years a second tier event sponsored by Art Educators of MN. has been held at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, where the judges’ Spotlight On The Arts Awards winners are invited to have their art entries on display at the College’s gallery and also take place in a celebratory event on the last day of the exhibit.  Here students have the opportunity to have their work displayed in a professional gallery, and take part in additional workshops as well as discuss their work with those in attendance.  This last piece has been particularly important as the students who choose to talk about their work are able to articulate both their intent as well as the process that went into the creation of their art. (5)

This structure has allowed for a greater acknowledgement and systematic building of visual art programs that give students the opportunity to view and compare their works with those of their peers.  The individualized prospect for growth that this also helps to open up for students is enormous in aspect as they are being actively encouraged to develop a greater capacity for creative thought and apply it to their individualized visions in addition to building higher skill levels through this process.


An additional experience for art students in the conference my school is a part of, is the opportunity to expand their artistic / creative horizons in the annual Twin Cities Northwest Suburban Art Student Conference that takes place each year in the spring.  It has been held at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts for a number of years.(6)  This event combines selected students from the ten schools that make up the conference, and treats them to a day of art making outside of their typical school environment.  Students have the chance to select from a series of art making workshops including welding, raku-fired ceramics, stone carving, action painting, printmaking, photography, life drawing, and hand made sculpted books.  These workshops were either all day or ½ day sessions.  The students were able to not only get involved in making artworks using materials and processes not necessarily available to them in their home schools, but were also able to make art beyond the curriculum expectations that typically were part of the art class experiences.  This again provided the opening up of new prospects for considering new ideas and approaches in their own art making.


Further opportunities for substantive artistic student growth are made possible throughout the school year. Students may, for example, elect to pursue Advanced Placement Studio Art and Art History classes which provide more in depth exploration into both the making of visual art focused upon theme and diverse exploration of process, composition and material, as well as the study of the history of art through both time and culture to help provide more comprehensive understanding of the creative process in a variety of contexts.(7)


Dr. Elliot Eisner, noted art educator, speaks to the importance that all arts education experiences have for students and the values that they impart in his “Ten Lessons the Arts Teach”, a document that has been featured on the NAEA web site:
The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.

The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.

The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor number exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.

The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.

The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.

The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.(8)

All of these tenets collectively and individually speak to the importance of the development of creativity in the emerging thinking processes of youth and further underscore the importance of deliberately fostering and nurturing the ‘creativity quotient’ alluded to in the title of this article.

(2) page:
(3) ‘resource section’:

Sunday 11.15.09

Art Credits, Standards and Effective Learning

Minnesota has recently adopted new and revised state arts education standards that will be going into effect in the 2010 - 2011 school year.  Since the demise of the Profile of Learning a couple of years ago and the lack of willingness by the state to mandate anything  beyond standardized tests as the measure of student learning, there has been a steady slide in the progress that the arts had enjoyed statewide in the building of a process by which all K-12 students were to be effectively introduced to and taught the arts. As there is presently no system in place for monitoring the instruction or implementation of those art curricular areas, or examining the results being generated by discipline and grade level from district to district, many other classes in various curriculum areas have been awarded the capacity to be defined as being an arts credit across the state.

It is hoped that the new standards will provide a framework for understanding what specific learning in mandated in an arts course so that the current practice of abuse in defining what constitutes an art credit is brought to a halt. 

I am guessing that the misunderstandings of just what a standards-based art credit consists of is not simply a problem that is specific to my state, but is probably one that surfaces across many districts and states across the country. As such, the following examination of some of those issues as they have been defined in my district (on the northwestern corner of the Twin Cities metro area and the largest district in the state), may be helpful to structuring a conversation elsewhere in regards to what considerations need to be explored in keeping the arts an important, central and viable component in K-12 education.

Here are some points to consider in regards to the alignment of art credit and art standards:

  • As regards standards and credits, all Anoka-Hennepin School District secondary art classes have standards embedded in them which then constitutes course outcomes and specific learning skills. Classes that are not delivering those art standards ought not to be getting art credit if they are not incorporating those specified standards.
  • The Minnesota Board of Teaching is quite clear about the necessity of having highly qualified teachers teaching the courses in public education. Highly qualified is defined as having the specific area of licensure that is deemed necessary to teach a specific curriculum area and grade level.
  • The newly revised MN State Arts Standards have been approved and signed off on by the State of Minnesota.  Those standards and the new structure that they are now a part of have been applied to the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s secondary art curriculum.  We are now in the process of identifying the Essential learning Outcomes which are the standard benchmarks, and aligning them to the various approved visual art classes. The arts standards are written to the specific art areas (Visual Art, Music, Theater, Dance and Media), and are not a part of any other curricular discipline. 
  • The Media Arts standards are both an outgrowth of the Visual Arts standards as well as having additional media arts language that addresses the elements of Media Arts (which specifically revolve around video art).  While there is no specific license attached to it, a certification process is in the process of being developed.  Additionally, in order to meet the media arts standard, however, much of the skill sets identified as being necessary to learn the material, are based on the understanding of artistic principles and additional concepts that are based in visual art.
  • Jeremy Holien, the Visual and Media Arts Curriculum Specialist at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, the arm of the State government concerned with arts education, would be a good resource person to help walk us through this process of reworking our current laundry list of non arts area classes that also do not have the necessary standards embedded in them, purporting to deliver the arts credit.  His contact information is:, 763-591-4776.

A downloadable listing of the revised Minnesota Arts Standards may be found by clicking here

Kevan Nitzberg
Art Dept. Chair
Anoka H.S.

Monday 11. 9.09

2009 AEM Fall Conference

Good day,

I am writing this from the 2009 AEM Fall Conference that is being held at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, MN

As one of the presenters at this year’s conference, I found myself bringing all sorts of technology-based equipment with me in order to be able to facilitate my workshop sessions.  To show my iMovie Photomontage projects and Minnesota High School League’s Visual Art Competition judges’ training materials, I not only brought my DVDs and printed handouts to give to the participants, but also needed to able to show the videos, Power Points and electronic documents that I had brought to share.  That created a need for the laptop, the LCD projector, the DVD player, a separate audio speaker, a laser pointer, additional DVD blanks and cases to burn and distribute additional copies of DVDs as needed.

All of these devices have become fairly standard for presentation formats, but are more and more entering the art classroom environment as well.  My classroom / art room at Anoka H.S. has evolved into a studio / computer lab over the past several years. As I teach various level Drawing classes, AP Studio, AP Art History, Video Computer Art and Commercial Art, I utilize both the designated studio area and the computer / technology area not only as standalone parts of the space I teach in, but also creating a synthesis between both areas of focus as students begin to crossover between those two spheres of artistic creation. 

The technology in the room that I have in my building ironically evolved from the dollars that were distributed to the schools to build the necessary infrastructure needed to be able to deliver computerized standardized tests.  Apart from a standalone art room that I once had, I was in a PC lab prior to my current situation that I shared with other departments. That lab also included 4 older eMacs for video production.  Ironically, as I understand it, Macs are not compatible with the software that is needed to deliver the types of tests that students are now required to take in order to be able to graduate.  My needs as an art teacher, however, made having a Mac lab a necessity to effectively deliver the type of instruction that I need for facilitating the acquisition of skills and dissemination of information.
As such, some of the money that was gleaned from the infusion of those federal dollars has allowed me to have 30 Mac Minis in my studio at school.  Those computers have Adobe Creative Suite and Final Cut Express loaded onto them on top of the iMovie HD software that I use in the making of the photomontage videos. In addition, I also have 6 JVC digital camcorders, a large frame full color printer, a Smart Board, and a document camera attached to the Smart Board for demonstration purposes, that have all allowed my program to grow in scope and depth allowing my students more self direction in being able to develop their artistic and technical skills to levels of achievement which otherwise would be impossible to realize. 

Those skills are becoming more and more important to our present generation of students as they go out into the world and need to be able to draw on those creative thinking skills, visual communication skills and technological literacy skills.  Visual literacy in the 21st century is becoming a much more technology infused concept.  From my own perspective, I am very pleased as an art teacher to be able to help generate that type of learning among my students as well as to share information about the educational tools and processes that I use with other instructors.

Kevan Nitzberg
Art Dept. Chair
Anoka H.S.
Anoka, MN.

Wednesday 11. 4.09

Online Resources

In this age of electronic learning / teaching / communication, and its impact on how we interface with information on a daily basis, we are fortunate to be able to access a wide variety of online educational tools that have provided teachers and students (of all ages), with an abundance of resources.

Among those online resources is the web site, ArtsConnectEd, which is owned and operated by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Walker Art Center in Minnesota. The ArtsConnectEd web site provides all users with an interactive learning environment which affords the visitor the opportunity to do extensive searches for contemporary and historically significant artwork, audio and video material, links to interactive programs, educational collections, and a range of other types of information.

In addition, the site allows the user to build their own collections, encompassing text, image and video, which are then sharable either in an online format or as a printed document.

As one of the trainers, I recently developed a collection dealing with the creation of drawings through an investigatory theme approach. The collection explores a range of strategies and techniques for both coming up with concepts that can be explored in a variety of ways, as well as incorporating images, embedding video links and additional files (including powerpoints), that I had created by turning the latter into pdf documents, which in turn were able to become a part of this particular collection.

As part of the training that I provide to teachers and others interested in learning how to navigate the rich resources that are available in ArtsConnectEd, I am able to share additional information and strategies online on a monthly basis through another educational online resource,

This site provides teachers in all curriculum areas access to free online workshops and chats throughout the year.  Teachers and other interested parties meet in various areas on the online ‘campus’ for the discussions that take place in real time chat.  As the text is html enriched and the chat screens are detachable from the main window, virtual field trips are also taken as part of the sessions. An online calendar is provided to help participants plan their visits ahead of time.  Educators from all over the world take part in both the teaching and the learning.

Hope that you are able to take advantage of these online opportunities!

Kevan Nitzberg