Here is a copy of the text for an article I submitted for our quaterly district newsletter for publication. I did not make mention of my landmark meeting with Kathy Douglas, Diane Jaquith, John Crowe and Clark Fralick at the National Art Education Conference in Denver in "04. This meeting was of pivotal importance because it set the stage from which I now operate my choice classroom and pedagogical approach.
Meaningful Connections in the NPE Art Room
By Clyde Gaw
Regular opportunities to develop personally meaningful art from self-directed pathways are a central component of our choice based art program here at New Palestine Elementary. An examination of art and reflective writing can illuminate the cognitive dynamics employed by students within this approach to learning. “We draw and draw and draw until we feel totally satisfied about what we have been thinking about. We use ink, paint, and pencil to create what we have expressed within ourselves,” writes 5th grader Scott describing his experiences working from his mural project from last year. 3rd Grader Edward explains, “I can make new inventions and draw what I want to draw.” Third grader Shelby states, “It’s fun because it’s your own creation.” Third grader Alexandria makes it clear, “I like it better when I get to choose because you can be amazed by what we create.” In the NPE art room, students become highly motivated learners when they have a personal stake in the learning activities they are engaged in.
Our transition to choice based art education was a gradual process that began in 1998 when SCE art educator Clark Fralick and I, with the assistance of the Indiana Department of Education and support of the Southern Hancock Schools Administration, began an electronic portfolio program with our elementary students. From our observations within this program, we could see patterns of ownership developing that affected student motivation and learning; reflective writing was more passionate and substantial when students had creative control over their art making processes. In the spring of 2004, after conferring with NPE Principal Mark Kern, the determination to implement a full time choice art program during the 2004-05 school year was made. The dividends of intellectual and creative growth are paying off with dramatic results.
In March of 2005, prominent works from NPE students were sent to the Hynes Convention Center and Arnheim Gallery at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. Katherine Douglas of M.C.A. who curated the exhibit of choice based art from across the U.S. exclaimed, "I don't want to give much away, at the center of the exhibit is the largest artwork ever made by a 5th grader,” referring to NPE student Alex's “Dragon Mural.” Last spring, the Southern Hancock Elementary Fine Arts Festival held at Sugar Creek Elementary provided a panorama of compelling, individually unique art from NPE and SCE students. Student generated animation films, drawings, paintings, pottery, masks, sculpture, construction projects and a myriad of other self-directed works augmented with student-generated writing, including NPE first grader Anna's painting “Cool” and 343 word artist statement, reflected the powerful educational experiences occurring in the art programs.
Implications of Choice
Choice based art experiences honor students as real artists, providing unlimited possibilities from which students work from their own ideas, creating personally meaningful, authentic works of art. Indiana fine arts and academic standards are woven into daily lessons so students are continuously exposed to essential content from which they construct meaning on their own terms. The combination of choice art experiences and assessment through electronic portfolios support classroom teacher’s continuing efforts in the language arts curricula and affords students multiple opportunities to increase imaginative, creative and intellectual growth.