Humble Pie

I don’t like it when I don’t have it all figured out.  It kinda sucks.  I’ve been teaching since 1999, and there are many days when I still feel absolutely clueless.  This year, I’m working on a TLLP with my partner Lindsay, and it seems like I have to move backward before moving forward.


I brought more inquiry-based tasks into my classroom and provided more freedom for my students.  The thing is, progress started to slow down once students began to move past the initial “ideation” stage.  Actually, saying that things slowed down is an understatement.  Stalled might be more accurate.

I won’t lie:  it would be awfully convenient to assume that my students simply don’t have a proper work ethic.  The thing is, I’m teaching students about critical thinking, and I need to examine this issue from more than one perspective.  If I’m being really honest, the fault isn’t found with my students — it’s found with me.

If I truly want to provide an environment where students can follow their curiosities and passions, they are going to need more support.  A framework for learning can help them transition from structured inquiry to free inquiry, making it easier for students to assume more responsibility and leadership.

Now I need to meet with my partner and figure out what this framework is going to look like.  If students can depend on the structure for their larger tasks (my responsibility), they will be able to manage their decisions and actions (their responsibility) with greater confidence.


So, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and figure this out (with Lindsay’s help).  What does inquiry look like in each of my classes?  How can I provide enough structure for students to have the freedom they need?

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Critical Thinking + Computational Thinking + Sketchnoting

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In a recent post on my class website, I asked the question, “Sketchnoting & Critical Thinking… What are They, & How do They Connect?“.  Students who responded to this task really helped me understand the deep connections that I hadn’t anticipated.  *I had guessed there might be connections, but I wasn’t sure, so this activity was a bit of an inquiry…! 

Our school is trying to use critical thinking activities to help students who need help with literacy, but I hadn’t realized the benefits of critical thinking until we began our explorations.  Honestly, this is new learning for me, so my students and I are figuring this out together.

To add to this thinking (or wondering), last week I took part in a day dedicated to learning about computational thinking.  We explored Scratch, Sphero, and Python with the help and guidance of Lisa Anne Floyd, our facilitator for the day (it’s so great to meet a new friend whose thinking you admire). *a special thanks to Stacey Wallwin, who arranged our day!

In each of our tasks, we not only learned new skills, but were challenged to think differently; everything we did needed to be carefully considered and analyzed (especially when something unexpected happened).

How can critical and computational thinking help students in all of their classes?  

Is it enough to be aware of these forms of thinking?  How do we embed this kind of thinking into daily activities, to encourage better learning in our classrooms?

What I appreciate most about this kind of thinking is the need to slow down.  

In both critical and computational thinking, I am forced to focus; each step needs to be calculated with care.  This is also how I work as an artist and what allows me to get lost in the process; a love for the beauty of contemplation.

My friend Katherine Douglas recently shared something she wrote a while ago, but that connects to these ideas: …in the world today “information” is easily available everywhere.  The teacher as a conveyor of information has become relatively unimportant — what the teacher offers is who he/she is as a learner, artist, thinker, connector — that is what students will or will not absorb.”


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Just a Project. Just a Mark.

Yesterday, something happened that hadn’t happened before.  A student was concerned that he wouldn’t finish his project by the due date (I have mixed feelings on due dates, but I won’t discuss this in today’s post).  He said “I can do a painting or something, to be finished on time”, with a quick look up at me.

I said no.

His work is more valuable than an empty painting with no soul, made quickly for the sake of a project or a mark.  A few weeks ago, he asked if it was ok to use a program to learn about electronic music rather than focus on using traditional art materials.  *this is what I like to call a “goosebump moment”

Since he decided that he wanted to develop his skills with sounds and tracks, he’s been unstoppable.  Without having to ask or demand, I know for certain that he will be on his laptop, designing sounds.  My mind starts to wander with questions about how I can best support his learning: who are the experts in sound design?  Who would know the basics, and who could he ask when he has questions?  What kind of art uses sound design, and where can I find examples of this work to share with him?

Yesterday was a great day.  Now to learn about the best way to share his “thumbnail sketches”:  podcasts maybe!



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Design Process Thinking: Mind Mapping

Last week, grade 11 art students began exploring their first major task:  #Canada150.  We devoted a few days to exploration:  looking through each of the artists’ sites and artworks, discussing their significance as well as our topic.  I wanted to use Design Process Thinking to guide our work because of its usefulness in TAB-based classrooms, and because Melissa Purtee had simplified the process so nicely.

Now, on to the fun part:  Step 2.  Time for Design!

Fate seemed to work in our favour, because Clara Lieu shared an October challenge called #ArtProfDare.  The “dare” is related to her theme of your future self, but she also invited participants to use mind mapping — a tool to help you think about a topic, and to consider multiple sub-topics or perspectives — so I decided to use it with our topic of #Canada150.

Students appreciated how mind mapping fit into Design Process Thinking, and they really enjoyed Clara’s 51 second video, which demonstrated mind mapping in action (with a very helpful explanation).

After discussing how we could use mind mapping with our topic (and sharing a short demo with my class), students began to let their thoughts flow freely…


My heart skipped a beat when Brandi discussed her love of trapping with me; my parents used to own a trapline, so I can’t wait to see where she goes with this!


Dennis has shared such beautiful thinking here ~ his honest questioning along with his connections to the land and older generations are already telling such a unique story…


I am fascinated with Ebony’s topics, and very curious about so many ideas that she shares in her mind map! I feel like this is the beginning of so many rich conversations for us.


I love reading through the mix of natural elements and aspects of Indigenous culture that Hannah has used in her mind map.  It helps to see some beautiful sketches in the corner too🙂


Maya’s mind map is so intriguing; her thoughts flow freely through so many aspects of her life, including her liberal-minded family, expectations and feminism ~ wow!

I wasn’t kidding when I told my students that, like proud parents or grandparents who love boasting about their kids, I love sharing my students’ work.  Their thinking and their creations are absolutely fascinating, especially when they connect their work with their heads and their hearts.

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A Framework for Design

Melissa Purtee wrote a post that intrigued me because of her willingness to discuss a topic that challenges some educators.  The connections formed between motivation, behaviour and cognition were brilliant.  Many times, students possess a level of motivation that allows them to progress through tasks, but it isn’t always this easy.  What I appreciate most is her development of a framework for Design Process Thinking:


There are two main reasons why I am grateful for Melissa’s post:  1) Any time we scaffold the steps required to succeed, we know that our students’ best interests are our priority, and 2) A framework is a handy assessment tool which may help us identify where students need help.  If, for some reason, a student appears unmotivated (such as Emma, the student whose story is told in Melissa’s post), it may simply be that they need extra help in one stage of the Design Process.

I would love to see another diagram: one that specializes on each step of DPT and provides even more scaffolding.  I believe this could help many educators provide open-ended learning opportunities for their students.


In the next task that is planned for my senior art class, I want to spend time breaking down each step of the Design Process (which, thankfully, is quite similar to the Creative Process, available in the Ontario Curriculum for Visual Arts).  The image above is meant to address the Inspiration stage of the Design Process.  Here, I begin by introducing the topic that will help guide our thinking throughout our task.  I ask questions that will spark discussions in class, or will serve to prompt new explorations for students who hadn’t considered these ideas before.

I’m interested to hear from other art educators.  What kind of framework do you use in your classrooms?  Which models help your students the most?  Do you have any suggestions or tips that you would like to share?





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If I hadn’t tried TAB

Today, I introduced an activity to help my senior students notice the differences between lines and values.  I had been sifting through Clara Lieu’s playlist, “How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal & Cross-Hatching” and thought that Clara’s tip to begin a drawing by coating it in a layer of charcoal was a great idea.  Her reasoning that it took the pressure off was excellent:  a blank white page can indeed be very intimidating!

Alas, most of my students didn’t enjoy the activity.  Of the 12 students who were in class (some were attending a meeting), maybe 2 or 3 admitted that they enjoyed what they were doing and were quite happy to share their work with me.

Did this hurt my feelings?  Did I worry that they might not learn how to use this particular skill?  Did I cringe when I saw some exercises tossed in the garbage bin?


This activity wasn’t accompanied by any sort of evaluation or anxiety.  It was an activity.  A way for students to see what it was like to work with a material.  Without pressure.  Without an expectation that they needed to get better next time.

This was my way to share an option with them, to see how they liked it.  That’s it.  If they like it, great.  Perhaps this may be the start of a new exploration for them; a way to share the way they see things.  Maybe this is a way they can further refine the skills they want to acquire.  But maybe it isn’t.

You know what gave me a sense of peace about the whole experience?  Knowing that one of my students dug up some very thin tree roots this weekend just so that he could strip them of their outer layer and find a way to work with them throughout the semester, connecting him to the land that he loves.  Sharing a conversation with a student who is hoping to use a program to help him learn about architecture.  Exploring how-to videos with a student who is hoping to become a better photographer so we both need to learn more about aperture, ISO and shutter speed.  Sitting next to a student, mesmerized as I watched her practice calligraphy on magazine images because of her passion for literature. Glimpsing at an independent student who rummages for wooden frames and stretches her own canvases so she can continue to paint.

I have a lot of learning ahead of me.  Thankfully most of my students forgive me for my faults while we try to figure out a lot of things together.  Their interests, abilities and hopes are the focus of this year’s curriculum, and I am merely the person helping them as they sort through their thinking, explore their curiosities, share ideas with others and develop as artists.


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Could Doug Actually Change My Mind?

Last week, I wrote a blog post about the need for originality in art, and illustrated my point by judging cover bands.  They were judged a bit harshly, and Doug caught me.  I found out by reading his blog this morning, and I have to admit that he made a good point.  Many good points, actually…  you really need to read what he had to say.

Doug made me do my homework too.  After hearing Bruce Springsteen’s cover of John Fogarty’s Rockin’ All Over the World, I ended up doing some research on YouTube and found the original performance by Fogarty (I hadn’t been familiar with the song at all before this point).  It’s hard to say which artist has done a better job, but maybe that’s because I’m a bit stubborn and might not want to admit defeat quite so easily.

The thing is, after thinking about it, I realized that I do enjoy some cover bands (a green eggs & ham moment, maybe?).  This one is dedicated to Doug.


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