high school

Distance Learning

has happened for a while now. It started last spring and has taken its toll. I don’t just mean that in the way that it has impacted the education of my students, but in the way that it’s left my heart in palpitations, my night’s sleep interrupted, and has helped those strange shadows flit from the corners of a dimly lit room.

Sure I’m being over-dramatic, but I am not being a bit untruthful. Distance learning is stressful for teachers too. For me, I think, it is the uncertainty of the whole thing, but I am working to change that.

I’m working to translate my in-person instruction into something like independent learning. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years now and I’d like to think I’m getting the hang of it. (Not that I am, mind you, that’s just what I’d like to think.) I’m also hoping that by documenting some of my efforts here that it will help me reflect and refine my pedagogy, sharpen my skill, and open my mind to new possibilities and opportunities that are out there with things the way they are now, are going to be, and will never be again.

Let’s start with what I have to work with: My district has had Canvas as an optional tool for years now. It is one of those things the district mentions occasionally in a general email that has little meaning and relevance for daily instruction. It is one of those nice things that some teachers who seem to be so lightly engaged in their own instruction that they have time to wonder, to ponder, to explore the possibilities of things strewn across their path by some district administrator who happened upon the same thing in his/her path. A newsletter, of sorts, that suggests that they are actively engaged in the activity for which they are paid. “Did you know” goes out via email and “It’s so wonderful” comes back. Now pack up your things, stroll through the office space, chat up the classified staff, and drive home thinking about how excited you are to coach your daughter’s soccer team this weekend or whatever else a person does to occupy their time on the weekend. Nice.

For those of us who avoid the small talk and rush home impatiently because there is little room for thinking in the classroom and have a lot of grading to do, there isn’t much attractive about Canvas. It’s a tool. One of many. Like stars in the night sky; those that have spent their early years studying their particular characteristics can appreciate individual beacons of light, but the rest of us just look and wonder. They are spectacular in their multitude!

Clever! Canvas! Ooh, look, there’s Quizizz and Freckle! We don’t know the story behind them or what they mean, but we know the origin of the myth, that of an effective change agent, impacting the lives of all those who encounter our dedication and professionalism! Who has the time to read the story of each one? Who has time to consider its impact on our career? Please! My sleeves are already rolled up and I’m doing that thing that I’m meant to do. What feckless imp would think I have the spare time to read that wasted email that has this minute fossil of discovery? If this discovery was worth sharing, it should be a training, not a newsletter!

So… here I am, using Canvas, and finding it… interesting.

Beginning Art

Pen and InkArt, and in that broad category, Drawing & Painting, can be a risky business! Peers can clearly see what you are doing minute by minute, grades may at first seem disconnected and subjective, and there’s that overwhelming feeling that it is not quite right and only failure awaits. How can a teacher work to help students over these “affective filters,” if you will? One part of this effort is the careful selection and order of the assigned projects.

The first project I assign my students is called “Linear Expression.” This project focuses on two learning goals, Expressive line and new media- pen and ink, but it also allows me the opportunity to stress quality issues at the outset of the course.

I know this sounds a bit lofty, especially when I initially started writing about how I use this project to overcome “affective filters” as if teaching a second language, and it is. This project works well to do both set a standard of expectation and allow for success among those who believe they are “artistically challenged.”

I begin the project with blind contour drawing. Students draw the back of their hand trying to get all detail possible without lifting their pencil and without looking at their drawing. I take this time to stress the value in creativity in drawing and that accuracy is not always the most important part of a drawing but that the interest a drawings creates is often more important. I try to select the most interesting examples from the class to show and stress that the laughter and humor it creates is far more interesting than an accurate but boring drawing of a back of a hand.

We then follow up with a contour drawing (not a blind contour drawing this time) of a single subject still life. I use artificial plant matter such as leaves and flowers and allow students to choose their own subject. It is a contour drawing and, even though many shade and express their artistic prowess, I encourage them to focus on the line and detail of the subject, leveling the playing field, as it were. This is also a great time to walk around the classroom and offer encouragement by pointing out strengths in their drawings.

“Inspiration” for the emotion for the expressive line is taken from a rather abstract approach through random newspaper articles. Students work in groups for this part and read, discuss, and present their article to the rest of the class along with some emotions derived from the article. It takes about a full class period but enables me to ensure all students understand and have a small list of emotions that will work for expressive line.

After collecting some emotions from which to work students lightly study and interpret expressive line and change that in their best contour drawing to reflect the emotions found in their newspaper article. Students trace it onto Bristol board at the light table and, using India Ink and Pen, redraw the expressive line.

I do not believe that Art is an easy “A.” I am, however aware that it is more easily understood, and it’s perhaps more successfully pursued, if it begins with one. Students display a high level of success in my classes with this project. This is especially important because their next project is one many find particularly challenging. You will find my rubric along with other project information such as the Art History component and Project notes that I use to present the project at http://art1.jrieger.com/le.

Although this project is not perfect and I’m sure other solutions exist to begin Art with a high level of motivation and success, I find that it is an effective start for my students. I hope you’ve found some of my ideas useful. If you have, or have other ways for beginning art, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

The “Check-out” card.

20141020_081445Accommodating large class sizes along with their tool and supply use in the high school classroom is not easy! My classes have on average 36 students and are allowed to go as high as 38. That is a lot of students, a lot of questions, and a lot of stuff  to keep track of! One item I use to help try to keep track of some of this is a “check-out” card.

Students are all given a 3″x5″ card at the beginning of the year. They list their first and last name in the top left corner of the card with their period number below it. The right hand corner of the card contains their locker (drawer) number and combination so that, should an item go missing for some reason, I know the first place to look. Now having their locker number and combo on the card does run the same risks as leaving a key lying around, but I am able to reset combinations if it is a problem and the cards are so easily returned if left out.

After recording attendance and the usual introduction of the day’s work, students may bring their check-out cards up to my desk to get the tools they may need. For this it is a simple one-for-one exchange, tool (scissors, glue stick, colored pencil set, etc.) for card to be traded back at the end of the period. This allows me to ensure that I have a consistent inventory of tools available for student use.

Students often need to borrow tools and supplies from the classroom to complete work elsewhere. In a case like this the check-out cards become similar to library cards in which a student may check a supply or tool out by writing the name of the tool and the date on which it was checked out on the card and leaving it with me. they may then take a tool home with them to complete the work and return it at a later date. When that supply or tool is returned I cross it out and initial the card on the line. This card is then effectively taken out of use until the tool or supplies returned. Students also use this card to check out the restroom pass so becomes important to them to return tools and supplies in a timely manner.

20141020_083054I found it useful to purchase (or in my case, make) a card organizer in which the cards can be kept available for when the teacher or student needs it. I’ve also found it useful that my organizer can be arranged to support long-term checkouts (library cards) by dividing the cards according to period number. This way I can quickly return the cards as students return supplies.

I suppose it’s important to note that this is not without problems or drawbacks . I often end up with quite a lot of students at the end of the period waiting to turn supplies in. This can take some time given stack of cards I have to go through to make the exchange. In my classroom however, I’ve made the decision to sacrifice this time to save from the time and additional cost of replacing tools.

Although the check-out card may not be perfect and I’m sure other solutions exist, I find that it is an effective tool for managing some of the “stuff” that goes into the average art classroom with large class sizes. I hope you’ve found some of my ideas useful. If you have, or have other ideas on ways to manage tools and supplies in the classroom, please leave a comment below. Thank you!