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 04.30.12

Autism Awareness Month

Considering that April is Autism Awareness month I feel that it is only appropriate for me to end my time as April’s monthly mentor with an article on autism. For my Graduate Studio Thesis I had the opportunity to collaborate with a group of youth with autism. I proposed the project of drawing where you buy your food. I worked closely with these individuals and noted their artistic process as they moved from understanding what food they eat, and then in turn where that food comes from. I took note of their brilliance in the breakup of their understanding of this artistic problem.

The final results they were presenting to me revealed a unique and individualistic interpretation of their experiences of the place where they purchase their food. What was most striking to me was these students’ ability to pull out and represent an aspect of these places that they valued as highly important. What was even more impressive was their ability to represent what the place was without the other elements. Every child’s artwork was individualistic to them, however, they all shared some common threads.  I witnessed a reoccurring breakdown of the artistic process. Instead of starting by drawing where they bought their food over and over again I was seeing students either list the food they like to eat, draw the food they like to eat, or collect images of the food they like to eat. It was from here that I began to see students draw the origins of this food. Every student chose to represent this place by pulling out an element that they felt was the most important to them.

One student chose to draw only the windows of a building while another student chose to draw the item they buy from this place on a shelf. What was even more interesting was that the students did not bother to draw the shelf itself or the walls that the windows were attached to. These details were unimportant and obvious.  These students were creating artwork at an intellectual level that I have had to train for years to reach.  They helped me to slow down and consider every aspect of an experience in order to fully understand my own perceptions of it, and take note of the things in life that make an experience meaningful to me. I will never be able to thank them enough for taking the time to create artwork with me and teach me the immeasurable benefits of taking the time to notice the brilliance of each and every child.

-Sarah Damiano

Wednesday 04.25.12

The 21st Century Learner

The first advice about teaching I ever received was “Get to know your learner.” This piece of advice has stuck with me over the years and has proved time and time and time again to be a key component in running a successful art classroom. We must analyze the learners of the 21st century.  This has been a hot topic in education recently and understandably so. Our times are changing and therefore our students are changing as well.

This new role of the student matched with the new role of the educator sets up a forum for research. The 2012 NAEA conference focused on the melding of theory and practice. This idea should become the theme for the 21st century classroom. Our students have unprecedented access to information that they can digest at the level they are at. If we allow our students to be researchers in our classroom they will bring to the table information they have found and are interested in learning and analyzing. In a presentation given at the Maryland Institute College of Art during the NAEA student chapter annual conference keynote speaker Dan Barney discussed a unit he did with his students concerning dress. As the educator he did not give them a specific prompt, but allowed them to research the topic and delve into an area that they found meaningful.

At Baltimore City Neighbors Charter School middle school students participate in a year-long research study. Students from the school are able to choose any topic they would like from sports to peanuts. The principal there talked about a student who did a project on cheese. It, however, is not the topic that is important it is the skills these students are developing that will prepare them for the world they are living in. The P21 partnership has developed a skills map for the 21st century learner that outlines the types of skills students will need to enter into the current workforce. This skills map highlights the need for a melding of 21st century skills and themes into core curriculum. The partnership advocates for the necessity  to teach life and career skills, Information, Media, and Technology Skills, Learning and Innovation Skills, and assess 21st century themes along with the core content areas.


-Sarah Damiano

Works Cited:
1.    . "Life and Career Skills-The Partnership for 21st Century Skills." The partnership for 21st century skills. N.p., 2011. Web. 25 Apr 2012. <>.
2.     Gude, Olivia. "" UIC Spiral Art Education. Falmer Press, New York, NY., 2000. Web. 25 Apr 2012. <>.
3.    "21st Century Skills Map." . National Art Education Association, April 15 2010. Web. 25 Apr 2012. <>.
4.    Moore, Leslie. "Testimony by Leslie Moore for Arts Map." 21st Century Skills Map. (2010): 1. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <>.

Monday 04. 2.12

The Emerging Art Educator

I am in the midst of finishing up my second student teaching placement and transitioning into the real world of art education. I have learned a lot from my time at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I know that I will carry with me the advice and mentorship I have received from my colleagues, my professors, my cooperating teachers, and my students. I hope to offer some insight about what being an emerging art educator means and why it is important to find your own voice in this profession. How do you now make use of this toolbox you have created in a way that supports your personal pedagogy? I am only beginning to answer this question. Over the next month I want to highlight some of the miraculous learning environments and teaching moments that I have witnessed, and the ways in which they have inspired my approach to teaching.

I want to start off by highlighting a simple moment I witnessed while observing a kindergarten class in Baltimore City. A group of students noticed a cricket on the floor and crawled under the table to look at it. Instead of reprimanding the students for being on the floor when the teacher came over she asked them “what do you see?” The students pointed to the cricket. The teacher then took advantage of this moment. She obtained four magnifying glasses and crawled under the table with them to examine it. This simple moment has taught me a great deal about assumptions, and the importance of harnessing student curiosity.  Maria Montessori once said, “Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.”

The concept has allowed me to develop a greater understanding of the children I work with, and how they reach those pivotal moments of comprehension. I have noticed how aiding students to answer their own questions leads to not only deeper engagement, but also greater retention.  Art making is full of discoveries, and there is no greater reward then helping students make them.

-Sarah K. Damiano