Every year I make an effort to create new projects for my 6th grade students, that are new and fresh and contemporary. Primarily, I want grasp their attention and then hold on to them, for as long as possible. A challenge, to say the least. So....Here goes something....
As all other years, the central theme to the 6th grade art curriculum is "Identity", answering the bigger question "Who am I?" It's interesting, with all that 6th graders have to say, this question brings a hush over the room (along with some confused looks). Throw in taking their pictures and they are just about to scream out of anguish and agony.
I found this amazing photography project that sparked my interest and motivated me to find a way to use the idea of photography and text for the students first project. The Identity Project: What defines you was the perfect connection (with some slight modifications). The Identity Project:
"This photography project seeks to explore the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality." Intriguing but, not entirely appropriate for 6th graders, or my school in general. BUT, most definitely adaptable for encouraging my students to reflect on their unique characteristics that make each of them special.
I can't begin to try and explain ARTY FEMME to a group of 6th graders, but we can take a look at their photographs (without the label) and study their characteristics. With descriptive words, we can 'label' their identity, explore their personality and breakdown some stereotypes.
Our goal, for this component of the lesson was to take a picture and with one, unique word, capture their identity.
Taking the pictures was not all that challenging, but figuring out the most unique word, was. My challenge was trying to encourage my students to think outside the box, get out of their comfort zone and think...just a little bit about their internal selves.
WOW....like....what was I thinking?
Along the way, I was skimming through Facebook and took notice of a post from a long distance friend and her recent artwork: Define Me. The theme related completely to my students' theme but I found a way to connect their word choice to their art. Stacy Gibboni used words to emphasize word choice and the lack of words. So, simple but amazingly powerful.
That is what we did.
But how....how was I suppose to encourage my students to put aside common words, "nice", "funny", "smart" and rethink word choice.
We used dictionaries.
A blast from the past but WOW, it demonstrates how technology, spell check and auto correct have hindered our students' ability to spell. Not surprising, this activity took a little longer than expected, but the results were incredible. The goal for component number 2 was to choose 6 different words that "define you" and be able to express why. In doing so, create 6 different little drawings expressing the word choice, using two elements of art: color and shape. Sounded simple enough, but I quickly observed the students mindful attention to the connection between drawing and word choice.
Simple tools and materials made the art project more engaging and the students felt a little more independent. My students used 4x6 inch pieces of paper, traced a 31/2x 31/2 square template and used oil pastels for their drawing and word. The concluding component to this lesson was a written and typed reflection statement, targeting specific questions about the students' processes and thinking. The results were thoughtful, reflective and honest. ...And impressive.
This was only a small caption to an 8 week project.
It made my students think.
It made my students reflect.
"It makes me feel happy to know about myself more."~Crystal
I always look forward to the fall because conferences begin and inspiration takes hold. This weekend, I attended, as a presenter and an attendee, the annual Illinois Art Education conference, and it was a great.
And here is why:
1. Intellectual conversation. Don't get me wrong, being an elementary art teacher conversation is not lacking, neither is the intellectual part. Oddly enough, first graders can make you really reflect with their casual observations, making your head dizzy at times. Nevertheless, sitting and chatting with an art Ed professor about the doctoral program from Northern Illinois University also has its benefits.
2. We may see each other infrequently but the bonds created with other art teachers throughout the past five years have evolved to be strong, supportive and, incredibly fun.
3. Either being in the audience or presenting to a full house, I learn so much! There are some great ideas out there and art teachers are going above and beyond the call of duty to share and connect with their art education community. Awesome.
4. The air seems cleaner more crisp after an invigorating, inspirational and motivating shot in the arm. I love what I do.
It doesn't hurt much.
In the photo, I am with my friend, colleague and amazing art teacher Jeanette Thompson. We received a couple of grants.
Be an inspiration, stay committed, and ignite your passions.
I find the process of starting the school year exhausting and confusing. It is as though my equilibrium of life, surprisingly, changes and throws my into a spin. The spin eventually slows a bit, but geez Louise what a ride!
With that said, I am mindfully (and with conscious effort) focusing on updating this blog more frequently. I'm not sure if the spin is slowing but I feel ready to devote some time towards sharing what I do in my art room.
So what has been going on.....?
But let me share my art adventure, in brief, with my 3rd grade students. In our art adventure with our pen pals, Yianna and Helios, we landed in Mexico, exploring the art and culture of a vibrant country. For this lesson we focused on the folk art of "amate"--bark paintings, and their purpose of documentation in history.
Throughout time, their purpose changes and this beautiful tradition changed to a decorative form of art.
Decorative is great but decorative doesn't always engage students.
Instead I balanced the cultural aspect of bark paintings with the contemporary Mexican artist and author, Carmen Lomas Garza. Garza beautifully captures her memories of family traditions through colorful, playful and approachable renderings of her childhood. For our project, we reflected on a memory that is special and....well....we created it as an "amate".
These young students found meaning in their work but more so pride.
A wonderful storytelling experience.
Check back for more snapshots and additional resources.
Back in the winter (?) of last year, our traveling friends, Yianna and Helios sent us a message from the snowy streets, Russia. The message was sent at the most perfect time, because the Olympics had just started. Russia has an incredibly rich history of art, dance, theatre and music, coupled with cultural traditions. From historical monuments and buildings, to the artists that influenced Russian history, my students, inquisitively, followed Yianna and Helios through art, history and just a little mystery. Thinking back, as a warm up we looked at the amazing artistry of the hand painted eggs through the experience of children's authorPatricia Polaccoand her story of Rechenka's Eggs. Amazingly enough, I found the story on Vimeo through Reading Rainbow! Love it. Although in art class, this portion of the art unit as delivered and executed a bit differently, I created a quick resource for my classroom teachers: Russian Eggs. This allowed not only my students to learn and connect but all students (hopefully). Our exploration of art, artist and art-making lead to Wassily Kandinsky and his abstract expressionist paintings, created from lines, shapes and colors. Considering, Kandinsky is a very popular artists among elementary art teachers (and in general), there are a lot of resources out there (see below). For my students' purposes, I wanted my students to independently choose the Kandinsky style that worked best for them. We started by comparing two of his paintings, observing, describing and discussing the differences and similarities.
Before starting our art works, we watched a truly vintage recording from 1926, in which Kandinsky is seen using a brush and ink to sketch an idea or start a drawing. Well, that sparked our beginning process as we created our own, very unique drawings.
By looking at the photographs, you can probably tell that we used all sorts of materials that suited our needs. Students made choices, they initiated their explorations and they took ownership of their work. In the end, from just little "Kandinsky" drawings, they really made self-portraits. Each students personality and character just came screaming out!
University of Illinois an art teacher's journey into art making
This summer, I found a wonderful opportunity to go back to my roots, as an artist and art teacher....back to making art. For a week, I immersed into materials, processes, techniques and reflection, all the while letting my self "play".
I experienced a sense of fear at first. The last time I had my own studio, my own time and my own space was, nearly, 11 years ago in the precious city of Venice, Italy. For graduate school I worked, lived and breathed the encompassing notion of art.
I made it.
I read it.
I explored it.
I discussed it.
I ate it.
I drank it.
I fell in love with it (and the people who became part of my life--love you.)
In the past 10 years, although my ideas were/are endless, they never transpired into something tangible....something real....something. Art education became my life. Not in the sense of living and breathing and becoming a hermit crab to the world, thinking only about my students, BUT teaching opened the door to other amazing opportunities, steering my focus away from making art. Until this opportunity came around.
And thank goodness...I was beginning to develop a twitch.
So, what happened?
Well, for one week I sat for 10 hours in a studio and started painting, started drawing, started writing, and started making incredible connections with some incredible people. There were about 24 of us (?) who wanted nothing more than have uninterrupted time studio time. As a group, it seemed like we woke up together, we ate together, we created together and grew together. Something magical happens when time and space are not a factor..
My week started off...small. I have always seemed to float back to circles, ovals, orbs, spheres, playing with their shapes, and given them a sense of identity- Playful but somehow permanent.
I was, in reflection, focused on change and my ability to alter shapes, ideas, thoughts, motion and impression.
Throughout the week, I changed, altered and transformed my studio into different spaces, constantly moving from one idea to another...
But somehow they connected.
Floating shapes, colors and impressions connected one painting to another and one idea to another, linking my process throughout the week.
From small oval eye-ish shapes, I veered towards larger than life figure drawings of women, inspired by works of master artists. If you look closely you may notice the pose of a Rembrandt, Matisse and Picasso.
By mid week, color and large surrounds changed to something more intimate and clean. Sometimes, I feel to find inspiration and stay in the sweet spot of making art, you need to strip away everything and just work with simple, raw and organic processes.
I felt good.
I, also, felt good to fall back into my comfort zone. About ten years ago, as I was playing around with copper wire and gloss medium , I discovered something magical (well, at least to me).
In an exciting farewell, our weeks work was displayed in a pop up art exhibit in a gallery.
My my new friends and colleagues....see you next year!