Monday, January 6, 2014

alignment....what in the world does that mean?

the new buzz word?

With Common Core State Standards sparking conversations, heightening anxieties and causing educational communities, near and far, to participate in what feels like a pin ball game of 'do this', 'no do that', 'here's another web site', 'this book', 'let's have another meeting', 
makes you confused.
And, seriously, no one wants to have another meeting.
So, instead of looking at what we are teaching (content), let's look at how we are teaching.  As an art teacher I am encouraged to talk with my fellow colleagues and see how I can align my curriculum to theirs.  First, I never really saw how that was fair.  Second, this notion concludes in drawing stick people with some charcoal because the subject is early man.  Third, I don't think that's what alignment actually means.  
I mean, I get it....but what are we aligning?

Caleb Chamberland: Electricity through ART
This question really didn't make much sense to me and I often questioned the meaning, until...these past couple of years when the flurry of new national initiatives came along.

There are skills that are transferable, that students do in every class.  What we as teachers and art teachers need to do is align those skills.  About 7 or 8 years ago, I took a graduate coarse focusing on Art and Literacy, in which the content of the class emphasized the importance of students using thinking strategies to achieve a better understanding an artwork but also to evoke high thinking skills.  
Basic questions to spark complex thoughts, whole group discussions and a bit of wonderment.

What do you see?
What's the story?
What makes you say that?
What more do you want to know?
How does it make you feel?

Most of these questions are components to Visual Thinking Strategies that both art teachers and classroom teachers can use in conjunction with their established curriculum.
What's so special about these questions? 
Nothing too special, other than the skills students need to use to respond them:
description....the list can go on and on.  The vocabulary seemed very familiar and it wasn't until I read through 

Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core: 55 Words That Make or Break Student Understanding that I had my Ah HA! moment.  

"Well this is what I do", I thought to myself....hmmm.

So, after 7 or 8 years, I started aligning.  Not what the students were 'doing' but what skills the students were using.  I sent out a message to my entire staff, asking them to fill out a survey answering some brief questions about what main units they were covering throughout the year. 
The list was great and helped me design a template using these basic questions in Google presentations, throughout the year about specific theme, unit or topic.  From science to social studies, to quick literature units to thematic studies about culture and tradition, I found a way to infiltrate the belly of the beast.  

And alignment made sense.

The best part, the teachers are using art: paintings, drawings, sculptures and photography in their own lesson plans about electricity, Native Americans, insects, weather, to name a few.
Carmen Lomas Garza: Family Traditions through ART
And, if the art teachers is using this vocabulary, these strategies and these thinking prompts....and the classroom teacher is doing the same.....
alignment makes more sense.

Check out some of my Google Presentations.
Apartheid through ART

xoxo, SMocK you.....buzzzzz.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cloudy with a Chance of Surrealism...4th Grade

using storybook illustration and an imaginary world to connect with the concept of surrealism

Earlier on in the year, Scholastic ART Magazine approached me about creating another lesson for their December/January issue.  I was thrilled and took on this wonderful and fun challenge.  This time, the theme was Henri Magritte, targeting Elements of Design: variation and repetition, capturing the idea of surrealism in a fun, kid friendly way.

I wanted my students to really investigate the purpose and reason why Surrealism made such a big splash.  I did not want to show them a couple of Magrittes, Dalis, de Chiricos or Man Rays and say let's make weird pictures.  The artistic style of Surrealism is complex enough for adults, let alone 10 year olds.  But, my challenge was to have my students make a relevant connection within their own world, to begin to understand this subject area.  
HOW????  Was a really big question that I repeated a million times in my head.  As I was looking as numerous and various paintings by Magritte, I began to group paintings with the targeted elements of design.  Most of what I was grouping showed clouds suspended over various landscapes, clouds hovering over various objects and heavy objects floating effortlessly in the sky. I was getting somewhere, but the big question still remained....HOW? Who really cares if someone painted things that float?  I still needed a hook to engage my students in the lesson.  So, I kept brainstorming and thinking, and re-thinking, and re-thinking, until in the background noise of my television I heard the trailer for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.  Mind you, I had not seen Meatballs 1 or even picked up the book.  But, the trailer caught my curiosity and I did a little research, only to find.....a wonderfully illustrated book that demonstrates all the connections I needed!  

Henri Magritte is famously known for a few trademark objects: his pipe, his hat and that symbolic green apple.  That was the link I needed to engage my students and encourage them to connect their art with something that is contemporary and relevant to their lives---at the moment.

You Tube: Book Reading

I put together a power point presentation, that started with the simple breakdown of the word "Surrealism", opening a discussion about the meaning behind the images they were about to observe.  This lead my students to connect the definition of surrealism to the overall idea of the book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  And it worked!

All components of the lesson fell into place and connected.  In the end, the students used their own imaginations to create a landscape, mixed-media drawing.

Check out the lesson at
Scholastic Art and review the entire Issue, with helpful resources here.  

Students followed a few simple guidelines.  Each day was a mini-lesson on materials and techniques needed to achieve our final art works.

Check out more great teacher resources at Scholastic Art!
 xoxo, SMocK you.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Re-examining the Lesson Plan

finding solace in a 'mess'
Lesson Plan for 2nd grade "Family" unit
I have to admit, when an administrator, fellow teacher or publisher would ask for a written "lesson plan" a sense of anxiety and a bit of fear would take over my senses.  I would freeze up and frantically look up how to write a lesson plan.  
Why in the world would I need to look up "how to write a lesson plan"?
I mean, I have done this many times before, in the past 13 years!  But I would freeze, thinking, 'this basic instructional practice has been ingrained in my knowledge since the first educational coarse as an undergrad, but I don't know how to put everything we will do in one lesson in this unwelcoming and very linear format'! (wow, long sentence).  I write my 'lesson plan' in a composition book, with sticky notes, and arrows, and more sticky notes, and different colored pens, all numbered and re-numbered.  It made me a bit nervous.  It made me nervous because that's not what a "lesson plan" looks like....a mess. But, I have become friends with this mess and my students benefit from all the post-it notes.          
It is liberating to break free from the template of "writing a good lesson plan" and look at the bigger picture of what the students need to learn and how to learn.  Since the start of my teaching career, everything had a "template".  Just this morning, IEA posted on Facebook (from another website) Common Core Lesson Plan Template:
Part of the CCSS national initiative is instilling skills of creativity and innovation, encouraging our students to think beyond the textbook. are they suppose to do that if everything is from a template, forcing teaching practices to fit into the confines of an outlined lesson, that really looks great typed up but does nothing for student development.
My anxiety and hesitations were calmed while sitting in a presentation at the annual Illinois Arts Education Association conference this year.  I was listening to Olivia Gude, a innovative, progressive and creative art educator, speaking to us about new approaches to teaching art through the concept of bricolage.

Presentation: Olivia Gude
BRICOLAGE:  construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand; also :  something constructed in this way

As she spoke about the "lesson plan" and flashed a slide of a web, with different ideas connecting to each other while surrounding an overarching goal....I was relieved.  I took a deep breath, looked back at my colleague and said, "Thank God."
Outcome of "Family Tree" Lesson Plan

Because in order for my students to think more critically about their work, I need to think more creatively about how to engage their thinking.  

Happy New Year!
xoxo, SMock you.