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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Tuesday 01.29.13

Wanted: Researchers

This is the era of data-based art education. Research that broadens and deepens knowledge about art teaching and learning may help us to demonstrate the value of art education in this environment of data-based decision-making. When I was teaching elementary school and high school students, I used to make up drawing tests and other activities to give my students so that I could collect data about their progress. At the elementary level, I had approximately 1000 students in six schools, so I was able to gain a lot of information. At that time, I hadn’t thought of doing doctoral studies or what it would mean to conduct publishable research, but I contacted my master’s degree advisor to get help in designing a study and he convinced me to enter a doctoral program.

If you find research engaging, you might consider applying to a Ph.D. program in art education. The primary purpose of doctoral studies is to prepare people to conduct research and construct theory. The field is always in need of good researchers, and as a researcher, you can make large-scale contributions to art education through the publication of your results.

I became a researcher because I had questions not yet addressed in the literature – but also because research can be exciting work. For example, I’ve recently been working with colleagues in an international project that focuses on the peer teaching and auto-didactic learning of adolescents and young adults who are members of self-initiated learning communities, each formed around a type of visual culture (manga, fanart, graffiti, street art, video production, and others). We’ve found some aspects of practice in these visual culture learning communities that we predicted, but we also found some surprising results that suggest important applications for classroom practice (see our article in the Winter issue of Studies in Art Education).

If you are interested in learning more about collecting data in your classroom or conducting research for the field, but are not sure whether this type of work is right for you, consider taking the first step to finding out. Talk to researchers in the field, perhaps at the NAEA convention in Fort Worth. You might surprise yourself!  

-Kerry Freedman

Monday 01.21.13

Visual Research

In the past, I’ve written about the importance of student art-making as part of a visual culture approach to art education (for example, in Art Education, 56(2), 2004) and about the contributions of critical methods to learning in the visual arts.  Visual research is another type of study fundamental to contemporary art and design education at all levels.  

Visual research is the use of media techniques to document or generate information that increases, enhances, or clarifies our knowledge of the world.  Visual research methods can be incorporated into curriculum to aid student learning about the ways visual information functions in expression, communication, and so on.  Artists and scientists both use visual research methods to study the world and these can be catalysts for creating art or taking some other form of action.  The production of art can be a type of visual research, but other visual and material production experiences can aid in promoting students’ knowledge about the world, too.  For example, my colleague Shei-chau Wang, does a great elementary exercise involving students taking photos of many examples of a single color or pattern as they encounter it in their daily lives, then bringing the pictures back to class for discussion.  The development of student workbooks that include photographs and sketches is another example of visual research.  And, I have often had students collect examples of fine art and popular art images of the same subject to compare how visual qualities influence meaning. 

Currently, I am re-reading Visual Methodologies by Gillian Rose, which is a book about methods and processes of visual information gathering and use.  These methods can be translated and applied in K-12 education to help students learn how to do visual research. 

-Kerry Freedman

Wednesday 01. 9.13

Student Assessment as Communication

We have an amazing group of graduate students in the NIU Art + Design Education program. I polled some of them to discover what they thought I should write about. The most requested topics were assessment and standards. I’ve written a lot about student assessment and program evaluation over the years, but one point can’t be stated often enough.

The aspect of art and design education that people who work outside the arts seem to find most difficult to comprehend is how we know a student has learned something by making art. To help people outside the field appreciate our work is especially important now that it is being challenged (again), and in some places, even being pushed outside the school curriculum.

The major problem is that many people who work outside the arts don’t see how works of art reveal knowledge. To see this, one must have a good grasp of how and why people use aesthetics. Aesthetics are used by humans for many reasons: to beautify (or uglify), to attract attention, to aid communication, and so on. But, one of the historical uses of aesthetics is to illustrate artists’ and designers’ (sometimes experimental) learning about media, design, and subject. Similar to poetry or written research reports, the aesthetic character of art shows us what an artist has learned about both form and content --- it may demonstrate technical skills, design concept proficiencies, symbolic capabilities, or other types of tacit knowledge.

We need to use numbers and words in rubrics and other assessment tools in education to help students, parents, and administrators come to see what we see. These tools translate what art educators see as a result of expertise into languages that people outside the field can understand.

-Kerry Freedman

Wednesday 01. 2.13

Making Art is Taking Action

I am honored by the invitation to be the Monthly Mentor for January, 2013.  I’ll be writing about a few ideas, applications, and projects.  But, for this first post, I feel compelled to mention the current sadness felt by educators in all school subjects.  The recent school shootings reminded me of my first art teaching position in an area where students died each year as a result of gun violence.  Many households had guns and I remember the second grader who brought her father’s loaded gun to school for show and tell.  Even in that environment, most parents and teachers worked hard to keep school a gun-free zone. 

Yet, now, the NRA wants teachers to keep guns in classrooms and the amount of ammunition usually sold in a year was sold in three days before Christmas.  Gun promoters are trying to convince people to buy body armor for children, bulletproof backpacks, and gun training programs for elementary school students.  In other parts of the world, people have learned that such mercenary interests have hurt more than helped, whereas gun control and buy-back programs have succeeded.

So, as we start the New Year, educators at all levels are wondering how to respond to gun violence and the hysteria that could endanger more children.

Educators are often told that we should teach only the truth, stick to facts, and avoid teaching values in school.  We teach the visual arts, which are fundamentally about beliefs, values, attitudes, perspectives, and alternatives.  The fact is that fine art and other forms of visual culture can remind us of the value of human life.  Art and design education are as much about new ideas as they are about established truths --- but, let’s teach the truth about gun violence and ways the arts can aid in its prevention.  While dealing with the most recent administrative or policy mandates, it helps to remember the purposes of art.  At any age, making to express opinions, release concerns, or convince people to stand for peace, health, and safety, gives students an opportunity to be proactive, rather than fearful.  Making art is taking action.

-Kerry Freedman