A few weeks ago, I attended the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative (INTC) Beginning Teacher Conference in Champaign, Illinois. The statewide conference provided a great opportunity to network with other new teachers and reflect on our first year in the classroom. I attended several informative workshops and spoke with other new teachers about our shared and differing experiences.
During the conference were two break-out sessions specific to the grade level we taught (Early Childhood/Primary, Intermediate, Middle School/Junior High, and High School). I volunteered to help facilitate one of these break-out sessions, and was assigned to the Early Childhood/Primary group of teachers. The sessions were great because I had the opportunity to talk with other first-year teachers who shared similar experiences to mine.
On the first day of the conference we were asked to write down a "burning question." This question could deal with any struggle, or issue we would like feedback on from the group. My burning question was: "How do I keep students motivated at the end of the school year?" Other teachers had questions about curriculum, colleagues, parents and assessment.
On the second day we read our burning questions aloud, shared stories and brainstormed ideas. Many of our questions were answered by veteran teachers during the hot topic breakout sessions. I was really encouraged and inspired by the examples teachers shared from his or her own experience.
The Proactive Classroom
My first breakout session at the conference was fantastic. Kathy Endsley and Kathy Hansen of Urbana school district 116 presented really great information and engaged everyone throughout the session. They provided great suggestions to prevent challenges in the classroom by building caring relationships and establishing classroom expectations.
Prior to attending this session, I believed I had been proactive in my teaching strategies, but I learned so much more that I can be doing to benefit my classroom environment. We discusses school wide expectations and classroom rules, and the importance of routines. My goal for the upcoming school year is to improve how I teach routines. The presenters encouraged us to co-regulate our classroom so that students will eventually learn to self-regulate.
One of the strategies discussed during this session was the concept of class meetings. The teacher may periodically call a class meeting to ask students to share positive examples of peers meeting or exceeding expectations. Likewise, the meeting allows students to describe examples where expectations are not being met. The presenter noted this must be done in a safe environment without using students' names. I would like to try using class meetings with my students this fall.
Personal Online Learning Network
I was particularly excited to attend the session titled, Developing Your Personal Learning Network Online, presented by Cindy Duffy from the Area 4 Learning Technology Center. I enjoy using social media and was interested in what other online resources were out there for educators.
Duffy began by explaining what RSS feeds were. I've seen the RSS logo on many of the blogs and websites I visit, but I never really understood how to use them. She explained how RSS feeds work as a delivery vehicle for content. Once you have set up an RSS aggregator account, all of your favorite articles will be accessible in one place, rather than visiting multiple sites online.
She later explained how to use social bookmarking, Twitter and Tweet Chat, and Pinterest-inspired education sites. The session was a great introduction to several online resources for teachers. I immediately updated my blog to deliver RSS feeds, and have started looking at some of Duffy's other suggestions.
One of the great benefits to teachers using online resources is the ability to make connections beyond school walls. I am able to share ideas, receive feedback, and access information from colleagues across the country. Creating a strong personal online learning network has helped me to develop and grow professionally during my first year of teaching.
The next session I attended was on the topic of Socratic seminars. I had never heard of this teacher-facilitated discussion tool, and wasn't sure how it would translate to an art classroom. The presenters, Jessica Schad and Katie Skarzynski of Urbana school district 116, did a great job explaining the information and adapting Socratic seminars to different content areas.
A Socratic seminar is a question-focused discussion, that is student-centered and facilitated by the teacher. A group of students form the inner circle to discuss a particular topic. A second group of students form the outer circle. Their job is to record information about how well the inner circle is communicating.
The discussion should be structured like a lunch room conversation, rather than the traditional expectations for students to raise their hand and wait to be called on. I'm hoping to use this tool as a way to encourage student conversations about art.
"What would be a good title for this painting?" "The artist titled the painting, _________, do you think this title is appropriate?" Half of the students would talk about the artwork, while the other half monitors the conversation, recording who is participating, who is interrupting, etc. These groups would switch or change throughout the year.
I'm looking forward to sharing Socratic seminars with my students this year.
The last session I attended was titled, "There's No Time for That!" Finding Time to Teach Social Justice, presented by Ritu Radhakrishnan from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I believe my passion for social justice is, in part, a result of my education at Illinois State University. Many of my courses stressed the importance of teaching more than art content, but also themes of identity and diversity.
Radhakrishnan shared several ways to introduce social justice into our curriculum. One suggestion in particular resonated with me as an elementary art teacher. She passed out several books ranging from children's picture books to young adult novels. While at Illinois State University, I completed a research paper on the importance of children's books in the classroom as representation of diverse communities.
Recently I purchased a book by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw titled, Same, Same, but Different. The story features two boys, describing their lives to one another as penpals. One boy lives in America, while the other is from India. Through their letters and pictures they realize how much they have in common, despite great differences.
Last year when my fourth grade students began studying art from India, they were asked to look at photographs from a traditional celebration in India. Many of the students laughed and described the clothes and decorations as "weird" and "strange." My hope is that by sharing this story, students may have a greater appreciation for differences in the various cultures we will study.
The conference concluded with an amazing keynote speaker by the name of Manuel Scott. Scott was one of the original "Freedom Writers" whose story is told in the Hillary Swank film of the same name. I remember enjoying this movie out with friends several years ago. At the time I was majoring in Broadcasting, and was not studying to be a teacher. I certainly did not expect to one day be at an education conference where one of the Freedom Writers would speak. I am so glad to have become a teacher, and I feel fortunate to have heard Mr. Scott's message.
Scott is an inspiring speak. I was moved by his story, and encouraged by his words. He opened with an exercise on how we communicate with one another. The diagram showed two individuals, a speaker and a listener. A message is delivered between them, but depending on their frame of reference, the message may be interpreted differently.
As a teacher, sometimes I forget how I present my curriculum may not reach every students' understanding. As Scott explained, I do at times become frustrated when a student responds differently than I anticipated. The key to understanding, however, is to suspend judgment and accept feedback from my students to better deliver my message.
Scott's words were the perfect way to end our conference and inspire us as beginning teachers. I am excited to face new challenges and continue to grow as an educator. I'm really looking forward to my second year of teaching.
Throughout the year, I have been encouraged to focus on the importance of teaching 21st century skills. The knowledge and experiences I facilitate in the classroom may impact how well students succeed in today's world.
Art is a unique subject where students are able to creatively apply what they have learned in other classes. Teaching 21st century skills corresponds well with the four components of discipline-based art education: art history, art criticism, art production, and aesthetics.
Communication and Collaboration
Communication is a necessary skill we each use every single day. In art class, students communicate verbally, in writing, and most often, visually. They are encouraged to decipher meaning from contemporary and historical artworks, while creating a message in their own original projects.
My fifth grade students have studied how different cultures have communicated narratives in art throughout history. With each unit, students applied their knowledge of the culture to communicate their own narratives.
Fifth grade students did a great job of collaborating with their peers for a photo alteration project. The assignment was to draw a composition they envisioned for their photograph. The drawing helped communicate to a peer how the photograph was to be taken.
The photograph was to convey a snapshot of a story. Students worked in groups to create scenes of battle, friendship and celebration. Each student began the project with an initial idea for their narrative photograph. However, most of the ideas evolved through the collaboration process as their peers offered helpful suggestions.
Communication and collaboration are skills frequently encouraged in art class at every grade level through group projects, critiques and presentations.
Innovation and Creativity
I believe art and creativity go hand in hand. I encourage my students to think creatively with every project. The ideas they develop often encourage me to do the same.
Thinking creatively comes naturally to some students, while others struggle to generate a new idea. As an art teacher, I try to inspire creativity with a variety of art examples, resources and processes. Students may develop ideas through brainstorming, collaboration and personal experience.
I was very proud of fourth grade students for their creative dragon projects. Each student made a dragon inspired by traditional Chinese artwork and traditions. The project required students to write an original story about a dragon. The stories ranged from grand adventures to endearing friendships. Some students worked together to write stories that corresponded with one another. I wish I had thought of such a great idea!
Each student created a paper dragon as unique as their written story. Many of the dragons had elaborate tails, beards and wings, while others appeared ferocious with two heads and sharp teeth. The colors, shapes and lines were to reflect the dragon's personality. The students did a great job conveying their stories visually. The project was designed to encourage such creativity, and each class exceeded my high expectations.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
First grade students recently completed an abstract sculpture project. The assignment helped review the term "abstract," and introduced the first in a series of sculpture projects. Students compared and contrasted images of three-dimensional works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore and Claes Oldenberg. Each class brainstormed what the sculptures might be made of and how they communicated meaning.
After our discussion, students were required to create an original sculpture in groups of three to five. The instructions were to design a free-standing sculpture out of cardboard. The colors, lines and shapes were to reflect a chosen mood. Students listened while I read the Dr. Seuss book, My Many Colored Days, an excellent example of how we interpret different colors as specific moods.
Students worked together to agree on a single mood, and decide how to best communicate that emotion with shapes, colors and lines. They worked together cutting their shapes out of cardboard and painting them with tempera paint. Once the shapes were dry, students added lines with oil pastels.
Each group had to come up with a way of assembling the pieces to create a free-standing sculpture, without the use of glue! Some students used pipe cleaners and hole punches to connect the shapes together. While others joined shapes by cutting slits to balance the pieces against one another.
The project was extremely messy, wild, and at times, overwhelming. I could have demonstrated step-by-step instructions to result in a clean, finished sculpture. Instead, I encouraged students to explore, think critically, and problem solve collaboratively.
Technology and Informational Literacy
Sixth graders studied The Harlem Renaissance during third quarter. After an introduction to influential musicians and poets, students went to the computer lab to discover visual artists of 1930s Harlem.
We began class with an online video produced by teens in New York City. I chose this video for its unique perspective, as the young filmmakers actually traveled into the Harlem community. The video featured footage and information from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of the New York Public Library.
After the video, students were asked to research information online about three specific artists of the Harlem Renaissance: Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Lois Mailou Jones.
At the end of class, students answered questions about the artists, and reflected on this information in writing. Each student chose one artist to inspire their next project. When the projects were completed, students explained how the artist inspired their work. I believe the finished projects demonstrate how well the students creatively applied their research.
Mr. DeWilde's Blog
I post information about projects and learning experiences from my curriculum.