This past month has had it’s high and low points in terms of my teaching. I was painfully reminded by a group of students why specific outcomes can result in a deadly boring and uninspiring art activity. I have been working with one of my homeschool groups on creating art from recyclables. In poking around the web this summer I saw windchimes made from painted tin cans. I saved cans for weeks rather than taking them to the recycling center, and I created my own windchime as an example. I brought sticks, string, nuts and bolts, lots of cans, paint, and glitter to class. I shared my windchime and I demonstrated how to punch a hole in a can with a nail so it could be strung with a nut or bolt for additional sound qualities. Suddenly O asked, “Is there anything else we could make?” I was taken off guard, which is silly as usually my answer to this would be yes. But I was so invested in having everyone create a windchime, that I actually ignored the question. Soon everyone was pounding nail holes, slapping some paint on their cans, and stringing up their windchimes. Except for one or two students that enjoyed painting the cans, everyone else had quickly finished and moved onto a lively Lego building session. I was so taken aback by the whole experience, that as I was processing what was happening, I never even took any pictures of the windchimes.
Now my usual teaching mode is to present materials and show a variety of possibilities of ways that artists have used them, and demonstrate some techniques. I work hard to support individual expression. Probably due to the pressures of a busier than usual schedule this fall I didn’t have enough time to really give proper consideration to how I might best present this activity. I could have had kids think about creating musical instruments, sound sculptures, or mobiles. I could have shown the kids a variety of art created from tin cans. But sadly….I didn’t do any of those things. And the best thing that I can say is that out of life’s low points comes reflection, and an improved plan of future action.
This past Friday when I worked with this group again our recycled material was newspaper. When I had planned the class last August I had thought that perhaps we could make papier mache bowls. I showed the students a variety of examples of papier mache creations, sculptures made from newspaper tubes, and paintings and collages that incorporated newspaper. One student chose to make a papier mache bowl. One made two papier mache birds, one made a papier mache flower reminiscent of a calla lily. Three brothers created large papier mache skyscrapers. One student made boxlike building shapes from newspaper by folding and taping the newspaper. The brothers building skyscrapers had to do a lot of problem solving to figure out how to create what they envisioned from cardboard before covering it with papier mache. The girl creating boxlike shapes also did a lot of experimenting to get the forms she wanted. O, the student whose question I had ignored, drew a picture of grand knights fighting a powerful god that was stealing their pyramid with a raging tornado-like storm. I had brought in some metallic sharpies and he really enjoyed using those to draw the grand knights and their castle. He was eager to tell me all about his drawing and I wrote down his story. When I read it back to him he seemed surprised and pleased that I wrote it exactly the way he told it using his words. I often take dictation for students, and I was happy that it meant so much to him. It meant a lot to me too, that he was able to use our time together to create something that was meaningful to him.
And the silver lining is that whether a student tries what I offer or demo is perhaps not as important as the exposure to possibilities. Having the opportunity to explore ideas and materials as well as viewing what classmates create is an important part of the learning process in the art studio classroom.
As Thanksgiving is almost here I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful students that help me learn, and inspire me to keep reflecting too! I have an even greater appreciation of choice based art education since the windchime activity, and am so thankful for the professional learning community I am part of on the TAB/choice listserv!