A Quiet Moment Alone

I don’t have many quiet moments alone these days. When I do, I need to spend them reading my students’ writing rather than producing my own. But at present I’m sitting in the kitchen, in the early morning dark. I am alone, it is quiet, and I’m not reading anything. I’m writing these words. There won’t be many of them and they won’t say much, but you’re reading them still. And in that way we are still connected.  

Coming soon: 

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Loom

A Report from/on My Stepmonster’s Kitchen

Crafty Cora’s First Figure Drawings

Stay Tuned.

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I Heart Lists

I love making lists. Really, I love crossing things off lists, but I can’t imagine how I would have gotten where I am today without lists. After seven months with a smart phone, I still haven’t migrated to keeping effective lists digitally. I’m not sure why that is. I think it has to do with the physical act of crossing something off a list. Probably related to my urge to cling to any last traces of paper and pencil-based way of life.

I wonder if psychologists have studied that. They study so many things. Last week the NYTimes reported on some who had studied the effects of jinxing oneself by acknowledging a stroke of good luck and unjinxing oneself by knocking on wood. If they can measure that, and if they took the time to, they ought to be able to handle this. OK. I just Googled “psychology list making” and low and behold, the BBC (The Psychology of the To Do List) and NPR (10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists) have reports on it. But, since this is a tangent, I’ll let you explore them on your own.

Anyway, publishing a list causes one to focus on it in a new way. Like the trend of posting your weight on Facebook, now people are watching and waiting to see that you have accomplished your goals. In reality, few are really paying attention to your lists and getting the tasks accomplished is really just important to you. But no matter. You are working towards a goal and in your mind, others are counting on you, cheering for you, to reach it.

In that spirit, here are some things I hope to explore and write about in the second year of Art Education Outside the Lines.

1. Combatting the Teenage Wasteland with the Arts and Crafts

2. Creative Strategies for Mentoring Art Education Gradate Students Online

3. Tips for Creative Parenting from Other Art Educators and Arts Professionals
Might organize this as a series of home visits – like Columbus artist Melissa Vogley-Woods Studio Snapshot

4. More on play and art education. I want to revisit literature on Teaching for Artistic Behavior and Creativity.

5. Reflections on Teaching Teva Travelers, Cora’s Hippie Hebrew School for kids ages 2 1/2-7. I’m the parent-leader this year. Lots to consider here with regard to cultural heritage celebration and preservation, identity development, and the role of storytelling and art making in working with young children in this context.

Keep me honest folks.

And let me know if you have any requests for my next list.

What a Difference a Year Can Make

One year (and two days) ago, I started this blog as a space to restore and redefine my voice as a scholar in the field of art education. While nothing I wrote ever went viral, I believe I succeeded. I like to think folks have found something of value in this space. Hopefully something you read inspired you to go out in the world with a fresh perspective.

This project has satisfied so many of the needs I have as a working-from-home art educator:
A space for recording my internal dialogue.
A way to share ideas without having to write a ten page APA-cited paper or traveling to a conference to deliver a powerpoint presentation, neither of which I really have time for or interest in at the moment.
An opportunity to honor people who have influenced me – both through personal and professional associations.
A means of connecting with my students; to share my reflections on interests we share and to model a kind of thinking and writing about art education that is both personal and critical.
A way to share thoughts and philosophies behind the work we do as educators in our homes as parents, in a more developed manner than playgroup conversations generally allow.

I’m looking forward to continuing this work and seeing where it might lead. But for now, Cora’s awake and ready for breakfast. Gotta go.

Dispatch from My Stepmonster’s Kitchen: 3 Things I’ve Learned About Working With A Teenage Collaborator

So, it’s been awhile since Rosa and I first launched our blog. I have considered writing about what’s it’s been like, from my perspective, a few times but didn’t make the time. Somehow writing about the cute things Cora is doing developmentally always seems to take precedence. And in part, I’m ashamed that Rosa and I haven’t posted more. Maybe ashamed isn’t the right word. Perhaps disappointed tells it better.

I’m disappointed that the blog seems to mean more to me than it does to her. And I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to motivate her better. I’m always the one who recommends we work on it. Since I was hoping this project would not only help me explore using social media with students but bring Rosa and I together in a motherly-daughterly way I’m taking this all a bit personally. But in the end, these are issues all teachers struggle with. We want our students to care as much about the content of our classes as we do. We want them to bring ideas and information to us, as well as vice versa. And all this had me thinking about the challenges of creating teaching moments with our students.

Part of my philosophy of teaching has always been collaborative. While I didn’t talk about it in such terms, early on I viewed teaching and learning as an improvisational performance – teacher gives instructions, students receive, interpret, and respond to instructions based on their personal perspective, teacher responds to student’s response, and so on, back and forth. I used to liken it to painting with watercolors. You can control the medium but also need to embrace the ways it is in control, since water tends to have a mind of its own. In retrospect this was probably due on some subconscious to the article “The Art and Craft of Teaching” by Elliot Eisner (1983) which Amy Brook Snider assigned early in my studies with her at Pratt. In that article Eisner wrote about conducting an orchestra as a metaphor for good teaching:

“What we do as teachers is orchestrate the dialogue moving from one side of the room to the other. We need to give the piccolos a chance-indeed to encourage them to sing more confidently-but we also need to provide space for the brass. And as for the violins, they always seem to have a major part to play. How is it going? What does the melody sound like? Is the music full enough? Do we need to stretch the orchestra further? When shall we pause and recapitulate the introductory theme? The clock is reaching ten and we have not yet crescendoed? How can we bring it to closure when when we can’t predict when a stunning question or an astute observation will bring forth a new melodic line and off we go again? Such are the pleasures and trials of teaching and when it goes well, there is nothing more that we would rather do.” (p. 11)

I included this long quotation because I think you need to read it at length in order to grasp Eisner’s philosophy. While his examples speak specifically to the practice of teaching, the concept of paying attention to the ways a project is unfolding and adjusting one’s work accordingly could apply to any (creative) endeavor. In other places Eisner wrote about this as “purposive flexibility” and I can think of few places such practice is more necessary than in parenting or making art.

Even now, I’m not really sure where I want or need to go in writing this post. I guess I’ll end with three lessons I’ve learning so far about working with young people as creative collaborators. I’m hoping they can bolster my work. Let me know if they resonate with your experiences embarking on long-term (social media) projects with teenagers.

Teenagers are goal-oriented.
I’ve often argued that parameters breed creativity. A blog is an amorphous and never-ending project. Knowing my collaborator needs structure, I need to provide benchmarks and boundaries. To start, I want to post once a week and I want to take turns selecting what we make and write about. I need to ask Rosa what she wants.

Some teenagers love to talk, but don’t like to write.
I realize others are quiet, but love to write. In my case, however, I am working with a talker, not a writer. So, I am experimenting with ways of helping her express herself – email me her thoughts from the privacy of her own room, talk to me about her thoughts while I type them out – but I don’t want to let her off the hook. I want her to write even if it’s not easy for her. Maybe some writing prompts would help. Like these, but specific to our blog.

Teenagers may be digital natives, but they are still digitally naive.
While more and more teenagers are wired 24/7, I’m not convinced many grasp the power of the Internet to connect people and ideas. If they do, they don’t imagine themselves as active participants in that exchange. Like most folks, they are media consumers, not media creators, and that’s where we come in. Without getting caught up in specific websites or apps, we need to teach teens how to leverage the power of the Internet to make their voices heard and their visions seen.

Hopefully you’ll be hearing more from us soon at mystepmonsterskitchen.wordpress.com.

Toddler Time @ The Columbus Museum of Art: Day 1

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As predicted, I left my first time hosting a toddler art playgroup with things I’d like to improve. But, I also left with a real sense of accomplishment. The parents who brought their children all seemed genuinely appreciative of the chance to have their child experiment with a bunch of materials, in a short period of time, in a new space that someone else would be cleaning up. The time passed quickly but I never felt rushed. I had scheduled a program that was well-timed and sequenced.  Noone cried and nothing spilled.

My reflections are still blurry. I’m looking back as a parent and educator.  I’m looking back through my previous experiences with, and limited knowledge of, the participants. Here are a few emerging points of focus.

I remember that all the kids were engaged for the duration of our time together.  I’m not sure I can say that about any teaching experience I have ever had before.  Of course, everyone left when they had had enough, they didn’t have to wait for a bell to ring to tell them it was okay to move on.

The kids bounced around from station to station for the first 20 minutes and I bounced around with them. Giving brief introductions to the materials (beads, lightboxes, and oil pastels). Cora got pretty clingy when she realized I wasn’t giving her my undivided attention, and this made me feel I had to refocus, to step out of the facilitator’s role and back into the role of Cora’s mom. Like I wrote this morning, it’s all a grand performance and I had two parts to keep track of today. This kind of multitasking isn’t really that great for meaningful teaching or parenting.

I wish I had done a bit more in the way of basic explanation of the activities I offered. These would have been directed at the parents, while the children were working. I intended to have some simple recommendations for engaging and collaborating with kids at each of the opening stations, but didn’t get to pulling anything together. (Goal #1 for next week.) When I introduced the main activity, I should have said more to clarify my intentions, to share some insight about my choices and how parents can translate the experiences we had together to their homes.  As my friend Alison reminded me, and as I wrote about here before, that’s what our music teacher does so well.

I want to go into the galleries with these kids and their caregivers.  I think it is important, given that we are meeting at the museum, and something really special to see. Amanda and Susie from the education department have some ideas for how to do this that I would love to watch them try. I so value the conversations I’ve been having with them – it feels rewarding on various levels.

While I knew that the majority of people knew one another from our local library’s storytime, there were two families I knew from elsewhere.  However, Columbus being a mid-sized city with a small town feel, it turned out everyone knew a few other people in the group, and there was a lot of catching up between folks who hadn’t seen each other in awhile.  I’m wondering about the importance of that social interaction for parents with young children and whether it benefit what we did with children or got in the way.  There were lots of times we were interacting with one another’s kids in ways we might not have if we didn’t know one another in advance. (It takes a village to raise an artist?) But, with those connections established and re-introductions now out of the way, there might be more space for the kind of instruction I hope to share.

I’m already looking forward to next week.