Visual Arts and a Lasting Impression

Once again, using arts-based methods to enrich student learning has left a lasting impression.

52973366_7176dfba1b_zThis year, I have a student (let’s say it’s a girl and I’ll call her Bree – not the actual name of course), as I do every year, who needs a individual education plan with modified objectives to fit the child and ensure success with learning. This year, as I do every year, I’m working really hard to try to ‘learn’ each of my students so that I can do my best to teach them for the next 8 1/2 months. And this year, as I do every year, I do my best to ignore all the labels and pre-packaged notes that come along with kids until I formulate my own thoughts on who each child is as a person, as someone’s precious son or daughter, as a human being like me.

Today my students learned all about using dry media to create tonal development so that 2D shapes on paper look like more realistic 3D objects. This lesson was to prepare them to create still life pieces a couple of weeks from now using locally grown squash and vegetables. We talked about light direction, about the importance of shape to convey an object, about how blending light, medium and dark tones can make a simple shape ‘pop’ out of the page and trick one’s eye. Students practiced blending using stomps, art pencils and kneaded erasers. They once again showed how engaging art is. My favourite student comment of the day was “Who knew that drawing a circle and colouring it in could be so much fun!?”

At the beginning of the lesson, I did a demonstration and was reviewing the assignment. I asked one last time if there were any comments or questions. Several hands went up, including Bree’s.

Now I’m still ‘learning’ Bree. I do make time to talk with Bree regularly, and I’m working hard to create a trusting relationship so that Bree and I can have a good year of learning together. It’s sometimes difficult to understand Bree although she does seem to enjoy contributing to class discussions and lessons. Often the contributions, while clearly sensible to her, seem to be connected by the slightest of threads and it takes a bit of work to figure out the overall relevance and how her thought processes work.

After Bree raised her hand and shared her thoughts, I was thrilled to see that Bree’s comments showed a complete understanding of the concepts of light direction, tonal development and the value scale. She totally ‘got it’, better, I think, than most of the class. And she knew it, too. There was some confidence there, which isn’t always the case with her when she’s sharing her ideas and thoughts out loud.

I was even more thrilled when, at the end of the lesson, Bree showed me her completed artwork. It was great. Really great. Like fully-meeting-expectations-with-a-little-added-personal-artistic-flair great. And again, she knew it. She brought it up and showed me. This is a kid who struggles to initiate conversations. But once again, confidence and happiness and pride at a job well done was conveyed in a kid who doesn’t always have the opportunity to experience and/or show that in school.  As happy as it made me to see her that way, I’m guessing she felt even better than I did from the whole thing.

So once again, I was reminded about how important the visual arts can be to empowering a child. I brought home a lasting impression that this learning experience was powerful for that child in multiple ways. Not only did she create a great piece of artwork that she was proud to take home and share with her family, she shared her understanding of the related concepts orally in front of the entire class. I can’t stop thinking about how much I learned about her through this today and I’m still wondering how this experience will change her as a learner in my class.

Art isn’t just about the drawing. It isn’t just about the shading or the shape or the fancy pencils that blend and smudge. Art is about confidence and empowerment and an opportunity to speak up and share your ideas with others. It’s about a different way of thinking that allows the openness needed for all kids to find their space firmly within it’s wide open boundaries. It’s a vital component to a child’s overall cognitive, social, and emotional development. It’s a way of teaching and learning that kids love. It has the potential to create a powerful lasting impression.

Photo by moostive accessed October 24th, 2013 from Flickr.

Settling in to Present One Year of Learning in 20 Minutes


I’m thinking about presenting. Still deep in Masters mindset, I’m looking ahead to my last task – the comprehensive ‘exam’, which, it turns out, isn’t a traditional ‘exam’ at all.

The comprehensive exam is a demonstration of learning. To quote the course outline, it is ‘a presentation of significant understandings about education…and a demonstration of your systematic, critical, creative, and reasoned thinking about your inquiry as applied to your own inquiry and educational practice’. We have 20 minutes to present one year of learning, followed by 20 minutes of questions from our profs and a student reader, then 20 minutes of open questioning from anyone in the room.

twenty

To prepare, I’m re-reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. I’m going through his blog too. I’m not even halfway through the book, but I already have a list of things I want to include in my presentation:

  1. Acknowledgements Collage – I’d like to do a digital photo collage of all those who helped me with the coursework in the last year. If I can’t find photos of everyone, I was thinking a Wordle of everyone’s names would also have a nice visual impact.
  2. Story – Reynolds refers to Daniel Pink’s six senses from A Whole New Mind, one of which is story. In An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, Kieran Egan writes about the power of story too. From reading Pink and Egan, I have, in the past, integrated story telling into lessons and I’d love to try it in this upcoming presentation. Story is an efficient way to condense large amounts of material. More importantly, it’s a much more human way to connect with an audience; everyone loves a good story.
  3. Visuals – Anyone who knows me will know to expect photographs and a other visual representations of information. One of my three strands of research is visual literacy and arts based methods and my over-arching metaphor is that of the photographer; visuals are deeply ingrained in who I am personally and professionally. And, again, visuals are an efficient way to communicate a vast amount of information in a singular way. In particular, I want to create my own series of ‘through the lens’ altered photographs inspired by these photos here.
  4. Simplicity – I love the quote at the start of the book – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo da Vinci. Reynolds talk about the importance of “deciding what matters and letting go of the rest” (p. 17). I often try to pack in too many words, too much information, and this time I want to emphasize the essence of my research and let all the rest go. If anyone wants to read my thesis or talk to me about all the other amazing things I learned, they are welcome to, but for the presentation I’d like to focus in on what really matters.
  5. Emotion – I want to connect with the people in the room at an emotional level. I want to invite them, draw them in, so that they experience a little piece of my learning and want to know more. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that yet, as there will be at least 20 others in the room, each with their own beliefs, assumptions, and lenses. I know it will be challenging to evoke an emotional response from every person, but I’m going to try.
  6. Enthusiasm – This one won’t be a problem. I could talk, very excitedly, about my Masters research for hours, days, weeks! I know the power of positive energy and I will be sure to bring that to the presentation. I’m going to need it, too. I have the last time slot of the day!

Despite my efforts to do no Masters work for a week (I submitted my thesis a few days ago and had vowed to take a break), I can’t stop thinking about the upcoming comps presentation. I’m still mentally exhausted from writing the thesis, but there’s a nice settling of information in my head. I guess I’m settling in to present one year’s worth of profound learning in only twenty minutes.

Fortunately, it feels like the presentation is already starting to take shape, and I think it’s going to settle into my mind almost entirely on it’s own.

Image “Twenty Minutes” by me.