This year I have begun introducing a new way of combining pictures with words.
¡Viva La (Doodle) Revolución!
Sixth graders work on visual-literacy exercises. They think that it’s just fun doodling or maybe at most cartooning- but really, they’re learning how to communicate effectively, quickly and economically with images.
The principle is that drawing is a thinking tool, a means to an end, not just an end in itself. Ideally, this will build their confidence and lower their inhibitions about learning to draw, paint and design later in middle school and high school. Meanwhile these skills will help them be able to analyze, conceptualize, organize, interpret and visualize their learning. It will also help them better be able to communicate visually.
This year I’ve also begun having 6th, 7th & 8th graders use inexpensive composition books. In these books students are encouraged to doodle and sketch, but this is also where they could practice art exercises and of course- take notes.
Instead of spending $6-10 per student from the Art Dept. budget, each student spends maybe 50 cents to $2 on their own composition book. My hope is to have them use these as a composition notebook, sketchbook, “smash-book,” scrap book, “bullet-journal,” organizer, and diary. Ideally, kids will recognize that they don’t have to spend huge amounts of money for special tools, but instead they can create their own very inexspesively.
Graphic Organization + Diagrams & Illustration
+ Annotation = BETTER NOTES
I introduced ALL my art classes, 6-12 to visual note-taking. Many teachers may cringe at the idea of letting students draw on their notes. I sympathize, that simple, spartan notes may be easier for teachers to grade, if they require students to turn them in. But I wanted to tackle several problems. 1) Integrating art into student’s everyday lives and other subjects. 2) Helping students notes be more meaningful and useful to them. 3) the fact that kids either don’t bother taking notes or complain about having to take them.
Year ago when I attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at Morningside College, Professor Marty Nepper helped me discover a powerful idea. Writing is not just about sharing or publishing what you’ve written, it’s tool for thinking, a way of processing and organizing ideas and experiences. Therefore, writing isn’t just for professional authors or reporters- it’s for EVERYBODY. I remembered that one of my Art professors at Concordia College often insisted that art was for EVERYONE, not just for professional artists. Connect the dots and it’s easy to see that while not everyone may paint like Michelangelo or draw like Leonardo- anyone who can make marks can use those marks to help them think. Drawing (Doodling, Sketching, Juxtaposing, Arranging/Designing) is a thinking tool!
I had experimented with the Cornell method of note taking for my middle school Civics classes with mixed results, so I began researching visual-note taking or “sketch-noting.” Some students are so used to traditional note taking that they need to be coached and coaxed (or at least reminded) to include doodles, illustrations or diagrams in their notes. A little “scaffolding” may be necessary from teachers, to help with this, I developed a rubric for scoring text-notes so that students know what’s expected.
It’s ironic that students would have to be encouraged to do something so fun and relatively easy, but some students are apprehensive about personalizing their notes rather than something more traditional that they expect will please their parents and teachers. Remind them that there’s not an absolute right and wrong way of doing things and that THEY control what’s emphasized and how things are organized with their text, images, and structure. Only the content is from another source.
Anecdotally I’ve noticed that Sixth and Seventh graders adapted to sketchnoting more naturally than Eighth graders and high school students, probably because they’re newer to note taking in general and therefore haven’t developed habits yet. My hope is that as I continue training middle school art students in this practice, it will permeate up through our grade levels.
Admittedly, this may require my persuading or even cajoling teachers to permit, let alone encourage students to draw on their notes. Since research suggests that even if imagery is not directly tied to the content, comprehension and retention is enhanced, I hope that students will adopt this practice and that teachers and parents will encourage them. Remember, some of the advantages will be being occupied with non disruptive behavior, personalizing and processing learning, and ideally, motivating students to connect with the content.
Benefits of Sketch-Noting
- Enhances what you remember by over 25%
- Improves your understanding
- By combining visual and verbal cues, you are simultaneously using different parts of your brain to process the information
- Students find it more entertaining and engaging than traditional note-taking alone
- Students will be occupied by non-disruptive behavior
- Student feel like they have a greater sense of ownership/stake in the learning
Elements of Sketch-Noting
- Text; Typography/Fonts/Typestyle
- Images, Symbols & Icons; Doodles/Cartoons/Simple Diagrams & Charts- NOT necessarily photographically realistic depictions
- Structure/Organization; Shape, Colors, Lines & Cues to help direct attention, information flow, hierarchy, identification and emphasis.
Visit http://dogart.wikispaces.com/SKETCHNOTING to view a video about visual note taking and see my rubric for scoring student sketch-notes.
- Brown, Sunni. Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently. Portfolio Penguin, 2015.
- Delfin, Claudine. “Tutorial.” Sketcho Frenzy, 7 Jan. 2012, sketcho-frenzy.weebly.com/tutorials.html.
- Knezel, Sherrill. “The Power of Visual Notetaking.” Education Week Teacher, 27 Dec. 2017, www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2016/12/28/the-power-of-visual-notetaking.html.
- Rohde, Mike. The Sketchnote Handbook: the Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking. Peachpit Press, 2013.
This year something I’ve adopted with all of my classes is “Mindset Mondays.” We learn about the concept of having a growth mindset in order to develop attitudes, build habits and practice skills which help us learn better. Usually this involves a short video and some discussion or a brain-teaser or activity meant to encourage becoming a life-long learner.
In Art classes at Boyer Valley this has meant taking notes on and learning about the “Studio Habits of Mind” developed a few years ago by educators at Harvard.
I really believe in these. I think that they’re not only things that artists genuinely do even without thinking about it, but very real reasons why art education is meaningful and important and not just “enrichment.” These are critical thinking activities which are valuable in the work place, in academic disciplines other than art and in everyday life.
I encourage everyone to practice them, not just my art students. I encourage parents and other teachers to talk about them with your students. Have conversations about what they mean, how to use them, and how they help.
It may be too soon to gauge what effect ‘Mindset Mondays’ has had on my classes, but it has definitely helped me to get students to consider their process more and not get so hung up on their finished products. This is immeasurably important in art because as any experienced artist will tell you, if you fall in love with the process, more successful products will be a natural outcome.
I have incorporated studio habits into a portion of students’ self-assessments for every assignment and occasionally will include an extended reflection/assessment for a given project that emphasizes the 8 habits, not just the usual rubric objectives.
One of the best things about these is that it provides a deeply researched, legitimate means of both teaching and evaluating what was once considered subjective or intangible, namely; inspiration, motivation, effort and participation.
Hetland, Lois. Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education. New York: Teachers College, 2007. Print.
- “A Look at Lois Hetland’s Eight Studio Habits.” Edited by Kate Thomas, Every Art, Every Child | Studio Habits, Northeastern Illinois University, 20 Oct. 2010, 3:55 PM, www.everyarteverychild.org/assessment/studiohabits.html.
- Veon, Raymond. “Reconnecting to the Artist Within.” IgniteArt, igniteart.weebly.com/reconnecting-to-the-artist-within.html.
8 Studio Habits of Mind – Drawing and Painting
(Adapted from artiseducation.org, with my commentary in orange)
- Become an Artist: Learning to use tools, materials, artistic conventions (the traditional Elements & Principles of Design, which I’ve had college Art educators tell me are a priority to them) and learning to care for tools, materials, and space (teaching procedures, a perennial headache for Middle School Art teachers!).
- Engage and Persist: Learning to embrace problems of relevance within the art world and/or of personal importance, to develop focus conducive to working and persevering at tasks. (This habit hits on things vital for MS/HS students; Attention, Focus, Concentration, Mindfulness, Perseverance, Endurance, Grit, etc. etc.)
- Envision: Learning to picture mentally what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a piece. (Initially this is about planning, many athletic coaches and trainers have written about “imaging” and “visualization,” this puts a name and a deliberate methodology to the creative, imaginative process that most artists and some students already use intuitively and ties perfectly with national core standards. Mid-process it becomes about awareness, inference decision making, flexibility and adaptation- also aligning with national core standards, 1 &2 ).
- Express: Learning to create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or a personal meaning – all within the context of drawing and painting. (A few years ago I realized that while students were claiming that this was the most important aspect of art to them, they didn’t know how to do it. So, taking a cue from Language Arts teachers, I began emphasizing how students could invoke mood using the elements of design, evoke associations using symbols and imagery and how to deliberately provoke discussion and/or reaction with a combination of composition and style. This aligns with national standards 3, 9, 10 & 11 and simultaneously makes art more personal, but also improves student’s communication and critical thinking skills by challenging them to plan, analyze and interpret.)
- Observe: Learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary “looking” requires and thereby see things that otherwise might not be seen; viewing with a critical eye. (This is the difference between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson- well, this and being a “high-functioning sociopath.” Point being, this is something that scientists and engineers and anyone who works with other people, animals or machinery all need and it’s something that art education gives kids, observation skills.)
- Reflect: Learning to think and talk with others about an aspect of one’s work or working process and learning to judge one’s own work and working process as well as the work of others. ( I really can’t say anything about this better than my colleague at artwithmrdexter.wordpress.com did, except to point out that it aligns with national standards 4, 6, 7, 8, & 10.)
- Stretch & Explore: Learning to reach beyond one’s capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes – all within the context of drawing and painting. (This not only teaches conceptual ambivalence, an important part of being an abstract thinker- but it increases both curiosity and pushing and challenging yourself. Taking risks in art is eminently safer than in other areas of life!)
- 8. Understand Arts Community: Learning to interact as an artist with other artists in the classroom, local arts organizations, and beyond (By posting student artworks on Artsonia.com and conducting regular class critique-sessions, I help students learn how to interact as members of an artist community. After discussing one habit a week for the first eight weeks, I switch to introducing students to other artistic concepts or to contemporary working artists on my ‘Mindset Mondays.’ By doing this, they see that art isn’t just about historical figures like DiVinci, Rembrandt, VanGogh and Picasso but a real, continuing, active thing. It also shows them that there are people who use the 8 studio habits today in the real world. Finally I model for them that when you learn something, adapt it or master it, it’s natural then to share it and contribute to other people’s learning. Not only do I utilize Artsonia for this, but we also post student artworks on Instagram with @BVArtdogs, which they in turn can share on other social media.)
Just after sunrise the light has a golden quality like it’s shining through a jar of honey
The sky in the West is “Advent blue,” the color of hope and optimism
The curves of the prairie are amber and warm beige like blessings and peace
Driving to work one morning I was struck by the colors. I didn’t have my Cannon camera with me and wasn’t going to try to capture the landscape with my phone camera while driving, but I’m an occasional amateur poet, so I thought about what I’d write to describe the scene. Since I’ve been teaching Commercial Art students about using both the vector graphics app “youidraw.com” (like Adobe illustrator, but free) and the layout design app “Lucidpress.com” (essentially a free online imitation of Adobe InDesign) I developed a simple abstract design of colors and placed the poem over it.
Graphite & pencil on 18×24 newsprint, 2017
Students had 5 days to work on their final self portraits. Between helping them and getting piles of grading for other other classes done I had to force my self to spend a class and a half to work on one myself. I kinda like the funky angle. What did we do before cell phones? Maybe I need to back off of telling them they should use mirrors instead of phones.
Below are my responses to some of the “self-critique” reflection questions that I assigned to my students for their semester final self portraits.
PRODUCT: What do you like most about your drawing? What are you most displeased with or disappointed in about your drawing?
I like this one much more than the one I did first semester with the mirror. That one is much less realistic, not to mention more static and flat. I love the from-above angle and the 3/4 view. I think that the shading helps it have a sense of form. While I kind of like the contrast between the linear texture of the hair and the shape/pattern of the flannel shirt, I think that without legs or hands, the shirt kind of becomes just an amorphic blob holding up my head.
PROCESS: What did you enjoy most about making this drawing?What was the most difficult challenge you faced in making this drawing?
It was an escape from the pressure of entering grades at the end of the semester and the chaos of eighth graders who are so excited about the end of the school year. If anything, I wish I’d been working on this with the rest of the Drawing class for the whole five days, and not just a day and a half.
PROCESS & PRODUCT: If you were the Art teacher, what grade (A, B, C, D, F) would you give to this drawing. Please explain or defend your choice. Why does it deserve that grade? What about it earned the grade you’d give?
I guess I’d give myself an A-/B+ It’s accurate an engaging, but just imagine how much better it could’ve been had I given it my full attention and commitment.
DEVELOPMENT & GROWTH; How do you think this drawing demonstrates that your drawing skills &/or perceptual skills are improving? In what ways have your skills advances since the beginning of the year?
I’m not sure it’s fair for me to answer this question since I’m not a student and I’ve been an Art teacher for 24 years now, but I am always amazed at how I can continue to learn and improve no matter how old I get. I also think sometimes that the less I think about what I’m doing and just do it, the better my results. I’ve heard baseball/softball coaches talk about this for pitchers- some thinks are mechanical rather than cerebral and you just have to “trust the process, don’t over-think.” Obviously my expression reveals how weary and cynical I’ve become in middle age. I had hoped that the unique angle, besides being thinning, might counter the curmudgeon with dynamic, even energetic angles and eye-flow.
EXIT SURVEY: What do you think are the biggest breakthroughs in your perceptual skills this year? How did your drawing skills improve? What are some things you feel like you learned this semester or will be able to take away from this class?
While I do feel like I’ve had some breakthroughs this year, I’m having trouble putting them into words.
But I have to say that I am very grateful for my high school Drawing, Painting, and Photography classes this year. I’ve been blessed with students who engage, participate and learn- not to mention many who have enormous amounts of talent! The icing is that almost all of them are just great people that are fun to be with. I feel like they’ve allowed me not only to continue to grow as an artist along with them, but to grow as an educator. I think many of them have taught me a few things, or at least reminded me of some things that teachers need to keep in mind while they’re teaching. There have been many very difficult and discouraging things about being in this profession this year, but none of them have come from the kids in my high school Art classes.
I truly hope and pray that many of them can continue to take Art classes the next year or two. Even if they can’t, I hope to use what they’ve taught me and the momentum they’ve given me for teaching 6-12th graders NEXT year. Thanks Drawing 2 Class- have a great Summer!
I’m excited to share my new NAEA online portfolio. Come take a look at what I teach in my art classes and check out some of my own artwork while you’re at it. Please feel free to leave comments, either here, or on the portfolio itself. Thanks.
The day after the election I was a basket case (as you might have figured from previous posts on this blog). A professor of mine once suggested that our most prolific times would usually be times of emotional stress or poor mental health. He said it matter-of-factly, not even alluding to art therapy.
I remembered this advice (or admission) and decided that I needed to create something.
On the first day, my grief for my country was so deep all I felt that I could paint was what I felt. As Frida Kahlo once said, ” I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.” So this is what I painted:
I’d been teaching about the New York School. Action painters who emphasized the process as a cathartic, meditative experience and color-field painters who created pieces intended to invoke a contemplative mood in their viewers. It was very satisfying.
It wouldn’t leave me alone. It called out to me. This past Summer I’d read a biography of Lutheran theologian and WWII resistance member Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This Fall I re-read his reflection on Christian fellowship, ‘Life Together.’
Bonhoeffer refused to compromise genuine Christian discipleship to mollify the demands of the Third Reich. First this meant pioneering the “confessional” church movement and underground seminaries, but eventually he was recruited by the Abwehr (a German intelligence agency which pre-dated the rise of NAZI power) and thereby a number of assassination plots against Hitler.
He was For a year and a half, he was kept in a military prison, then to the Gestapo’s high-security prison, then to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was hung in April of 1945 days before German surrender.
So I attacked my muddy brown canvas with black, then built an almost ghostly face with stark white. The under-painting began taking shape.A ghost in a concentration camp. Certainly not the prophetic voice of hope which I had met in his writings. But definitely a product of my own angst.
I thought I remember reading somewhere that angst is the combination of anger and anxiety born from the inability to control a situation or effect change. This is certainly how I feel about the election of Trump; a hateful, unprepared, unqualified, angry, entitled, demagogue.
There it stood on my easel for a week. Students commenting that it looked like me- perhaps an indictment of my melancholic disposition. To me it felt like Poe’s raven, constantly reminding me of the death of equality, liberty, justice and any hope of any kinds of peace at home or abroad. A dour ghost haunting my classroom.
I experimented in Photoshop with blending the original photo with my under-painting. The image was exciting and moving, but still ghostly. For me it evoked the spirits of Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom and Viktor Frankl, not just Bonhoeffer.
Finally this week, I resumed painting. Like the prophet Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, I attached flesh to the bones. But alas, dry ache became weeping sorrow. But at least students told me, “now it’s finally starting to look like him instead of you!”
Yesterday I made a great deal of progress, although I think it looked more like a cross between William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Now I felt like it had some indignation and resignation rather than just depression and despair. Somehow I hoped to add some sense of hope or faith, since these are the things Bonhoeffer demonstrated most to me.
Today, I feel like I gave it a great deal more dimension and solidity. I feel like it looks more realistic and closer to finish. This may be prejudiced somehow, but I think it even looks German or at least European- although I’m not quite sure it looks like Bonhoeffer exactly. I’m also not sure how to capture any hope. It may be too late for that.
It’s hard to imagine a martyr with any hope or joy- but that is what is so amazing about Bonhoeffer’s story- witnesses claim that they were amazed by his warmth and encouragement for his fellow prisoners and his amazing composure and bravery even in his final moments.
I haven’t decided whether or not I’m finished with it. Perhaps if I live with him for another week, he will tell me again. But I do like it. Of course, I liked that ghost-like mummy from the second and third days too.
To check that I had the spectacles in the right place, I held my canvas up to the projector on the SmartBoard in my classroom and projected the original photo onto the painting. I loved what I saw so much, I had to take a picture of it. It seems to me still sorrowful, but challenging as well. “What are you prepared to do, Ted? For democracy? For authentic Christianity?” Would I have the faith or the courage to make the kinds of sacrifices he did?
I pray I’ll never have to. One biographer notes that while he wrote treatises and essays and devotions and letters, he never really wrote much poetry until he was imprisoned. But I have to say, one of his poems is one of the most amazing pieces of reflective existential art that I’ve ever run across.
Once you read it, look back over the various stages of my painting’s development and imagine them reciting it to you.
Who Am I?
by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!