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.