Have you ever been so overwhelmed by something you’ve learned, that it feels like you know nothing at all? Or so inspired by someone’s ideas that you end up with more questions than answers?
There is so much information available to educators right now, we are on the verge of an embarrassment of riches. Technology has enabled people to share ideas much like Gutenberg’s printing press… only a bazillion times faster.
But what does the average educator do to keep up? How do we make sense of what we’re learning? This one draws a picture… completely old-school. It helps to back up a bit, see the bigger picture, and look for a way to make things more understandable.
This summer, I was fortunate to read the article, “Smoke and Mirrors: Art Teacher as Magician” by Nan E. Hathaway. Brilliant and bold, Hathaway made me question my teaching practice: Are my students’ artworks the result of real learning, or just the results of my own creative process?
Ouch! That hurt my teacher-pride!
Picking myself off the floor and dusting myself off…
Teaching for Artistic Behaviour echoes many of the concepts from Hathaway’s article, and urges to keep students’ interests and preferences at the heart of their educational experience:
CHOICE-BASED ART EDUCATION regards students as artists and offers them real choices for responding to their own ideas and interests through the making of art. This concept supports multiple modes of learning and teaching for the diverse needs of students. The learning environment provides resources and opportunities to construct knowledge and meaning in the process of making art. Choice-Based Art Education utilizes multiple forms of assessment to support student and teacher growth.
How do we balance the roles of teacher and student? How do we make sure that the need for control does not supersede the need for independence and freedom of expression?
Ontario’s Growing Success document helps us to solve a few of our dilemmas by focusing on learning goals (guiding us back to our curriculum). By taking a good look at what we really need to teach, there is new freedom available to us. For example, we don’t teach, assess and evaluate students on their ability to use Power Point, Vine or VoiceThread — these are simply tools students can use to show their understanding of material we teach them. Think how nicely this complements Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences.
Our Growing Success document also suggests how important assessment can be in our attempts to achieve the balance we’re striving for:
“…student and teacher learn together in a collaborative relationship, each playing an active role in setting learning goals, developing success criteria, giving and receiving feedback, monitoring progress, and adjusting learning strategies.” (pg. 30, Growing Success)
This may sound idealistic, but I believe it’s not as difficult as it seems. This past year, my students developed digital portfolios (blogs), and documented their learning in a very visible way (think of Hattie). Not only did we benefit from increased organization, but students enjoyed the opportunity for valid feedback. This feedback often worked in the form of comments on blog posts, sometimes striking a conversation about student work, informing decisions on student understanding and next steps for learning. The written portions of their posts also provided insight regarding their preferences in the classroom, which helped to guide future work.
So, if we’re presenting the curriculum in a clear manner, and we’re providing plenty of freedom for students to choose how they show their understanding, we have a structure in place for some great learning, don’t we?
*At the end of my ‘sketch session’, I wrote that it’s like we’re building a house — making sure the foundation and structure are there, but the design is optional. Then I came across the following article by Tanya de Hoog: Teacher or Learning Architect . I love the image created by the title, ‘Learning Architect’, because it summarizes the idea of structure complemented with design.
I may be biased because I am an art teacher, but I believe that there is beauty in the art of teaching. An artist carefully designs each composition and responds to his or her materials, crafting and creating a beautiful composition.