Saturday, April 28, 2012

Flower Power

A lesson about Georgia O'Keefe, that old chestnut. But wait...kindergarteners, even the most sophisticated among them have probably not yet heard of the Doyenne of Very Large Flowers, although they may have seen her flowers on a mug or calendar. Excellent.
Plus I can introduce a vocab word like "organic" in a way that helps them tie a word to art and nature instead of soy milk or cheese sticks.

You can always count on Ks to respond to beauty, so when they see O'Keefe's dramatic flowers, they are fittingly moved when shown some examples. To set the tone beforehand, we read the book The Flower a sort of dystopian tale for tots, haunting but ultimately hopeful, of a world devoid of flowers...until one day...

Drawing, cutting, tearing, gluing...all important skills to be practiced and refined. Skills that are not assessed on any high stakes testing that I am aware of. Making aesthetic decisions about color, shape and placement. Allowing children the freedom to create their own interpretation of a flower, while getting a glimpse into the creative mind of a woman artist who blazed her own trail. All this makes for some colorful tributes.

We start out by drawing an "organic shape" around the paper, making sure we use the whole page or as much as possible! We want these flowers to be big!

Glue it down, using delicate finger action.

Ah ha. Someone likes the idea of a tulip. No problem. The world of flowers is diverse and all inclusive.

Now it's time to add the eye of the flower and the radiating lines to create petals.  

Attention to detail like this would make Ms. O'Keefe very happy, I am sure.  She was once an art teacher.

Next, glue on (if you'd like) some crumpled tissue paper to make some texture for the eye of the flower. Makes it easier for the bees to hang on and do their job.

A bouquet of flower heads. Gorgeous.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Teaching as Preaching

How come we don't build public schools with the attention to beauty and serenity that goes into the architectural design of places of worship? I've always wondered that. 

Meanwhile, I was listening to a podcast by Alain de Botton, called Atheism 2.0. (I love TED Talks!) de Botton, really feels that teachers, museum curators and anyone working to educate the public, can learn a lot from religions and how they operate, because many religions do a brilliant job of relaying their message in a convincing way, teaching, organizing and inspiring people. Many religions use ritual and routine, and repetition as a way to draw their congregations to their teachings. 
And then I was like "Hey! I always try to do that!" Teachers and Preachers, we have more than a little bit in common, I think. 

For example, whenever I hear African American Spirituals, or New Orleans Jazz or a Baptist congregation singing and clapping as their way of praising the Lord, I get all choked up, and feel the music resonate on an emotional level, and I'm not African American or a Baptist. Or when I walk into a Buddhist temple, remove my shoes and sit quietly in front of the shrine and listen to the monks chant in Tibetan, I feel and appreciate the essence of what they honor even though I don't speak Tibetan and am not a Buddhist. I am drawn into the experience via a passionate, sincere delivery, thoughtful attention to atmosphere, environmental design and a positive group dynamic. Isn't that what effective teachers try to do and create for their students? 

Sometimes I wondered how much I could get away with creating what I like to call a "Peaceful Place" in my oh-so-secular little public school art studio, since a lot of my inspiration came from my experiences in Buddhist and Jewish temples, Muslim Mosques, Christian cathedrals and churches and non-demonminational places of worship. (oh--if I didn't mention it before..I was raised Unitarian Universalist or UU!)The chime I use to gather children's attention isn't affiliated with any church bell, that I know of. The small table I have near my rocking chair has objects of interest and beauty on it to attract the children's attention and interest, but it's not a Buddhist or Hindu shrine. The art and messages around the room speak of world peace, the beauty of nature, friendship and good citizenship, the bright colorful drawings on the windows are not stained glass (although that would be really pretty! Hmmm...idea for a lesson...?)

I studied and taught as a Montessori teacher and know that Maria Montessori, a devout Roman Catholic, scientist and Doctor (and little bit of a rebel), based her philosophy of educating young children on a belief that you didn't need to force education upon a child, but that integrated into a child's spiritual nature was a hunger to grow and learn... and all we (teachers) have to do is to create an environment (we are a part of that environment) that nurtures and supports this innate desire. I really like that. That underlying attitude is what attracted me to Montessori education, because it requires you to have faith in children.

It's really hard for me not to notice that so much of the art that comes out of young children, unbidden, is truly about love, joy, faith and humanity.

The great thing about teaching little ones is you get a lot of "love notes" but this one from kindergartener "A" really caught me off guard. No picture, just the simple words, in an envelope, on my desk. He's in 5th grade now...I am debating on whether to show this to him, or spare him the mortification.

Children express so much in their art. Emotional nuance through color, composition, subject.  I think this sun expresses such a lovely serenity!

This is a painting inspired by the life and work of William H. Johnson.
I'm sharing this because it illustrates how art and learning about the lives of artists can inspire young children. This student seems to respond to his art in compassionate, empathetic way, even though I never told the kids that his end of life was pretty tragic. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday in the Post with Ken

Welcome to Sunday in the Post...when I have others; teachers, poets, artists, great thinkers, name it... speaking words of wisdom. Let it Be. (ha-ha...see what I did there?)

I am reading Sir Ken's book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative.  Since I believe that teaching is an art, I'd like to figure out how we can actually teach creativity to teachers-in-training. Their training should include the rigors that any artist must go through, to develop and hone their craft. That's my idea on how to transform education. You start with the teacher-to-be. I believe academic classroom teachers can learn a lot from artists; actors, dancers, musicians, writers...all of the arts. A creative teacher no matter what subject they are teaching raises the bar for their students, asking them to come along with them, by creating a performance with their instruction that wraps around their students with passion...rather than talking at them, like that teacher in Peanuts cartoons. When teachers are forced to teach to the test, or are expected to use scripted instruction, they are robbed of all of their autonomy in the classroom and nothing gets to be spontaneous, child-centered or inspired.

But let's let the charming, hilarious and inspiring Sir Ken Robinson speak...he doth make a rather convincing argument for how we need the arts in our schools and we need creative teachers.