Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Academically Challenging and Critical?

For the past two weeks I have made an attempt to introduce more meaningful content into the group discussions and slide shows. The class has come to the chapter on advertisements and print media and I chose this as a moment to introduce topics of race, gender, age, etc. To the dialogue. I started by bringing in four different examples of print media ( A political poster, a Vitamin Water EL train advertisement, a children's book, and a breast cancer walk T-shirt) I asked them to consider the audience and elements present in the works in small groups. I also asked them to problematize the images and discuss them in small groups. Afterwards we came back to a large group and shared our findings. They were able to spot many stereotypes and themes that bothered them in the images. We discussed then art historical objects that might have those same stereotypes present, ( Manet's Olympia, Cowboy Art, Classroom art timeline) The students spoke very freely and openly about the popular print media. Over the course of the week students worked on their take home test that consisted of finding an advertisement and scanning it for issues as we did in class. Then they were to respond in visual, written or performative media. Their projects were interesting and critical and wonderful. I then assigned the midterm essay which asked them to chose one of two questions involving fine art and popular images and issues present within them. Students response to the project was good but attitude towards the paper was poor. I had multiple complaints and a few attempts at mutiny. The pressure of the paper, even though it was in their syllabus from day one, was too much they said.

I was so thrilled that they caught on to something critical and really ran with it. The discussed key issues in stereotypes and marketing and made comments on the ability of art to hide issues and bring out others. Discussion was at an all time high and getting more and more student led. The project results were great. So great in fact that I got their permission to post them in an online gallery attached to this blog. Then the paper was assigned and moral and attendance went down. WHY? Sure and essay is an academically traditional way of expressing ideas. But they had already begun to develop these ideas. They weren't starting from scratch. They need sources to quote but many of them already had a few from the previous project. My initial explanation as to why this happened is to say that they are students and don't want to work hard. But I don't really believe that. Sure their time is valuable and they are not always willing to devote a lot of it to school work but I would say the majority of them like being in school and have a goal they are working toward. What is it about the stigma of an essay that really grounded an entire classroom. I have no real Why explanation for what happened.

What does it mean? It can't mean do not assign essays. They are an intigral part of the required course content and they are not bad just because they are academic. No they do not show off everyone's learning style the best but they are important in college life. I am not just teaching some things about art and then letting them go. I am also responsible for getting them ready for further academic endevours. So my next steps....

Set up early on some time in class for writing triage to make sure students have some confidence in their writing.

Journal (online discussion board, blog, or on paper) If students are writing every week then they have a great lead in to their paper already with plenty of sources and ideas.

Choices of questions ( I already did this) to answer so that students can pick one they feel confident about.

encouragement ( I hope I did this) that essays are an important and popular way in academia to put forth your ideas and this is just one step towards improving upon this skill.

Process ( I teach students that art and art history are process not finished products. I need to support this belief in the work I assign. Their essays can be in process. Maybe peer advising rough drafts and then turning in final drafts to me.

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