Being Online, Honestly

I hate posts by bloggers apologizing for not blogging. What could be more boring. My friend Amy always told me not to apologize (so much).

I just find it kind of ironic that while I’m teaching a course this term that requires LOTS of social media work, I haven’t been posting much here. Over the past two-plus years, blogging has become my medium of choice for what might, surprisingly, be seen as long-form writing by Internet standards. Nowhere approaching the academic guidelines I was trained to follow, my musings are generally around 500-800 words. While they might not be developed enough for a peer-reviewed journal, neither are they fit for the 140 character tweet. But tweeting is just what I’ve been doing. And pinning, and scooping, and hashtagging all over the Interwebs. Along with my students. They are the reason I’m giving it all so much of my time.

Art educators have more ways than ever to connect with one another (all the world around), with the families of the children we work with everyday, and the communities we serve. We haven’t had this much public exposure for our work since. . . probably ever. We have the tools for our own ever more important advocacy literally at our fingertips. And inherent in those tools are reasons why art education is important.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why isn’t every art teacher on Instagram? A blog for every artroom ought to be our goal for 2020.

The truth is, there are lot of busy teachers working “in the trenches” who don’t know enough about Web2.0 to see how it can serve them. And they don’t have time to find out either. Some fear the risks they might expose themselves to  by being online, connecting with their students. They haven’t had a chance to consider how they might leverage these tools to engage their students. How being online with other art educators might invigorate their practice and inspire new content and methods for instruction in their studios-in-the schools.

So I’m happy to have this time with them, to be exploring some sites lots of folks take for granted. As we navigate and explore, we are sharing our observations about what’s working, what could work better, how we ought to be and with whom we ought to connect in this place or that. It’s sort of simple stuff, but stuff that takes time to sort out and could have important ramifications for their work, and our work as a profession, moving forward.

With that, I leave you with a question. How are you using social media to share your teaching, and your students’ work, with the world? Where do you find the best opportunities for exchange with colleagues? And how do you use the Internet to stay fresh?

Documentation Toward Parental Appreciation

A father friend of mine posted this photo recently. His caption had me laughing out loud.

“I have no idea what the fuck these are but I’m supposed to be proud of them.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 7.49.15 AMThe statement, combined with the piles of play dough he was presented still has me laughing. But it got me thinking too.

In our house, we often reference a line from the animated film The Incredibles, “If everyone’s special, then no one is.” The point, in this context, is that not every thing our children make or do is fabulous and sometimes it feels like we ought to let them know, lest they go out into the world expecting accolades at every turn, even in response to sub-par effort.

I’m not saying my friend’s kid’s creations are sub-par; just that I find the candor of his comment refreshing. We should be able to question (with supportive intentions) the creative work our children set before us, without feeling like we are stifling their creativity. Most contemporary art requires some sort of explanation to foster our appreciation. Possessing information about what we’re looking at helps us understand what we see. It helps us grasp the meaning of the work. And for young children like my friend’s, experimenting with media, this is important work.

Such explanation is the goal of documentation, writing down what children say about their work as they are going about it, as defined by the Reggio Emilia philosophy for early childhood education. With this commentary, we are equipped to make informed judgments about what we are looking at. We understand what there is to be proud of.

 

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 3, No. 1

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As I dropped yet another unread novel into the return bin at the library this morning, it occurred to me that this column is three years old. I started it after writing for what seemed like the billionth time on some social media profile that the last book I read was a picturebook not some New York Times bestseller for grown-ups or Oprah reading club suggestion.

Time flies when you’re raising a little one. But some things don’t change that quickly. I’m still sharing the bulk of my leisure reading time with Cora. However, what we’re reading is starting to change.

For her 4th birthday, my aunt sent Cora a bunch of books including two chapter books,  both by E.B. White. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was a kid. The Trumpet of the Swan was new to me. Both are great stories that demonstrate White’s love and respect for animals of all kinds. Cora listened to them intently, back-to-back. A few months later, after a journey into The Secret Garden, we’re rereading them again, simultaneously. Per Cora’s request, we read a chapter in one, then a chapter from the other. She’s picking up on similarities in the story lines and reminding me of things that will happen a few chapters down the road. It’s amazing to see how she’s soaking it all up.

Amazing and a little sad. While one of the things I advocate for in this column is that readers of all ages ought to be picturebook readers, part of me knows that as Cora gets older we’ll read fewer of these stories and spend more time with long books with few pictures. (Side note: Having the books in the house for Cora and watching how the older kids gravitate towards them is a reminder that people will read what you make available and it’s up to me to be sure all our diets continue to include a healthy serving of Caldecott contenders.)

For now, Cora still looks forward to the pages in the chapter books with illustrations.

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I can remember than feeling. And not just from when I was practicing reading and a page with a picture meant fewer words I had to struggle through. The pictures helped me see the rest of the description more vividly. Some would say they were a crutch, that White’s writing doesn’t need images. I guess I think of them more like training wheels, bolstering young readers as they embark on new reading challenges, in this case, reading stories of more than 200 pages.

But they really are more than that. Garth Williams’ illustrations are well worth our attention; imaginative pen and ink drawings, my personal medium of choice for years. Click here to see some of the original drawings complete with page markings and proof numbers. (I love to see those traces of process.)

As we embark on the third volume of this column, be prepared to see a shift in some of the content. I still plan to write primarily about picturebooks, but there’s likely to be some graphic novels and illustrated chapter books in the mix as well. Regardless, I hope to keep thinking about the role books with pictures play in creative and intellectual development.