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 12.31.12

New Year’s Resolutions

So the time of year approaches where most every one’s year is coming to an end and we all engage in reflection of the past year.  Radios give us the top 100 hits of the year. TV has the Best of… for 2012.  Then on midnight we will set our New Year’s resolutions.  The quandary for art teachers is that we are only about half way through our year, as professionals.  So we reflect on our personal life and make personal resolutions.  But when do we do this in our professional lives?  Usually by the time the buses pull away from schools we are all singing… “Na, Na, Na-Na, Na, Na, Na-Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Good-bye” and scrambling to see which car follows them out of the lot the quickest.  We are so tired, the last thing we want to do is hold a mirror up to our practice for the past 36 weeks.  I don’t think this will ever change, so instead, let’s focus on a paradigm shift for now.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines assessment as an action "to determine the importance, size, or value of”. Wikipedia defines self-reflection as the capacity of humans to exercise introspection and the willingness to learn more about their fundamental nature, purpose and essence. Wikipedia also defines Educational assessment as the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs.   Assessment can focus on the individual learner, … The final purposes and assessment practices in education depends …, their assumptions and beliefs about …, the origin of knowledge and the process of learning.

As educators we hear many words associated with assessment:
•  Formative: during the project or lesson to aid in ‘forming’ the learning
•  Summative: at the end of the project to determine the success of the learning
•  Performance based: referring to ‘doing’ something more than bubbling in an answer: a task, applying a process, an art project, etc.
•  Objective: suppose to be unbiased and based on criteria
•  Subjective: based on the beliefs and with acknowledgement of a person’s biases. 
•  Formal: usually based on criteria, written, and accompanied by an evaluation or grade
•  Informal: usually casual and may include observation, checklists, rubrics, performance and portfolio assessments, participation, peer and self-evaluation, and discussion

So the paradigm shift I mentioned?  Ask Father Time for an hour to practice a little self-reflection and give yourself a formative, subjective, informal, performance based assessment. 
•  Take a few minutes and reflect on why you like teaching art.  What do you want students to learn by taking your art class? Is it techniques?  How to communicate through images?  To participate in introspection about an issue or feeling?  To think outside the box?  To be the next Michelangelo?
•  Now pull out your lesson plans (in whatever fashion they are in) from September through December.  Ask yourselves some questions… and write down some feedback to yourself.  Remember the best feedback is written comments, not grades.  Grades are a stopping point and summative, you want comments you can grow and learn from, formative in nature. 
•  At this rate, will I address all the standards to allow for mastery for my students? 
•  What have I focused on because I am most comfortable in that medium, technique, style, etc.?  What is lacking in my instruction? 
•  Where are my students struggling? Is there a way to teach it a different way?
•  Are my students going through the motions or are they truly engaged in the projects?  Are they invested emotionally? Or just on the surface?  Am I?
•  Have I taken care of my creativity?  Am I learning?  Am I taking risks with my art?  Can I expect students to do this when I haven’t? 
•  What were my intentions or goals (resolutions) for this school year?  Am I still working on them?  How did I get sidetracked?
•  Take a look at the written feedback you have given yourself.  What value do you assign it?  Can it help you improve?  Does it give you new direction?  Are the lessons addressing your purpose?  Are you communicating through your art (your teaching) your fundamental beliefs? 

Okay, Father Time says times up… Now what is your ‘new year’s’ resolution? 

-Cheryl Maney

Friday 12.28.12

Speaking the Same Language: Integration of Common Core

There are a lot of words that educators use interchangeably when discussing integration: interdisciplinary, infused, integrated, multidisciplinary, etc.  When working with teachers, I typically begin with the definitions provided by Heidi Ann Jacobs in Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation and move on from there.  For this post, what is most important to take away is that I define integration as a method of instruction that weaves together knowledge and/or skills from more than one discipline to focus on one concept or idea.  I look at integration in a matter of degrees and when its hottest is when students have learned from discipline based and interdisciplinary experiences.  Some of us are comfortable in hot climates while others prefer more moderate or cooler ones.  As teachers we must identify standards in the disciplines that we are striving for students to master; provide instruction that addresses those standards; and assess the learning.  It is imperative to uphold the integrity of each discipline.  No hitchhiking allowed!  Hitchhiking is a term a teacher suggested that refers to using one discipline to motivate learning in another.  A 3rd grade classroom teacher might preview a story, define difficult words, conduct a group reading, and then ask students to illustrate the story to check for their comprehension.  This teacher is using visual arts as a motivator for the students.  She has not taught anything about visual arts.  Not even as simple as discussing art that tells stories or communicates ideas or even comparing the setting of the story as the background in the art.  Forcing connections when you are not comfortable is not allowed either.  If you cannot see the connection, you probably will not be able to teach about it to students either.

When I began teaching, integration came to me as easily as teaching art.  I believe that art is a visual recording of life and life is definitely integrated.  In real life we don’t spend 45 minutes on math and not use those math skills again the rest of the day (though I think my family would say that based on some of the concoctions I made over the holiday that I forgot all about using those measuring math skills in the kitchen.)  It took quite a while to understand that not all teachers, not even all art teachers, integrate as naturally or to the same degree.  So when, as the visual arts curriculum specialist, I was told to provide training to integrate the Common Core into our classes, I knew I might have to deal with tempers, tears, frustration, and rebellion.  In examining the Common Core I discovered information that really helped.  I’ve listed them below so they may help you:
•  The eight Standards of Mathematical Practices:  We ‘train the brain’ to do most of these every time we are in a visual arts class.  Make sense of problems; Reason abstractly; Critique; Use appropriate tools; Attend to precision; Use structure; Look for patterns in reasoning.  Math does not hold the patent on these thinking practices. 
•  Visual arts is a ‘technical subject’.  We have our own language and techniques peculiar to a specific field.  The 6-12 Literacy standards are based on students meeting reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language skills in visual arts and on teachers using their own expertise in visual arts to help them do so.  An exact quote from the Introduction of the Common Core State Standards: It is important to note that the 6–12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those areas but rather to supplement them.  As our students develop as artists, they do need to learn how to communicate about artists and art, both their own and others.
•  Text does not just mean words.  Even Common Core gurus speak about this.  Text can be anything from which you gain information.  To a mechanic, the sound your car makes is ‘text’.  To a chef, taste is text.  To visual artists, paintings, sculptures, photographs are all ‘text’.  Reread the Reading Anchor Standards and substitute art for text. 
•  Common Core State Standards are what students are expected to learn, not what a teacher is expected to teach.  I, alone, as a visual arts teacher, am not expected to teach all of the standards to each student in my class.  Collaboratively, we as teachers in a school are expected to teach those standards.  So while I can certainly address those standards that focus on informational text and arguments (making a stand based on evidence), a different teacher might address the standards that focus on grammar. 

So as we begin to integrate the Common Core State Standards with Visual Arts, think first from an artist’s point of view. 
•  What do you read about?  An artist? A new movement? A technique? The history of a work of art? 
•  What do you write about?  An idea that catches your creativity?  A bio for an exhibit?  A collection exhibited in a gallery? 
•  What do you discuss about? A work of art?  A critique of a work of art by a new artist?  Where you are going in a series?  What vocabulary do you need to know? 
•  What tools do you use for research?  A visit to a museum? The Intranet?  Google’s image bank?  Photographs?  Art history books?  Instructional videos?

Then take a look at the Common Core State Standards: Anchor Standards.  Using a new lens you might be surprised at how easily you can address these standards in your visual arts class and how you can assess the learning that takes place.  You might even ‘see’ that you already speak the same language.  And you may even be amazed at how naturally integration comes to you.

-Cheryl Maney

Tuesday 12.18.12

Collaborative Creation

Of the four main arts disciplines (theatre arts, dance, music, and visual arts), people tend to think of visual arts as being an ‘individual’ art.  The majority of our lessons are conducted for individual response from a student.  We often encourage students to create art with a personal voice.  So what do we do when trying to address the 21st century skill of collaboration (apparently collaboration was a skill of the future in the 1900’s..)?  Teachers have tried different methods by including discussion in the ‘generating ideas’ component of an assignment; implementing  formative peer critiques; creating research projects where students collaborate to develop the report etc.  Review the Wikipedia definition of collaboration: a process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, … a deep, collective, determination to reach an identical objective by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.  Teachers realize the methods mentioned above really do not get at the heart of the collaborative process.

Now take a look at the many career pathways oriented around the visual arts.  The majority of them utilize collaborative creation in some degree.  Therefore, as we prepare students to live and work in the 21st century, not only do we need to teach them to collaboratively problem solve, but also to collaboratively create.  The concept behind collaboration is not reflective of one person with an idea that recruits others to assist them in making a physical object of their idea.  When people collaborate as they create, they work together to develop the idea as well as the object.  So the give and take, critique, alter, and refinement is part of the entire process from concept to production.  Certainly as people are learning, a leader may arise in the group.  However, this leader must take care to conduct themselves as a facilitator and mediator rather than a director. 

While in Cuba, the NAEA research group visited a local gallery which showed art from three different artists.  As the curator showed us their work, I noticed several similar works of art.  She explained the process they were using.  Three artists came up with a theme which they interpreted in their own way and 2-D medium.  Then they came together to determine how to merge their interpretations in a 3-D work of art.  The artists had found this collaborative process was pushing their boundaries and changing both their reaction to events and the art resulting from these reactions.

North Carolina Art Education Association decided to commission artist Kevin Reese of School Sculptures to facilitate the creation of a mobile representing the new direction our state was taking with the standard course of study.  Kevin followed the same process he has done when creating mobile and stabiles with students around the world.  Different groups of our members participated in the different components of creating our 21st Century High Flying Mobile: contributing ideas for the design; developing and vetting the design; cutting the shapes; painting and fireproofing the shapes and wires; connecting the shapes and cables; balancing the parts; and installing the mobile. 



Mobile 3

Mobile 4
As a visual artist (and sometimes control freak) the thought of giving up part of my creative rights was very troubling and in the past, I have shied away from these situations.  As art educators we are skilled in ‘visualizing’ a process or a completed work of art.  But there is much to be learned by actually participating and experiencing the process.  So recently, I purposefully put myself in the middle of this learning process.  I sent designs to Kevin and participated in the installation at the Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh. So what did I learn by endeavoring to participate in this process?  Working collaboratively is really a freeing experience.  I could propose most anything I wanted, but I was not the only one responsible for what was created.  I was able to generate ideas not constricted by practical issues of how they would be balanced.  When the design was made in full scale, I was able to enjoy ‘reading’ the art and seeing how ideas were transformed and implemented.  And as it was installed, I marveled at how the work of over 100 teachers came together to create a wonderful work of art that made readily apparent the balanced curriculum we are striving towards. 

It is not just art teachers that are developing ways for our students to collaboratively create.  Graffiti artists are also transforming into a new genre, ‘street art’.  Street art is a fairly new term, moving away from the alpha, numeric, and symbolic images associated with graffiti and moving towards more conceptual, abstract and even 3-D art.  Some street artists are beginning to combine installation art (site specific art that involves changing a space) and street art and observing the effect on people as they now interact with the site or art.  In 2011, the North Carolina Art Education Association Professional Development Conference members participated in a ‘Flashdraw’.  They created ‘still-life’ drawings of their environment on 3x3 Post it notes as they lined the downtown streets of Charlotte.  ‘Suits’ going to work were intrigued with the activity and some even were the recipients of an original work of art to remind them to take notice of the art and design in the world around them.  You can learn more about street art in ARTnews, Jan. 2011 issue.  As an art teacher I can easily envision art students conducting experiments with installation or street art to observe the reactions of their classmates. 

Participatory art is an approach which directly engages the viewer or audience as co-artist in the creative process.  The art builds upon each person’s interaction with the medium.  This year the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools 7th graders will take a tour of three museums, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art; Gantt Center for African American Art + Culture; and The Mint Museum.  After the tour they will create an ‘eye-cube’, six square works of art formed into a cube that show through images and words what they learned and connections they made between the exhibits and life.  All 10,000+ cubes will be loaded into the three museums and attendees to Community Day will use the cubes as their medium to build their reactions to the exhibits.  The 7th graders are very enthusiastic about the project and their anticipation of seeing how their cubes are used is palpable.  You can learn more about participatory art in ARTnews, Jan. 2011 issue.  Some critics reject the concept of participatory art as art because not all participants are artists and suggesting that it negates the training that professional artists have completed.  I prefer to follow Picasso’s train of thought: Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. Participatory art overcomes those walls and barriers that society quietly erects.  It frees our inner artist to take a risk and throw out a personal reaction, idea, or thought.  And with that, we are back to square one. 

So what do you think?  Have you ever participated in collaborative creation of art?  Participatory art?  Street or Installation Art?  What did you learn as an artist?  How did it help you grow?  Have you developed lessons or projects for students so they can participate in one of these processes?  What were the results?

-Cheryl Maney

Monday 12. 3.12

The Digital Immigrant

What has social networks brought us?  The general viewpoint is that our ability to engage in face to face conversations and our quality of social engagement is deteriorating at a rapid pace in adults and is almost extinct in teenagers, society’s digital natives.  People lament that students spend so much time texting, tweeting, surfing, and operating on social networks that they cannot be social in person.  This leads those same ‘people’ to assume those teenagers are not engaged in life unless it is through their thumbs and a technological interface. 

Not so fast… we all know what happens when you assume.  Here is what this digital immigrant has observed.  Students are so connected that they are much more aware of life in the world than most of us over 35 ever even thought about being at their age.  Add that to the economic state of the world with the decreased jobs opportunities for teenagers and you get a perfect storm of teenagers with time,  energy and empathy to help those in need even when they themselves need help.  As a curriculum specialist in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in NC, I am in and out many different schools.  From my observations students are more willing to collaborate for a cause than ever before.  

So why did I choose this topic for an art education website?  As art educators, we have the unique capability of harnessing this store of energy, mixing it with their artistic skills, and using the combination for community service or for advocacy of a cause.   Propose some projects.  Let students determine what appeals to them. Then get out of the way, stepping in only to facilitate as needed.  Students will use technology to advocate for their cause, group text a rallying call for assistance, tweet the event to increase awareness and then post the results on a social network.  These types of projects help students learn how to engage in life with hands and heart and in face to face situations, but they also allow students to use technology as a tool to increase the impact of their service. 

Interested?  Here are some projects started by art teachers:

Pinwheels for Peace: CMS has had over 50 schools participating. Imagine the impact when drivers pass the school and see a field of brightly colored pinwheels.

Empty Bowls: Our schools regularly participate in this event.  Students raised material donations of food, clay and glaze from local vendors.  Then sold the bowls filled with soup to raise money.  Material cost: $0, Donated Money: $4000.  Our inaugural year 3 high schools participated.  Since then we have increased the number of schools and our giving. 

Teenage Health Luncheon:  A high school class created sculptural books about vegetables and fruits to be used as centerpieces for a luncheon raising money for an organization that supports teens that need assistance for physical, mental, and social health.  

Sculptural Books at South Meck 030

Sculptural Books at South Meck 056
Has anyone tried one of these or any other artistic community service project?  What were the results?  Has one of your students started their own community service project that uses their own art skills?  Let’s use this blog as a way to spread the word…come on… even those technology immigrants can use it!

-Cheryl Maney