Friday, July 18, 2014

Arts Night done right!

I have tried so many different methods of throwing an Art show.

From hanging artwork for Family Conferences, to teaming up with the Thanksgiving family dinner, to filling the hallways before 8th grade graduation- I really have tried it all. No matter who or what I paired it with, I always got the same results: parents looking briefly at the artwork, if at all, before they moved to the main event of that evening- in these cases it was free dinner, meeting with core content teachers, or watching their child walk across the stage. Though I was always disappointed, I understood why parents weren't too interested in the artwork- it wasn't why they were there! 
The burning question then became how do I make ART the main event? How do I entice students and parents to come to an art show with excitement and enthusiasm? Thanks to the help of my incredible team members, I think we finally got it right.
Last year's Spring MAGn'T Arts Night was probably the most successful event we've ever hosted. It was a culmination of a year's work in Art class, Music class, Technology class, as well as numerous after-school programs such as Nail Art, Photoshop, and Chorus. 
Here's how we did it: 

First, we made everything interactive. Instead of only looking at the finished result, families and staff got to see how students got to that result and give it a try themselves!  Looking at student self-portraits became a game of "Guess Who?," the computer lab became a crash course in photoshop, the hallway became a musical studio, and more. 

Second, we made it appeal to students. Student's love taking selfies, so we added a photo booth! Young ladies are always wanting to stay after-school and get their nails painted, so we included a nail-painting station. We also offered up the opportunity to get community service hours. (In each grade students have a required number of community service hours to complete.) Doesn't teaching parents how you learned to play the piano sound like more fun than cleaning up the park? 

Third, we made it appeal to parents. All parents at our school are required to participate in a minimum of 10 parent involvement hours throughout the school year. Come to our arts night, and you can get two hours knocked off right there! 

Fourth, we did some marketing & advertised! We put posters all over the school and talked it up in classes day in and day out. Student volunteers became our street team and told everyone that they'd better be there! We made connect-ed phone calls to the entire school community with a singing advertisement (done by our awesome music teacher) about why they should come to Arts Night, which was the talk of the school for days! We offered a special deal on admission- $1.00 if you come alone as a student but FREE if you bring a parent! (Charging admission for an Arts Night isn't something we'd normally do, but we tried it as an incentive for students to bring their parents, and it worked!)

Here are some photos from our night!  

A wonderful student volunteer directing parents.
Can you guess who?
The cup game! & some Mandalas.
A parent trying out observational drawing!
Students & staff having their nails done!
A student giving mom a crash course in Photoshop!
Piano station!
Make a mask... 
& have your picture taken!
Bucket drummers! 
Vocal performances! 
As families entered the Arts Night we gave them a checklist to help them navigate the evening & a survey to get some feedback on how the event went. Completion of the survey also guaranteed their 2 hours of parent involvement. They dropped the surveys in a box as they exited. Here is the survey: 

The survey was a huge success! Here are the results: 

Now, how do we top this next year? :)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What did they learn?

     As the school year comes to a close, it is natural for me to think about the year that just passed. The three biggest questions that I ask myself are: What did I do right? What do I need to do better? and probably most important, What did they learn?
     It's easy to think about what I did right... I remember the lessons that had students jumping out of their seats with enthusiasm, the projects that got the most "wow"s at the art show, and the days that I couldn't get kids to go home. It's a little less fun to think about what I need to do better... the classes that had students looking more like they were ready for a nap than making art, the stack of nameless projects whose owner I can't seem to locate, or the postcard to a parent I just found (from 2nd quarter) that apparently never found it's way into the mailbox... oops.
     But, how do I really know what my students took away their hours in the art room, how do I know what they learned?
     Being reflective is an incredibly valuable practice in both teaching and artistry, so it is fitting that I'd involve my students in the process. I asked them... "What is the most memorable thing you learned in art class this year?" Here are a few of their responses:

     What they learned is so much more than what I wrote in all of those units & lesson plans. My students may or may not remember all of the art terms, or specifics about techniques and materials. Frankly, that is okay with me. The fact that students are remembering things like how to work through a challenge when they are faced with one, how to express themselves meaningfully, or how to turn a mistake into something positive proves that I have taught students skills that will translate into many areas of their life; skills that they can carry with them forever. This is what I believe arts programs can really do for students, especially those in an urban community. Of course I believe that arts themselves are extremely meaningful and of great worth to learn about and participate in, but, the other things that can be learned through participation in the arts can really make all the difference.

What reflection questions do you ask yourself at the close of a school year? What do you think are the most important things for your students to learn in your art room?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Student Choice Projects...

     My friends from college are all doing it, my past art ed. professors now teach it, and everyone in the world of art education has heard about it- TAB: Teaching for Artistic Behavior; otherwise known as Choice-based art education. From what I gather, the TAB model treats students as artists and allows them to decide what kind of art they want to make based on their interests and their own ideas. Some TAB teachers set their room up as centers for different materials that students can use freely to create their artwork.
Organization... so much time and effort... 
     In someone else's classroom, TAB sounds awesome! In mine, it sounds like a horrifying nightmare of disorganization and downright disaster. Don't get me wrong- I have been offering students choice in their artwork for as long as I have been teaching- but that was controlled choice, not free reign of our expensive and limited art materials! I have been trying to get on board with this for a few years now, but I just keep thinking about the countless times I need to remind my students that the scissors go in the scissor bin and not with the crayons, that the gluesticks need to be capped or they will dry out, and that I am not a magical cleaning fairy that will make their mess miraculously disappear when they leave the room! 

     To get past my fear, I equated this whole TAB thing to my experience sky-diving. There are a whole lot of things that could go wrong when free-falling out of a plane. But, in order to make it happen, you've just got to jump out and hope that the parachute works when you pull the cord. If you spend the whole flight up thinking about the things that can go wrong, you'll ruin the experience for yourself. 
     So, I did it. I took the dive... and the parachute opened! My students were incredible and rose to the occasion- impressing me continuously throughout the whole experience. 

Here's how I did it:
I started with my graduating 8th graders. I figured, after three years of listening to our school motto, "the mess you make is the mess you clean," they would be most able to take on the task. I introduced the project and got mixed reviews- some students were overjoyed at the opportunity, while others panicked at the lack of direct instruction and guidance. I shared a list of art lesson sites and allowed them to surf the web. I even made a pinterest page of possibilities for them to peruse. (Hey, that's where a lot of adult artists' get their inspiration, right?) Once they had some ideas, they completed a proposal for their project and submitted it to me. I asked them to describe the project & list the materials they would need. I also asked...
  • What IDEA does this project show or represent? (Your project must express an idea, emotion, opinion, etc.)
  • What about this project interests you? Why did you choose this project?
  • How challenging do you think this project will be for you? (Please choose a project that is not so challenging that you cannot be successful, but also not too simple.)
  • How does this project connect to something we have done in art before? 
     After they submitted their proposal, they got right to work. I gave them 3 full class periods to work (I may have given more, but the school year was about to end, so we were in a bit of a time crunch). I saw students taking responsibility for their work like I had never seen before. My classes became free of behavioral redirections and volume control and filled with insightful and meaningful conversations about solving artistic problems. My struggling artists became fully engaged and accepting of the challenge before them, and my most talented students were thriving. AND they cleaned up after themselves with a level of integrity that I didn't even know was possible. Here are some of the results: 

In short, I'm sold. Choice-based art education will happen in my classroom next year, and forever. 

How have you made Choice-based art ed. happen successfully in your classroom? Did you have reservations, like me, or did you jump right in? What structures did you put in place to support a Choice-based classroom? I'd love to hear all about it!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Graffiti & Glitter explained.

     If I were to make a list of the most requested topics or materials in my art room, at the very top, you would find two things: graffiti & glitter. Splatter painting runs a close third (apparently middle school is the time to connect with your inner Jackson Pollock) but I couldn't think of a catchy enough title from splatter painting. Back to the graffiti- it is absolutely incredible to me how many times a year (sometimes more than once a day) I am engaged in dialogue with my students about graffiti. It sounds something like this: "Miss, when are we gonna' learn how to do REAL art, like graffiti?" or "Miss! Look at this drawing I did!" as they show me a print-out of a stylized graffiti alphabet and the letters of their name traced & colored on another sheet of printer paper. Luckily for my sanity, I love graffiti. I especially love to talk to my students about the social & political implications of graffiti and the artists who use graffiti to make statements of incredible worth. If the graffiti-interested student is intrigued by the idea of art as a means of making social commentary, I'm in art teacher heaven. But, if they aren't interested, they will usually stop asking me to do a "write your name in a cool graffiti font" lesson. I'd call that a win-win situation!

     Glitter, I do not like so much. One day, a few 7th grade girls came to see me to ask if they could borrow some glitter. They were doing a presentation in health class about how germs spread. In their presentation, one girl put glitter all over her hands and began shaking hands with other students in the class. As anyone who has used glitter before could probably predict, it took just minutes, even seconds, before there was glitter stuck to the clammy hands of every person in the room. This confirmed it for me: glitter is a germ. It spreads like wildfire, its nearly impossible to clean effectively, and even when you think you've finally got rid of it all, it hides in a dark corner of your room until it wants to make a mysterious reappearance on your upper lip moments before an important meeting with your administrator. I do have to admit, it is a pretty germ. I can appreciate it in things like nail polish (until you have to remove it!) or when it is shellacked onto something, like a fossilized ancient disease.

If you were to name the top two or three most requested things in your art room, what would they be? And tell me, how do you really feel about them? :)