The Re-Do: A Final Exam

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It appears as if I am not the only one to have students revisit an artwork made earlier in the year to re-work as a final exam for high school art.  (Melissa Purtee wrote about it here, and I did take the idea from Ian SandsJanine Campbell did it years ago.)

Anyway, for my art 1 and my art 2: p/d classes, the exam was to take a piece of artwork they had made sometime in their class that they created or started to create and re-do it in one of 3 ways–make it better, make it different, or rearrange it.  We looked at a slide show, I answered questions, and then kids had at it.  When they were finished, I had the students fill out a written reflection about the new artwork, why they chose that piece to redo, how they re-did it, and which was stronger/why.  There were a couple of other questions about the work they did this year as well.   The students had to turn in the original (or a photo of the original) with the new work so I could compare.

I thought it was a great way to finish the year.  Students were able to go back over everything they had created.  Some pieces they hadn’t seen since I put them back in their portfolios earlier in the year, some forgetting even having made the piece.  The reasons students gave for choosing specific pieces varied–from it was my favorite piece to I wanted to take it out of my sketchbook to I knew I could do better.   I am so proud of the work they put into the new pieces.  It really was a good way to show what they had learned over the year–art making skills, decision making skills, and reflection skills.  It’s a final exam I will continue to use in my classes.

I wish I had taken more photos, but I was so caught up in what they were doing and the end of the year, that I forgot.

Year 12: A Review

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I have completed my 12th year in eduction, and coincidentally, my 12th year as a

HS Art Teacher at the same school. It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. Many changes began and will continue in our district over the foreseeable future. Some good, some meh, and some make me say blerg.

Anyway, for the most part, things went really well in my TAB studio this year. This was my 6th year as a TAB teacher–I think. Maybe 5th. Who knows, and it isn’t really important how long I’ve taught under the philosophy…just that I believe whole-heartedly in it.

So, without further ado, here is my countdown (as usual) of my favorite moments of the 2018-19 school year.
7. CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS WITH ART: Not one, but two students (that I know of) changed their relationship with art. Both were freshmen this year and both took their required fine art credit this year to get it over with. About a month or so into the year, I over heard one girl telling her friends that she hated art, but because of they way I ran the classroom, she no longer felt that way. She liked the freedom and the faith I put in her. She liked making what she wanted to make. A while later, perhaps after the midterm ( the Tantamounter–old link, but you get the jist), another boy who was only there for the credit and I had over heard several times say he hated art, saw that he wasn’t limited to 2D work, and he came alive. Anytime he could figure out what to build to satisfy the packet umbrella, he would. He couldn’t wait to get started, and would go into the supply room and just dig and create. I am glad to say both signed up to stay with me in ceramics next year.


6. RAKU: Last year I was awarded a grant to purchase a raku kiln for my program. We finally were able to use it this year. It was so much fun. It was a great experience in building the community of my intermediate/advanced ceramics students, and it was such a learning experience for me…I learned a lot about propane. POST

5. ANOTHER GRANT AWARD: This year I applied for another grant, and after much delay, I was finally awarded at $5100 grant to purchase a pugmill for my ceramics program. We have so much dried up clay, and I just can’t wedge it fast enough. (And, due to our schedule and time limits and space, it is not that easy to have the students do it.) My order has been placed; now I am just waiting for it to arrive.


4. T.O.Y. NOMINATION: I was nominated for our Teacher of the Year award. While I didn’t win, I was happy that at least 2 people (you have to be nominated several times to make the final list) thought enough about my teaching and my presence at school to nominate me.
3. PACKETS: This year was the first year I based both my art 1 and beginning ceramics around “The 9“. The packets were developed by Ian Sands, and he let me use them in my classes. I used “The 9” in my art 1 classes and I developed “The 10” for my ceramic classes. I am really happy with how they worked in the classes.

With my art 1 students, we learned some basics about the topic, then the students went through the ATP (Artistic Thinking Process) when interpreting and creating their work. I found they gave the students a place to start with a broad overarching type of artwork, but helped to guide them in how and what they would make. I have some things to tweak for next year in the consideration questions and my input/talking with the students at that stage. But, overall, using them was a major success. I also thing that it will be a smooth transition to art 2 when we dive more into content of their art.

My beginning ceramic students have their own packets. We started with “The 10” before the end of the first semester, and got through 4 or 5. It was a good place to stop and a good place to pick up in intermediate next year. I think it has been helpful in developing style and interests in ceramic art. I think it is harder for many high school students to communicate in 3D than in 2D, so having the different genres of ceramic arts to guide them is important in the journey. I also think it helps to teach the ins and outs of working with clay. We shared and compiled information in different ways as I tried to figure it all out. But, I made lots of notes on how to proceed with The 10 next year in my large group of incoming beginner ceramicists. I am excited for the next group to come in to the studio.
2. SKETCHBOOKS: Every year I change how we are going to do sketchbooks. For the past two years I bought sketchbooks and then had the students buy them from me. This year, I wanted something more. I wanted their sketchbooks to mean something, since I was going to have the kids use them for everything (except drawing tests and artist Mondays). So, instead of purchasing books–either me or them–I decided to have them make coptic stitch sketchbooks. It was a great decision. We did them the first week of school–you know that time when schedules are finalized and kids are coming and going. It was a lot of prep work, but worth it in the end. Most kids took ownership of their books. It was a mostly relaxing way to start off the year, talk about what was needed to be talked about, and to chat with the kids. Most kids took their sketchbooks home at the end of the year.


1. AP STUDIO ART: This year, for whatever reason, my principal had me teach a section of AP Studio Art. We have only had 2D portfolios in the past, and my partner has taught the class(es) since I had started. I was both excited and scared. I found out before the 2017-18 year ended, so I convinced a ceramic student to do the 3D portfolio. She agreed and they created the class for her. My 2D students ended up not doing the portfolio. I knew they wouldn’t. AP was the only 2D class they could sign up for senior year. But, my ceramics girl…she kept going. She worked so hard, and created some of the most developed ceramic pieces that have gone through my program. She completed and submitted her portfolio with a week to spare. I don’t care what scores she gets because the process of doing the portfolio itself changed her and taught her so much. That’s what is really important. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

That about wraps it up. Not everything was good or easy, I did have a student pass away from congestive heart failure. That was hard. And, I had some rocky friendships with colleagues develop this year. But, I can’t dwell on that. I was lucky to have an amazing group of students this year–kids that made me want to be there for them and be a better teacher for them. Overall, it was a good year in the #DuckArt Studio. I wonder what lucky #13 will bring in August.

The Power of One Challenge

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I had hit a slump.  There were 2 packets of “The 9” left to complete for the year, but I wasn’t feeling either one of them.  I considered doing a watercolor exploration, but then decided my art 1 students really didn’t need anymore media explorations at this point in the year.  So, I did what any TAB teacher would do, I asked my TAB colleagues for suggestions.  It was there that I decided I would create a challenge based on Phil Hansen’s Ted Talk, “Embrace the Shake“.  Thus, the Power of One Challenge was born.

We started the challenge by watching the Ted Talk.  We had already watched it earlier in the year, but I told them we were going to watch it again as it was very important to what they were about to be asked to do.  Next, I gave them the run-down of the challenge.

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I didn’t give much other information.  I told them to think back to the video and the work that Phil Hansen made and HOW he made it.  I gave time for questions, and time for research.  They had a day and a half to look up info needed and to print it out before losing computers.  I limited computers because I have a love/hate relationship with out 1:1 school.  I really wanted them to concentrate on art making without the distraction of games and movies and whatever else it is they do on their laptops.

Some kids got the concept of the challenge right away.  Others took the whole day and half to grasp what was being asked of them.  Once they started, I just sat back and watched them learn, answering questions when asked.  They problem solved.  They were creative.  They all weren’t so original, but that often happens in an art class–one student sees another doing something they feel as cool, so they want to do it too.

I really enjoyed this 2 week challenge.  It gave me time to recoup as a teacher, but was super beneficial to my students.  When I go to do this challenge again, I will change how we present when all is finished.  And, I might change when we do it, and have it be their final exam.

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Watch through the slideshow to see what each artists “1 thing” was.  I am so proud of these kids.

Damp Boxes: Classroom Clay Game Changers

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I wanted to share a clay storage system that will change the way you can store in progress clay pieces. It’s called the damp box. I had heard about these quite some time ago, but for a myriad of reasons, I never got around to making some. My recent clay exploration camp kind of forced my hand on the issue, and I’m so glad I finally made them.

Basically they are plastic containers with plaster in the bottom. The plaster is damp and when the box is closed, it creates humidity in the box, which helps keep the pieces workable for extended amounts of time.

For years when I had around 100 kids working with clay, I had to wrap up pieces. I tried different methods each time, but always had kids pieces drying out too much each time due to several factors. This time, kids pieces remained malleable, even if they were absent for a day or two. And, I didn’t have to worry about making sure the boxes were closed. The kids did all the work. It helped to make the week go much more smoothly.

How do you make a damp box? Here is a video created by Tim See, a professional potters who I “met” on a clay Facebook group.

I ended up making 3 large, flat boxes and 2 smaller ones. I plan on making a few out of taller bins for bigger pieces. But the shallow ones worked out well for the clay exploration camp as most pieces were just a few inches tall.

These boxes are a game changer for me, and I hope they can be for you as well.

A Week of Clay Exploration

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I’ve been a TAB teacher now for more than half my teaching career, and even I still struggle sometimes with creating exploration camps for my students that are open enough to give kids a taste of “new” mediums. One of these that I struggle with is clay. I know, I know, I teach ceramics, how could I struggle with this one? Giving students a week and a half to explore a medium that takes practice to understand is hard. I wanted to give them as much freedom as I could, but still limit some things due to practical aspects such as the amount of clay I have and the many students I have.

I had planned just on letting 2 of my 4 classes explore, but then decided I was too lazy to have 2 different explorations going on at the same time. And, I’m glad that I had all of them explore. Out of my almost 100 students, I had 95% engagement all week. I had about 3 kids decide they never want to touch clay again and I had several kids say they are signing up for ceramics next year–kids that I thought would stick with our 2D path. So, bonus for me and my program.

How did I run the exploration camp? I showed 2 quick demos on Monday, pinchpot and coil, with lots of finished examples of pieces created using those methods. Then on Tuesday I showed slab building. We talked about the term vessel, a hollow container, and how I was very open to how they could interpret that term. Then I let them go. They were to build a vessel of their choosing with any hand-building technique or combination of them they wanted.

If you have a lot of kids working at once, I would advise creating some damp boxes to help store as the kids work all week. See this post on how to create a damp box. It was a game changer on storage and keeping 90+ pieces workable all week. And, over a weekend for the handful that needed/wanted more studio time. I had been wanting to make some for my ceramic students, but never had time. This week forced me to make them. So glad I did.

I don’t have many pictures to share this time as we were having so much fun, I got caught up and forgot to pill out my phone.

What If We Didn’t Grade Artwork?

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How to grade artwork is a topic that comes up often in groups populated by art teachers.  I am sure that not one art teacher really wants to grade art, but unfortunately for most of us, it’s part of the expectations those in higher pay grades at central office place upon us.  But, if we really thought about it, is grading the artwork itself really a good measure of a student’s artistic growth, learning, application and understanding?  And, isn’t that the point of school–growth, learning, application and understanding?  I mean, school is the best place to “screw up”–to fail at something, reflect on it, and learn from the process/what went “wrong”.  No big merger or client’s money is really at stake here, so why not take risks.20180914_073706.jpg

Risks are huge in creating artwork.  All the masters that so many teachers use in their classrooms are great because they took risks and experimented.  For every artwork that was successful, they had at least 3 that either sucked and were failures or just were meh.  (Just for the record, I am making that number up.  I am basing it on my own journey as an artist.)  If that is the case, why are we holding our students to different standards that working artists don’t hold to themselves?

If we grade artwork on how many lines students used, or if they incorporated X# of organic shapes and X# of geometric shapes, then how do we as teachers know what are they really learning.  I don’t know many artists that work like that?  Why are we telling them they need to have this or that?  Shouldn’t the artwork dictate that?  Whose work is it anyway?  Letting the students figure out where and what to use or not use in their work will help them learn how to grow as an artist.  Having conversations with them will help them reflect and grow.20180828_135406

BUT, what if we just decided NOT to grade the artwork and grade their engagement in the process instead?  What could that lead to?  I’ll tell you what it could lead to.  It could take the pressure off students to be “perfect” in their work.  It could tell them that they are in charge of their  work, not me, the teacher.  It could lead to students taking risks in their artworks.  It could lead to students trying new media and techniques.  It could lead to experimentation that otherwise may not have happened if they are just trying to have X# of shapes in their work.  It could lead to failure, which in turn with reflection leads to learning.  And all of this leads to the students learning to behave, think, and become artists.  And, isn’t that what one of our end goals of art education should be?

 

What A Raku Firing Taught Me

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In 2017, I applied for a grant with our local educational enrichment foundation, TEEF, to get a Bracker Raku Kiln and all the needed pieces that go with it. I was one of the lucky few whose grants were funded or partially funded. It was an amazing feeling. I have been waiting since May 2018 to introduce the fun of Raku to my upper ceramics students.

I have a small group this year, which was great for our inaugural firing. The students all made at least one piece out of the special Raku clay. We had a local Potter come and talk to us about Raku firing. Several of the students had witnessed Raku firings at the Texas Clay Festival. We picked a date, set up a rain date, and informed all the people who needed to be there. The students watched video several times and made diagrams. We were ready. It was the perfect time before we were taking g a week off for Thanksgiving.

One thing we did not expect in Texas at this time of year was that it was going to be 32° this morning. Thanks Obama. We decided to press on. We worked in the cold, checking, listening, comparing. It was cold, and windy. But we pushed on. We were able to pull one firing off. It didn’t go perfectly, and we have much to discuss tomorrow in class when we do our group reflection on the process. The second firing didn’t get up to temp. Did I mention the wind? I finally called it during 5th period and we shut it down. The kids understood.

Looking back on today, we learned so much as a group…about the bracket kiln, about how to fire (I haven’t run a Raku firing in over 12 years), about combustibles, and about all the technical things that go with Raku.

But, the most important thing that I learned today came from my students. I was disappointed. I wanted their first Raku to be amazing. And it wasn’t, at least in my eyes. But for them it was a great day. They taught me it was all a learning experience. They weren’t bummed by the wind and the fact that we messed up timing. Or that we called the second firing. They knew we could do another firing; we could finish firing our pieces tomorrow. We have more clay. There’s a whole other semester. They had so much fun today. They came together as a group. I forgot what all this was about. I forgot what I have been preaching in my tab studio for years–that it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to make mistakes and that’s how we learn. And they reminded me of that. And I am thankful for that, and for them.

Working with “The 10”: Ceramics Packet Reflection

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My friend, Ian Sands, developed a system called “the 9“.  They are packets based around the basics of subjects of art that artists create.  It’s not about content, but more about category that art would fall into.  The packets include: the object, architecture, nature, landscape, figure, portrait, imagination, non-representational, and conceptual.  He introduced them to me some time last school year, and I thought they were wonderful.  I’ve been successfully using them with my art 1 students this year.  They are a great introduction to art categories, while allowing my TAB students to make lots of meaningful choices.

I tested them out last year with one of my classes, and thought that they would be a great tool for working with my ceramics students as they move along their artistic journey.  Sometime last spring, I began planning how to use Ian’s model for my ceramics program.  I began researching and decided that for the most part, ceramics artists’ works fall into most of the same categories.  But, I discovered that there are 10 categories, instead of 9.  They include: nature, animal, architecture, “figure”-ative, functionality, imagination, non-representation, portraiture, the object, and conceptual/installation.

Following Ian’s template, I created consideration questions for each packet, changed up the suggestions and geared the planning around requirements I have for my students.  I am very happy with the development of my packets.

Now, here’s where I am dissatisfied with “The 10”.  I rolled them out in a way that I find isn’t working the way I hoped.  I thought it would make my students more independent, so I introduced it with my intermediate and advanced students.  (They meet at the same time.)  I think this was my mistake.  I should have used it with my beginners after we completed the “have-to” portion of our class.  Seeing how my art 1 students are growing using “The 9”, helped me to see this.  Currently with my beginners, we do ceramic artistic behavior units right after finishing our “have to” section.  We just began our first unit, Ceramic Artists are Inspired by Nature, but I think that after this unit, we will pass out sketchbooks and move onto the next packet.  Nature is one of the packets after all.  We will continue through the rest of the year going through packets, picking up next fall with where we left off.  Then we will dive into deeper meaning with Ceramic Artistic Behavior units.

I will continue with my upper ceramic students in the way we are working. With the exception of one student, they are all seniors, and I’m not too worried about it.  They are working and learning and growing.

They say it takes 3 years to really build up a program.  Like I previously stated, this is the 5th year of the program.  I’ve been playing around with it, trying new things each year to replace things that weren’t working.  I feel I finally have a great grasp on the program and the progression it should take to truly have my students behaving and thinking like artists.  The timing of “The 10” was the final piece of the puzzle that finally fell into place.

 

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Example of “The 10: Nature Packet”

 

The Teacher-Artist Balance

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The question arises often about how to find time to create one’s own art. And to that I respond, if it’s important to you, you will find the time. As I type that sentence, I can hear all the usual responses…I am so tired after work. I have to write lesson plans. I have little kids. I have to make this exemplar for my students. I have grading to do. There just isn’t time.

And again, I respond to these statements with, if it’s important to you, you will find the time. I have lesson plans. I have 2 young kids. I have grading. I’m exhausted after all day arting with my amazing high school artists. And yet I make art at least 3 days a week, if not daily. (And no, I don’t make exemplars, but I am a TAB teacher, so there are no exemplars to make.)

I decided when my daughter was a baby, 6 years ago, that art making was important to me and my mental well-being. It was also important to my role as an art teacher. If I am going to teach how to behave like an artist, then I needed to be an artist. When my daughter was little, I wore her while I created. As she grew older, I worked in the kitchen while both my kids slept. Now she is old enough to work along side of me. Sometimes my son does as well. My family knows how important creating is to me. My students do as well. I often show them my work or talk of my processes.

I do want to finish that I know not everyone’s top outlet is going to be creating. Some like to garden or read or exercise or fish or help protect turtles. And those things are wonderful. The art teachers I know who do these things don’t complain they don’t have time to create. But, that’s because they decided these things were important to them, so they find the time for them.

In the end, it’s your choice. I choose to spend my free time arting. It heals my soul and makes me a better teacher.

Defining Realism and Adding Style

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Realism is a word that is often used to describe artwork.  And, for whatever reason, if something looks realistic, the work is considered good.  But, what is realism exactly?  How should we define it.  What do people actually mean when talking about realism?  And how does style come into the equation.

I think first we do need to define what we mean by realism.  I think when most people talk about realism, they are talking about photorealism or hyperrealism.

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“Kandy Kane Rainbow” by Charles Bell

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“Golden Thoughts” by Mike Dargas

I think this distinction–so realistic it looks like a photo– when using the term “realism” needs to be made, especially when we are teaching our students about artwork and how to talk about artwork.

The next word we need to define is style/stylized.  For me, this means the artist’s personal “twist” on how they present their work.  They can make their work look realistic…proportional, recognizable, three-dimensional…but they’ve added themselves in how they do this.

Most artists work with a sense of realism, but they add their own personal style to their work.  Some artists are very tight. Others works are very free and flowing.  Then you’ve got those that work in a sketchy-like manner.  Style can add interest and evoke feelings in ways that maybe a photorealistic work can’t.  Style is what makes an artist unique.