Saturday, December 6, 2014


Try beginning your theme curriculum with a related Surrealist Play activity.

There can be many approaches to 
Playing in the Art Classroom Studio,
Be careful not to turn Play into an Exercise 
by saying "You MUST do this or that...."
"I'm going to ASSESS this or that...."
The only criterion is BECOMING ABSORBED.

Here's your SLO:
Student will be able to shift from ordinary consciousness to engaged, focused, purposeful experimentation materials, words and ideas.

For many years, the first class of every Spiral Workshop season was devoted to Surrealist play. Often the activities (both image and text based) were designed to relate to the theme/media of the group.

Playing, Creativity, Possibility 
Playing, Creativity, Possibility by Olivia Gude

The article (click link above) includes lots of examples of playful curriculum based on actual documented activities that the actual Surrealists used to "unleash the unbridled imagination." They didn't just sit around trying to "think of things that don't go together." They played together.

I didn't make an a priori decision to begin Spiral Workshop courses with Play. 
We tried some Surrealist activities one year and noticed that:

  1. A number of students found it very difficult in the beginning, but later "warmed to the activity." 
  2. The activities seemed to generate a relaxed experimental climate. 
  3. The process created a shared vocabulary for the students and teachers to talk about experimentation, process, and risk taking. 

On the Spiral Workshop NAEA Digication ePortfolio there are examples of the theme-based curriculum of over a dozen Spiral groups. Each curriculum begins with some variation of Surrealist play activities. Here's the link:
Spiral Workshop Theme Groups

Emerging Themes & Thinking about Violence

I've read through your posts with great interest, contemplating the emerging themes. I feel so interested and honored to be part of this learning community. 

The issue of Violence has come up several times as we’ve talked about possible themes on which to base curriculum. I think that we all agree that violence in our communities is a major issue facing many students, families, and teachers.

As a dialogical educator, I find that the first formulations of a theme often aren't sufficient to generate truly productive dialogue. Paulo Freire used the term "generative themes" because in dialogical education teachers and students come together to make something

The theme and resulting dialogue (often art making in our work) are generative because they make something and they make something happen. Freire terms this making in dialogue a "new naming." To name the world, to interpret and understand it, is to change the world because we now see it differently and this creates new possibilities for reflection and action.

A theme exercise such as the one we did in the first and follow up Spaces of Possibility workshop is a way to open an initial conversation, to signal to students that you as a teacher are committed to creating spaces in which students’ ideas, interests and concerns are relevant and welcome. However, developing and strengthening these spaces of possibility within the curriculum will take time. Teachers and students can’t grant each other TRUST a priori. Trust in this work is built through working together.

The problem with focusing on violence or crime may be that it doesn't necessarily create the possibility of a new naming of experience.

 Teachers talked about reasons why talking about violence doesn't seem possible--including that in places where violence is endemic, neither students nor teachers can feel safe to have these discussions. 

This is where curriculum becomes art. 
Art allows us to reframe experience in a way that supports conceptual, perceptual, emotional movement for makers, participants, and viewers. 

Profound change begins with slight shifts, with altered reverberations, unsettling moments that become altered spaces for reflection and action.

In highly emotionally charged situations, I believe that it is the work of the dialogical artist educator to find a place and to initiate a practice/process that generates fresh visualizations.
As I’m writing this I am thinking of the challenge of visualizing “non violence,” too often this is described only as an absence, of what is not happening, not what is or may come into being.

A phrase that keeps recurring in my mind is a Surrealist juxtaposition: 
Could an artistic investigation begin with creating a series of such juxtapositions and then explore these new (perhaps quirky and sometimes nonsensical) metaphors through various media?
What new images of possibility might emerge?

Just thinking….

Friday, December 5, 2014

Try Something New

This is what has been on Roxy's mind since our last meeting...

I've kind of been struggling with what I want to base my theme on. Part of me wants to be pulled into the crime/violence theme group because of what my students go through on a daily basis…. the other part of me wants to try something new. 

I'm totally interested in Deborah's Banksy project and I can't wait to try it with my students. My floor at school is under utilized so they are closing it in the next few weeks. My plan is to use this idea of school street art as a good bye to the floor! 

For now I'm going to keep thinking and talking to my kids to generate ideas. 

I really enjoy coming together and sharing stories/ ideas. It has definitely been something I look forward to.

Protection, Printmaking, Presence

Tess shares three takeaways from the Nov. 20th work session...

Three takeaways:
1. I got some really good ideas for other lessons that I could delve into later on in the year. 
-Parents that are too protective
-What are you protected from? For what? By what?
-Which led me to thinking about vice versa: what should kids be protected from (student's perspective)?

2. Printmaking
What's worth repeating?
Idea - print on different things, then go back and add collage

3. Present of the Presence
The act of giving and receiving - still need to think more about this but very fascinating concept.

Helpful to Receive Feedback

This is what Dan had to share after our last work session...

It was great to hear everyone's approach on developing curriculum in their classroom. I appreciate the opportunity to hear how other art teachers approach making work with their students. It was helpful for me to receive some feedback on my current printmaking project. It helped me realize choosing a medium that is conducive to the concept of a project is import.  As far as a theme I am still working some ideas out. I am thinking of experimental processes of making art, spontaneity, and the role that chance plays in creating an artwork. I also like the idea of Comfort zones.

Reality of Working with Young People

Here are some thoughts Jess had after our Nov. 20th meeting...

I thought it was a very productive evening- and a great opportunity to share.  One of the ideas that stuck with me is that there is so often a distance between our expectations/hope and the reality of working with young people. 

The theme generation was hard- my students really wanted to stay at (what I felt was) a more surface level place and I wanted them to think more deeply, not because they are incapable, but because these are the things that are truly on their mind. It seemed many in the room experienced a similar situation. I definitely had to gently guide (push) my students to think a little more deeply about the ideas they were developing. I really benefitted from hearing others discuss their process and their thinking.  

I am very excited to continue thinking and developing ideas with the group!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Discomfort is: something or somewhere that doesn't make you feel like yourself

The above is a short thought from one of my students on the idea of discomfort.   I think it's a good place to start the conversation around the idea of a comfort or discomfort zone.   I am feeling some anxiety and discomfort at the moment because I haven't narrowed down any concrete places to go yet...I have some ideas, maybe?

This theme emerged from some gentle guiding of students in my after-school art program whose thoughts naturally drifted to food, TV, and home during the idea generating activity.  The students made some connections between these things and the idea of feeling relaxed, so I nudged them towards the idea of comfort.  Since then, we have had a few conversations around the idea of what is comforting/comfortable vs. what is uncomfortable/discomforting.  I have a few mind-maps they worked on and some questions around the theme that I will upload and share later.

We did one activity on Monday- we are working on quick performances (which is completely out of my comfort zone, both in teaching and in general).  The image below came about after a discussion on "actions of physical discomfort"- these students don't feel comfortable in confined spaces with others.  They don't look so uncomfortable, but I am super excited about the idea of documenting these quick actions with my students.

Monday, December 1, 2014

5 Thoughts and Big Ideas

Here are some things our meeting on Nov. 20th has Cory thinking about...

I teach choice-based/TAB in my room, and like Kitty, I want to find a method where the students are helping develop and taking the lead on inquiry into a theme. I tried the "5 thoughts" method that Olivia had us do with a few 4th grade classes, and initially I thought they were too young for the method to work. After having another session with Olivia and thinking about it more, I think I will try to tease out some common themes that they came up with and see where it goes (short aside: I am integrating art w 4th grade classroom teachers, and our goal in co-teaching is to have the students explore ideas and themes in my room that they're learning in their classroom). That's my long-term plan, as we have the next month or so mapped out for that grade level. 

In the short term, I'm thinking I will do the "5 thoughts" activity with either a 6th or 8th grade class. My older students already work within overarching themes/units, but I can modify their next units to work in more student voice about what it's about. 

Olivia addressed the fact that for choice-based teachers, our curriculum might look different, with smaller groups of students going down different paths within a larger theme, a situation that I'm comfortable teaching. I think it makes sense to have students develop "big ideas" and then I can refine them and think of "guiding questions" or short art-making activities they can use as starting points for a larger, longer-term piece.

Conversation and Idea Development

Josh shares some takeaways from our Nov. 20th meeting.

I have a few thematic investigation ideas.  A few are "Home", "Coming Home", "Neighborhoods", and "My Chicago".  

As far as takeaways, I'm starting to think about how the chalk-talk approach to coming up with ideas for themes relates to TAB and how it fits into other artists' approaches to art-making, including my own.  I'm also becoming curious about how the activity relates to motivation in art-making and how a sense of community is activated through conversation and idea development.

When I conducted the chalk-talk approach to theme brainstorming, the students I teach brought violence and gangs into the conversation.  Both topics are serious issues for artists to explore legitimately, but it's not safe in a school setting to explore both issues because it's dangerous due to gang relations among the student body.

Artist as Investigator

Here are some of Kitty's takeaways from our meeting on Nov. 20th. 

Thanks for a thoughtful evening. My take away is the way in which I can structure student inquiry and Olivia gave us the idea of terming ours as "artist as investigator." We also looked at the idea of uncertainty which fits nicely with my choices based classroom. 

I also learned that the term identity is too big and stagnate. Identity is changing all the time. Basically, it's not so straight forward. I found partners to share with.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Going's On at Curie w/ the X Kids

Ms. X and her Happenings.

I am going to connect you to two of my other blogs (as I can't always keep track of the posting I do).

This is the student run (mostly) blog for our guerrilla art class. Currently working on a project connected to the "Bowie Is" exhibit at the MCA. We are collaborating with Lee Blalock, a sound/video/performance artist. We have just started our big project. Check it out as it progresses...

This blog is more teacher-centered. I post about, reflect upon, new things I am trying in classes. Sometimes, just get into teacher issues or discussions. Also an ongoing series of posts about my trip to Finland with the NAEA delegation. Very exciting!
Speaking of: the trip got written up in another teacher's blog about the Finnish system of education.

Valerie Xanos

Monday, November 24, 2014

Social Commentary Graffiti Project

Deborah Ryder at Kennedy High School reflects on a recent project...

I designed my Social Commentary Graffiti Project because I wanted my students to experience the power of public art to raise consciousness, provoke discussion and visually impact their school environment. I guided a discussion and asked them to make lists of issues that were on their minds. They chose working partners and formed small groups of 2 -4 and they decided on the issue they wanted to present. 

Graffiti has broad general appeal and interest with my students. As they were planning their works, I showed them a lot of Banksy. I found some really interesting videos about Banksy on YouTube (including a hilarious bit from Steven Colbert). They created 5' tall graffiti works inspired by Banksy. Like Banksy, I told them they could use appropriated imagery from popular culture and Banksy himself, but they needed to create new juxtapositions to design their images. They also wrote Manifesto statements about their topic that would put up with their graffiti. 

Students traced their designs on clear plastic sheets and projected their graffiti designs onto large pieces of kraft paper. They used black acrylic paint and had the option to add white and one accent color. They cut them out and in one day during their art class period they "stealthily" wheat pasted their graffiti any where in the school they wanted. 

My students were incredulous that they had permission to present works that were personal and sometimes controversial. I told them I didn't ask permission. We were just going to do the project and I would accept the consequences. That earned me a little cred with my students, even though I figured the work would be well received by every one at school, including administration. 

At first my students were skeptical. They thought their work would be destroyed by other students in the school or at the very least the principal would tell me to take them down. Then the talk started. "This is so cool. Who did this, etc, etc" They started seeing their work on Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. Their teachers were talking about it and creating spontaneous lessons inspired by their graffiti.

The graffiti stayed up for 3 weeks and were on display during report card pick up for parents and visitors to view. Then we took them down. Teachers are sorry to see them gone and have expressed their appreciation for the project and are asking me what we are going to do next.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Looking forward to meeting with teachers on Thursday November 20 to continue the collaborative conversation. 

Everyone is welcome--those who attended October night and those who did not.

Time/space for small group and large group collaborative ideation and processing. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What People are Thinking About

Below are comments we collected from the teachers who were present during the Oct. 23rd workshop with Olivia. Who else can share their ideas? What questions or comments do you have regarding Chrissy, Deni, Jeanne and Jeanette's ideas below? Please let us know what you are thinking about...

I find as art teachers we are very isolated and we have to seek out communities to share ideas. These ideas seem to more receptive because we WANT to be in the community. Many teachers of core subjects are forced to be in these conversations. I am eager to get ideas and collaborate with art teachers I have long respected. I feel like I take away information every time.

I was pleased to discuss ideas with the teachers I paired with because I feel our students have similar pressures regarding the high school admissions process. They often feel they are wrongly assessed though they have many attributes that can't be measured.

I'm intrigued by the idea of how they are measured and how we associate behavior in relationship to color and numbers.

Our group also discussed the idea of behavior management in general. How students seem to feel the consequences of their peers. These are teaching opportunities we feel for them to work collaboratively towards a goal.


1) There are so many to choose
2) The themes we ultimately chose had a broad base for interpretation...
3) While I can't dedicate an entire quarter to the theme, I am excited to work with the 7th grade.

My 3-4 takeaways from the 10-23 event:

1.  Healthy relationships seem like a real need.
2.  Navigating the terrain between talking about issues, making art
about issues and then what?  Is raising awareness and talking about
issues enough?
3.  The quote: "All violence is the result of unmet need." is a basic
tenet of restorative justice.  I think naming the needs and then
finding/assisting students to find the resources to meet the needs is
a good thing to work on.
4.  Asset Based Inquiry is another good angle to pursue in the search
for solutions.

My takaways:

Wow, this is really tough work? This seems like it takes a long time? Lots of planning, contemplating, and thinking? It wlll be great to have this group to work with to figure this new way of teaching. I love the connections that can be made to contemporary artists and their work.

Interesting how the elementary kids have such issues with being silent in the halls. What must their life be like, constantly being told to do stuff that goes against their natural nature? How does this experience in elementary school influence how they behave when they get to me freshman year? They go from such control and structure to much more freedom, no wonder they struggle to handle it.

I am so glad to live in a place that offers opportunities like this. I am so honored to be included in this group and look forward to the journey ahead.

Why does life have to be so stressful, for us as adults, for kids, kids shouldn't be this stressed.

Art is so important to understanding life, each other, ourselves, the world, to make the world better, to make ones self better.

Every problem is a curriculum problem, how can I apply this to the problems I am beginning to have in my 4th period freshman art class?

Monday, November 3, 2014

What does this learning community ask of me?

Recently I was reading a philosophical text by the German theorist Hannah Arendt. Arendt wrote about collective responsibility and I thought perhaps this is something we could consider within our group. Arendt said "I must be held responsible for something I have not done, and the reason for my responsibility must be my membership in a group (collective) which no voluntary act of mine can dissolve." (The Human Condition, 1958). This quote leads me to think about what our learning community asks of us. What are we called to do within this community? How are we responsible even when we choose to not participate? One of the central ways we can come to know each other's work/practice is through participation in the project blog. Collective responsibility does not demand that we are prolific or eloquent writers, but we are none the less called to participate in a conversation as members of this group. There may be a hesitation at first to write but responding to each others' ideas is a good place to start. Write a comment inside or outside of the comment box as Olivia did. I am personally moved to write about Olivia's statement - The weird illusion is that somehow we now have objective data when we quantify subjective judgments. Right, we can never remove our subjectivity from assessing works of art. We wouldn't want to remove this subjectivity. How do we call this subjectivity forward within assessment? 

You have joined this group and have already chosen collective responsibility. I know you're there. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Going to Finland!

1st leg of tour: in O'Hare, Chicago. En route to NYC to transfer to Finnair. 
So excited and also thinking about all the posts I have to finish regarding the awesome work students are doing. Lots of photos and video to edit and upload. 

That will have to wait. For now, this is about Finland. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Objective or Subjective Assessment Data

Greetings, I originally posted this as a comment, but see that comments can get lost in blog format so I'm re-posting as a Post. 
I was touched, saddened, maddened and "get it" when I read this response on the teacher reflections list:

"Lessons that are easy to assess and show “data” – Even though we are evolving as art educators, we are being pressured more and more to show “data” and “evidence of learning.” I love the new approaches I’ve adopted and the students are being more reflective of their process, but creating ways to measure this practice is a tough task so I’m still embracing some of those old lessons that are easier to show datA and all the other accountability admin wants."

Remember that the use of the term "data" is a fad. 

If questioned even the most hardboiled administrator will explain that what s/he wants is clear evidence of learning that is summed up in numerical form. 

A typical criteria for an "old school art style project" might state that "Shading creates a 3D form" or "Use elements and principles to create expressive meaning." One can then write out a rubric--which usually amounts to 
"doesn't, somewhat does-does well-does exceptionally" 
and then assign numbers to these categories. One is still making (professionally informed) subjective judgments and then correlating these with numbers. 

The weird illusion is that somehow we now have objective data when we quantify subjective judgments.

Here's one criteria from the Model Cornerstone Assessment for Visual Arts High School Proficient : 
"Apply relevant criteria from traditional and contemporary cultural contexts to examine, reflect on, and plan revisions for works of art and design in progress."

*  How to implement: As projects near completion teacher and students review the different sorts of criteria that seem to apply to a particular work.
* Students then describe and analyze what this criteria suggests as a way to bring a work (their own and the work of others) to a higher level--what is good and meaningful about this work-in-progress? What might be done to make it even better? 
*  A teacher could then easily create a score for how well a student participated in this activity with regard to his/her own work and to the work of fellow students. 

New paradigms for assessment may seem strange and complicated, but it's really a matter of habit, 
of making and re-using rubrics and forms, of educating students and admin about what we are assessing. 

It's important to recognize that quality summative arts assessment of the future will summarize data gathered through in process formative assessments. 

I don't think Art Education can remain credible if the only evidence of learning we base our evaluations on are projects made in response to assigned art exercises. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Silly" Unit Development

Devin, Kate, and I found a commonality between our students in their writing. Many of our students were talking about things that seem silly or nonsensical to us like robots made of string cheese or chocolate fountains. We each teach primary grades so we wanted to work with a theme that was age appropriate but interesting to them. We decided upon silly early on and began generating questions for our students like "when have you been silly?", "what happens when you get silly?", "what would a silly school look like?", and "what do you think is silly?". We began talking about artists that explore this theme, either through hyperbole, size manipulation, or through content. We plan on meeting again soon to generate a list of questions for our students to help them understand this theme more. We briefly talked about what grade might be best to do this with and what materials might be interesting to explore, but it seems like that will be hashed out more in our next meeting. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Limit Situations

On Oct. 23rd a group of teachers from the Spaces for Possibility learning community met with Olivia Gude to collectively explore the generative themes that had begun to emerge in their classrooms. A thoughtful and exciting conversation took place. I am in the process of collecting "takeaways" from the participants that I will later post on this blog. In the meantime, I wanted to share what I witnessed and heard during this three-hour experience.

Solving the Unresolvable... I love this idea and heard the concept come up time and time again throughout our conversation. Olivia mentioned that she prefers to think of "every problem as a curriculum problem." This seemed to resonate during discussions about assessment and rules and disruptions to teaching. It was remarkable to hear how many teachers agreed that the stress of grades, tests and assessments was something on many of their students' minds. The complication of having to teach in the midst of chaos was also very interesting. What is the effect of one individual (student, teacher, or administrator) sabotaging the larger learning experience?

YELLING... What is yelling? This topic was briefly mentioned during our conversations, but it stuck with me. What does it mean to yell? Is yelling a critique? A punishment? Praise? I began to think of yelling within my personal experiences. Why is the majority of my yelling angrily or sternly directed towards those that I love the most? Why do I hold in yelling at those that I despise the most? I yell in excitement when I'm cheering for a favorite team. I yell when I speak with my hard-of-hearing grandma. It seems as though one could approach yelling through a variety of Principles of Possibility - Playing, Encountering Differences, Empowered Experiencing, Deconstructing Culture, etc. I wonder about the benefits of yelling and what it can do to relieve stress. I could use that. 

NOT just ARRIVING at a theme... This seems to be an important statement to revisit throughout the process of developing comprehensive contemporary curriculum. Olivia continues to reminds us that this is a process and showed us examples of how Spiral Workshop has worked through a sequence of themes. We talked about going bigger and bigger with a theme... how a theme may emerge and then we can continue to pull new ideas and new themes out of it. I thought Jeanne's method for pulling out themes (Root Cause Analysis) was a good example of this. After students have generated a response or questions to a particular theme or issue, they use a color-coding system to breakdown the problem into Intrapersonal - Interpersonal - Institutional - Historical connections. I would love to learn more about this method. 

These are my "takeaways" from our engaging conversation. What were yours? What is your response to some these "takeaways"? Do they resonate with you? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!