Monthly Archives: June 2011

Artist in Residence

Recently, a colleague nominated me for our local ABC Channel 5’s One Classroom at a Time Education Grant for $1,000. You can view the video of the SURPRISE all-school assembly my school had for me here!  (Warning: I cry like a baby!)  I was completely blown away and so grateful for the support I received from everyone!  My immediate thought when I was awarded the grant was not to buy supplies for the art room, but to give my students a learning experience that would impact their lives for years to come.  I believe that a collaborative mosaic would be an excellent and authentic example of such an experience.

The school I teach in is a very new school and a very large school at that, with an enrollment of over 800 students in 28 sections.  Believe it or not, I see all of them for 45 minutes once a week.  For the last three years, we have been working hard to define who we are and to build a strong community of educators, support staff, parents and students.  I believe this collaborative work will allow students and teachers a venue to express our identity, voice our aspirations and build school pride.

One of the reasons I chose a mosaic mural is simply due to my previous experience with mosaic artist, Concetta Morales, while I was in Junior High.   This encounter impacts my life to this day; I remember collaborating with peers to plan a design that reflected our school culture; working with others to create an image greater than what we could on our own; leaving behind a remnant of who we were.  That mosaic mural still hangs in the hall as you enter the Junior High; a collection of individual tiles held together by glue and grout, and a metaphor for the community created within school walls.

I hope I can provide a creative experience like that in my own art room; in fact, I am hoping to get the very same artist I worked with over 16 years ago to work with my students!

Have you ever invited a visiting artist into your classroom?

Please share how it affected your students and their work!

What advice can you give about securing and integrating an Artist in Residency experience?


To Draw or Not to Draw…On Student Art

I’ve encountered all kinds of art teachers in my life as both student and educator.  Some would never dare to demonstrate by drawing or painting on student work.  Others perhaps do not see the harm in ‘showing’ students how to correct or further develop their art.

While in high school, I was able to take a life drawing class at the local Art Center.  During one of our sessions, to the melodies of Tom Waits, the Artist in Residence used her charcoal on my paper to explain how to improve my line work.  I remember feeling disappointed and that somehow it wasn’t my own work anymore.

During my student teaching experience, the high school Art teacher I worked with frequently corrected student ‘mistakes’ and showed students ‘how to do it’ by taking his pencil to their art.  I wondered what students thought of his master and apprentice style of teaching.

I choose not draw on student work for several reasons.

I see student work as a record of personal and creative growth.

When a work of art is created, there is more that goes into it than just paint or charcoal.  Self expression, emotion, memories and personal experiences enter the work, let alone the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to get it done.  Art should be truly owned by students.  My hands would only take away that ownership.

Lastly, I see myself as a facilitator; I lead and guide students through the artistic process, but ultimately it is the student who must find a way to reach their goal.

How do you feel about making your mark on student work?  Can it benefit students?  What other ways do you explicitly demonstrate to students?

AAA: Americans for the Arts and Advocacy!

Are you looking for new ways to advocate for the arts in your community?  How about ways to get parents involved in the advocacy process?  Maybe you are interested in National Arts Policies and how they affect the arts in schools.


When our school was considering cutting several fine arts programs a few years ago I did a little research and discovered Americans for the Arts.  What is Americans for the Arts?  It’s a nonprofit organization devoted to advancing the arts in the United States.  I originally used the website for advocacy materials to use during our districts K-12 Art Show, but soon discovered many more resources!  Here you can find advocacy materials for you and your student’s parents.  The advocacy links provide parent-friendly facts about the arts and list 10 ways parents can get more art into their child’s lives.  You can even print and use their campaign ads!


Recently I have become more interested in the politics of education and how I can make a difference. Through Americans for the Arts you can subscribe to receive emails informing you on current political happenings affecting the arts and National Arts Policies.  Or if you like to browse, you can sift through the news and information links.  See what’s happening in your state and Take Action Now!  Click Action Alert links to tell Congress you support the arts and arts education!  Share the information with your school board, principals, teachers, and parents.


So Take Action, Get Involved, Advocate and ASK FOR MORE!


Feed Your Kids the Arts

10 Ways to Get Your Students to Think ARTFULLY

Teaching kids to think Critically and Creatively is a process.  It takes work!  Students need a variety of quality authentic experiences from which to draw from as they acquire their own problem-solving skills.

Here are 10 ways you can get your kids to think Critically, Creatively, and yes, Artfully!

  1. Let students draw from observation.  Create a still life in your classroom or collect books with lots of pictures of animals, cars, insects and more.
  2. Allow students the chance to connect with their work by giving freedom of choice.  Yes, you can still select an overall theme, but let them choose the “meat” of the work.
  3. Engage your students in rich dialogue about art history and past artists.  Students need to know why artists make art!  In our busy schedules we often don’t devote time to really talk about art.  Let them analyze and make their own judgements.
  4. Give students time to explore the materials.  In most schools kids get to work with clay once a year – that means that the average 5th grader has only worked with clay a total of 6 times!  Let them know the materials and the process.
  5. Teach lessons that call for student collaboration.  Give students the chance to talk out their ideas and build upon the creative thought processes of others.
  6. Engage students in group critique.  Teach them how to give positive feedback and ask questions about art.
  7. Give students the chance to reflect on their work.  Create a reflection form, have students fill it out and attach it to the back of their work or let them discuss their thoughts while standing in line.
  8. Let them plan!  A lot of artists create thumbnail sketches or create a rough idea before they begin their final work.  Planning is the visual brainstorm!
  9. Allow times for complete self expression.
  10. Lastly, model creative and critical thinking.  Think out loud.  Allow students to hear how an artist thinks!

Are You a Creativity Killer?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever begun your lessons by introducing a new artist for your students to study, showed them tons of images of the artist’s work and left it up as an example.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever used “tracers” for students to use as a starting point for their work.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever demonstrated, step-by-step, how to make something.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever drawn on student work or given student’s suggestions like “what if you put a tree there?”.

Chances are, at some point in your teaching, you’ve been a Creativity Killer.  I’ve been one too, but I am determined to become a creativity cultivator, not a killer.

We cannot expect students to be truly creative if we continue to give them all of the answers.

As art teachers, we pride ourselves in getting students to think “outside of the box” and solve problems in unique and original ways.  If a walk down the hallways of your school reveals 25 almost identical Starry Night paintings, creativity has obviously been squashed.

We cannot claim we teach critical thinking if we don’t allow students to think for themselves.

Why do art teachers do this?  Does it make it easier to grade?  To meet district standards and benchmarks?  Are they afraid of losing control?  Making a mess?

Are you a creativity killer?

If you haven’t been to Marvin Bartel’s art education website, it’s a must.

Check out 10 Ways Not to Kill Classroom Creativity!

The Power of the Sketchbook

I’ve always believed an artist should keep a sketchbook…or maybe that was just drilled into my head from the art teachers I had in school.  As a matter of fact, I still have my 6th grade SAX ARTS brand sketchbook complete with value drawings of my brother’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines and, no, I can’t remember which ones they are.

Either way, sketchbooks are a great tool for student practice as well as collecting and analyzing the creative and critical thinking of your students.  In the classroom they can be used to document the development of ideas, plan composition or practice skills.

Are sketchbooks a part of your student’s art experience?

How are they used by students in your room?

Drawing on the Right Side Anyone?

All of my students get practice in observational drawing but 5th graders get the

Betty Edwards treatment!

Betty Edwards is an artist and teacher who developed unique drawing exercises connected to right/left brain research that can enable anyone to draw.  All you have to do is find your R-Mode and let it do it’s thing!

With my 5th graders, we start the year by creating a Vase Face; an exercise in drawing that gets students focused on drawing what they see, rather than what they think they see.


Check out the official

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain


to create your own Vase Face and to learn more!

Do you use Betty Edwards strategies in your classroom?

Do you have any tips or tricks you use to help kids get started with

observational drawing?

Right or Left?

No, I’m not talking about Right or Left handedness or even politics.  I’m talking about Right and Left brained thinking.  I happen to be a Right Brainer and I suppose that’s why I’m always late for things or why I flutter back and forth across my classroom as I pick up at the end of the day instead of taking care of one thing at a time.  The research on right and left brained dominance is abundant; in fact, it has become quite popular these days.

We know that the left brain thinks in a linear manner while the right is holistic. The left is sequential and the right is random. The left brain processes symbolically while the right is more concrete.  The left is Linguistic and the right is predominantly nonverbal. These are the basic ways of thinking and knowing that I teach my 5th grade students while they are learning how to discover and use their R-Modes in my classroom.

Being an art teacher, I spent years favoring Right Brain thinking, especially since the teaching strategies in most public schools are Left Brain dominant.  However, after reading Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, I walked away with an understanding and appreciation for both sides of the brain.  We can’t solely survive using or nurturing only one half of what’s inside our 8 pound heads!  We’ve got to nurture both sides of the brain and educate not only the whole child but the whole mind.  Now if only we could get our schools to add more fine arts time in the day…

Are you Right Brained or Left Brained?

Take this quiz to find out now!


I recently watched a video clip of Simon Sinek, an author and marketing consultant, who states that all organizations and careers function on 3 levels: What you do, How you do it and Why you do it.  He says the problem is that most don’t know that Why exists.

So let’s get to Why!

Why am I writing this blog?

With arts funding cuts and student contact time reduced to almost nothing it is more critical than ever to ensure that the learning happening in the art room is more than just making “pretty pictures”.

We all know the art room should provide experiences in authentic art making, choice based lessons, rich dialogue and reflection as well art history, and exposure to culture.  But as student numbers grow and precious art time diminishes, is this really happening in the classroom?  I will be the first to admit that with 800 students circulating my art room in a week it’s tempting to teach unoriginal “copy me” lessons to make my life easier.  However, we must hold on to what we believe and continue to cultivate creative minds.

The main purpose of my blog is to build an awareness of and give exposure to the creative and critical thinking processes that take place in the art room; 21st century skills.  I am currently working on an action research project to determine the effects of teaching creative problem solving strategies on the achievements and attitudes of elementary art students.  My journey will provide me with research in critical and creative thinking in the arts that I hope to discuss and share with you.