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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Saturday 02.28.15

Curriculum Slam! New Orleans 2015
Friday, March 27, 11 am to 12:50 pm

From: Olivia Gude

I’ve enjoyed being the February Monthly Mentor for NAEA. Please feel free to post follow up comments. I value interacting with teachers as we together re-invent the practices of contemporary art education.

I hope that you will join me at the NOLA Curriculum Slam! for more great curriculum ideas.

Assembling Comprehensive Contemporary
Art, Media & Design Curriculum
organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Olivia Gude
Teachers from across the continent will again share exciting visual art and design curriculum in the fast, functional and fun format of the Curriculum Slam!, a 21st century curriculum-sharing format that re-invents the old-style curriculum fair.

Here’s a first peek at the great line up of presenters.

Principles of Possibility: Comprehensive Curriculum for Contemporary Art Education
Olivia Gude

Hip to Be Square: Creating 8-Bit Art Games with Scratch
Steve Ciampaglia

Beyond the Wall: Bringing Artworks to Life Through Augmented Reality
Nick Hostert

ACTING OUT: Expanding Design Literacy, Connecting Students to Translation & Practice      
Catherine Muller, with Raja Schaar and Ann Gerondis

Getting Good At Being Bad
Jake Myers

The Lunch Party: Collaborative Performance in Elementary Art
Madeleine Stern

From Abramovic to the Classroom: Teaching with Performance Art
Kate Thomas

Big Data Visualizations In Education: Social Commentary And Making Sense Of Numbers
Ron Wigglesworth

UN-Rules: Breaking Rules in Art to Make Better Art
Rachel Valsing

Olivia Gude at Curriculum Slam!
Olivia Gude at the Museum of Contemporary Art Curriculum Slam! Chicago 2014


Image 2 Curriculum Slam! presenters San Diego 2014
Curriculum Slam! presenters NAEA San Diego 2014


Thursday 02.26.15

Color Curriculum on Twitter

From: Olivia Gude

I’ve been reflecting on how color is typically taught in K-12 curriculum so I decided to devote my Twitter school year 2014-2015 posts to re-thinking conventions of teaching color.

You’ll find provocative questions, new methods for inspiring students’ color awareness, thought provoking quotes, projects, color teaching resources and more...

Follow me @OGudeArtTeacher.
Before making students do yet another COLOR WHEEL this year, ask them "How many times have you done this?" What can you do that is new?
  1 Color Twitter
If students haven't retained color mixing info by painting a color wheel making yet ANOTHER color wheel won't help.

2 Color Twitter
Begin a color unit by asking each student to bring in 30 colored objects. Specify that the objects should not be precious or biodegradable. 

3 Color Twitter
Roll out black paper. Arrange objects by color, begin with orange moving towards yellow. Rough sort, fine tune.

4 Color Twitter
Let students explore color harmonies without the mess of mixing. Student makes many color schemes in minutes.

5 Color Twitter
Teacher can easily and quickly assess whether each student is in command of color vocabulary and concepts.

6 Color Twitter
Colors can be described with 3 qualities: HUE, VALUE, CHROMA. Why do most students never hear of CHROMA until college?

7 Color Twitter
Art Teachers, you won't develop "out of the box" creative thinkers if you make students paint in boxes!!

8 Color Twitter
Challenge students to work out the value/chroma relations of a single hue with Munsell color charts used as puzzles.

9 Color Twitter
Interactions of Color app for iPad--$13.99. Complete text with beautiful color illustrations that are interactive and...

Students were mesmerized to see the shifts in color perception happen right before their eyes.

11 Color Twitter
Value of Free Form Color Investigation–exercise morphs into an abstract painting students care about.

12 Color Twitter
Many more color curriculum ideas, coming up starting March 1, 2015.

Follow me at @OGudeArtTeacher

Wednesday 02.25.15

Secrets & Lies
Social Practice Art in Art Education

From: Olivia Gude

One of the greatest challenges to the field of art education is continually adapting the practices and curriculum of our field to incorporate significant contemporary methods of making art and making meaning. Whether known as relational aesthetics, social practice art, or socially engaged art practices many contemporary artworks focus on art as lived interactive experience, rather than as an object (or performance) completed by the artist and consumed by an audience.

It can be difficult to imagine learning about social practice art in the typical school art curriculum. “You had to be there to get it.” is often literally true about such work. Telling students about social practice art and showing them some documentation in photographs or video often doesn’t convey the energy of the experience or the subtle shifts in awareness or ways of being in relationship with others that are generated in such exchanges.

It’s important to recognize that current practices of visual art education are modeled on earlier art teaching, usually focusing solely on an individual artist making something in a studio setting. Consider that the identified 21st Century Skills—Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity—are ideal for exploring social practice art in art education today.

Over the years, I’ve seen many art projects about secrets. Usually, these involve each student identifying a secret, writing it down and then sealing the secret permanently within some sort of vessel. In the Spiral Workshop group Silence: Image & Language, we discussed that the energy and tension of having a secret is in part about who you are keeping the secret from, why and whether someone might discover your secret.

1 Framed Secret, Spiral Workshop 2013
Framed Secret, Spiral Workshop 2013

The Silence group devised two “art experiments” to investigate secrets and what students considered to be an often related phenomenon, lies. In the first experiment students wrote a secret and then framed it so the writing was mostly obscured. The Framed Secrets were hung as a collective installation at the Spiral Workshop Exhibition, an event attended parents, extended family, teachers, and friends. It was clear that many visitors were intensely scrutinizing the little frames, trying to identify handwriting and uncover the secrets of their children, students, or friends.

2 Framed Secret, Spiral Workshop 2013
Framed Secret, Spiral Workshop, 2013

When we began the Lies project it quickly became clear that most of us had never considered or discussed lies cross generationally, except in discipline situations where one person’s truth telling was being questioned. We began a collective investigation with a series of propositions in which students placed themselves along a continuum from 100% agree to 100% disagree. Statements included, “Sometimes it’s kinder to tell someone a lie. Lying is always wrong. Little lies don’t matter. Society couldn’t work if people didn’t tell lies.” Students were fascinated to see the range of opinions that were held about what they might have thought of as simple statements about lies. Students often stepped forward to explain their positions or to ask questions about the position held by another student.

3 Lies Human Meter, Spiral Workshop 2013
Human Lies Meter, Spiral Workshop, 2013

We decided that we’d conduct a social experiment on lying at the Spiral Exhibition. We’d ask people to contribute and categorize lies. In return for contributing lies to the investigation, each participant could take and read someone else’s lie.

4 Lies Investigation Form
Lies Investigation Form


5 Table of Lies Installation, Spiral Workshop 2013
Table of Lies Installation, Spiral Workshop 2013

The students began by designing a Lie Investigation Form. To get the installation started the students were to each contribute some filled-in Lie Forms. The teachers assumed that each student would write 2 or 3 lies. Instead the students got more and more excited about the activity as they wrote out and sometimes “confessed” their lies to fellow students. These discussions led to classifying types of lies, which led them to remembering other prevarications. Soon the concept of truth became increasingly unclear as interpretations and minor deviations from the strict truth were introduced as categories. Perhaps the most mysterious type of lie was “Lies told for no good reason.” Almost everyone agreed that they had done this at one time or another and couldn’t quite understand why they had.

Some students wondered whether lying could be a form of experimentation—imagining being another self by creating another life narrative. Other students maintained that lying was never acceptable—“My Dad told me there’s no such thing as a white lie. All lies lead to dark places.”

Categories of Lies, Spiral Workshop 2013


Categories of Lies, Spiral Workshop 2013

Some lie categories identified in the Secrets & Lies Investigation:

Lies of Self Aggrandizement

Lies of Omission

Lies for No Good Reason

Lies in a Relationship

Lies to Cover Up

Lies You Told for Your Own Benefit

Lies a Family Member Told You

Lies That Are Miscellaneous

We were surprised at the popularity of this activity. Some visitors spent many minutes recalling and writing their lies, categorizing them, and reading the lies of others—even asking fellow visitors to share lies so that they could continue to write contributions and retrieve more lies to read.

Tuesday 02.24.15

Share Curriculum & Student Art with Digication e-Portfolios

From: Olivia Gude

I greatly value the Digication e-Portfolio system. It’s the perfect structure for DIY curriculum sharing and building the professional learning community of NAEA.

I use the ePortfolio system to share my articles, presentations, public art projects and curriculum developed at Spiral Workshop. I recommend that teachers make use of it to share their best curriculum and their own artwork with others.


Truly this is not a paid commercial advertisement!
Nor is it a National Art Education Association promo.

I like the Digication e-Portfolio system because it allows for more than sharing decontextualized images. The site is designed so that teachers can include introductory texts, galleries of images, and captions for each image as well as pdfs of presentations and other resources. The uncluttered design of the site foregrounds student work. The clear and consistent structure makes it easy to locate resources.


Consider that part of your contribution to the field of art education is taking the time to write up and share your best curriculum ideas. A number of NAEA teachers have created complex e-Portfolios with lots of curriculum ideas, including Debi West and Kris Fontes.


The Caucus of Social Theory is building an NAEA Digication e-Portfolio to disseminate lesson plans, unit plans and syllabi that emphasize critical social justice consciousness. Go to the site for instructions on submitting your work for inclusion. 

Monday 02.23.15

Identifying Core Values in the New Visual Art Standards

From: Olivia Gude

I like to think of the new standards as generating a space in which wonderful things can happen rather than as a grid that blocks teachers and students into preconceived ways of thinking and doing.

Most people think of the standards only as diachronic, developing discrete knowledge and skills in each grade. But one can also think of the standards in aggregate as synchronic, with the skills and knowledge always happening “all at once.” I know—this sounds like a space/time paradox from Star Trek, but stay with me for a few moments and I think you’ll see what I mean by this—and why it’s significant.

Each Enduring Understanding suggests an important aspect of engaging the arts as a maker or responder. Good teachers always begin with “the end in mind,” not just teaching the isolated knowledge or skill to be learned at this time. An understanding of how ways of experiencing, processing, making, investigating, and interpreting are part of a lifelong engagement with the arts suggests that while we may focus on developing a particular aspect of these abilities at each grade level, these abilities are learned and used within the context of immersion in actual artistic practice. Knowledge, skills, habits, and artistic dispositions developed in earlier grades continue to be used in later years. Equally, abilities that are first developed early in a child’s art education foreshadow the depth and complexity of later development of this disposition.

From the beginning of the writing process, the Visual Arts writers knew that they wanted to include an Enduring Understanding and related standards dealing with safety. As that conversation unfolded, we recognized that standards related to safe and careful use of tools, equipment and materials should not suggest that there was only one right way to do things. The final EU acknowledges this—“Artists and designers balance experimentation and safety, freedom and responsibility while developing and creating artworks.” When Kindergarteners learn to meet the standard “Identify safe and nontoxic art materials, tools, and equipment.” (in part by learning to recognize the non-toxic symbol even before learning to read), they are being introduced to the complexities of making aesthetic and ethical choices as stated in the Advanced High School standard “Demonstrate understanding of the importance of balancing freedom and responsibility in the use of images, materials, tools, and equipment in the making and circulation of creative work.”

Try this exercise: in your office or classroom, tape up a big grid of all the standards. Read one or two standards a day in the grade levels in which you teach. Highlight those standards that inspire you, that encode some of your core values as an artist teacher. Use these “highlights” as a basis for choosing and elaborating on key themes in your curriculum. In a different color, mark standards that suggest ways of approaching the content of art teaching that you haven’t often focused on. Consider how curriculum plans might be expanded to include such ideas.

Here are some of the ideas and values in the new standards that particularly resonate with me:

Art as a form of research

Including a wide range of artmaking approaches

Experimenting with art and “non-art” materials

Necessity of including contemporary art in the curriculum

Expanding students’ abilities to identify relevant criteria for understanding and valuing various sorts of artworks

Becoming aware of the role of design in our environments

Making art about personally meaningful themes

Friday 02.20.15

Not Standardization: New National Arts Standards

From: Olivia Gude

As an imposing chart on the wall or as the multiple pages of a website, the Next Generation standards can at first seem impenetrable and overwhelming. However, I truly believe that these standards are written in a manner that will make it easier for teachers to create curriculum that represents their core values as artist/educators, introducing youth to the joys and possibilities of meaningful making.

Try this exercise with a fellow art teacher: choose a single Enduring Understanding and related Essential Questions. Read these aloud and talk for a few minutes about things that you’ve already done that exemplify such goals in your classroom. Then read the grade level standards to each other, alternating reading and listening. I believe this works because it turns a dry list into a communication, a professional conversation of dedicated educators.

Consider, for example, the first Enduring Understanding in the Visual Arts standards. Creativity and innovative thinking are essential life skills that can be developed. The Pre-K standard “Engage in self-directed play with materials.” acknowledges that the first step to artmaking is the ability to become absorbed in process, in the activity of open-ended making. As one reads through the grade level standards associated with this EU, one can imagine a child growing up with many positive experiences of imagining, experimenting, and engaging ideas and materials individually and in collaboration with fellow students.

The 4th grade standard “Brainstorm multiple approaches to an art or design problem.” and the 7th grade standard “Apply methods to overcome creative block” remind us that we owe it to our students to not just provide opportunities for creative self-expression, but also to teach methods for stimulating the free flow of ideas and images.  In 8th grade students are asked to “Document early stages of the creative process...”, becoming increasingly self-aware creators who can reflect on and shape their own artmaking processes.

At the advanced high school level, students “Visualize and hypothesize to generate plans for ideas and directions for creating art and design that can affect social change.” Maxine Greene has stated this more poetically as the ability to “see the world as if it were otherwise.” I am inspired by this “first row” of the new Visual Art standards, moving as it does from affirming the need for young children to have opportunities to engage in imaginative play with materials, to supporting students in early adolescence to overcome self-consciousness and continue to manifest creativity to the culminating high school standard in which students are able to use their creative abilities intuitively and logically to understand today’s world as the result of many choices of the past, thus recognizing that they have the capacity to shape the world of the future.

Create working in Chicago
Kris Alexander, Olivia Gude and September Buys met in Chicago in August 2012 to further develop the whole committee’s initial work on standards for the Create process. Being visual artists we decided that we needed to visualize this work. Soon the wall in Olivia’s studio became a floor to ceiling standards grid, allowing us to easily arrange standards horizontally in terms of developmental appropriateness and vertically aligned so that teachers could easily use a single project to teach to and assess various steps in the creative process.

Thursday 02.19.15

Fluid Objectives

From: Olivia Gude

The students will be able to invoke the elemental creative power of water by melting the ice that far too often freezes creative minds into confined cubes.

The students will be able to release control and plunge into the realm of liquid possibility, engaging the medium while freeing themselves of assumptions, judgments or the need to anticipate end results.

1 Staining Grounds-Fluidity-Spiral Workshop
Staining grounds in the Fluidity: Wet Media group Spiral Workshop


My own art teacher education was completed before the emphasis on structuring curriculum using a backwards design* method identifying student learning objectives and related assessments first and then planning curriculum. Of course, it makes sense that schooling should not be focused on what the “teacher performs” or inputs to the students, but rather be focused on the students’ experiences, what the students are able to know and do, what the students carry with them into their lives.

Yet sometimes I’m deeply uncomfortable with contemporary educational doctrine that states that we can sum up the deepest goals of art education in a series of definitive descriptors. Aren’t the artists we most treasure those who invite us to experience and perceive in ways that question and exceed the boundaries of conventional ways of seeing and being? How are we to resolve the dilemma of being responsible educators who have clearly stated objectives with identified desired outcomes with being artist educators who are open to the emergence of other dispositions and forms?

Flawlessly Flawed (detail) by Bridget Reinhard in Spiral Workshop.


How can we create arts education practices that focus on developing students’ capacities for open-ended becoming? My curriculum research in Spiral Workshop has been devoted to exploring this question. Based on this research I’ve come to believe that:

Curriculum must present students with a bigger picture than can be given in a series of literally stated performance standards.

Articulating the goals and objectives of a “learning unit” whether a project, a series of projects or a whole course must afford poetic and metaphorical as well as literal meanings.

Detail of painting by Masooma Kahn exploring bodies of water and bodily fluids.


Here’s the opening of the Mission Statement of the Spiral Workshop group Fluidity: Wet Media. Note that this poetic manifesto identifies important aspects of artistic making. It functions by inviting students to embrace and participate, rather than to merely meet pre-existing conceptions of quality.

Dripping, seeping, sopping, sinking, submerging, swirling, bleeding, bloating, soaking, splashing, squirting, flowing, sparkling, sprinkling, saturating, spewing, drenching, drizzling, dissolving, distorting, diluting, oozing, salivating, slurping, sipping, staining, eroding, freezing, boiling, enveloping, replenishing, trickling, flooding, transforming,
brimming, rippling, rushing, gurgling, gargling, spouting, slobbering, streaming, sweeping, weeping, washing, wasting, baptizing, cleansing, infusing, humidifying, crystallizing, vaporizing, simmering, hydrating, quenching, replenishing, reflecting.

The seemingly infinite stream of associations flowing from the original source – water – is only a rivulet of the torrent that is Fluidity. In this Spiral Workshop exploration of wet media and the natural element that gives it existence, the youth artists channeled the flow of the subconscious mind and the unstoppable, unpredictable, ever-changing, irreplaceable nature of water.

Having drawn from the wells of inspiration, we are all thirsty for more.

Bleeding Flowers paintings at Spiral Workshop
I was the child… painting by Dalia Perez
Students explored the fluidity of their own faces in Myself, Growing Older
Digication e-Portfolio


* Backwards Design is a key idea in Grant Wiggins and Jaye McTighe’s Understanding by Design.

For more information on the Fluidity: Wet Media group, see the NAEA e-Portfolio.

Tuesday 02.17.15

Who makes “The Canon”?

From: Olivia Gude

How do we decide what artists to teach our students about? In the age of the easy availability of images through the Internet, we teachers do. Be sure that your students leave your art program with a vivid picture of the creativity of women artists.

Since the 1960s there have been many challenges to traditional ideas about what constitutes the best books or the best art of our society. Challengers to the traditional canon argued that if the groupings of “great books” (or great art) truly represent the best of human experience, they must include experiences beyond those of straight white men. In Language Arts programs, most schools have significantly broadened their lists of “must read” books--now routinely including works by such authors as Virginia Woolf. Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, or Esmeralda Santiago.

Sometimes when I survey the art prints, videos and curriculum projects routinely taught in the field of Art Education today I wonder if we have sufficiently introduced our students to the amazing range of artworks outside of the white male Western canon. Still so many Pointillist paintings, faux Van Gogh’s and Matisse paper cuts. This makes me especially sad as most art teachers are women! It’s not that women artists aren’t taught at all, but somehow they are taught as not as important as the “big name men.”

I often conduct this experiment—I ask art education students to name Surrealist artists. Usually, they list Dali and Magritte, sometimes tentatively adding, “Was Frida Kahlo a Surrealist?” *

This year if you teach Surrealism make the commitment to emphasize the many women artists who are associated with the Surrealist movement. Here’s a few to get you started:

* Was Frida Kahlo a Surrealist? She famously said, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Monday 02.16.15

Creating a Focused Creative Atmosphere

From: Olivia Gude

Change the work culture of the classroom.
Recognize that students may have learned in past classes (your own and those of others) that it’s okay to goof off in art class. It doesn’t work to just “lay down the law” or threaten with grades or punishments. Discuss expectations, get ideas from students, and collaboratively develop “art law” for building a creative community.

Develop routines that make it easy for students to get down to business.
Accustom students to checking for posted instructions such as “Painting today. Set up your palette.” or “Critique today. Put your work up on gray wall.” or “Image presentation today. Position your chair to face the screen.” so that students can begin to prepare for class as they enter. No sitting around until the bell rings. Be sure that needed materials are easily accessible, that equipment and supply cabinets are unlocked, and that you are focused on seeing that most students have what they need to work before taking attendance or helping students who have been absent.

Create project plans that support students in the beginning stages of artmaking.
Often students don’t start working because they literally don’t know what to do. Gathering multiple ideas, experimenting, discarding some directions, and choosing others are aspects of artmaking that often aren’t actually taught in the curriculum. Build fun ideation activities into the project plan.

When planning projects at Spiral Workshop we ask ourselves the simple question, “What will the students do when the teacher stops talking?” For example, when making a Surrealist collage, don’t just tell students to “Think of things that don’t go together.” and then begin to look for needed images. Instead ask students to each cut out 20 images and then work in groups, randomly making image juxtapositions, then collectively rating each juxtaposition from “whatever” to “wow.” After doing that for a day, most students will have a sense of excitement and purpose about the project.

Surrealist Character Collage created by Evers Elementary students

Beginning activities should mirror what an artist might really do in a situation. At the beginning of a unit on sculptures whose meaning was in part created by the non-traditional materials out of which it was made, each student created a list of “weird things” out of which art could be created. These items were gathered and categorized, then groups of students “word webbed” related items. Each group picked its most preposterous choices as examples for a class discussion on what it might mean to make art out of ______________________. * 

Materials-Based Self-Portrait projects at Spiral Workshop

Serene Silence.
Here’s why: Think about a time when you were in art school working in the studio with friends. At first, you talked and joked around, but as you each became truly engaged in your artmaking talking tapered off and each person worked silently, immersed in his/her inner creative space. Talk about this experience with students.

We’ve probably all also experienced times in our art classes when we were frustrated because creative chaos became simply noisy chaos with no work being accomplished. Talk about this experience with students. Get their ideas on how to create a serene working atmosphere.

Back in the day, many schools had SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) periods when everyone in the school read silently. I noticed that after those periods, students were relaxed and focused. I began declaring SSA (Sustained Silent Art) periods when students needed to deeply engage their work.

Collaborative Work
21st Century Skills and the new National Art Standards point to the necessity of students being able to work collaboratively. If the students love to talk, create projects in which you channel their desire for social interaction into the core learning objectives of the project.

Painting the Marvelous Surrealist Café

By the end of the day….
Many schools request that teachers write and post an Objective of the Day for each class period. Art teachers sometimes find this difficult to do. The objective for the students is also your teaching objective for the day. Imagine a class of students working on a shaded still life drawing—a daily objective/direction might be “As you begin your work today, find the 3 darkest places on the real still life. Are the corresponding places on your drawing ‘dark enough’? Adjust accordingly.” As you circulate through the room comment on this objective with every student. Take time for additional teaching and demonstrating for students who are having difficulty meeting this objective.

Landmarks in Time
Art teachers have a tendency to write lesson plans that specify activities in the early days of a project (such as a demonstration, image presentation, written proposal), but then leave many days marked only as “work time.” No wonder inexperienced students think there is plenty of time to “get it together” later.

It’s true that the very best students can make good use of long periods of unstructured time, but many students don’t yet have the capacity for such artmaking activities as experimenting with multiple directions or making in-process self-assessments and then revising a work. Throughout a multi-week project schedule, build in activities that mirror authentic artmaking stages in an artistic process. For example, after working on a project for a week or two, take a day for an image presentation of artists whose work seems related to ideas the students are developing, schedule a peer sharing session in which students write notes to each other about what they find most interesting in the emerging work, show an interesting art film that is not at all related to the project, or ask that students answer a series of unexpected questions about their work, such as “If your artwork could talk, what would it tell you it wants today?”

Daydreaming Permitted Here!
Sensitive teachers know that students do sometimes need time to daydream so designate a Daydreaming Den with a comfy chair and lots of images, art books, scratch paper and other simple materials. No visiting with others in the Daydreaming Den. This is where you go to meet the inner characters of your own creative imagination.

* For more information on the Materials-Based Self-Portrait see the Spiral Art Education website: Cool Curriculum > Materials-Based Self-Portrait

Marvelous Surrealist Café at Medgar Evers Elementary School

** For more information on the making of the Marvelous Surrealist Café, see the article Psycho-Aesthetic Geography in Art Education by Olivia Gude in the Chicago Public Art Groups’s Community Public Art Guide.

Thursday 02.12.15

Wasting Time in Art Class

From: Olivia Gude

Let’s explore an issue that I believe is not uncommon in high school art classes. (I’m unsure of the extent of this problem in elementary or middle school settings. Sadly, in most elementary settings classes are so short there is literally no time to waste.) I’m beginning this reflection as a “thought exercise” and hope that others will contribute comments, questions and new directions for thinking about this issue.  

As a new high school teacher one of my most frustrating discipline problems was students who did not work hard on their projects all class, every day. As in many high school art classrooms, assignments were meant to be open-ended with many opportunities to take new creative directions. Yet some students acted as though allowing 3 weeks for a complex assignment (fifteen 50-minute periods) meant they had a few days for not working (chatting with friends, “resting,” daydreaming, reading magazines, or doing homework for other classes, etc.) before seriously beginning to work. Other students may have worked each day, but spent many minutes at the beginning of each class “fooling around” before settling down. To make matters worse, sometimes so many students weren’t finishing up their work by the deadline, it seemed necessary to give students a couple of extra days to complete projects, creating a downward scheduling spiral. And as summed up in that old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” too often time not used for artmaking results in other mischief making.

For the last twenty years, I’ve been an art education professor and so I know that these problems have not disappeared. I witness students not working when I visit the classrooms of experienced as well as inexperienced teachers. I read in the personal journals of Art Education students about their concerns about the amount of time they see wasted in art rooms in which they observe. Art Education students also frequently write about the amount of time sometimes wasted in their own experiences in art class in high school. Yikes, this is not a happy topic!

Note that in the list of goofing off activities above I listed daydreaming. Many art teachers, myself included, believe that daydreaming is a primary source for creative inspiration and so should be an acceptable activity in art class. Yet, I do feel concern that daydreaming too often morphs into tomfoolery, malarkey and shenanigans (to use the language my parents used), making the art class seem so lackadaisical it doesn't have the feel of a busy creative art studio.

It’s difficult to argue for the importance of arts education in schools if we can’t convince our own students of the importance of making good use of their time in art class. Threatening students with “taking off points” on their grade isn’t particularly effective. And even if holding such a consequence over students’ heads does work, is that the reason you want students to have for enthusiastically embracing artistic activity?