Sunday, April 20, 2014

Visiting Author(s)

I haven't posted much lately because I am switching over to my new laptop and don't yet have Photoshop... Here's a post that doesn't require student artwork!

On Thursday author David T. Greenberg visited my schools. I saw the talk he gave to my 4th graders about growing up during the Civil Rights era. His father is Jack Greenberg,the lawyer who litigated the "landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that overturned the 'separate but equal' doctrine" ( and was one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s lawyers. Greenberg wrote a book called "A Tugging String" that was inspired by what he experienced as his father's son. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, but it's on my "to read" list and was highly recommended by my colleagues. The talk was amazing- informative, entertaining, and heartfelt. It was a great experience for students and staff alike. I fought tears through most of it, affected by all the photos he showed and stories he shared. The timing of his visit was appropriate as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision.

Reflecting on his talk- how excited the students were and how much they/we learned, I started thinking about my dream list of authors to bring to school if the focus were more on art, and, you know, if we didn't have to worry about silly things like availability and budget...
Here they are, in random order.
Dallas Clayton- I first learned about Dallas Clayton a few years ago when I heard about "An Awesome Book". He's written several more books and posted lots of artwork, all bursting with positivity and messages about dreaming big dreams, being gracious, and trying new things. Students enjoy his stories and are inspired by his artwork. Here's some artwork my students made after reading "An Awesome Book" a couple years ago. I think this year my oldest son will be old enough to get the book for Christmas!

Stephen T. Johnson- Stephen T. Johnson was a speaker at the KAEA conference in Lawrence back in 2009 (I think). I fell in love with his book "A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet". The book is filled with alliterative contemporary art based on each letter of the alphabet, and with the letter hidden in each work. I just saw an autographed copy of the book in a museum gift shop yesterday and it reminded me that it's been too long since I read it.

Peter H. Reynolds- Responsible for "the Dot", "Ish", and "Sky Color" as part of the "Creatrilogy" and several other books. Every September International Dot Day is a global celebration of creativity and "making your mark." Peter, along with his brother Paul, also formed Fable Vision, an education company with some cool products, including big screen books, posters (free poster downloads are occasionally offered if you get their newsletter), and programs that encourage writing, creativity, and self expression. I don't have a smartboard so I haven't tried any of the programs, but I do enjoy the free posters. :)

Eric Carle- Need I say more? Eric Carle's first venture into illustrating books was at the request of Bill Martin Jr. who wanted to work with him on "Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?" Eric Carle has illustrated more than 70 books, most of which he has also written. I love his unique style of artwork, collage made from papers he has painted, and that his books are often inspired by a love of nature. My earliest Eric Carle memory was playing the part of "the Very Hungry Caterpillar" in my preschool play. Carle says,
“With many of my books I attempt to bridge the gap between the home and school. To me home represents, or should represent; warmth, security, toys, holding hands, being held. School is a strange and new place for a child. Will it be a happy place? There are new people, a teacher, classmates—will they be friendly?
I believe the passage from home to school is the second biggest trauma of childhood; the first is, of course, being born. Indeed, in both cases we leave a place of warmth and protection for one that is unknown. The unknown often brings fear with it. In my books I try to counteract this fear, to replace it with a positive message. I believe that children are naturally creative and eager to learn. I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun.” (

I know I could have added more to my list... which author/illustrators would you love to meet or have visit your school?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tips and Tricks: Tearing Butcher Paper Straight!

Here's a trick for tearing those big rolls of butcher paper that you might not know. I always had a hard time tearing the paper straight. It would start off really nice and straight and I'd think "this time I'll get it!" only to be surprised when the nice straight line veered off into a jagged tear. One day as I was asking the paper roll, "Seriously?", a preschool teacher walked by and told me the magic trick, which is really quite easy, and should be taught to all teachers!

Are you ready?

Tear from the bottom, up.

That's it! It makes a huge difference for me. Hope it helps you as well! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Seasonal Art

 Here's a sample of some of the seasonal drawings my 1st grade students created over the last several months. 
Snowpeople are always popular.
I love the arc of stars above this snowman.
And here's the oddball, the hand turkey. I don't encourage hand turkeys because of negative stereotypes of "pud" art classes. So when a 1st grader asked me if it was ok, I told her to make it the best hand turkey ever! It cracked me up when she wrote that description in her drawing.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Portfolio Day

In previous years I spent a ton of plan time hanging artwork in the hall. I'd wait until an entire grade was finished with a project, photograph the work for Artsonia, load up my cart, staple all the work (between 450-500 pieces at my primary school), and then in about a month I'd take it all down and repeat. This year I've changed my method and thinking about hallway displays. The response has been positive, the students are involved, and I'm saving lots of time, too! 

This year we've been trying out choice-based art education. Since students are working on their own projects there's no waiting until one assignment is finished and hanging a whole grade's worth of art. Here's what I've been doing instead:
  1. When students finish a project (including artist statements for 2nd and 3rd grade) they turn it in to me.
  2. I photograph finished projects once a week (usually) for Artsonia.
  3. I put the finished projects inside a file folder for each class, organized in a box for each grade.
  4. On a "Portfolio Day", usually every 6 weeks or so, all the finished projects are passed back.
  5. Students choose their best piece for the hallway and attach their artist statement.
  6. We clean up a little bit earlier than usual and each student lines up with their best piece.
  7. Students follow me into the hallway and hand me their artwork one at a time. I staple the artwork and stick out my hand for the next piece like a runner in a relay receiving the baton.
  8. We go back to the classroom and students collect any other finished pieces to go home with them that day.
Choice-based art allows students to work at their own pace (within reason) so some students will have several pieces to choose from and some may only have one piece finished. If there's only one finished piece, it is the best and therefore the "hallway piece". When there are several pieces, the students have to think, compare, judge, and finally make the decision of which piece is their strongest. Most of the time, they really do pick the best piece. In December, I let the students take their best piece home if they really really really wanted to give it to someone for a gift. On portfolio days students often talk to each other about their work and offer advice and opinions on what should go in the hallway.
Two students working on an artist statement.
One thing that makes Portfolio Days go more smoothly is that no new projects are started. If students have something in progress, they continue working on that. If they have finished pieces that slipped under the radar and didn't get an artist statement, artist statements are written. If students are finished with everything, they can choose from one of the centers that are not open regularly- blocks, modeling clay, etc.- until it's time to hang artwork.
The most unexpected benefit of this display method, is that students are noticing, really noticing, the artwork in the hallway. I always assumed they looked at it before, but I was wrong.
*At my intermediate school I still hang all the work myself. I see the students every other week as opposed to every week, and since they are older they tend to work on pieces longer. I don't feel I can take even 5 extra minutes away from their work time to hang hallway pieces. I just hang pieces as they are finished because it would take too long to get more than one piece finished at a time.