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 10.30.13

Art Honor Societies: So Very Needed

Thinking back to the beginnings of my career, I confess my initial motivation for establishing a National Junior Art Honor Society (NJAHS) chapter was to assist in the promotion of an arts advocacy agenda.  And, such was powerful; students can make abstract cognitive and affective benefits resulting from quality arts programming clear and connective to stakeholders. Yet, while such remains vital within our field, promoting an advocacy platform is not the main reason why art honor societies are needed today. 

In my state, Iowa, most middle school art courses are abbreviated, generally 30-, 45- and 60-day durations.  Unfortunately, in the absence of a sustained art study, compromises must occur, thus limiting our field’s important benefits. So, in an effort to offset this reality, the purpose of my NJAHS chapter became inclined towards artistic development rather than advocacy.

Through increased time to produce and engage in the artistic struggle, opportunities to use talents in service, and events to celebrate achievements and build community, my young artists felt confident, empowered and driven to create and support one another exponentially. And, as a result, a cycle of growth, need, advocacy and support arose that both championed the artist and the cause simultaneously.  And, I am now fully committed to this new schema and invite you to ponder how serving the needs of growing artists can grow your program.

You see, while excellent visual art programming exist throughout the United States, too many visual artists lack the access to the specialize instruction, tools, facilities, rigorous content and accelerated curriculum afforded to those in core academic and athletic areas. Additionally, of great distress to me is the reality that visual artists experience limited art class enrollment and must simply languish in this inequity while others flourish.  In my mind, there is a logical resulting progression that ensues--without students needing specialized instruction, there is no call for specialized courses; without specialized courses, there is no call for specialized instructors, etc.—thus my shift in focus from using art honor societies to advocate for the program to that of the individual learner. 

-Cappie Dobyns

Thursday 10.24.13

Intentional Teaching Using the Feldman Model

As mentioned earlier, I find the Feldman Model of Art Criticism adaptable to a variety of purposes and easily differentiated.  With a goal of learning to articulate at higher levels of cognition, either verbally or in writing, these adaptations foster a students ability to command their commanding thoughts.

Four Corners used to cement understanding of the model’s four levels.
To assist learners in identifying content clues, create signs labeled Description, Analysis, Interpretation and Judgment and place one in each of the four corners of the classroom.  Holding up visuals, make statements about the art.  Have students infer the type of statement made and move to corresponding corner. Prompt explanations noting key terms and/or needed re-teaching.  This same process can be used with written statements utilized independently or in small groups to foster collaboration and communication.

Embedded Content Frames used for targeted remedial or enhanced learning. Content Frames embedded within any section of the Feldman Model to assist learners in achieving targeted learning goals.  A content frame housed within Analysis (Table 1) can achieve deeper comparisons, or one housed within Judgment (Table 2) can guide organization of culminating statements.


Pattern Puzzle used to offer remedial support or cement understanding.
To assist learners in perceiving the relationships between the model’s four sections, create a form with the four sections as a frame.  Instruct students to work either independently or collaboratively to determine and place written statements within the corresponding sections of the frame.

What I have discovered with the intentional teaching of the Feldman Model is tremendous growth in my student’ ability to command art vocabulary, express personal interpretations of a works meaning and present explained evidence justifying their positions. I find my middle school learners insights and abilities far exceeding of their ability to communicate them. But, with the use of the Feldman Model, I feel I empower them when they acquire the verbal and written skills needed to articulate their brilliance.

-Cappie Dobyns

Wednesday 10. 9.13

Visual Art Talent & Development: What Are We Doing? Pt. 2

Soon after I experienced John’s struggle to explain his advanced (both reasoned and intuitive) artistic decisions and intent, I uncovered The Feldman Method of Art Criticism (see Table 1), an easily implemented, didactic writing tool able to guide aesthetic understanding and support student growth in reflective practice.   And since that time, I have whole-heartedly embraced writing and speaking at higher levels of cognition within the art curriculum.

My peers offer valid reasons why such is absent from our pedagogy—limited time (for both execution and grading), diverse abilities within the student populace, and discomfort with teaching and assessing writing in particular. And I agree, to a degree. Let me share that the Feldman Model is easily differentiated and modified to address targeted learning, and “yes” effortlessly assessable.         

When writing, without evaluating grammar and mechanics, my students strive to interpret works supported with clearly explained analysis (see Table 2); thus pushing thinking beyond description and towards understanding that art can convey meaning, Visual Literacy.

And while I believe the ability to articulate aesthetic reasoning to be a viable skill for all, it is vital to those we see as possessing innate abilities in the visual arts.  The magnitude of our chronic inability to acknowledge the cognitive strengths of visual artists for the purposes of identification presses upon me still as I understand its repercussions more fully.  Devoid of identification and service, the educational setting is damaging and stifles the development of visual artists with gifted and talented abilities.  Without access to advanced teaching, time to produce and opportunities to be among like-minded individuals, those deserving never fully realize potential.     

Further, the resulting stagnation leaves visual art programming vulnerable as well.  Without identified GT fine art students, the need for specialized extracurricular programming, accelerated learning, post-secondary options, and Advanced Placement coursework become harder to justify or no longer exists.  And, without specialized instruction and cognitively rigorous and technically challenging production opportunities, staffing, courses and time within courses all become negotiable rather than required. 

-Cappie Dobyns

Tuesday 10. 1.13

Visual Art Talent & Development: What Are We Doing? Pt. 1

John had earned a Gold Key, indicative of ranking in the ninety-ninth percentile, 1 in the national Scholastic Art & Writing competition.  To celebrate, the faculty at his middle school hosted a reception to honor John and showcase his Abstract Expressionist work titled “Rage.”  Although he wore his medal proudly and smiled with pleasure at offered compliments, an odd demeanor surfaced each time John’s thoughts were solicited about his piece.

    “John, I love your work, tell me about it.”
     “Um . . . it’s lines.”   

At hearing this basic description, his art teacher puzzled, Why did he not explain his decisions about line quality--quick, thick, long, frayed brush work of zigzag lines—used to express chaos and anger; or why did he not share about the line variations attempted prior to settling on this choice?  Why did he not identify and explain his warm color scheme, or share how he felt his first inclusion of green muddled the meaning? Why did he not convey the steps of the monotype printing process he mastered, or how he battled through several rejects, or even why this production method was best suited for his intended purpose? Why did he not mention his work was inspired by the only art movement to originate in America?   

Then, his teacher had an epiphany.  She had to acknowledge that while her brilliant students were successful and thinking and performing at the highest levels, she had not taught them how to articulate the complex (and sometimes hidden) aesthetic reasoning processes required throughout creation.  And further, she realized, without documentation of gifted cognitive functioning, her student, functioning within the top percentile nationally, would never receive deserved gifted and talented services, and worse, realize his full potential.

My intent, through this NAEA Blogging opportunity, is to offer personal perspectives and complementary resources that explore available avenues to talent development.  However, my aim is not to merely expound on my own thoughts, but to invite a conversation about our differing experiences, reactions and outcomes in an effort to empower us all.  I thrive on the push and pull moments afforded by my peers because such refines my knowledge and understanding assists in building a repertoire of responses to today’s issues of pedagogy and policy. 

-Cappie Dobyns