Thursday, October 27, 2011

Turn PD into a PLC

One of the biggest teaching challenges can be finding the time and resources to participate in meaningful professional development. Since there are often only one or two Visual Arts teachers within a building (sometimes even within a district), it becomes difficult to find opportunities to connect and collaborate with other teachers who share your content.

Hopefully your district allows you release time and financial support to participate in the annual MAEA conference. Unfortunately (as seen on recent Facebook posts), that is not always the case.

This is when a PLC (Professional Learning Community, also known as a PLN or Professional Learning Network) comes into play. Why wait for release time from your school or district initiatives to give you the opportunity to plan, prepare, and collaborate curriculum? The time often does not come and when it does it can be scrunched in, overwhelming, and without follow through. 

PLC's and PLN's offer teachers an ability to connect with other teachers both within and outside of their content area about topics they decide and coordinate. This revolutionary concept can enhance and expand the walls of your classroom because you have a team of teachers invested in you, wanting to share with you, and offering to help you succeed in the teaching endeavors you face.

One of the most helpful PLC's for Visual Arts teachers is the Art Education 2.0 Ning. This group (brainchild of Craig Roland) is now over 10,000 members strong. Through social networking, it offers Visual Arts teachers an opportunity to connect, share, and collaborate globally.

It is not unusual to see teachers swapping student work across continents, to see teachers offering help through video tutorials and commentary about what methods work best, or to see the offering of advice through the many difficult situations we find ourselves in as budgets are cut and teachers are pink-slipped.

The same can be said about the possibilities found through Twitter and Facebook. Both sites allow quick sharing of resources and topics that can lead to collaborating ideas and promoting educational growth.

We are teaching in a changing world, and we need to be at the forefront of that change with ideas and methods to help our students succeed. One of the best ways to do that is to be collaborative partners with others in our field.

Through the participation of a PLC, you will not only find yourself growing as a result of the interaction, but you will also allow your students to benefit from the learning and resources gained as a result.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cultivating Creativity

Image from A Combo Platter of TAB & DBAE SchoolArts Magazine, August/September 2006
The theme for this year's MAEA Annual Fall Conference is "Cultivating Creative Passion."

The topic of creativity is something that Visual Arts educators deal with on a daily basis. As we make Art and teach our students skills, it is hard not to tackle questions about what creativity is and how it could be applied to teaching.

In Adam VonHouten's blog, he brings up the struggle that many Art teachers face when it comes to teaching. At what point does the teacher give the power and control to the students to be the artists? Instead of modeling each assignment with predictable outcomes, he advocates for student choice and room for exploration with each new endeavor.

The method of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (also known as TAB or Choice-Based Art Education) treats students as artists and give them the freedom of choice when creating work. Instead of the teacher as the model and students repeating what the teacher is proposing, students make their own decisions and explore materials and ideas in their own way.

For some of us (myself included) this concept of a Choice-Based classroom is appealing, but also comes with some concerns. How do we measure success? How do we align a "Choice" curriculum to National and State standards? How do we maintain control when students are all doing such different things? How do we get them away from doing the cliche? How do we know they are learning?

A possible solution to this dilemma is an artful combination of student choice and teacher direction in the lessons that you already teach. Stephanie Corder addresses this in a 2006 article from SchoolArts Magazine. She contends that teachers still need to teach students concepts surrounding Art History, materials, methods, criticism, and design, but students also need the freedom and choice to explore and create using ideas and methods that interest them. Whether it is selecting the material, or subject, or having complete control over the content, students need to feel invested in what they are making in order for it to be meaningful.

When giving students choice, the conversation changes. Students' attitudes change about what their role is in the class. They can no longer say they hate an assignment when they are the ones who have chosen the subject or material or both. They made the choice of what to do and as a result, they must take ownership of the decision and become an active stakeholder in the classroom. As the teacher, you still foster an environment of learning by showing students methods of working or artists of interest, but you allow them to explore and create in their own way.

Instead of relying on students regurgitating information, Visual Arts teachers get to be the ones that ask students to problem solve, take risks, and pursue their interests while making something new. Our classrooms can offer a chance to be different, engaging, and inclusive. In a time of memorizing facts and standardized testing, we are the ones who get to be creative!

So, the challenge is this - take one assignment and turn up the choice, giving your students creative ownership. Whether it is the material or the subject matter, give your students the opportunity to be creative and cultivate their passions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Be Your Best Advocate

In a time of decreased funding and support of Arts programs, it is easy to get swept into the whirlwind of despair. I have seen the results of layoffs and pink slips and changing faculty as a result of tough budget cuts where "extras" are trimmed and as a result students are short changed.

Although this is a challenging time for Visual Arts teachers because these classes are often viewed as being an "extra" part of the day, it is also a great opportunity to show how critical this subject area is to fostering student success and achievement.

Every day our students walk through the door, we expect them to show what they know. Through application of skills and concepts, students manipulate media and visually express meaning.

Why not apply this thought or expectation to ourselves?

In the Art:21 blog, Joe Fusaro makes a great case for being your own best advocate by documenting what happens in your classroom to share with others. This can be done in traditional ways like annual art shows; it can also be done through classroom blogs, websites, online portfolios (like Artsonia), and video sharing sites (like Vimeo or Animoto).

One teacher who does this exceptionally well is 2011 Illinois Art Teacher of the Year Tricia Fuglestad from Dryden Elementary. She employs digital media to involve the community in her classroom and as a result she builds support for her program and her students. I have been following Tricia for the past five years and I feel personally connected to her classroom even though I have never stepped foot inside. Her ability to document and share - to show what she and her students know - is something that makes her a wonderful advocate for her students and Visual Arts education.

To get to the point Tricia has with her websites, videos, blogs, and more takes time. Instead of trying to do it all at once, decide on one goal at a time. Maybe it is to make a video using Animoto of your favorite assignment, or starting an online gallery on Artsonia. Both sites offer great tutorials and easy guides to get started.

As times change, we adapt. In this time of challenging budgets and program decisions, we need to take the opportunity to show what we all know - that Visual Arts is critical to student success and achievement.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welcome to the MAEA Blog

In an effort to stay connected and informed, the MAEA blog will serve as a source to members who are looking to collaborate, communicate, and create with other Visual Arts educators from around the State.

As the new MAEA Digital Editor, I am hoping to bring my love of technology integration to members of the MAEA via this blog. I am Janine Campbell and I have been teaching since 2004. I currently teach at Byron Center Public Schools and here is my classroom blog.

Blogging offers an instant communication tool that can connect students, parents, community members, and other teachers to each other through the few quick strokes the keyboard. Hopefully this blog will help serve as a tool to connect our MAEA community and allow teachers to find collaborating partners when so often we find ourselves as the loners in the end of the hall in our buildings (maybe I am just speaking for myself, but I have a strong feeling that is not the case).

Also feel free to connect via the MAEA group on Facebook! We are over 200 members strong and this is a great resource to connect with other members instantly as well as check out great art competitions, grants, contests, and giveaways!

We would also like to know about your blog/website! Please email the links to be featured on the blog.