"Breathe"... "BREATHE"... "BREEEEEATHE"...
This is how Anthony Fitzpatrick of Achieve NJ and The Department of Education started his presentation on SGO's at the AENJ conference. Ever since I left that room, breathing is far from my mind when thinking about SGO's.
If you've been playing along, you read a few weeks ago that I wrote the SGO's for my middle school art department and I was all proud of what I'd done. I felt that I had written a prompt that would give us a true understanding of what our students really thought about ART. Little did I know then, I had made myself an impossible assessment to assess.
So now I'm left in a maze trying to figure out just what I want to assess that is actually assessment worthy. Fitzpatrick suggested we think about our SGO's as standards based and narrow down the process by identifying the key content knowledge we want our students to walk away with. THIS IS A CHALLENGE. My curriculum is based on a thematic approach to art education where students are using artmaking to learn about themselves, to express memories, to understand their environment... Add to this, our middle school art courses are all survey based - exploring everything from the art elements and principles of design to art history to contemporary art making practices and let's not even get started on the variety of materials and techniques we address!
I'm currently considering using a cumulative portfolio assessment as my SGO. But, I'm not sure what exactly I want to look for in that portfolio. Is my goal "drawing skills"? Is my goal "use of color"? Is my goal "understanding of human proportion"? I just don't know! And, even if my goal is one of those things, I'm not quite sure how to write a cumulative rubric that addresses a portfolio assessment. SIGH...
If you've been reading silently from afar, now's the time to step out of the shadows and chime in with your thoughts. Are you writing SGO's? What are you doing? Art is such a specialized area and assessment in this content area is not as straight forward as a test. Let's collaborate here and help each other keep the state happy. Go on, you know you want to comment!
As artists, you might think we are an unorganized or flighty bunch. This is not the case at all! Art educators are a group of individuals who can make big things happen when we work together. I joke that I can smell a fellow art teacher in a room before I am even introduced to them. It's not just the odor of paint and glue that tips me off, it's the aroma of pure joy and passion for our subject area that give them away.
Each fall, the Art Educators of New Jersey (AENJ) come together to host a three-day conference to provide its members with professional development in many forms. We have hosted artists like Faith Ringgold, Olivia Gude, Andrew Freear, Peter London, Robert Root-Bernstein, and, most recently, Jesus Moroles, as keynote speakers over the years. If you teach art in New Jersey, AENJ is the place to be for professional development hours, personal enrichment, inspiration and camaraderie.
I have presented sessions at AENJ in 2012 and 2013. Last year, I presented information on creating collaborative participatory public art with students. This year, I presented two sessions and was present to support my former JPE (Junior Practicum Experience) students on a third session.
My first presentation focused on my role as a delegate with the NAEA trip to India last fall. The presentation was neither earth shattering or innovative but did allow me to share the amazing experiences from that trip with my peers. Tons of photos and fun stories from the adventure were a great start to the day.
My second presentation was on QR Codes - my pet project in the classroom. I shared the information I have gathered on using QR Codes in many aspects of education and specifically in the world of art education. I was a bit shocked to look out over a full room of people who were interested in this topic. It was great to see others get excited about a piece of technology that his so often overlooked and under used. I'm hopeful that the attendees will keep in touch and share their successes with QR Codes in their own schools.
My JPE students, Samantha Berk and Ashley Garguilo, presented a fantastic lesson they designed based on the work of contemporary artist Erika Iris Simmons. In their lesson, "Never Hide Noise", Samantha and Ashley taught my 7th grade students about repurposing materials, using symbolism in art and creating images with contour line. The lesson in the classroom was well taught and well received, as was their presentation to their peers at AENJ. I am extremely proud of their hard work and dedication to their chosen profession.
Beyond presenting, I had the opportunity to attend a few sessions - both informational and hands on. I attended a session with Anthony Fitzpatrick from the State Department of Education on Student Growth Objectives... Based on this hour and a half of fun, I am pretty certain I need to re-write one of my two SGO's. Thank goodness I am still WAYYYYYYY early on this.
I was also able to attend Jessica Balsley's presentation. Jessica is the founder of an amazing website/blog for art educators called The Art of Education. Her website is invaluable to art educators and her message was an echo of the things I hear in my own head all the time. Jessica spoke on the topic "The Empowered Art Teacher", highlighting 10 keys to being the best educator you can be. She discussed knowing just how much you can do - and do WELL - and gave many suggestions for keeping organized and calm. I especially appreciated her idea of keeping an "advocacy calendar" that gives you one task to advocate for your program each month. I feel that implementing this idea into my teaching practice will help me to balance my self-imposed stress and avoid the overload that I often face.
I left the conference feeling rejuvenated and excited to be incorporate some new strategies into my teaching practice. I also left the conference feeling tired and overwhelmed because I may have agreed to be on some committees for the coming year... Some day I will learn that I can say "NO" but for now I am still very motivated and passionate about my subject area and about sharing my subject with the community.
The official due date for Student Growth Objective proposals is not until the end of October for my district. I submitted my proposal early and have started our pre-assessment activities without formal approval of the plan. I am hopeful this will not come back to bite me. I felt it was important to perform the pre-assessment as early as possible to get a true read on the student's ability levels - especially for the drawing section of the assessment.
The drawing prompt is very simple - draw 3 objects / geometric forms from observation assuming the light is coming from the top left of the paper. Each student was given a plastic bag of three wood shapes to draw from observation. I am a bit surprised with the results thus far. The range of understanding of this task is extremely diverse. Several students traced the shapes and called it a day. Other students drew the cubes as transparent forms, implying some knowledge of drawing a 3D shape but not applying that knowledge to an observation drawing task. A number of students added some value to the image but ignored the direction of the light source completely, placing shadows differently for each object. A very small number of students completed the task accurately and demonstrated impressive understanding of geometric form, value and directional light and attention to detail including the wood grain and texture in the drawing.
Though the results are a bit frustrating - I envisioned the students existing knowledge was a bit more advanced - I guess the results are good. Less than stellar results allows for a ton of growth during the year. When this task is repeated in June I feel fairly confident the results will improve dramatically.
The slide show is a sampling of the results from this pre-assessment drawing. I apologize for the quality of the images.
Let's start with middle school.
I have finally seen all of my students and everyone has started on the first "project" - building sketchbooks. The start of school is always so disjointed - shortened class periods, assemblies and student schedule changes make it hard to get all of the classes started and on the same page. Add the day one / day two set up for 7th graders and it is easy to have one class way ahead (or way behind) the rest.
For the past 3 or 4 years I have started with the construction of a sketchbook in all grade levels. The 7th graders build a simple 3-hole bound "book" using 11X17 paper and a standard 2-pocket folder. The either graders use a more advanced binding technique with multiple signatures, tapes and hard covers. Both "books" are fairly easy to construct and hold up to the abuse of middle school students relatively well. I use sketchbooks with my students in two different ways depending on the grade level. For 7th graders, the sketchbook is just that - a place to sketch or take notes during class and plan projects. The 8th graders also use the sketchbook for drawing assignments which are graded monthly. I made a new list of sketch prompts this year and I am looking forward to seeing what the students create.
During the construction of the 8th grade sketchbooks I was really pleased with the more advanced students willingness to help students who had differing ability levels. One student in particular took on the role of mentor to a classmate and really helped that child to be successful in the construction process. I don't often utilize the students in class who finish early as assistants but I feel that this group of 8th graders is going to change that. They are very kind and patient and I believe the entire class will benefit from a more collaborative learning environment.
I set a goal early in the week to get on top of the paperwork situation and for the most part have achieved that goal. I have even completed the Student Growth Objective paperwork and submitted for approval - over a month EARLY! I'm still not sure how this is all going to work out, but I am definitely curious to see the results. My supervisor and building principal are both pleased with what I wrote and even asked to share my plan with some of the art teachers who are having issues with the concept.
Also in the paperwork category, I wrote up and distributed my QR code permission slips. I'm pleased with the letter to parents and my principal is on board with the idea but I don't think I sold it as well as I could have to the kids. So far, of the 24 slips I distributed, I got back 3. This could be because kids don't take things home and don't turn things back in without being poked about it repeatedly...or they are not interested and I didn't sell it right. I think I will take the class on a tour on Monday or Tuesday and discuss the QR codes that are near the public art projects in the building. That way, they can experience the "magic" (oh brother...) of these little black and white patterns first hand and get excited.
Lastly, the college class... I cannot believe that I filled 4 hours. 4 hours without art making. That is just mind boggling. What is even more mind boggling is that the students were engaged for that whole time. What a difference - teaching a course that is filler to teaching a course that relates to your chosen profession... I could get used to this.
Getting back into any routine is rough. I took a month off from crossfit to travel in July and August was by far the roughest of all months since I started working out. School, and the month of September, is the same - for the teachers and the students!
Our school was off on Thursday for Rosh Hashanah. Such a tease to go in for a half day Wednesday and then be off on Thursday only to follow up with the first full-length school day on FRIDAY. A beautiful second cup of coffee from our band teacher saved me as the mid-day slump hit but the students were not so lucky. One child actually nodded off during the period after lunch.
Thanks to the demands facing teachers and students alike, it is hard to allow a gradual start to the year to allow everyone to get back on schedule. I'd love to ease back into teaching with some starter lessons and activities but thanks to our new evaluation system, every day must be focused on the end result. Gone are the days of material experimentation and art-based ice-breakers to start the year, they've been replaced by pre-assessment and data collection. Everyone in the building needs to be 'on' at all times and there is no room for the snooze button. I have no choice but to be ready for this high-intensity year, I just hope the students join me!
The kids are here! The kids are here! The kids are suddenly EVERYWHERE!
I decided to break the "first day stuff" into two categories - we will call those categories "paperwork" and "classroom". Today was allotted to the distribution and related discussion of the class syllabus, the grading policy, the homework policy and information regarding our school's use of Artsonia. I created a power point to help me stay on topic and we moved through the information in the 30 minute period provided during an early dismissal day. Having the power point as my guide really helped me to move from topic to topic without getting distracted or traveling down the path of some unrelated tangent. When I see these students next, I will discuss the room and the storage of supplies and projects as well as procedures for entering and clean-up. I am going to make a power point for the discussion of the "classroom stuff" as well so that our next class meeting goes as smoothly and stays on track. Power points - though not new or exciting - may help me to keep myself on task during this school year.
During the afternoon - minus the kiddos - we were assigned the task of writing Student Grown Objectives, or Student Learning Objectives - different districts are calling them different things. Basically, these are quantitative assessments designed to demonstrate that students have learned something during the school year - that we as educators are able to teach something to the youth of today. I've spent a great many hours complaining about SGO/SLO because our curriculum is theme based. We are teaching to the big ideas that students gain from the study of art - how art expresses identity, how art impacts community, how art can create a narrative... A quantitative assessment implies (in my mind) a formalistic approach to art - the student's ability to regurgitate facts or vocabulary or specific skills.
Today, I figured out a way to ask a big question that should be able to show growth during the year. If approved, the art department will be asking, drum roll please: "what is art?" The answer to this question can be very small - art is a class I have during 8th period; art is painting and sculpture found in a museum - these are the types of answers we are expecting to get in the "pre-assessment". My hope is, and this is a big hope, that during the year I will be able to impress upon the students that art is more than a those small answers - that art is a visual language used by every culture, throughout time, to express values, ideas, and emotions; that art is a tool used by individuals to connect dissimilar individuals and groups; that art can be a visual interpretation of emotions that cross cultural, gender, age, religious, and national differences.
Did I mention I teach middle school? Wish me luck - I may need it!
Middle School Art Educator. Adjunct Art Education Professor. Non-Profit Arts Organization Board Member. Artist. Arts Advocate. Dog-Mom. CrossFit Enthusiast.
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