Sunday, May 07, 2006

What Happens Inside My Classroom?

My colleague Judy Decker, webmaster of the Incredible Art Department asked me how I might describe the choice based curriculum in my program to a prospective employer if I were to interview for a position as an elementary art teacher, so I wrote this response which she was able to post on the Getty's "Artteacherexchange" list serve:

Curriculum as we know it are the activities one employs for whatever it is you expect your students to learn. For the choice based art teacher, learning to think like an artist is our goal here and there are two curriculums going on simultaneously. One is the teacher centered curriculum, one in which a series of lessons or activities that tie into state standards or essential learning. The other is the student-centered curriculum, which can be negotiated between student and teacher or facilitated by the teacher for the student. In between these two curricula is a third unwritten curriculum, the one in which experimentation is afforded, risks are taken, discoveries are made and newfound knowledge segues into deep, profound personally meaningful learning experiences. When curriculum activities are centrally prescribed, planned sequentially and outcomes already determined, surprise and discovery are marginalized. The main thing that attracted me to choice was the amount of diversity within this three-pronged approach to curriculum. There is a dynamic within the art curriculum now that I never had before. The kids know it, I know it and everyone else knows it. This is why the art room experience today is more important to the kids than it ever was before. More to come later...thanks again...Clyde


I did see this question earlier, and didn't have time to respond. So here is another response. I think the applicants would do themselves well, if they could describe how “curriculum” would look, as it might be employed inside of an actual class. So let’s take the "painting curriculum" for example as it might apply to a choice art program. Again, I am expecting to have three forms of curriculum going on simultaneously for this subject area and I am describing what goes on in the choice art room for this interviewer. (Actually, today, there are usually committees doing the interviewing so let's imagine I am in the "hot seat" and I am speaking to a group of distinguished parents and educators) "After describing to the group the way curriculum might work in a choice art room, I would give them a description of a class with a lesson from the painting curriculum and would describe my room, complete with all of my “art centers.” Then begin my narrative;

“After students enter the art room, I invite them to the demonstration table for the daily lesson. I have 29 2nd graders. I know their attention span is only about a minute or two, so I have to be good and fast with this demo. I have a copy of the "Starry Night" in front of me at my table. “Boys and girls, this is the 'Starry Night' by Vincent Van Gogh! Notice how Van Gogh was inspired to paint the night sky! With swirls of color and movement! ‘Why the sky looks ALIVE!’ Look at the combination of lines colors and brush strokes! Today, one of your choices is to paint your version of a landscape like the Starry Night! Let's look at the way Van Gogh divides his painting into parts and creates one of the worlds most famous paintings!” Now I get my paper and paint out and show them how to dip two colors of liquid tempera paint onto the end of one brush using blue and red. I begin to draw the horizon line, and work in the background, middle ground and foreground. “What is happening here?” “What happened to my two colors?” The children all tell me it turned purple inside the painted lines. “What would happen if I use other combinations of color?” At this time the kids are ready to bust out….They are primed and ready to go. In previous lessons they have learned how to acquire materials from the paint center and several students who are ready to work in this medium are suiting up into their smocks. I ask the students, “Ok. Are you ready to go to work on your art now?” They answer with a resounding “yes!”

Ten boys, who had already formulated plans earlier, go directly to the cardboard construction center. They begin constructing space ships, aircraft and other “inventions” with pre-cut cardboard, glue and tape. Eight girls and four boys go to the paint center and begin acquiring painting materials. Of the painters, five paint their versions of “Van Gogh” landscapes. The other nine explore the sensory qualities of the paint and experiment with the brush technique I demonstrated earlier working in abstract compositions. Four girls, who have been working with stick puppets from earlier classes, go to the cardboard construction center, gather paper, cardboard, yarn and textile materials and begin creating puppet characters and formulate a play about a little girl, her friends and a lost puppy. At the same time, two other boys begin working from the block center and construct a “city.” After the students have gotten into “flow,” I get out my digital camera, and begin to take pictures of them “in action” because some of the artworks are transitory, and will be de-constructed from the next class. Later, after the work has been created, two two-minute puppet plays performed, clean up and art work put into storage or prepared to be taken home, the end of class is almost at hand and we look at the digital pictures we have taken on my teacher computer screen (It would be great if it was hooked up to a larger monitor.) This is a time for self-reflection, discussion and feedback. Many of the students eagerly share their discoveries and stories about their experiences in today’s art class.

Here is what happened within the curricula. Not everyone was interested in painting Van Gogh landscapes. That is ok. They weren’t buying what I was selling and I accept that. They were still apart of the experience and listened to my introduction of Van Gogh and my analysis of landscape composition. Those who chose not to paint “van goghs” had formulated their own plans just like real artists do. As you know, artists work from MEMORY, IMAGINATION, OBSERVATION, EXPLORATION and FEELINGS and EMOTION. This is the core of the student-centered curriculum. When we weave the two curriculums together the dynamic third part of the whole curricula shifts into gear.

The puppeteers did a play near the end of class and the cardboard spaceship inventors who were inspired by them, went to the puppet stage afterward and turned their sculptures into spaceship puppets and reenacted a scene from “Star Wars.” The painters, who started to experiment with paint and color, took cardboard from the construction center and began to draw into their paintings with cardboard sticks. Then they began to pull mono-prints off of their paintings. So the third curriculum kicks in and this is important because discovery learning is happening here and is the most potent form of learning known to educators and cognitive scientists. It is conceiving of ones own learning from one’s own mind and going beyond the given information and this is how real artists operate and imaginative thinking capabilities cultivated.

I was talking to a friend of mine who is an engineer, and he said, “All engineers prefer to work with STATIC elements because you can control them. They don’t want to work with DYNAMIC elements, because you can’t control them.” Well, I thought, that’s great, but if you are an educator, you want to exploit the dynamic because we are working with dynamic individuals all the time. So the curriculum should be flexible to account for individual differences, because we are all different, with different structures of mind.

1 comment:

R. B. said...

I have become a TAB convert!!! I knew, as an artist and teacher, this was the way to really teach art to our students.