A Model of Thinking

The Arts Curriculum for Ontario has provided educators with two models of thinking that are very helpful for teachers and students.  If we use these models as a foundation on which we build our understanding of course concepts, our learning can be both personal and structured.

All of my classes are becoming more familiar with the Critical Analysis process, because the format helps to guide our thinking while we approach new artworks and art forms.  Yesterday, each of my classes viewed Sergei Polunin’s performance of “Take Me To Church”.  Unlike most art forms that we would analyze in class, this was a ballet piece.  It was interesting to see how helpful the Critical Analysis process could be while approaching a new and unfamiliar form of art.

Sergei Polunin, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, Directed by David LaChapelle from David LaChapelle Studio on Vimeo.

We are just finishing the second week of this semester, so I didn’t want to overload my students with too many concepts all at once.  Instead, we focused on our Initial Reactions to the video.

critical analysis

Here are some of my students initial reactions:

“Is he naked??”

“What does it mean, and why that song?”

“What was the story?”

“This is interpretive dance as, a guess, which has emotional meaning to it.  The movement suggests deeper pain behind the dance”

“My questions is ‘why would he be wearing a nude colour, does it have deeper meaning?'”

“When he danced it seemed kind of emotional for him, the way his facial expressions were (grabbing his head)”

“The setting, lighting, and music felt like they formed together.”

“This dance evokes the really sad emotional side of me. I also feel that the white made it a lot more dramatized.”

“The movement suggests that he is emotional and puts a lot of emotion and feelings into his dance.”

“This work brought something to mind.  Mainly an idea for a drawing…  I guess a connection I made with him is the liking of movement, him in actual life, me in drawing.”

“Why is it ballet dancing and not some other form of dancing?”

“Guys can rock ballet.”

“What exactly is it supposed to represent?”

“It was very well done, but it didn’t interest me.”

“How long did the dance take to make and learn?  …and what’s the story behind the dance?”

“I realized that you can tell that the song/dance means something to him.”

“The story being told seems very heartbreaking and sad.  I wonder what the actual story is.”

“This work reminds me of someone struggling.”

“The guy seemed so strong, brave and classy.”

“My first impression of this work is that it shows an inner fight and is exhibited through dance.  This work evokes empathy for the struggle, beauty for the dance, and loneliness for the context.”

“It puzzles me not knowing why he is showing such pain and why he seems so emotional.”

“[The dance] suggests to me that he is alone and there is no one to help him and his troubles.”

“This work evokes emotions and made me feel weird and uncomfortable, but it is still pretty amazing, the way he was dancing.”

“Why did the man not have a shirt on?”

“Watching this, I realized that the man dancing is obviously very passionate about dancing, like a painter when they paint or a singer when they sing.”

“What was the message he was trying to send?”

“What is going through his mind during this time?”

“The dancer is trying to prove a point with his moves.”

“It’s very dramatic.  It’s dramatic because of the music and how he is dancing.  He’s expressing himself and his emotions throughout his dancing.”

“It was like Footloose in the woods.”

“Why are so many artists doing music videos with one ballet dancer in one empty, white room?”

“This work brings the movie ‘Footloose’ to mind because he is dancing in a warehouse place by himself.”

Today, my students will read through all of our initial reactions.  I hope they begin to see how other students think, and that there are many ways to observe and appreciate art.  I also hope that they feel confident that their thoughts are very valid.



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Moving Beyond the Elements and Principles in #ArtsEd

Olivia Gude’s publication, “Postmodern Principles: in Search of 21st Century Art Education” has often been an invaluable resource as I strive to restructure the opportunities for learning in my classroom.  Any art educator will be familiar with the Elements and Principles, but not many will admit to feeling confined by their use as the pillars of creation and analysis of art.  I’m not saying that they have a negative impact on art education, but if we limit ourselves to understanding art through the lens of Modernist design, we are clipping our own wings.

In 2013, I explored the principle of recontextualization through the use of Vine.  This year, my senior students will be encouraged to play with the app, along with other forms of media that provide more freedom of expression.  When I think of Postmodern principles such as layeringinteraction of text & imagejuxtaposition, and appropriation, I wonder about the endless possibilities for artworks that students can create by taking advantage of new possibilities found through thematic work coupled with choice of media.

Today, I learned about Zeega, an online tool that allows you to combine a variety of media (gifs, images, music) to create your own artwork.  These visual remixes allow the user to form new meaning by appropriating material that is free to play with.

I wonder what kinds of stories my students will tell?

Related information:  Amy Burvall


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Making Thinking Visible, Part 1

Last week, my Principal introduced the staff to Making Thinking Visible, a book by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison.  I’ve only just finished the first chapter, but wanted to share my thoughts bit by bit to help keep things clear.


Thinking is a term that we use to encourage students along the learning process, but do we really understand what is meant by thinking?  The authors make a point of analyzing, or unpacking thinking, making distinctions between its traits as well as those of learning and understanding.


What kinds of thinking do you value and want to promote in your classroom?

The authors strive to build an awareness for educators; one that helps us dig much deeper into the purpose of our lesson planning and daily activities.  When I read the types of thinking that were integral to understanding, I thought about the connections between their list and the critical analysis process that is used in my art classes.  You may also see similarities to your own curriculum:

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
  2. Building explanations and interpretations
  3. Reasoning with evidence
  4. Making connections
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions

By being clearer in our own minds as teachers about the kinds of thinking we want our students to do, we can be more effective in our instructional planning. (p.15)

While browsing through blog posts over the past few days, I happened to spot a few reflections related to this topic.  Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen are two of the nicest people you’ll meet, and they are absolutely brilliant.  Take a peek at Brenda’s post, “Making Thinking Visible — Getting Started With Routines“, and Peter’s post, “Knowledge Building:  What is it Really?



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An Interview with Roy MacGregor

My grade 9 #NipRockArt students were thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Roy MacGregor today via Skype.  The class is busy working on their culminating assignment as semester one draws to a close, and his research has helped our class understand the mystery surrounding the death of Tom Thomson.  We began by watching his interview with Steve Paikin on The Agenda:

After watching the video, we discussed some of the main ideas and thought of questions we would like to pass along to Mr. MacGregor.  At this point, we didn’t know that we would have the chance to speak with him, so our written notes came in extra-handy during our discussion!


We encountered a few technical glitches that threatened to affect the success of our call, but managed to work past the issues and eventually found a way to get both the audio and video working together.  At one point, we thought we might have to use my iPhone for our entire chat… I’m so glad this didn’t have to happen!

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To top it all off, we were interviewed on CBC radio!  If you would like to listen, please click *here*.

The grade 9 art class and I would like to thank Roy MacGregor for sharing his time with us today! 



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Ice Photography Along the North Shore of Lake Superior

Today’s trek to Terrace Bay and Rossport involved a series of stops on the side of the highway to run through snow until I got to the lakeshore. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much snow, but some beautiful ice images to capture…






"Ice shells"... dainty rock coverings that had fallen off of their molds, leaving fragile natural sculptures.

“Ice shells”… dainty rock coverings that had fallen off of their molds, leaving fragile natural sculptures.


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What Comes Before Creativity?

My students have been exploring growth mindset lately.  Together, we have discussed what it is, how it differs from a fixed mindset, and what is needed to support those who are willing to realign their thinking.


Many students are nervous about art class, but I’m not sure if I fully understood the reasons why… until just recently.  For the longest time, I was convinced that the majority of students held back from improving their skills because they were sure that they had no talent.  All too often, art class is considered to be a place for those who have been endowed with a natural ability to express themselves through “beautiful” artworks; things that are created with an air of mystery and presented at a lofty level, far above the understanding of the masses.

Although these false assumptions still wreak havoc on the minds of some art students, the real culprits lurk in the shadows:  fear of judgment, fear of failure, and fear of others.


What can we do to help students move past these fears?



I know that Amy’s picture is referring to an article about Twyla Tharp’s work on creativity, but I’m hijacking it for my own purposes here.  Students need help building a backbone if they are going to be able to use it for the hard labour ahead:  practicing skills, making an effort to be creative, and even going so far as to be original.



How are we helping to lay the foundation for true creativity in our classrooms?  Do we assume that skills are the fundamentals to help build confidence in our students, or are we willing to dig a bit deeper to see what is really needed?  If we refrain from creating a positive learning environment because we are focused on a list of curriculum expectations, whose needs are we serving?




Last week, as I was making my rounds in the class, I walked over to a corner of the room where a student was quietly working on her latest project.  When I saw that she was using a lighter, my knee-jerk reaction involved asking her to stop what she was doing.  After a moment, she patiently showed me what she was doing and why it was effective for her art. She even compared the technique with that of one of her classmates, showing me the benefits of smoother lines in her composition.



This week, two of my students collaborated on an artwork that involved dipping a basketball in paint and making a series of bounce passes to each other.  Where the ball bounced, prints were made on the paper that was on the floor between the two artists.  The result was excellent, even if our classroom ended up a bit messier than usual.


My students continue to teach me.  Thanks to our discussions, I am learning what needs to change for them to prosper.  We will work toward establishing a repertoire of skills, but that won’t make us lose our focus on meeting the conditions necessary for a healthy learning environment.


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Student Voice: Learning Conditions Needed to Support a Growth Mindset

I can’t explain the learning that has been happening in my classroom lately.  All I know is that it’s cool.  Maybe after reading through this post, you can help to explain it and make meaning from it by providing another perspective.

An interesting dialogue has begun to develop between my students and Dave Tamblyn, the Director of our school board.  What started as a simple post to help curate the events from a Leadership Learning Team meeting, has turned into a series of connected questions and responses regarding growth mindset, fixed mindset, and conditions for learning.

In my last post, students explored the potential of changing a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.  Most students agreed that this process wasn’t simple and that it depended on a variety of factors, which is what prompted Mr. Tamblyn’s question at the end of his latest comment:

I am curious to know what students think are the learning conditions necessary to support a growth mindset? ~ Dave Tamblyn

**note:  Dave’s comment was anything but brief.  When my classes read his thoughtful reflections on their ideas, something very meaningful happened.  Right away, they asked for some sticky notes so they could write down their opinions, which they knew I would use to create this blog post.





Two students took the time to go beyond the sticky note, and blogged their thoughts:

I find that the subject I struggle with having a growth mind set the most in is my university functions class. Although my marks are still satisfactory I find this year I am struggling to come to terms with new concepts. I also noticed I enjoyed my math class more last year when most of the curriculum was expanding on concepts already taught in grade nine. This year however most of the information is new to me, and I am having trouble coming to terms with the direction the curriculum has [taken]. 

In order for me to improve my mind set in this class I need to do a series of things. The first, is to remain positive. If I believe in my strong math background I know I will be able to overcome my lack of confidence when facing issues that make me feel defeated and unmotivated to learn anymore. The second, is to ask more questions. I need to stop being afraid of the possibility of being incorrect, and voice my questions and concerns to not only my teacher, but my peers.
Hopefully I can implement these ideas in my course and continue to succeed. (Olivia)

One more:

Today in class we earned about the idea of not being naturally good at something, or having a bit of talent, but working and practicing at it to become better.  This can really relate to anything in life, classes of all types, jobs, the list goes on and on.

I decided to relate this idea to something I’ve been working on lately…

(**please take the time to click on this link  from Hanna to read the rest of this post, which includes plenty of pictures and wonderful reflections**)

Thank you to my students for their willingness to provide such honest insights.  It takes courage to share your thoughts with others, so let’s hope that these posts can be our first steps to even better learning together!  

Please feel free to share your thoughts below.



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