Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I'm a Mess But They Had Fun

A teacher once told me that what makes a teacher great is being able to salvage the greatest lesson plan they have ever written after a fire drill.

Not so sure that I am great but I am working on it. Today in class I had this really great intention of talking about postmodernism so that we can next week discuss contemporary art in the context of postmodernism. To do this I borrowed and created and I really think I put together a good lesson.

My agenda was:

  • Assign the final essay ( A reflection paper on the semester)
  • Introduce Post Modernism ( As a set of ideas, a changing theory, and also to focus onto he aspects of identity formation and adaptation as well as isolationism versus community and understanding ones past through multiple lenses)
  • Imagined History (As a group we created a few imagined histories for random objects brought from home. We based these stories off of known information ie its a keychain, visual clues ie tag from China, broken compass, and whatever we could make up ie used to store drugs, a secret code to smuggle people into the country)
  • Bio Poems - Thanks Sue and the I AM Culture Project! (Since Post Modernism is about identity this short poem asks students to think about how they identify themselves beyond what can be seen)
  • Chicano Park (In response to the recent popularity in the media on the subject of Latino workers and fair wages, show images from Chicano Park San Diego, CA and look at them as images of Latinos, by Latinos, for Latinos as well as showing a history through the lens of civil disobedience)

The essay was well received (probably because it is not a research paper). The Imagined History activity went really well. They were creative and active and responsive to how this connected to an actual theory. It was suggested to me that I play slow sad music while working on the Bio Poems and we should all click instead of clap for each other :) However they did get into the poems and will be working with them again to create their final art work. They also appreciated that I let them read mine later.

When it came time to look at slides I showed the first image which in large white letters on the side of a freeway post says Varrios Si, Yonkes No! I explained that this had to do with the land struggle in this area. One student, who asks really great questions, asked if this wasn't reverse discrimination? At which another student stated that if that sign were reversed in her neighborhood it would be racist! This set off other students to suggest that no sign was needed because white people did not have to fight for their land. One student asked if we could go back to the pictures but that person was out voted by a louder member who said no I like this topic and so it went. We did talk about some really great things in an almost all white space. The issue of whiteness actually came up from the students! My slide show was toast and there was no nice wrap up at the end, we simply ran out of time.

I know this was great! Self directed talk of critical issues that we discovered in art work! It is like a critical pedagogy dream. Where can we go next? The possibilities are endless, Critical Pedagogy has triumphed. Oh wait, next week is the last week, and we have one more required chapter to cover. Ok dream interrupted by reality.

It will still work. We can cover contemporary art that is better then the crap in the book and be critical, super fun! But it won't be led by the students! I guess that's another possible page in my possible book, learning to keep up the small baby steps. This class is a stepping stone, a place to begin, hopefully for them the conversation will not end completely once they leave this class!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Possible page for my Possible book

First Day:

  1. Eat a good Breakfast

  2. Getting to know your students

  3. Planning Goals

  4. Setting the tone

I love to see students walk in on the first day. No pencils, no paper and no expectation to stay in class the full duration. Its a stressful time for us to. New names and faces and one million new copies of the class roster. This is a great time to get to know your students and let them get to know you. In the very first class I taught we did a visual response project to a few getting to know you questions. The questions varied from those trying to dig into their previous experiences to ones gauging their interest and desires for the course/semester. These are way better than the standard name, major, and reason for taking the class. I just don't think I could listen to 30+ students tell me that the only reason they are in front of me today is because somewhere in the greater state of Illinois the matriculation gods decided to require art appreciation for their biology major, that's just depressing! Instead I used this time to set the stage for experience, goals and process to play a major role. It also allows for some humor and honesty. In response to the question on biggest fear for the semester I drew a picture of myself ( a stick person of course) on the ground with a dry erase marker stuck in my eye (accompanied with cartoon blood and the standard X where my eye used to be). I told them my biggest fear was falling while lecturing (as I tend to pace a lot) and injuring myself with a blunt object. It helped lighten the mood a little and at the end of the semester I received a congratulations from one of my students on not injuring myself! (A for that student!)

First Day:

  • Eat a Good Breakfast
Really self explanatory

  • Getting to know your students
You need trust among students and between you and them to be critical in the classroom. How do you begin to build that trust? A great opening day activity!


Windows: Ask students to fold paper into four window panes. In each pane they will visually respond to a question you ask. Words may be used only if necessary and should be limited. (Setting the Tone: This is a chance to place visual response in the spotlight and give it some much earned credibility as a way of communicating) Possible questions may be about goals for the semester, hopes and fears for the class, proud moments, a time they used or saw art that was impactful, A meaningful experience that was hard to describe in words. (Setting the Tone: If incorporating experience in the class is important to you ask a questions about it, if a specific issue like gender or race will come up ask a question about that.) Spend some time looking at and sharing each students’ responses.

Imagined History: Any interesting or odd object will do here. I typically use a small rubber fish I call Fred. Sitting in a larger circle if possible, students begin to create the life story of the object and add on to the previous addition from a random starting point to class that day. To challenge students you may ask them to have the object do something they have been through to get to school. For example, “Fred was born in a small pond but knew he would do great things one day.” Pass the object, another student may add, “Early in Fred’s life he was caught in a net and moved to store where he had to make a lot of new friends…” And then on to the next person. (Setting the Tone: While the story may get crazy you are letting students be creative and inventive. They are listening and engaging as a group which is challenging in many classes. It is also a simple step in interpretation and thinking about the history an object may have, significant points in a class covering art historical content) This project can be done as one large group or small groups with multiple objects depending on size and ability to move around.

Round Robin: The old standard of each student sharing their name is not bad with a twist. Give them a few questions and ask them to respond to at least one in their introduction. Questions may be about experiences with art or a significant work they have seen. (Setting the Tone: Students in art appreciation have an odd irrational fear that you will expect them to be good at drawing, asking them to describe their artistic abilities may ease some of those concerns.)

Note: All of these activities will be more meaningful if you are able to use the information throughout the semester. In one class every single students fear was getting and F. I made a conscious effort to keep them informed of their grades to help dispel this fear.

  • Planning Goals
AKA talking about the syllabus (See Writing the Syllabus)

It is a good idea to read, discuss and clarify the syllabus. This may be the only time students actually go through the entire document. However, you may not have to go verbatim through the entire draft. Some suggestions:
  • Define the overarching goals of the course as described by the school and counter that with your personal goals for the course. (Setting the Tone: from the beginning students will understand that you as a teacher have made decisions on content and structure and that you have goals for them and yourself)

  • Describe grading (for the first time). You will probably do this countless times throughout the semester but think about this first time as an extension of your goals for the class. (Setting the Tone: Placing a point value or percentage of the total grade shows your priorities loud and clear. Be sure that these match your stated goals. Students will notice any discrepancies.)

  • Make your expectation and schedule clear. Being open and honest with students will allow them to decide whether or not this is the class for them.

  • Give Tutorials. If you will be using any type of extra materials like web applications, school systems, blogs, discussion boards, writing centers and libraries show them how to use them. (Setting the Tone: Students given the right tools and time to learn to use them will have more equity in the course and all of these processes are helpful across the board in all of their classes) This includes materials that may come with their textbooks.

  • Setting the tone (Recap)
After the process of writing your syllabus and preparation for the class you are teaching you may have already defined the goals you have for your students. With those in mind use the first day to show them to students in a tangible way through activities. If you plan to do a lot of group work and discussion it does not make sense to lecture about the syllabus the first day. Setting the tone early on will help students to adapt to learning styles they may not be familiar with.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Trying new ways on for size

One week ago I began the art historical section of my art appreciation course. I am excited and anxious about this section as I have a lot of hopes for what it can be but limited time to realize them.

  • We began with prehistoric art and moved through mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures in the first week (Entitled Fun in the Sun) It was a little art in the dark and a little question and answer. I showed a number of slides and often asked them to recall facts and link them to the content. For example when looking at The Stelle of Hammurabi I asked them to think of other law systems carved into stone, etc. I had a few sleepers but that is to be expected in a class after lunch when you turn the lights off and start talking about rocks! I added information about issues of interpretation and race with these works and attempted to make my image choices apparent to the students.
  • We jumped to the Chicago World's Fair as a way of talking about anthropology and how ancient and contemporary works of other cultures are interpreted as having never changed or as pure. For example, Japanese architecture at the Expo was a novelty that Fair goers could not get enough of. It was always described as pure, old, and beautiful because it was so distant from technology. We looked at these aspects as being very western and straight from colonial thinking. At least we began this conversation.
  • Next we looked Nudes throughout art history as a way to look at many different western genres of art through singular theme. We have not completely ditched the timeline but it was interesting to see themes recycled and ideas presented in new ways but all under the topic of the nude figure, which quickly turned into the female nude figure. This was interesting as students compared Eve figures to Venus figures to fetish figures to perfume advertisements in recent years. Unsurprisingly, not as many sleepers through this one!

My students have responded well to these three different attempts. And in fact they seem to enjoy the variety. A few times I have had needed to clarify some points as there is some confusion as to when I am talking about a larger movement of art and when I am talking about a specific work. This is really critical feedback as it helps to be precise and clear when I am lecturing. They like the more academic stuff and with all the practice with critical group discussion they are unafraid to speak up and share opinion and even disagree with me. The don't clamor for more organization and timelines nor do they insist on study guides and slide lists. They take notes sparingly and really engage in the conversations. I think this is really due to the fact that they are active participants in this classroom and even when I am dispensing with knowledge they know that they have something to contribute.

This means that I am at least on the right track. I need to continue to vary my teaching style and delivery to keep them interested and to hit multiple styles of learners. Keeping them on their toes with projects, discussions, lectures, and group projects seems to be a good combination. It also means that I have a lot of work to do before I rewrite art history off the timeline and away from a map. This is a long process of working with new organizational methods that make art history more relevant to the student. There is not one different way to do it but multiple ways that help to get a full 360 view of art historical knowledge.

Implications for practice. As I am attempting to focus in on what the new art appreciation teacher needs in the classroom, one of my suggestions has to be try new things and let the students in on your process. It builds relationships and makes process an important aspect in the classroom. It also reinforces that history in general as well as art history is told from different perspectives and through different methods and it is important to seek these different ways out!