Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Today I had the kinders do a crafty project since they had been doing a lot of drawing lately. We did Khasma, or Good Luck Hands, as a continuing theme of art from other cultures. The hands themselves are fairly universal – used in Arabic/North African culture, Jewish culture as well as in other forms around the world.

William and his Khamsa project

They love doing anything with their hand anyway – tracing, etc. – so they were excited to get to draw their hand, cut it out, then decorate it. I am also amazed at their word retention – we started out class today with a longer ‘discussion’ time than normal, and I am really impressed by the terms (community, abstract, culture) they have been able to remember and understand.

Oisin works on his Khamsa project

6th graders today got to catch up, and we talked more about our writing club. We are having a party/reading next Friday – to my amusement they wanted coffee, to make it like a coffee house reading. Their writing is coming along nicely, I’m looking forward to maybe editing and helping them type it up a bit. Wendy lost a few pages of her work when her mom spilled Kool Aid on her notebook, but I convinced her to make a poem about the ‘Kool-Aid tragedy of 2007.’ We decided to keep working on our novels through next week, going beyond the November time frame we set, with some time next week going to editing and selecting what they want to read. We also decided that December/January are going to be poetry months, with an emphasis on Haiku’s. They were very excited when I suggested that our reading at the end of January be a ‘sushi’ party…now that I brought it up, they’ll hold me to it, so I’ll have to figure out something cool!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Catch up time...

Today was a catch up day – more or less using most of this week for that. Trying to get their work all organized into their folders, and give them a chance to finish up projects they might not have been able too. I keep the class moving pretty fast to keep them interested and engaged, but I also like to give them a chance to go back and finish stuff up. I’m big on giving them new projects, or at least a new perspective on projects, each class session, so sometimes we need a day to go back and get caught up.

My 1st/2nd grade group is starting to do much better overall, they are finally mellowing down a bit and can get focused. I guess they were a bit rowdy when Sumner subbed for me last week when I had jury duty – they came to class armed with ‘I’m sorry notes’ yesterday. The notes they wrote were pretty awesome (‘I’m sorry I kept getting out of my seat and yelling’ “I’m sorry I was disrespecting the sissors’, ‘I am going to be a different person’ etc…) but Sumner didn’t seem to think they were all that bad, guess their teacher thought otherwise though.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Right Brain Drawing

Today we did some more work with the Right Brain Drawing idea. The older groups first started out with a writing activity – building on some of the stuff we did for Amnesty International. I had them do a creative writing exercise, imagining that they had a completely different life – born to a different family in a different country, etc – they could be anything, rich, poor, homeless, a circus family, an African family, etc. They then wrote details – did they go to school, what was their family like, where did they live, etc. It went over pretty well, the 6th graders in particular did a great job with it. We then a few more of the Betty Edwards Right Brain drawing exercises – teaching drawing has proven to be really effective. It lets me explain larger ideas of pushing ourselves/not censoring ourselves or stopping because something is not perfect. It can be a frustrating process for them, but I’m finding I’m able to use that as an effective teaching tool at times. Today all three groups – 6th, 1st/2nd and 5th all did the blind contour drawing – they had to draw the lines of their hands while not looking at their paper – and the upside down line drawing.

Line contour drawings

It’s cool to see them get excited about what they can accomplish. Trying to figure out the best direction to go now with the drawing, and keep a balance with other projects – want to keep a continuity (something that is critical when teaching after school) going but also don’t want to get them feeling too burdened down.

The novel writing is going well – kids are writing way more than I thought, which is cool. We officially decided to expand this project into a writers club to last for the rest of the year, I’m working on thinking of some cool themes to keep them motivated and focused.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Upside down drawings Monday Nov 19th

Today was a lot of fun. We started out class with a creative writing activity – I was going to have them do another Amnesty letter, but I decided we hadn’t done enough fun creative writing lately. I had them write me a Thanksgiving story – it could be anything, a story, a poem, a newspaper article, etc - from the perspective of a turkey. They all – including my 1st/2nd grade team – came up with some impressive stuff! The 6th grade team in particular took the open ended aspect of the project to heart – some of them wrote letters back to their ‘turkey families’ saying they had survived another Halloween, some wrote from the dead, one wrote a poem, one a rap, and another one wrote a ‘manifesto’ of sorts, threatening doom to the human population if the turkey eating continued. My favorite was a student who wrote about how, as a turkey, she was in the forest and was captured, but thankfully her captures were ‘hippies’ that were vegetarians and brought her to a happy farm.

I also had a meeting with my novel writers – collectively, we are over 150 pages written now, which is way cool. We talked about what is working for us, what things were hard, and what ideas we had to keep going through the month. Some students also said they were upping their goals, pushing to write two pages a day for the rest of the month. I am really surprised by which students took to this project – not the ones I would have expected based on their performance in class and my overall interactions with them, it’s cool to get to know them at a different level/in a different way because of this project. We also talked about making this project into a ‘club’ that could go all year long, something they seemed interested in doing.

We also started the Edwards upside down line drawings today – the student reactions were different. Most embraced it and were excited to see their results, though some got frustrated – its’ a good exercise to teach them to try to overcome their frustrations, to realize they have to let go and not be focused on making everything perfect. It’s the same reason I make a big deal about them not worrying about spelling – we always fix spelling, of course, but many of them use that as a reason to not write at all, and I find I spend a lot of my time, both with our writings and our art, getting them to work beyond their own censorship/frustrations. Excited to see how this all progresses in the next few weeks. Also working to incorporate some lessons that can tie them into the organization in Africa we’ll be working with…

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday Nov 15th

Today was our all Kinder day. I decided to push them a bit – wanted to find out if some of the Betty Edwards projects from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain were too advanced for them. I had them focus on trying to draw their hand without looking, and also on doing the upside down drawing – the goal of all being to get them to think about drawing with they see and not always the symbols for what they see. They are still pretty little for this – development wise they are very much so still at the symbol phase - but some of them really latched onto it and they weren’t nearly as frustrated as I had anticipated they would be, which was exciting to see.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Polaroid project/more abstract drawing

Back in school after having Monday off. Had students work more on drawing skills – still working with abstract forms, getting them ready to move into flat drawing and contour stuff. Had the 1st/2nd grade group get started with a definition, then we talked a bit about culture and some of the Amnesty stuff we did the week before. I also introduced them to the work of Dan Eldon, something we’ll go back to continuously.

Polaroid project

Then, we did an abstract project using a Polaroid portrait I took of each of them as the basis – they glued the photo down then did abstract work around it, sort of framing it, with the idea being that they were going to ‘theme’ their abstraction around their photo. I got the idea from a book I had on collaging/altered imaging – like how it has turned out thus far, and the students were way into the way the Polaroid tweaks their image.

Working on the Polaroid project

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More drawing - Wed Nov 7th

Had the kinder’s do their own portrait, hand, and memory drawings – I also worked to utilize the lights out, music up quiet focus technique, it worked well again. They did pretty well with their drawings – such a discrepancy in levels of ability at this stage, it’s really fun to watch what they all end up doing as it’s all over the place! I then had them do the abstract drawing to music that I had my 1st and 2nd graders do on Monday – turned off the lights, played music, had them close their eyes then imagine what the music ‘looked like’, what color it was, what form it took, etc. They then drew and colored quietly with the music going and lights down – the results were really cool, happy with the exercise, it’s actually a pretty effective one I think to use in general or to get them focused when they first come into class – going to try it out and some point in the next few weeks.

Working on self portrait project!

I gave my 6th graders a catch up afternoon – some of them still needed to do their ‘preliminary’ drawings, others had the option to write, others could do the abstract music drawing, others colored in some of the many color sheets I had ran off. I’ve been finding cool stuff for them to color in their downtime – my sheets have gotten quite popular, with kids coming by my class wanting some to take home. Who knew I’d get such a return buying some cool coloring books…

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nov 6th

Today was mostly follow up from Monday. 1st/2nd graders did another quiet session – lights down, music up, I actually think it really helps get them focused, gets them into a sort of ‘right brain’ mode. Other teachers and staff come by and look over in half amazement – we use half of the cafeteria as our ‘art studio’, we are subject to all of the noise and chaos that one can imagine, plus the kids have a sort of set idea of what that room is to them, yet somehow we’ve been able to transform it, which is pretty cool.

The 1st/2nd grade team started out with a new word and definition to copy and discuss, then we did some more abstract work, using rulers and compasses to make geometric shapes and forms that we then colored in. It worked well, gave them more hands on time to draw and let them think about color.

A lot of my 5th grade team wasn’t in class on Monday, so today we did our Amnesty letter and started the portrait, hand and memory drawing – pretty to the point, they got a lot of work done and seem to be into what we are doing. Saw some more good writing too – they are really going full force with their novel writing. I wish I could say the same…

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Nov 5th

Decided over the weekend to keep with some of the global/cultural themes we’ve been exploring, but to also shift gears and do some technical lessons on drawing. The students really responded strongly to the stuff with did drawing our Day of the Dead images last week, and likewise though I try to focus my art classes on conveying the larger concepts behind what we are doing, and emphasizing that we are all creative, I also try to provide them with hard skills that will get them excited about their progress and keep them wanting to continue to use art and writing as a tool as they grow older. Anyway, with that in mind, I revamped my planned lessons to work in more drawing skills, pulling heavily from Betty Edwards' “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’. I had a great teacher in middle school and high school, Debra Agrums (who, as a side note, deserves some sort of unique recognition for not only excellent teaching at the Jr. High and High School level, but for holding her own as the only art teacher in a school that is so academic heavy/top ranked that there was actually a book written about it recently…in fact, as I write this, it’s occurring to me that I should send her a thank you note for putting up with me and a donation for some art supplies…) who utilized it in her classroom – and I honestly had sort of forgotten about it until I was thinking of ways to work with my students that would get them to move beyond thinking about a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing things when it comes to their art. I like the idea of structuring the drawing instruction around getting the kids to ‘see different’, and building on what we’ve learned about symbols – how we use symbols to understand, but symbols can also limit what we see, etc. We’ll see.

I started out today, as Edwards suggests, by having them do a ‘first’ drawing – their portrait, their hand, and their mom – from memory, so we can then compare it to later work. My 1st/2nd grade group got through theirs fast, so we did some fun abstract drawing, I played some music (Album Leaf, more appropriate for the classroom than the Velvet Underground, I’ve discovered…) and with the lights off (I’ve also discovered this might be a secret to getting them calm and in ‘art class mode’ – for some reason working in the near dark seems to hold some sort of mystical status and they were amazingly focused when I did this!) they drew and colored whatever the music made them think of it. I like they results – it turned out pretty cool!

My older kids started out class by reading a piece I brought in from the Amnesty International website about Lao Hmong refugees, then we each wrote a letter protesting the situation. I like the direct action aspect of this, and I like using it as a means to introduce some of the global/civic concepts we’ll be going into. Plus, it lets them use their writing to help out someone else, which also makes it all the more relevant. Amnesty has some great materials on their site for teachers – I was surprised by the extend of it. The lessons themselves are kinda weak, but the raw resources they provide are great – I was stoked to find a ‘kid worded’ version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights I could print and hang in my room.

My novel writers are at full force – they are waaay more on track than their teacher with their writing goals. By my count today, the combined 8 writers I checked in with had over 20 pages done between them, a pretty good start…

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thursday Nov 1st

Feeling pretty worn out today, but we did well nonetheless. I had all Kinder’s today – we started out by having them copy their new word and definition, ‘culture’, then had a talk about what that meant. Then, I had them look for photos from magazines that were of their culture and their family. All in all, it went well, this project/lesson needs a bit more focus and might be a bit too advanced for this age group, but I was glad to give them more time using scissors, weird as that sounds – their coordination level was less than I thought it would be, so I am trying to give them more time to practice and get comfortable with them.