Monthly Mentor

Shelly Breaux (December)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Shelly Breaux established the Art Program at David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy in Lafayette, LA. In her classroom, Breaux focuses on inquiry-based learning, problem solving, collaboration, conceptual thinking, and constructive criticism. She believes in using art as an educational tool, and that art provides her students with a voice and an outlet. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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« Shinique Smith in the K-1 Classroom: Discovery, Transformation and Crazy-Pants Art! Days 2 & 3 | Main | Shinique Smith in the K-1 Classroom: Discovery, Transformation and Crazy-Pants Art! Evaluation and Reflection - Part 2 »

April 26, 2017

Shinique Smith in the K-1 Classroom: Discovery, Transformation and Crazy-Pants Art! Evaluation and Reflection - Part 1

From: Jennifer Childress

As the lesson was completed, Erica evaluated the student work, but the evaluations were not shared with students, as the purpose was for Erica to determine where students had issues and strengths. Other reasons for not sharing evaluations with students included the possible negative effects of evaluation on work that was meant to be exploratory and discovery-based, especially for this age level.

In her reflections, Erica wrote:

Looking back at the student work that was completed during the guided discovery portion of the day’s lesson, I found that several students went above and beyond in creating their forms. Although this was evident in the work of several students, I will discuss only three. J___, a first grader, combined materials in unconventional ways that I did not demonstrate during class. She wrapped styrofoam bricks in socks and fabric, tying multiple segments of yarn onto the forms. A___, another first grader, tied consecutive knots in her yarn, more than the required double-knot, and created woven-looking segments. N____ is a kindergartener who brought in a figurine as her found object from home. To transform the everyday object into a beautiful sculpture, she decided to make a cape for her figurine out of fabric and yarn.

This lesson was full to the brim with opportunities for talented and gifted students to exceed expectations and discover many ways to transform the materials outside of what was demonstrated. Options were given in terms of which provided materials to use, how to combine, interchange, and transform them, and what materials could be brought from home. Options had a wide range of difficulty levels. This ensured that all students had choice and opportunity to determine their own level of challenge and adventurousness.

…The last day with the students will provide 15 minutes to complete the Shinique Smith lesson, as well as post-assessment. In order to increase this success in the last 15 minutes next class, I have prepared different opportunities for students to challenge themselves during the collaborative session where they will work together to form a large floor sculpture out of their smaller individual parts. I will bring rocks, pipes, and other small found objects for students to arrange in addition to their own sculptures. How they arrange these objects will be up to the students, as I will only demonstrate that the objects can be set side by side to make a line, like Shinique Smith has shown in her sculpture. It is my hope that they will get creative and find other ways as well.

Erica’s evaluation of the student work can be downloaded here (Insert ET_Visuals and Student Work Evaluation_Smith-Complete). The following images have been extracted from from her evaluation presentation.

ET_Visuals and Student Work Evaluation_Smith_Page_01

ET_Visuals and Student Work Evaluation_Smith_Page_01

ET_Visuals and Student Work Evaluation_Smith_Page_01

ET_Visuals and Student Work Evaluation_Smith_Page_01
ET_Visuals and Student Work Evaluation_Smith_Page_01

When looking back on her lesson, it seemed obvious to Erica that the students needed more time for her very ambitious lesson; time to talk more about Smith’s work and their own; to think, wonder, play, explore, etc. Yet the need for structure and guidance remained as necessary to promote the best conditions for creativity for all students, carried out in a physically, socially, and emotionally safe classroom. 

In Erica’s final reflection, part of a letter to an incoming lab teacher, she wrote:

Though you may want to be the kind, nurturing teacher you remember loving as a child, you still need to be firm and fair. This was something I struggled with during the beginning of the semester. As a people-pleaser, it is hard for me to be assertive at times, and I tend to have a very nurturing demeanor when it comes to children. While it is good to be nurturing as a teacher, especially with younger students, you cannot maintain control of a classroom without learning to be firm, fair, and assertive.

Students enjoy a good mix between fun and firm, they need that balance to feel like they are in a calm and collected learning environment. Without the balance, chaos will be imminent, and students don’t learn well in a chaotic learning environment. My advice is to save yourself the trouble and implement rules and consequences early on. Make sure you follow through with them! If you implement rules and consequences without following through, students will see that they can push your boundaries of what is acceptable behavior. There is a time and place for freedom in an art lesson, but it needs to be bridled, and structured well.

On the topic of behavior management, one of my best moments during the lab teaching semester was during my final, discovery-based lesson. After using the first few lessons as a way to develop basic artistic skills and behavioral expectations, I used my last lesson to give students the structured freedom of discovery. Watching them work independently, following behavioral expectations, and inventing new ways to use the sculptural materials, was a culmination of everything I had achieved with them. It was also a reminder that in order to have a calm and fun learning environment like the one I had achieved, rules and consequences were absolutely necessary.

This idea of constraints providing both a balance and spur to creativity is explored in depth in Sydney Walker’s book, Teaching Meaning in Artmaking. I will bring this into sharper focus in the next post.

What if the kindergarten and first grade had more days for the lesson? What new levels of creativity might have been explored? For example, what other shapes could the wrapped, tied, knotted objects have been arranged to form? Could objects be stacked? Painted on? Tied together and bundled? Put in one long line down the school halls? Could field trips be arranged for older classes to gather usable found objects prior to making art?

Fortunately, Erica was able to revise and extend her lesson and present it at the 8th grade level in her student teaching the following semester. It was very satisfying to give the lesson more breathing room, and see how different ages responded to Shinique Smith’s artwork.

You may view Erica's presentation here. If you are interested in learning more about Erica’s lesson, she welcomes you to contact her at



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