Recently, I was challenged to look at where the weight of my foot is when crafting an Visual Arts Education program. How much research, reading, and writing do I ask my students to do, versus, How much hands-on creative processing and skill building do I ask? Should art class have rigor or be a place to take a break? Is art class the place to provide opportunities to build life skills such as collaboration, work-ethic, citizenship, and digital literacy. What class room environment do I create for my students: therapeutic, sanctuary and/or a working space with expectations? Is the emphasis on achievement, process, and/or relationships? Should I interrupt course curricula to accomodate an interdisciplinary unit with a colleague? What are my student’s perceptions of their art class experience? What are parental and community expectations of an art class experience for young people? What do my peers/co-workers expect of the art educator on their staff? A fellow staff member recently suggested we look at our changing population of students from middle class from educated families to more lower, working class and less-educated families and how we may need to change our teaching to meet their interests and probable avenue post high school- if they make it to walk with their class. Should all students be prepared for a wide array of possibilities, or should we take their strength and send them on a linear path toward a pre-destined and probable future? Do adults with pre-conceived ideas, and decades-old art education experiences need educating? Or, do we need to listen carefully to the voice of the collective? Do we “sell” art classes by thinning/lowering expectations to keep enrollment up or do we offer what we believe is excellent quality art education (which may be more work than some students wish to do) and potentially attract less students? Should there be different levels of art study- for example, could a student take art-general or art-college prep?
I am thought of by my students as demanding, strict, caring, and competent in visual arts. They complain about “paper work” in art. Some of my peers have shared with me that they see me as dedicated, hard-working, holding students accountable, messy, a pack-rat, and a master teacher. I often doubt myself- but have some healthy confidence. I love to work- love to teach- and create. The word is that my classes are a lot of work. I expect students to enter my class on time, read the “start up board”, begin working independently, take responsibility for their learning (no spoon-feeding), work the entire period, and make up missed classes. I ask my students to be helpful to others, ask thoughtful questions, be good listeners, avoid dependency, and take risks with their work. I require students to do research and planning in preparation for an upcoming unit. I give them project guidelines and demonstrate skills I expect them to practice and offer them the opportunity to revise the goals (at any point in their process) to make them their own. I ask them to keep an organized and complete binder, to use supplies modestly and with care, to leave their space better than they found it, to show concern for their classmates, to treat others kindly, to be a mirror for me (so that I may make improvements in my teaching). Students must complete project self evaluations, bi-weekly exit slips, quarterly self evaluations, and school-wide rubrics in writing, presentation, and citizenship. They must create an artfolio (online student portfolio), post required student-shot images, labels, and statements, and present their artfolio. They must participate in one critique per quarter. I post a student vocab bank for each unit. Students are invited to write on large paper new words and their definitions they learn and use for each two week period. For classes that are off track, I assign seats and set strick guidelines. I do my best to keep instructions and demos short so that students can get right into their project work. When I am at my best, I become passionate about student work, praise, get silly with the students, encourage students to challenge themselves, show patience when a student needs more time and guidance to achieve. I consider each student individually when evaluating their class participation, effort, and project work. I make it a point to exhibit at least one piece by every student I work with. I prefer to handle discipline on my own- to talk through differences with my students and will ask for support when needed. I give 30 minutes of homework each week. I don’t give quizzes- I consider student self evaluations, bi-weekly exit slips, and start-up questions (one question students answer at the beginning of each class- used to familiarize students with the MLR, our school mission statement, and other rote content) opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning beyond the project work itself. My weak area is timely assessment feedback and giving equal time to all members of my classes. I haven’t found an efficient way to grade project work- I usually spend 20 minutes per project- crazy! I tend to miss giving equal time to the “quiet ones”, who are less demanding of help. I enjoy creating new units, revising units, managing supplies. My happiest moments are when a student learns for the first time that you don’t have to be talented to be successful at art-making, when they put time in outside of class because they are motivated to excel, and when the resistors finally buy into my methods, know I have their back, and step up to the plate. My classes are weighted as follows: 50% project work and skill exercises 20% homework/binder/exit slips, 10% artfolio, 10% class participation/effort, 10% critiques/self evaluations/start-up questions. Mid term and Finals consist of an artfolio presentation, critique, reflective writing, and supply and equipment care. For more information about how I craft my program, please visit https://sites.google.com/a/svrsu-whs.org/whs-artland-ms-poulin/home
I wonder how you have crafted your program and established your classroom environment? How do you balance some of the tricky challenges I mentioned (and others)? How are you perceived by your students and peers? What do you see are your strengths and struggles? How does enrollment lead to choices you make about program? How do student and parent complaints/feedback influence your teaching, expectations, and curricula? Do you (like me) have moments where you believe you’ve got it all wrong- that you’ve lost your touch and then things turn around like magic- your sails are full and you are going somewhere!