Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 3, No. 6

It’s been a long while since I wrote one of these columns. It isn’t that we aren’t reading! We read like crazy this winter, but I was TOTALLY insane at work and didn’t have time to blog about any of it. That said, I dedicate this post to my department chair, Craig Roland, who recommended Home, by Carson Willis during one of the million and one meetings we had with students last month.


One of the greatest parts of my job is the opportunity to learn alongside my students. Sometimes they teach me things, sometimes I learn from my colleagues as they are teaching. Craig draws on a wide range of resources when speaking with students which I  appreciate. Home is a perfect example.

I don’t remember the exact context of Craig’s suggestion and it doesn’t much matter. The book is a good illustration of a work of art that explores a big idea. Big, or enduring ideas “comprise concepts that have drawn the attention of humans through the ages” (Stewart and Walker, 2005, p. 17).  We encourage students to build art education curriculum around big ideas throughout the Art Education program at the University of Florida and I plan to use this book in the future to help students better grasp the concept and consider ways to utilize it with students. Parents of young children and other educators might also find it inspiring.

Big ideas are often approached through the discussion of questions like:
What is a home?
How would it feel to live in that home?
What makes your home different from other homes?

The cover of Home alone could launch many questions, leading teachers and students in various directions as they connect the theme with their own experiences, books they’ve read, and cultures they are studying.

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This is one of those picturebooks that could be given to an adult to read and reflect on just as easily as a child. The illustrations are engaging – visually and conceptually. Cora and I spent a long time looking at each one, talking about the content and the style. The one about The Little Old Lady who lived in a shoe was one of her favorites. This is just an excerpt….

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We did take exception to this page:

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The so-called clean home didn’t look clean to us so much as it looked boring or unoccupied. Everything seems to have a purpose and a place in the messy house, even the jump rope in the front yard, the bathtub in the garden, and the cinderblock holding up the front porch. But overall, the artist captured a wide range of homes (including her own studio filled with references to the book itself) and had us looking and imagining who lived in them and what it would like to join them.

After we finished reading, I interviewed Cora about our home and wrote her responses in a notebook we’ve been keeping this year to document her thinking and learning. Here’s excerpts from the interview:

Me: Cora, where is your home?
Cora: (thinking)
Me: Is it on the moon?
Cora: No. On Earth, you sil’. [Sil’ is her shorthand for saying silly.]
Me: Is your house in the city or the country?
Cora: The city. I think. Do you think that’s the truth?
Me: Yes. But what makes you think so?
Cora: Because it’s noisy. And there are lots of cars on High Street.
Me: What kind of house do we live in?
Cora: We live in a regular house. A house.
Me: What’s a regular house?
Cora: Just a regular house.
Me: So not a castle or something like that?
Cora: Yeah.
Me: What’s different about your house and Maya’s house?
Cora: We have a dog and she has cats. My house is darker because it has more curtains.
Me: What else makes our house darker? Look outside? What do you see? What would you see if you were at Maya’s?
Cora: Other houses closer together… Street lights.
Me: What else do you want to tell me about our house? What makes it special?
Cora: My house is very old because it used to be grandma’s. That what I like about it. She lives next door now and I like that too.

Next step, mapping our house and making some drawings of it.

Stewart, M. G. & Walker, S.R. (2005). Rethinking curriculum in art. Worcester, MA: Davis.

 

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Photo of the Day: First I yelled, then I kvelled

 Cora found a stain on the coffee table today and turned it into a lion. With red Sharpie.

Naturally I was livid. What on earth was she thinking drawing on the furniture? With a marker she knows she isn’t allowed to use? But once I got a good look at what she did I could’t help but be proud. She found a mark and turned it into something entirely new. Truly A+ work.

Drawing Lessons with Ed Emberley and Peter Brown

This week, Crafty Cora spent some time with two artists who support the idea that anyone who can make lines and shapes on a piece of paper can make a drawing. Neither lessons was planned, which may be what makes them seem so authentic. And while I thought about sharing them each here as they were happening, it wasn’t until I sat down to write that their overlapping messages became clear.

Monday afternoon Cora came up from the basement with a few books. She set them down on her desk and started going through them. She got out some pencils and markers and started drawing. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention since she was directing herself and didn’t need me but after awhile she asked me to check out what she was up to.

I was excited to see her working through some of Ed Emberley’s drawing directions. Not because I think that following step-by-step instructions for drawing objects in the world is the best way to learn to draw, I’d rather Cora just draw what she sees (a la Nancy Smith), and what she remembers about the things she’s seen, but she hasn’t been drawing much of anything lately so I am at the point where I’ll take what I can get.

And she wasn’t following the directions anyway, she was studying them. See how she circled each step on this page?

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She did that 5 or 6 times that afternoon. “First you do this, then you do this….” she said as she worked.

After a little coaxing, I convinced her to sit down and make some drawings with me, following Emberley’s directions. As we worked, I named the shapes and lines we were making. We took turns adding parts to the characters we made. She got excited and continued on after I left. Copying some of his animals and making up her own.

Jellyfish: After Emberley

Jellyfish: After Emberley

If you’re not familiar with Emberley, here’s an example of how he builds confidence in his followers: “If you can draw these six things, you can draw a spider.” The drawings aren’t realistic or very detailed, but they are enough to get the point across. I remember when I was a kid I’d ask my mother to draw things for me. She’d be the first to admit that drawing isn’t something she does a lot or likes to do. I think she, and parents like her, would find Emberley helpful when hanging out with young artists trying to support their efforts. Which brings us to Peter Brown…

In the fall, I hinted at the fact that if picturebook author/illustrator Peter Brown ever made an appearance at our local bookstore, I would be in the first row. Well, Thursday night he was and we were! (Thank you Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers!)

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We were prepared to hear him read a book and that was entertaining and interesting. After a brief introduction to the story and what inspired him to write My Teacher is a Monster (you can read a version here), he read the words, and the pictures. He talked through aspects of the illustrations that helped illuminate the story. This is the heart of what makes a picturebook a picturebook. It’s about a symbiotic combination of words and images. Without one or the other, the story wouldn’t be complete.

After the reading and a brief Q&A (appropriately but somewhat disappointingly) geared towards the kids in the crowd, Brown knelt on the floor and showed us how he drew Ms. Kirby, the monster teacher, using a series of basic lines and shapes. “You can draw circles, right? You can draw curved lines, right? Then you can draw Ms. Kirby!” he told the the kids gathered around him. Like Emberley, Brown was suggesting that anyone can draw something.

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Cora and I didn’t do any drawing today, but I’m looking forward to seeing where all this takes us over the weekend and in days to come. How will these messages resonate in her little brain? Will they manifest themselves in her artwork moving forward? You can be sure I’ll let you know.

What I’m Taking Away from NAEA (2015)

I was too busy learning and exploring to blog from New Orleans as I’d promised. (I did post a lot of photos on Instagram that you may have seen…) It was a great couple of days hearing from some of the most innovative art educators teaching today, catching up with old classmates and mentors, and soaking up the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of a city that just ten years ago people weren’t sure would survive.

Old meets new.

Old meets new in NOLA.

While we didn’t talk about it much, the convention center where we spent most of our time was part of ground zero during Hurricane Katrina – formally a shelter for national guardsmen, informally for 20,000 New Orleanians waiting to be evacuated. I felt like my entire visit took place in the shadow of that event. While the buidling was washed of this history, the city bears many traces and I couldn’t help think of the flood every time I walked over a water line cover. A sidewalk stencil painting of koi had me imagining fish swimming through the city streets… I’m sure others found moments for remembrance and reflection.

When I wasn’t marveling at NOLA’s cultural legacy and contemporary recovery, I was attending sessions. I learned a lot and came home with fresh inspiration. Here are some of my takeaways.

Build more bridges
A number of presentations got me thinking about forming new and stronger bonds across communities and institutions and encouraging my students to do the same.

  • UFARTED alumna Stephanie Wirt (VA) and Stephanie Pickens (GA) led their high schoolers in an exchange of ideas and artwork using social media. Their enthusiasm inspired me to think of new ways we can use collaborative artmaking practices to connect our online students and get them thinking about how to build bridges between their classrooms. I have some ideas for this summer so stayed tuned UFARTED folks!
  • Art21 Educators Juila Mack (NYC) and Jocelyn Salaz (NM) created concurrent community murals with their first graders and shared the results as a way of teaching them to value their own culture and that of others. The collaboration began with an exchange of mini documentary movies about each school and its cultural context. Students, and those of us in the audience, couldn’t help but be engaged by the stark contrasts and sweet similarities of the students observations.
  • I heard at least three references to Padlet, an app I want to explore with students that allows for collaborative brainstorming using images, text, and hyperlinks. Seems promising and it’s free.

Process as Practice
I am inspired to revisit the way we structure class discussions in our courses – trying to move away from relying so heavily on the (verbal) discussion boards to other (non-verbal) ways for students to demonstrate understanding and application of ideas from our course readings. These sessions provided  some ideas.

  • “Process as Practice” was the title of a presentation by Jack Watson (NC) and Todd Elkin (CA), another pair of Art21 Eduators who share ideas and collaborate with their high school students. Their presentation was a great follow-up to the session we had at school last week with Joe Fusaro. They provided amazing stories and examples of working with their students in choice-based, process-driven, and conceptually-rich settings. They shared strategies for brainstorming and concept development that were really thought-provoking.
  • While I have always advoacted process over product in work with young children on this blog, a presentation on collaborating with children inspired me to think more about my interactions with children as creative processes.
  • Alice Pennisi and Krissi Staikidis presented on their work advising masters level researchers. Much of what they spoke about was familiar but I will keep with me for a long time a few things they said. Alice tells students to think of their research as a self-designed and moderated class about their specific interest. “You are the teacher and the student. Enjoy.” They both strive to address research as an active, ongoing, and reflexive, process. Noone can move from point A to point B in a day, a semester, or even a single degree program. “50% of a masters thesis is about learning to do research. 50% is about that project in particular.”

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it
This is one of those maxims I can never hear too often.

  • 8am Saturday morning I walked into a session and saw the chairs arranged in small circles. While I love to talk and often find myself tired of the presenter/audience format of most conference sessions, not all interactive dialogues work in the conference context, especially first thing in the morning. At “Speed Dating with Theory,” presented by five doctoral candidates from ASU assumed the persona of the theoretical framework guiding their research far surpassed expectation. I met remix, third space, postcolonial, relational aesthetics, and play theory and was given a chance to consider my work in relation to them. It was brilliant. One particularly really great moment worth noting, was when play theory asked the other woman sitting with us, “Are you familiar with play theory?” to which she responded, “Uh, well, my dad is George Szekely so, yeah.” The students shared that discussion of educational aesthetics and the art of presentation is a part of their curriculum and I am excited to think more about that.IMG_9756
  • Doug Blandy has been a favorite presenter/scholar of mine for as long as I’ve been going to NAEA conferences. For the past few years, he’s been hosting a local artist whose work represents a folk tradition and this year Mardi Gras Indian Cherice Harrison-Nelson of the Guardians of the Flame was his guest. She broke the monotony of the conference space with storytelling and singing that was engaging, informative, and restorative.
  • Rebecca Belleville (MD), yet another Art21 Educator, broke down in tears as she shared stories from her classroom where she teaching artmaking for social  justice. While I know she wasn’t thrilled to be crying in front of a ballroom full of people, it made an incredible impression and demonstrated the position of passion from which she teaches.

The present and future of public schooling in this country seems severely challenged
I have never been to an art education convention, nor do I think I ever will be, at which the topic of advocacy has not come up. It seems no matter what labels we attach ourselves to – discipline-based, STEM, etc – we don’t have enough allies outside our ranks making arguments on our behalf. At this conference, however, I heard more than I ever have before from art teachers who feel pinched by public education reforms related to standardized testing and teacher assessment. I was shocked by how many of my friends and colleagues, who work primarily with public school-based art educators, don’t trust those schools to educate their own children.

  • The only presentation I saw in the catalogue that included the name Katrina was sparsely attended which allowed for a really great interactive dialogue between the presenter, Sarah Travis, who was born and raised in NOLA and went on to become a public school teacher there, and the audience of mostly charter school-based art educators. She taught in NOLA before and after Katrina and shared statistics and information about the near total reconstruction of the local school system in the wake of the storm. It is a story at polar opposite with the Reggio Emilia grassroots initiative following WWII in Italy that focused on the holistic development of children and paid special attention to the role of the arts in that process. The story of NOLA schools post-Katrina is a story of charter takeover. One those with money in the game are watching very closely. (For a taste check out the trailer for The Experiment.)
  • 50 years ago art educators hosted a conference at Penn State on the state of art education funded by money from the federal Department of Education. That meeting lead to many developments in our field including the discipline-based art movement. Next year, faculty at PSU will host a similar event. As participants discuss the past and next fifty years, they will have to address whether we have a future at all in the public schools.
  • Trying to end this section on a high note, Alston Wise’s very witty UF MFA thesis project  “Public School Parent” got stuck in one of the final time slots and not even I was there. But Alston’s witty response to the assessment-driven culture of schools today is just the type of smart and eye-catching advocacy we need, and need more of, in order to make ourselves seen and heard.

What I do matters.

Catching up with Shakirah and Bryan.

Catching up with Shakirah and Bryan.

Sometimes its hard to tell in the online teaching environment but the connections and impact we are making with our online students, and they are making with one another, is significant. It is real. It is meaningful. And it translates to our shared lived experiences. My desire to see and talk with students in the flesh was met at this convention. We were able to pick up conversations where we left off on class discussion boards, Facebook, and twitter, and we were able to share more about our personal lives and personalities by sharing space and meals, walking and talking.

So, I’ll see you next year in Chicago.

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.

 

Holiday Crafting with PreSchoolers (and Glitter!)

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It’s no fun crafting alone! On this occasion we were hanging with Cora’s aunties in Seattle via FaceTime.

(My last post was all about holiday crafting with the teenagers in my life. This one is dedicated to my littlest studio mate.)

Crafty Cora and I haven’t made anything together in awhile. So, in the process of gathering holiday crafting ideas to work through with the big kids, I pinned a few for her too. But, the one featured here is something I made up while I was volunteering in her classroom this week. At the easel, her teachers set up the usual cups of tempera but had some festive glitter mixed in. I made the stars out of cardboard I found in the class recycling bin. Challenging myself to make things out of what the kids discard has become a pretty regular activity for me. I was also inspired by an observation Cora made during our first, and very early snowfall a few weeks ago. She was genuinely stunned by the way the snow glittered in the sunlight. Her appreciation for those natural sparkles inspired me to take a new look at glitter, an art supply I, like so many other professional art educators, rarely make use of.

Glitter is despised by art teachers working to disprove the notion that art is the icing on the proverbial education cake rather than a key ingredient in the cake itself. How could something so glittery and seemingly frivolous, not to mention messy, ever be taken seriously? The Onion ran a story a few years back that seemed to prove the point – “Cases of Glitter Lung on the Rise Among Elementary-School Art Teachers” (2005). Students and faculty in my department at the University of Florida maintain a Pinterest board called “Heard Craig Loves Glitter” in honor of our chair’s feelings for he stuff. The board has 239 pins.

So, it was with a hint of irony that I picked up a bottle of glitter on my holiday craft supply buying mission a few weeks ago. It was one of those moments where you imagine cameras are focused on you and someone, somewhere is watching you and laughing, like in The Truman Show or some still to be created Nielson ratings-crushing reality show about art educators. I picked out a bottle with not one, but two types of silver glitter and looked forward to pulling them out and making everything sparkle.

Yesterday, while visiting with my sister and her wife on FaceTime, I invited Cora to paint the stars I made at school and dust them with glitter. To keep the glitter from covering every inch of the just cleaned kitchen counters and floor, I found an old, large, shallow box. After Cora painted each star, we put them in the box and she was free to shake away. We’ll reuse what didn’t stick to add some bling to our next project. At the end, we still found a bit of sparkle scattered around the house, but I’m trying to look on the bright side.

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Happy Holidays (Craig)!

Doing Food Coloring

I’m not sure how many kids ask their parents, “Can I do food coloring?” Perhaps more than I can imagine. Cora has been doing food coloring since she was one. That’s when we started taking a set of translucent tupperware containers (red, yellow, and blue + one clear) into the bath to transfer colored water from one to another and watch the magic.

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Last year for her birthday, we filled squirt guns with colors and she and her “friends” made some collaborative paintings (see Paint by Squirt Gun).

This summer, after our freezer was accidentally defrosted and refrozen by our very well meaning dog sitters, we harvested a giant clump of ice and got busy pouring with salt food colored water on it. Thanks again Tinkerlab for a great invitation!
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These were all exciting experiences that provided us both “permission to play.” But the fun really began for me this weekend when Cora asked for food coloring and made her own choices about what to do with it. Her actions echoed those from the past, but she was the master of ceremonies, determining the tools she needed and the order of events. Here’s a quick recap.

I was busy for hours on end making sauces and pressure canning them so Cora was getting into just about every nook and cranny of the kitchen trying to keep herself occupied. She eventually stumbled on a stack of tiny blue plastic cups we have used for grape juice in our hippie hebrew school program. She stacked them and counted them and stacked them again. Then she made her request,

“Mom, can I do food coloring?”

While Cora was ready to line up 50 cups to play with, she settled on 5, which turned into 6 once we realized we needed another to complete a rainbow of colors.

DSC_0110After that, she asked for a plate to put them on. I gave her two; one dark blue, one white. She moved the cups from one plate to the other talking about how they looked different one each. Then came the request for “a block of cheese.” It took awhile, but I finally realized she meant a block of ice. So, we filled a square tupperware about a 3/4 of an inch with water and found some other things to do while it froze.

Later that afternoon, she asked for the ice. We popped it out of it’s mold and Cora got busy. DSC_0130DSC_0133

 

 

Once the ice was significantly melted, she poked at it with a spoon which then turned into a scooper. DSC_0157

Once she had some cups filled up, she asked for a bowl to dump them into.

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Then she refilled the cups and carried them over to the sink for one final dump.DSC_0174DSC_0180

Game over. It was a VERY busy day, with lots and lots of dirty dishes to be done.