First Days Back in the Game

Warning: this is a long post.  Discussions of curriculum, TAB and choices are ahead.

Yes.  It WAS an amazing summer.  Full of greenery, stars in an expansive sky at night, amazing California cuisine, fine wines, and craft beers.  Topped off with reconnecting to friends and family.  Hours flew by conversing, joking, and getting down to the heart of things.  See, when you only have a few hours to reconnect, small talk is done in a matter of minutes, and the deep thoughts you’ve stuffed down for an entire year just come out.

When I came back to the sandbox, I wasn’t quite ready for the school year to begin.  And neither were the parents and kids.  Our schedule this year is a little strange.  We started school this year knowing that in two weeks we’d go on a weeklong national holiday. Most people, if able, leave for cooler destinations during the summer, so it only makes sense that people would not return to camp and school until after the holiday week.  So…. some of my classes have seven students when they should have eighteen.  These makes for a rough and slow start.  I want to teach and dig in, but, I also don’t want to reteach when everyone comes back.

So I tried something new for the first few days of school, and I think I’m going to do this every year.  I call it, “Create Your Own Masterpiece.”  For my second and third grade classes, I gave each student a large piece of paper and told them they could create whatever they wanted with materials I have at the demonstration table.  The only media students could not use was paint as the paper I gave them wasn’t good for painting.

I did this to see what materials students gravitate towards, how responsibly they use the materials, how they used their artistic skills to create something on their own, and how creative they are with the supplies. The only rule was that they could not scribble something all over their paper and call it done.  They had to be thoughtful in their creative process.  They were give two class periods to do this.

I was very surprised at the results.  And, a little sad.  But this is also teaching me what I need to focus on in my teaching. I’ve done these activities before, usually as a Free Choice art period.  But this was different.  This time I told the children what the expectation was.  I told them I was going to walk around and take notes on their artistic behavior.  It was very revealing and I need to write all of it down before thoughts flutter out of my head.

After students were finished, I had them fill out a questionnaire:

  1. What media (materials) did you use to create your work?
  2. Why did you choose these materials?
  3. Do you like your work? Why or why not? If you were given the choice would you start over or continue this work?
  4. Explain your thinking in this artwork.  Why did you make it? Or, tell a story about your work?

Here are some of the examples of the creative work I got back:

IMG_1603IMG_1604I use this as a good example because the student used her time thoughtfully.  She used different materials, including yarn, to create a good memory she had from summer.

IMG_1607I like this example as well.  This student really like the stamps and ink pad.  She repeatedly used her fingerprint to make her rainbow shooting star instead of using markers to color it in.

IMG_1609IMG_1612This student kept coming to me and told me what her story was as she was creating it, and as we discussed it, she changed her art.  I enjoyed hearing her thinking process as she developed the work.

IMG_1606IMG_1605One thing I learned was that students really like pop-ups.  I didn’t do much three dimensional art last year because I didn’t have much storage space, but I know I need to do more because kids really love it. They had to solve a lot of problems that came up (mainly getting things to stand up), and it was fun to see how they used their space effectively.

IMG_1624This one was a pleasant reminder for me.  I couldn’t figure out what this student was doing, it just looked like a mess to me.  But, on the day he wrote about his artwork he explained that he went to the beach a lot during the summer and this was about the ocean waves crashing on the beach.  Duh.  Of course, a beach!

Now to protect the innocent workings of children, I will not show you some of the other work.  The work that leaves much to be desired. But know that they are there.  The kids who did very little with the time, who made a mess and called it art.  These are the students who will be my challenges this year, simply so they can understand that art is meant to be challenging, and you must rise to the challenge if you are to succeed.

I’ve learned a lot from this art assignment:

  1. Children need to be taught to be creative within given parameters.  They were all engaged in what they were doing, but most students didn’t produce art related to what we’ve learned in art class over the last two to three years.  Maybe I’m just expecting too much?
  2. Telling a story verbally and telling a story visually are two different things.  Students wanted to label their art. Then they wanted to tell me what it was.  Art is visual.  Again, we are talking about building skills.
  3. I think I can work on TAB in the early grades.  There is not a lot of information on TAB for young children but I think it can be done.

This year, I will be developing my art curriculum more.  I am signed up with Deep Space Sparkle and I am on a special committee to overhaul our curriculum.  We shall see how this develops.


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