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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Friday 07.30.10

What can one person do?

As you begin the new year think about what you as an art teacher can do to further the message of the importance of art education. I have talked all month about assessment and how it validates what we do in very tangible ways. Think about how you can deliver the message about the importance of arts to your students, staff, administrators, parents and community.

You have the power to inform people about the importance of the arts for all students. Think about ways to deliver your message, to get people involved, to spread the word about how creativity is one of the most important tools a student carries into his future. Along with creativity students need to have the ability to persevere and want to continue to grow and learn.

According to recent studies, their has been a decrease in children's creativity over the last decade. Why? The drill and kill mentality has taken over our schools. We need to show the people who make decisions the importance of creativity, problem solving, ingenuity and perseverance in our educational setting. Invite people in to see what children do in your classroom. Do staff presentations and get classroom teachers excited about teaching using the arts. Post statements that demonstrate the level of learning taking place in your classroom by your students. Have students write artist's statement that reflect the level of learning going on with their work.

We are a necessity but we must stand up and let our voices be heard. Remember the squeaky wheel gets oiled, be the squeaky wheel about your art program. Let everyone know how important the arts are to children's development and education. Start the new school year by becoming a banner waver for the arts! I wish you a successful school year filled with creativity, support and most of all FUN!

-Rosie Riordan

Tuesday 07.27.10

How does assessment help you with advocacy?

In the last segment I talked about how student reflection statements can be a great way to show administrators what we do and how important we are to the educational process. I think many times we think what we do is obvious to an outsider.  We say to ourselves, how can someone look at a great piece of student art and not see the value? I think because we have an educated palette we assume everyone does, but many people had little or no training in the arts growing up.

I am so fortunate to teach in a district where art is valued and is taught by certified art teachers k-12. But does that mean that our district holds the arts in high esteem, or every administrator values it in the same way? Some administrators put money behind programs or make sure time is protected or don't allow students to be pulled from art classes for any reason. But some teachers in our district also struggle with low funded programs, constant interruptions and being treated as plan time.

What can we do to advocate for ourselves ? What are we doing to help administrators understand what is going on in our classrooms? I think inviting them into your classroom to see they type of learning that goes on is an important first step. Show them how you connect learning, how math, science, social studies or other subjects play into the arts. Many times administrators think of art only in terms of the beauty on the walls. Creating and displaying learning statements is a powerful way to demonstrate all the different levels of thinking and problem solving that occurs in the art room.

Each teacher needs to show their staff and their administration, their school board, their community that arts are critical to every child's development. Carol Channings was on a TV show where she stood up and powerfully pleaded to maintain the arts for all children especially the very neediest. We need to show, tell, display, advocate, preach do whatever it takes to bring our message to the people.

When you display art in your community, let people know. When your students do a project to support a worthy cause contact the media. Wherever you go in your community,  or your school, let people know what your students are doing and what they learned from their experience. Students can become the greatest advocates for their programs. Give them opportunities to speak about their art and what they are learning its one of the most powerful tools is your classroom.

I love to invite an administrator down for a critique so they can witness the level of understanding and the power of students work. At the elementary level one of my best tools was parents week in the art room. I invited all parents to attend art class with their students. They were required to do the project along with their students. It was the best advocacy tool for my program because my parents would fight about which ones would attend with their child. It became the most important date on the calendar. The best comment I received was from a parent who said, "when I was a kid, all we ever did was color, I had no idea how much learning was involved with art. I can't imagine not having art." That became a strong mantra for me.
My challenge to you is stand up and be heard, advocate for the ARTS!

-Rosie Riordan

Tuesday 07.20.10

How does writing about art help students in the assessment process?

When I was teaching at the elementary level our vertical team determined we needed to teach our students how to write artist's statements. As a secondary teacher I find it critically important to be able to talk about the work on more than a superficial level. Reading artists statements and then looking at the artist's work gives students a glimpse into the process of how the artist thinks and then ultimately solves a problem. How do you go about teaching students to write an artist's statement?

In our vertical team we talked about getting students to discuss the elements and principles first at the elementary grades. What did they learn about when they were doing the project? Were they exploring color or line or movement? What did they learn about how to use the elements and principles? The simple statements then led to having them talk about how their work made them feel and how they used those ideas to convey an emotion or feeling or idea? What were they trying to say to the viewer? By starting off with the idea of what they did, followed by how they did it, and then what they were feeling, students began to associate with the idea that there was more to art than just making it. They began to realize that the viewer took in their information and were moved or not by what they saw. So now looking at art, they began to look beyond whether they liked it or not and look for what meaning it had for them.

In secondary I found it difficult starting out to get students to talk about why they chose that image, those colors or that composition.More often they would see IDK or I just did. When prodded further to ask so why did you take a picture of that trashcan, you could get them to zero in on what attracted their attention. Further prodding might even reveal why they wanted that picture, what moved them. But as the vertical team started working and as we collectively started using the critical method in all critiques in all classes at our high school, things began to change. Getting students to go beyond the gut response of I like it or thats awesome to reflect on what they really get out of the work can be challenging.

For my AP classes, I learned a trick from my Art Institute interns, Lea Riggs and Shane Jezowski, about critiques. We pair up students and they interview each other about their work. They learn to look at the work through the creators eyes. Then they are responsible for presenting their partners viewpoint and artwork to the class. I have them write in their journals while they are interviewing so they have notes to reflect upon. Its a great way for students to begin to delve into the process and the thinking behind the creating. After critiques, students write an artists statement about their work in their journal which is turned in with their final piece. I find after the critiques that the artists statements are richer and more meaningful.

As the outside world learns more about the importance of art, having students with these reflective skills is critical to our survival. Our classes are more than creating beauty but require creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. WE are essential to education and we must be diligent in conveying that message to administrators. When students work is on display I provide a learning statement about my teaching and students write learning statements about their work. As administrators cruise our halls the start to see what we are doing but more importantly what our students are learning.

Assessment in art is critical to our survival. What are you doing to help administrators understand what is happening in your classroom?

-Rosie Riordan

Thursday 07.15.10

How do you find inspiration? How do you convey to your students the idea of finding new ways to stretch themselves?

Along with assessing art work or critically evaluating it students also need to figure out what inspires them. Many times when students are asked about imagery or symbolism they say they don't know why they chose the images or colors or technique they just did it. I always try to ask questions to get them to think about why they are doing the things they are, whether it’s taking a photo or capturing a particular landscape or responding to another person's work. We do not create work in a vacuum. What is it that inspires you? What type of images capture your attention or grab you? What do you have students do to think about their art and where their ideas come from?

We have a teacher, Jeane Elmer, in our district that taught a class about design thinking and challenged each of us to create an inspiration book or a look book. One idea she suggested was to spend 1- 2 minutes looking at a magazine and just pulling out pages that capture your attention. Not to over think it but just respond to what you see and pull those things that attract your attention. We then took those images and looking at them picking out what we liked and placed them in our journals or look books. The idea was to find new places for inspirations whether it was color or image or type face. She encouraged us to look at magazines or things aren't normally attracted to in order to gain new insights. She had us bring them to a session and share with each other. It was interesting to see other teachers’ books and how they used them in their work or with their classes. 

I used these ideas with my AP students to get them thinking more broadly before selecting their concentration. Many times students get stuck and do the same thing over and over. This process allowed me to push them in different directions. One day was looking at magazines, another was reviewing ART 21 videos, another was looking at artists’ websites or visiting a gallery or having an artist talk about their work and process. The main idea of the process is to get students looking around their environment for inspiration and figuring out where ideas can develop or finding new places of inspiration.

We have another teacher in our district, Sally Jones, that uses art journals with her students especially her AP students. She calls the journals "brain food" and tells students that thinking and planning and dreaming on paper are essential to the full development of ideas. Students need to exercise their brain to think, plan, execute and problem solve their ideas. The idea of the art journal was taken a step further when a teacher at the Baltimore NAEA conference suggested making them on topics and having all students contribute to them and then keeping a library of these idea journals in their classroom. Imagine having a student who says their stuck and referring them to a library of art journals to look at to inspire them.

What do you do when you are having a brain freeze or you feel no inspiration? Where do you go or what do you do to get ideas? How do you find inspiration? How do you convey to your students the idea of finding new ways to stretch themselves? Do you visit a gallery? Do you go for a walk? Do you take out the sketchbook and try some doodling? I think as educators we need to share with our students our own journey. our own path and what inspires us from type face to a floral arrangement to a beautiful sunset or fiery blaze. Be inspired by the process, it’s also about development as well as execution.

-Rosie Riordan

Monday 07.12.10

How do you go about getting your students to look at art on that deeper level?

Looking at art to evaluate with students requires setting up the process of evaluation in specific ways. Students tend to  feel that their work and any discussion of their work is a reflection of them personally. When someone says they don't like something they take it as saying they don't like them and tend to dismiss the comments. Students have to learn to respect each other and their work enough to accept critical comments about their art. Its not just about whether you like the work or not but appreciating what the artist has done, how the work was set up, the meaning it conveys to you, the ideas that are expressed or conveyed and how it will stand the test of time. How do you go about getting your students to look at art on that deeper level?

How do you build that sense of trust in your classroom that allows students to feel comfortable enough with each other to openly and honestly comment on each others work?

In my classroom I start with a series of questions where they interview another person in the class that they don't know and then introduce that student to the class based on what they learned. Each day we have a question of the day asking them to share more non threatening information about themselves to help everyone get to know one another. By building an atmosphere of trust they begin to feel that they can talk to each other.
For the first critique I have them choose a partner and discuss their work with each other. Their job is to find out about the artists intent, how well it was accomplished, what they think is working well and suggestions for improvement. For the critique the partner introduces and defends their partners work. They talk about what the work is about, how well it was accomplished, how the composition is working and the meaning they got out of the work. The actual artist doesn't speak so people are more open to talking about the work. Students begin to get a little more detached from their work and see it as an opportunity to improve their art.

What kinds of things do you do with your students to open up that dialogue? Do you have a specific technique or process? Let me hear from you?

-Rosie Riordan

Tuesday 07. 6.10

Rejuvenate your Creative Battery

Hello again, I hope you are enjoying your summer and are taking time to rejuvenate your creative battery. When we are working with our students, the hardest thing for them to understand is when we critique their work we aren't talking about them but how to make their work better. Students have a tendency when confronted with any type of criticism to say well I like it that way. You have to develop an atmosphere of trust in order for students to open up to each other. They have to understand that what we say to them is to help them get stronger, get better in their work. So how do we frame the criticism so that they listen and then apply it to their work.

Think back on that first critique in college when the instructor was brutally frank and burst your bubble. Somewhere along the way we have to learn to divorce our ego and listen to what people are saying that will help us make our work stronger. It doesn't mean you are a bad artist, it just means we all have things we can work on to make our work stronger. I always like to frame my remarks to students by having the strengths discussed first and then have each student tell them one thing that could make the work stronger. We end discussing the strengths and then what they heard they would like to try to improve their piece.

Sometimes it is difficult to get them to open up and you have to build a sense of team and support. I always start with general questions for them to share the first few minutes of class. Like what their favorite flavor of ice cream is? Who is their favorite super hero and why? What super power they would like to have and why? What person living or dead would they like to talk to and why? We share these and I answer them also as it builds that sense of knowing someone more than just by name. We use this to build a foundation of trust to start our critiques. The first few critiques are by works from the teachers and other students not in the class. As we go through the discussion I ask them to write down in their journal what they got out of the session and how they will use the information in their work. I hope by opening them up before we begin with their work it becomes less a personal affront and more of a learning experience.

Set ground rules in the critique. No this sucks or that's awesome. They have to be specific and explain what something works or doesn't. We always start looking at the strengths sandwich in the criticism and end with the reflection on the positive and how they will use the information. I hope as you are planning for the next school year you will think about talking to your students and evaluating their work. You can start in kindergarten and teach them how to talk about art and appreciate the work for its merits and possibilities. We build better problem solvers when we get them to reflect on their work.

-Rosie Riordan

Friday 07. 2.10

Welcome from your July Mentor

My name is Rosie Riordan and I live and teach in Kansas. I have been active in my state organization and at the regional and national level. I began my teaching career in the early 80's and have taught at every level from preschool to high school. I currently am the dept. chair at Shawnee Mission West high school where I teach everything from Art Studio intro to AP art to jewelry, drawing and sculpture.

As a kid I always wanted to be a teacher. I was part of a special program in the 80's called teacher corp where I taught in the inner city during the day and worked on my masters at night. It was  a grueling 2 years program but gave me experience across the board where I fell in love with igniting the passion for creativity in kids.

Everyday I wake up and celebrate the fact that I love my job and really enjoy my students. Each day is a new challenge and a new experience. Kids deserve to have teachers who love what they do and love teaching. We want to develop life loving learners.

As we journey into the future we have been challenged by NCLB which is basically teaching children not to think. Our job becomes more critical as we help children become active problem solvers, creative thinkers and risk takers. We make it okay to have multiple solutions to every problem we present. We help our students use their minds and expand their creativity by giving them permission to take a risks and not be afraid to fail. I tell my students they can make a million mistakes but work to learn something from them. No one is perfect and we can learn as much from our mistakes as we can from our successes. Our job becomes so important as the way for students to develop and use those 21st century skills.

-Rosie Riordan