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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Wednesday 11.30.11

Time Flies!

And here it is, the end of November and my final post as NAEA Monthly Mentor. I had not written or “blogged” prior to this experience, and I must say that I’ve really enjoyed it.

In my previous posts, I’ve argued for the use of “Big” or enduring ideas to focus curriculum planning. I’ve mentioned that this approach is certainly not mine, but is an approach consistent with what many others in our field and in education, writ large, have been promoting.

Leaders within the TETAC project, a project mentioned in an earlier post, developed a diagram to map curriculum planning based on enduring ideas. This can be found on p. 18 of Rethinking Curriculum in Art. The diagram shows how, in planning a unit of instruction, we identify the idea that will ground the unit, along with, 1. a rationale that explains why it is important to understand the enduring idea, 2. a list of artworks, artifacts, artists, and so on that will serve to animate or “bring to life” the idea, 3. three or four key concepts and three or four (essential) questions that are related to and deepen understanding of the enduring idea, and 4. a list of objectives, stated broadly, that capture the understandings that the unit will aim to teach. Note that we also plan what we refer to in the chart as an “end of unit performance task,” for which we designate a plan to assess the extent to which students ultimately come to understand the enduring idea and key concepts.
The TETAC diagram also shows how individual lessons, including various inquiry-based activities, allow students to explore the key concepts and essential questions of the unit. My students and I have found this chart to be very helpful in planning curriculum. This also is the approach that my colleagues and I have embraced in our art education program at Kutztown University.

When my colleague, Eldon Katter, and I developed the middle school textbook program for Davis Publications, we welcomed the opportunity to show how curriculum can be organized around “big” or enduring ideas. We, like some other art educators, had been influenced by the writings of Ernst Boyer, who was commissioner of education under President Jimmy Carter and served for 16 years as president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Dr. Boyer presented the notion of developing K-16 curriculum around what he called “Human Commonalities.” These commonalities provided the basis for the thematic curriculum in the middle school and then, later, when we also wrote the elementary textbooks, Explorations in Art.

Curriculum Resources
In what follows, I wish to give you a head’s up on some other resources for teaching with enduring ideas, just in case you are unaware of them.

Craft In America
For three seasons, PBS has run the Craft in America series. Each segment is based on a theme, and over the years, these big ideas have included Memory, Landscape, Community, Origins, Process, Messages and Family, with more to come in the next year or two. Once on the website, you are able to view the complete video series online. In addition, instructions for purchasing the videos, should you wish to have them in your possession, are available on the site.

I have worked with a team of art educators, Amy Bloom, Dolores Eaton, Lise Dube Scherr, and Kathleen Walck, to create the Educator Guides for the series. The Educator Guides contain suggestions for viewing and discussing the videos and various related topics, as well as suggestions for art making. In addition, each back issue of School Arts magazine for the years 2007-08 and 2008-09 has resources for teaching with the Craft in America series. The magazine is available in digital format, including past issues. Here is an example from 2008:
CRAFT IN AMERICA, Inc. is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization with a mission to promote and advance original handcrafted work, through educational programs in all media. In addition to information and video clips of the artists featured in the television series, the website has hundreds of images of craft objects and links to many additional craft artists’ websites. This really is a wonderful resource for craft traditions, artists, and processes.

Looking and Learning
For the last two years, a team of art teachers and I have produced a four-page pullout section, “Looking and Learning,” for School Arts magazine. This is another resource that demonstrates how big or enduring ideas can be brought to life through a consideration of contemporary and traditional art objects from around the world and throughout time. Here’s the October, 2011, Looking and Learning 8-page pullout based on the theme, “Responding to Nature:”

The Dinner Party Curriculum Project
You may know about Judy Chicago’s iconic artwork, The Dinner Party, but you may not know that a team of art educators created a curriculum resource for which the artwork is a catalyst.

This comprehensive curriculum framework contains what we call, “Encounters,” each of which has many different suggestions for exploring such contemporary topics as women’s achievements in history, issues of race, gender and class, art and social activism, and feminism, among others.

In addition to the online curriculum, The Dinner Party Curriculum Project includes a summer institute for teachers, held each year at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. During this institute, we explore the various curricular perspectives and pathways generated through a careful consideration of the artwork. We visit the Brooklyn Museum where we meet up with Judy Chicago to explore The Dinner Party in its new permanent home in the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art,

We’ve created a website about the institute to share what we do and provide information for those who would like to join us.

Thank you!
Thanks to Linda Scott at NAEA for inviting me to serve as the November Mentor. I certainly have enjoyed posting some of my thoughts and hearing from you through the website and through emails. I’m happy to say that Davis Publications has asked me to continue to “blog” on their website. So, look for an announcement on the Davis Publications site,, early in 2012. My best wishes to you as you look around you and find evidence of the human spirit and as you dig deeply for relevant and provocative ideas to ground your curriculum.

-Marilyn Stewart

Wednesday 11.23.11

Turkeys in December

Kutztown University, where I teach, began as Keystone State Normal School, where individuals spent two years preparing to be teachers.  Later, it became Kutztown State College, and then, eventually, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.  Teacher preparation is still a significant mission here.  My department, the Department of Art Education and Crafts, is one of three visual arts departments.  We are all housed in the Sharadin Arts Building, named in memory of Professor Henry William Sharadin, professor of art for 30 years, 20 of them as Art Department Chair.

My friend and colleague, Dr. Thomas Schantz, sent this old photograph to me today.  It shows Professor Sharadin on the left and a young man who might be his student teacher, on the right.  What do you think they’re up to?  Check out the drawings on the chalkboard, and then notice the date.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Marilyn Stewart

Tuesday 11.22.11

The 20-Year Test

Whenever I talk about curriculum, I talk about what I call “The 20-Year Test.”  Here’s how it goes:

Imagine that you are in the produce section of your local market, twenty years from now.  Another shopper sees you and comes over to speak, saying, “I remember you!  You were my art teacher twenty years ago."

This actually happens, by the way. 

Okay, so I want you think about what you want to know—when you smile back at this student of yours from long ago—what you want to know that this now-adult-person understands as a result of her or his time with you and your art program. 

This adult shopper—your ex-student—is not likely to be working as an artist when you meet.  However, regardless of what your student from the past is doing with her or his life, think about what you would want this person to understand—deeply—about art and our experiences with art.  

If you have a minute to do this, write it down: Twenty years from now, I want my students to understand _____________________. 

Allow me to share how a few other art teachers have completed the prompt.  They said:

I want my students to understand that:

•    Art is for all of us.
•    Throughout the world and over time, humans have used art to express their values and beliefs.
•    People can communicate moods, feelings, and ideas through artworks they make.
•    Objects can reveal what people believe and care about.
•    The arts engage and celebrate the human spirit.
•    Images have power and meaning.

Notice that these are BIG ideas—what many people refer to as “enduring” ideas.  These are the kinds of ideas/understandings that we want our students to take with them into adulthood.  We want them to have these and other understandings so that they will have the tendency to participate in the arts as adults—as makers and/or as responders—and receive all of the benefits that an arts-filled life has to offer. 

And this is where, given the season, I’ll ask, “Can we TALK?

Whenever I’ve given the prompt about what they want their students to UNDERSTAND about art as adults, most art teachers say the sorts of things that I’ve listed above.  I think, really, that wanting our students to deeply understand these things is why we get up in the morning.  Over and over again, I’ve asked art teachers to share what they hope their students understand, deeply, as a result of their time with them.  Over and over again, all over the country, art teachers respond with ideas similar to those above.  So, you might ask, “What’s the problem?”

Alignment.  I think that’s the problem!

Let me explain.  A concern I have is that while these ideas are important to us, we rarely actually share them with our students.  In my experience, I’ve found that we teachers tend to think that students will come to understand these things automatically, if only they are exposed to a lot of art teaching.  According to this view, as students see and talk about artworks, as they use a variety of materials and techniques, as they draw, paint, make collages, sculpture, prints, and more…they will come to understand the enduring ideas about art that undergird our teaching. 

Not so.  What we have come to realize is that this is simply not enough.  We cannot expect students to understand these ideas without letting them in on the plan.  We need to articulate the idea, post it, repeat it, and bring it to life with planned experiences through which students investigate and explore it.

Alignment means that if we want our students to understand, for example, that “Images have power and meaning” (one of the ideas listed above), then we need to align our instruction—how we engage our students in inquiry and investigation—with that idea.  We need to be purposeful and teach in a way that students will come to understand what we intend for them to understand.  

“Right!” you say.  “Easy enough!” 

I don’t think it’s all that easy.  I think it takes a lot of work, at least initially, to make sure that, first of all, as we plan curriculum, we plan it around “enduring” or “Big” ideas that we want our students to carry with them into adulthood.  It means that we need to figure out a way to have such ideas come alive for our students.  We need to make choices about the artworks, objects, artifacts, and images that we will introduce in order to animate enduring ideas.  We need to figure out age-appropriate ways for students to grapple with the ideas so that they integrate them into the way they think about the world.  We also need to construct ways (and even invite students to assist in constructing ways) for students to demonstrate their understanding of these ideas. 

This is all very challenging, but I believe it’s worth it.  How often have you been introduced as an art teacher in a group only to have at least one of the group members come to you and tell you something negative about her or his experiences in art class? How often do people say to us, “I can’t draw a straight line, “ as if getting people to draw well (which usually means realistically) is the only thing that an art program aims to do?

When this happens to me, I get sad, realizing that the person probably has not been helped to see how art is so integral to our experience as humans.  I realize that she or he will probably not be inclined to look around and find evidence of the human spirit expressed through things that people have made. 

The 20-Year Test reminds us that as we plan day-to-day experiences for our students, we need to keep an eye on why we will do whatever it is we are planning to do.  We need to ask how the activities we plan will connect to and bring to life the enduring ideas that we want our students to take with them into adulthood.  This planning needs to be purposeful, and our students need to become partners with us in the investigative, and even the planning, process.

Some of you may recognize this emphasis on teaching with “enduring” or “big” ideas as a direction in which education, in general, and art education, in particular, has been going.

Many schools have adopted an approach to planning put forward by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, in their book, Understanding By Design.
4Understanding By Design 

In our own field of art education, the book, Rethinking Curriculum in Art, by Sydney Walker and me, provides an approach for developing arts curricula based on enduring or big ideas.  This approach was developed within a project entitled TETAC (Transforming Education Through the Arts Challenge), which was a five-year project involving 35 schools school in six national sites. 

5Rethinking Curriculum in Art

Does your school require that you plan with “enduring” or “Big” ideas?  Have you tried to do this in your own curriculum planning? How do these kinds of ideas figure in the curriculum work that you do?  I’d love to hear from you!

-Marilyn Stewart

Friday 11.11.11

Looking Around, Finding Spirit

In my last post, I showed images of some things that I found by just looking around in my local community.  I mentioned that I am always struck by the objects that people make.  When we ordinary people make something—snow people, topiary birds, birthday cakes, garden sculptures, paintings, quilts, and so on—we often figure out how to share it with others.  It seems to be important to us humans, not only to make things, but also to share or display what we make.  We see this when we drive through a neighborhood and see seasonal hand-crafted decorations displayed on doors and porches. 

One of my favorite late summer outings is a visit to the “domestic arts” exhibit hall at a local, county or state fair.  I love seeing the flower arrangements and canned goods, for example, and other displays in which “the look” of the finished product is what counts.  There are displays of quilts, of course, and other kinds of handwork.  The local school districts display children’s two and three-dimensional artworks, but there are also extensive displays of paintings, photographs and pottery made by adults.  When I see members of my community shopping at our local grocery store, I often wonder who, among them, are the people who take the photographs, paint the paintings, and create the pottery, quilts, and canned goods that end up on display each September at the Oley Valley Fairgrounds.

This year, the local fair had a special competition in which people had the opportunity to participate in a Decorated Bowling Pin Contest.  I could not believe how many people took up the challenge!

When you take the time to look around, you find wonderful visual evidence of the human spirit. Sometimes it just seems to take hold of you, like the time I was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and simply had to stop and meet whoever had created the brightly colored creatures behind the chain-link fence I was about to pass by.


Sam McMillan, known as “The Dot Man,” paints just about every surface he encounters.  With his wonderful playful spirit, he, like so many of us, finds joy in making.  One finds signs of this spirit all around his home and his studio next door.  Here he is on the front porch of his home, followed by images of the exterior and interior of his studio. 



Many people have visited Sam McMillan over the years, and some have uploaded videos of their visits. Here’s one that I especially like:

When it comes to curriculum, I start here—with ordinary people making things, and in the process, revealing the human spirit.   And then I ask the question, “Why do people make things?” The images I’ve shown thus far reveal a tendency to “make things look nice,” or “fancy” or “beautiful.” People tend to decorate their environment.  Sometimes they work within traditions—like the topiary tradition, for example, that goes back to at least the time of the ancient Romans.  Other times, like with Sam, people simply wish to embellish and thus enhance or personalize their surroundings. 

People make things for other purposes, as well.  While traveling through Kentucky after a family reunion in Lancaster, KY, once again my car came to a dramatic stop when I looked across the road and saw acre upon acre of decorated gravestones.






I’ve been told that throughout the Midwest, there is a tradition of decorating gravestones in this manner.  I was struck by how carefully the decoration of each monument was planned in terms of color and placement of the plastic flowers.  But surely, this practice is part of a long human tradition, all over the world and throughout time, of honoring those who have gone before us. 

We often see evidence of this tradition in roadside memorials. 


These are private expressions in public places. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Maya Lin continues a long tradition of people in communities creating public memorials to honor the dead.

We can find examples of this very human practice of creating special objects and spaces to honor the dead in every culture throughout time.  This is an important purpose we humans have for making things. 

When I think about what is important for our students to understand about art and the human experience, this is one of the ideas to which I point.  I want to underscore and explore this purpose for art making. 

This is what I mean when I say that in creating curriculum, I begin with people making things.  I then go to an exploration of their reasons for doing so.  We’ve looked at two purposes here, in this post—to embellish or enhance our surroundings and to honor those who have gone before us.  By looking around our world, we find evidence of the human spirit.  We also find enduring ideas about art and the human experience.  In doing so, we uncover some important ideas for grounding curriculum in art.

Once again, I would love to hear from you about how you incorporate enduring ideas such as these in the curricula that you create.  

-Marilyn Stewart

Tuesday 11. 1.11

Hello Everyone!

I am honored to be the NAEA Mentor for the month of November, 2011.  This is my first time as a “blogger” and I’ve been looking forward to it.   You may know that I teach at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, where we have a very large undergraduate art education program, consisting of anywhere from 250 – 300 undergraduate art education majors and approximately 100 graduate students actively enrolled in our M.Ed. in Art Education program.  With all of these wonderful students and an equally wonderful group of colleagues, I am surrounded daily by the issues and possibilities we face as art educators.  Throughout the month of November, I hope to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned over the years, report on some of the experiences that my students and I have had along with thoughts we’ve had as a result, and raise questions for us all to consider.

I’ve said so many times, “I’m a curriculum person!”  This means, I suppose, that for as long as I can remember being involved in art teaching, I’ve cared about curriculum—what it is, what it might be, how to work with others to create it, how to share it, how to get rid of it when it’s not working, and so on.  In addition to the role that curriculum development plays in my own day-to-day teaching, thinking about and creating curriculum for art has taken up most of my professional life.  Much of what will appear in my posts over the next few weeks will have to do with curriculum.   I can’t help it, first of all.  Secondly, I think most art educators like to think about curriculum. 

We tend to think about curriculum because we really do care about what our students learn.  Art teachers tend to be passionate about making sure that their students learn to love art as much as they do.  We want our students to understand how important art is in our lives as human beings.  We generally have broad definitions of art, extending our interest toward things that human beings make and have made for hundreds of years, for lots of different uses.  We get excited when we see something that another person has created, whether it is polished and sophisticated or raw and untutored. 

I’m especially fond of “raw and untutored,” but, probably like you, love all kinds of art.  Here are some images of things I’ve found as I roam around the streets of Kutztown, Pennsylvania or the beautiful rural roadways surrounding the borough:         
I don’t know who made the snow people.  I spotted them in town one day as the snow was beginning to melt.  Bill Fox, a local retired mailman, created the bird topiary and a whole lot more of its kind, along with many other forms of “yard art” on the grounds of this one-room schoolhouse that he and his wife, Dorothy, have restored about a mile outside of town.

So, you ask, what does this have to do with curriculum?   Perhaps this is a good place to stop for the day, and turn that question back to you.  I’d love to read some of your ideas about that.

My next post will consider these and other things that we art teachers tend to love, and how we might turn our passions into curriculum that makes a difference in the lives of our students. 

-Marilyn Stewart