Tagged: teaching

5 Things that are Essential for Learning

All these & reading. I like to tell kids that there are two kinds of people in the world; those who THINK they know it all, and those that know better. You can always learn at every age, from everyone you meet- but only if you’re willing.

However, just going through the motions doesn’t won’t teach you anything. Copying, cheating or finding shortcuts only teach you how to get away with not having to learn. I can’t tell you how many kids would just watch TV on their phones all day if we let them.

It’s fine to “normalize” going to trade school or getting a job or joining the military after high school rather than going to a 4-year college so long as we also normalize loving learning, making an effort in K-12 school and reading. Too many kids don’t take school seriously and feel like it’s not important to even try in school. How can we as communities & parents work to change this?

I can tell you most teachers bend over backwards to help their students, but part of their burnout is caring more than the people they’re trying to help.


Art is for EVERYONE

User-uploaded Content
The four ‘aesthetic viewpoints,’
or reasons we make art.

Teaching the Whole Artist

There are many reasons to make art. Four of the most obvious are to show things, to arrange and design things, to share feelings or experiences and as a tool to communicate. 

I hope that by helping students see that there are qualities in any artwork that don’t just represent images, but also structural/design qualities, expressive qualities, and technical qualities, they can see that Art isn’t only for those who already have expert drawing skills.

I also hope that they can see that there are skills and concepts to be learned from visual art that are useful in every other class and every vocational field. Art teaches kids to observe, plan, organize, reflect, contemplate, think, scrutinize and make decisions. Learning about Art helps you learn about anything and Art lessons make for better business people, engineers, health care professionals, scientists, mechanics, farmers, entrepreneurs, writers and thinkers.

The 4 DBAE Art Disciplines

Visual Literacy

Learning to Look
& Learning to See

The learning cycle I tend to follow in most of my classes reflects what the J.Paul Getty Institute in Los Angeles used to promote as “Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE).” 

We follow the four basic “Art Diciplines” in order to learn through Art History & Appreciation,  the study of Aesthetics (Design),  Art Making, and Art Criticism. Students are introduced to important artists, artworks, and styles or movements throught history and how culture effects art and how art effects society. We learn about the Elements and Principles of Design and the “Design Process” of problem solving. These aren’t just things that artists use, but are applicable in all kinds of areas of school, life, and work.

Of course we apply what we learn to making art ourselves. I try my best to model this for students by creating with them, not just especting them to make artworks themselves. In Middle School “Exploratory” classes we survey a variety of media; drawing, painting, collage and computers. High School courses tend to be more focused on specific media; Drawing, Painting, Ceramics, Photography, Commercial Art, and Yearbook.

NAEA’s 4 Anchor Standards

Higher Standards

Process vs. Product; National Standards,
but Individual Attention

One of the benefits of teaching at a small community school is the lower student-to-teacher ratios we have. As a membber of the National Art Education Association (NAEA), I have access to current research and important trends in Art and Art Education. I try to integrate their recommended benchmarks on Creating Art, Presenting Art, Responding to Art and Connecting Through Art into my curriculum as much as I can but without losing sight of the learning needs and styles of our local community, each class and particular students.

I think that may be why I try to have the more holistic, and nurturing approach that I do, rather than a more aggressively competitive one. It all goes back to something one of my Art professors at Concordia University, NE once told me. Nebraska artist, Reinhold Marxhausen had been on ‘Late Night’ with David Letterman several times for his amazing sound sculptures, including the popular “stardust” metal stones that made ethereal sound like futuristic music. He taught us that Art isn’t just for famous painters, photographers or celebrity inventors (like himself). “Art is for everybody,” he said. From the farm kid in small town Minnesota like him, to Preschoolers, to adults in office cubicles, to the elderly in nursing homes.

That”s what I try to remember and that’s what I try to remind my students. Drawing isn’t just for photo-realists, it’s a thinking tool. Painting isn’t just for impressionists, it’s for anyone looking to relax or work through their personal issues. And especially these days, photography and graphic design aren’t just for professionals, they’re for anyone trying to communicate, plan, market or promomte something for themselves or their communities.

Art is for Everyone

We all need Art and ANYONE can “Art.” Why not make Art a verb instead of just a noun? It’s not for the privileged few. It’s for all of us. It’s not something to collect or own, it’s something to do and a way to be. Each student is, after all, a work of art.


An Open Letter to the (Future?) Secretary of Ed.

Ted Mallory

January 20, 2021

Dr. Jill Biden
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Mrs. Secretary,

I’ve been a middle school/high school educator for nearly thirty years. I believe that we desperately need to alter the direction of our schools in the United States. 

In our rush to standardize learning and testing and demand accountability from schools, we have created a hyper-competitive culture of intolerance for uncertainty, demand for comparison, and homogeneity. We rely on extrinsic, behavioral rewards and punishments, as if students were subhuman animals. These demands have exacerbated already crushing problems of inequity, inequality, discrimination and unrealistic expectations on children. 

Is it any wonder that our nations’ levels of anxiety and depression are reaching unprecedented levels? The Center for Disease Control cites a 2018 article in the ‘The Journal of Pediatrics,’ as reporting that the diagnosis by primary care providers of children aged 6–17 with anxiety disorders increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and to 8.4% in 2011.

Meanwhile, a push to privatize education in America promises to increase our racial, economic and ideological divides. According to a 2015 study by Stanford University’s Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, the proliferation of charter schools in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina led to an increase in “stratification of schools and segregation of students by ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special education designation, behavioral attributes, and neighborhood.” They even found a “decline in test scores by the stratified tiers of schools in the charter system, with the overwhelming majority of white students attending the top tier schools.” They also noticed that due to a variety of admissions requirements, “exclusion methods,” and state educational policies, instead of parents or students genuinely having “school choice,” schools were selecting or choosing not to admit students.

Before the advent of No Child Left Behind in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, what made the American public school system the envy of the world was our innovation and the creativity and individuality of our graduates. We need to return to the progressive education philosophies of the early twentieth century.  Our emphasis should be on nurturing and encouraging curiosity, flexibility, adaptability and a tolerance for ambiguity. Above all we have to find ways to instill intrinsic motivation in children. 

The Harvard Business Review reported on a 2018 study which concluded that “self-initiated and future-focused action to change oneself or the situation, can positively benefit individuals and organizations.” Employers aren’t looking for workers who can successfully answer standardized test questions They’re looking for creative problem solvers.

Just last week, I had lunch with an attorney for a major university hospital and a regional newspaper publisher. The lawyer had been mayor of a city of about 8,400. The publisher has a circulation of about 20,000. She recently became a U.S. citizen after coming here legally from Nicaragua nearly thirty years ago. He was born to affluent white parents in central Iowa. 

They both agree that a problem with both our schools is that we use nineteenth century methods to teach students how to live in the late twentieth century, when we need to be using twenty-first century methods to prepare kids for the twenty-second century.

Instead of an industrial-age, standardized, hierarchical, “assembly-line” model for schools we’ve been pursuing for decades suggested to us by political lobbyists and well intentioned billionaire philanthropists, we need to consider a community-based, organically organized model like the “agricultural” ecosystems suggested by Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D in his book ‘Creative Schools.’

Ironically our conservative, corporate, capitalist inspired model is based on command and control of administrators and governments. What we need are unique, adaptive, “climate controlled,” grass-roots systems relying on collaboration of teachers and local stakeholders, including students and their families. It’s ludicrous how teachers are untapped resources in their own schools under our current model.

Work by education psychologists and theorists as diverse as Abraham Maslow, William Glasser, Jim Fey, and Ruby Payne reinforce Robinson’s contention that we need compassionate communities which support learners and teachers while making them feel included and valued. We need to differentiate and whenever possible, individuate learning so that we stress relevance without sacrificing rigor. And we need to make sure that we open doors of opportunity for learners regardless of their background or their parent’s incomes. 

Opportunity breeds hope and hope yields optimism, which has always been what truly made America “exceptional.” Striving for equality, liberty and justice for all are what have always fed America’s optimism.

We need to open doors of economic opportunity, cultural opportunity, political, social, and personal opportunity. We’ll do that if we holistically promote child development with concern for their health, recognition that all aspects of their development is interdependent and if we care for them as individual human beings rather than regarding them as statistics or mere data figures.

Two excellent concepts which we should use are Sugata Mitra’s philosophy of child-centered learning and Simon Sinek’s philosophy of servant-leadership. These should be required learning for all teacher and school administrator candidates.

Good luck to you and your husband as you repair and rehabilitate your respective offices.


Ted Mallory

Adamson, F., Cook-Harvey, C. & Darling-Hammond, L. (2015). Whose Choice? The Processes and Effects of Charter School Selection in New Orleans Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior
Vol. 6:221-248 (Volume publication date January 2019) First published as a Review in Advance on November 7, 2018 https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-012218-015302

Bitsko RH, Holbrook JR, Ghandour RM, Blumberg SJ, Visser SN, Perou R, Walkup J. Epidemiology and impact of healthcare provider diagnosed anxiety and depression among US children. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Published online before print April 24, 2018

Inadequacy of the Common Core

Psychologist & education author Thomas Armstrong made a list of twelve grievances he has with the Common Core which he shared in an 2018 article on the American Institute for Learning and Human Development’s website. Many of which sound like they could’ve been penned by Ken Robinson.

What tops his list is the dependence on one-size-fits all solutions. Just like Robinson’s metaphor of the industrial assembly line. By definition creativity is problem solving using divergent rather than convergent thinking. It’s as if the developers of Common Core listened to Pink Floyd’s “the Wall,” and heard it as a brilliant plan rather than a scathing critique of post WWII public education.

Common Core is top-down, rather than grass-roots. In this way it’s very undemocratic. Maybe I’m perceiving it through my own lens as an Art & History double major, but it seems to me that the true nature of creativity is organic (developing naturally, rather than being imposed) and independent- not necessarily wholly self-contained and self-sufficient, no student is an island, but nurturing interdependence rather than dependence or codependency. What I mean is, creativity allows for agency and autonomy within community. Any system that coerces or mandates consistency stifles, rather than encourages creativity.

Not to get too wrapped up in Robin William’s “Dead Poets Society,” but Common Core focuses on skills more than content. “…medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” 

On the one hand, I agree that it’s important and valuable to think and analyze like historians, demographers, economists, city managers, law makers and civil planners in Social Studies classes, rather than just “sit-and-get” names and dates of presidents, generals, inventors and events. However, just as in Art there’s not only subject, technique and composition, there’s also meaning and purpose- how a bill becomes a law isn’t always as important as WHY John Lewis risked his life walking from Selma to Montgomery so to put pressure on Congress to pass and LBJ to sign the Voting Rights Act.

The worst education only addresses Who, When, and Where. Admirably, Common Core sought to shift the focus to What and How, but shouldn’t the best learning begin and end with Why? Maybe I’m taking my cues here from Simon Sinek rather than leading education reformers, but in his article Thomas Armstrong cites British mathematician Alfred North Whitehead as writing about “romancing” students into learning- what we used to call “set induction,” where before getting to the rigor, we presented the relevance in hopes of offering students some meaning and purpose for their learning. Armstrong argues that Common Core fails to woo the learner. 

As an Art teacher, I know that whether we’re learning about some thing as dry and dispassionate as typography and page layout or as deep and  profound as WWI & WWII veterans struggling to express the meaninglessness of existence through surrealism, expressionism and abstract-expressionism “form follows function” is always true. How you do what ALWAYS depend on why.

One of the ways Common Core subverts creativity is because of it’s top-down nature. Where Sugata Mitra advocates learner-centered (“child-centered”) learning, Armstrong suggests that Common Core essentially is a curriculum designed by elitists, from Ivy League academics to billionaire philanthropists to political lobbyist think tanks.

I’m not an English teacher, but not only did I marry one, but many of them have been some of my best friends. What I knew, before researching it is that Common Core pressures schools to replace fiction with non-fiction. Having participated in our AEA’s literacy push in the 2000’s, I’ll stipulate that reaching some kids with reading absolutely requires offering more non-fiction, be that as it may, fiction is reading someone else’s creative writing and it stimulates the imagination which stimulates creativity. As with so many things, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Ultimately, between it’s pressure on standardized testing and transforming schools into data-processing agencies and teachers into bureaucrats, Common Core is a creativity crusher.

On the other hand… Pablo Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

I had a hard time finding articles supporting the Common Core’s role in encouraging creativity from real researchers and education authors. Most of them were either from Core advocates or in-the-trenches teachers finding ways to adapt in their school systems that had adopted the Core. 

A typical statement is what one blogger (https://creativiteach.me) proclaims, “the standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe all that can or should be taught. A great deal is left to the discretion of teachers”

The mere existence of such bloggers demonstrates creativity. Common Core can act as the grain of sand that irritates the oyster into producing a pearl. One of my Art professors suggested that then they expect you to jump through hoops, you should take the hoops and start doing tricks with them. A sunken ship seems like an environmental disaster, until it provides a structure for barnacles and coral to attach to and eventually build a reef.

I wish I could get every teacher and school administrator to read chapter six in Ken Robinson’s book. Then, I’d like to replace the Common Core with Robinson’s eight ‘C’ Competencies. No, I don’t see the core as a package with his eight ‘C’s. However, since that utopian vision isn’t going to happen, I’d like to use his competencies in my own classroom and when I’m required to apply Common Core standards, try to package them together as best I can,

Curiosity is the element which all teachers in all disciplines need to model, foster, and to the best of their abilities, inspire in their students in order to motivate them intrinsically to become life-long learners. Truly, it should be the primary goal and focus of school.

Creativity out to be encouraged, rather than actively discouraged or ignored. Obviously, I’m based as a visual arts teacher, but if I could, I’d flip the conventional hierarchy Robison describes where math and sciences are on top, the humanities are in the middle and the arts are on the bottom. That way, instead of music, drama and art being mere “enrichment” as expendable luxuries, they could be harnessed as drivers; providing purpose and meaning to the sciences, inspiring relevance to rigor rather than often being ignored indifferently. 

Criticism & Communication have been components of my Art classes for decades. Description, Analysis, Interpretation and Evaluation are critical thinking skills involved in an “Aesthetic Scan,” steps taken both in introducing new artworks and in reflecting on one’s own work and the work of one’s classmates. Along with depiction, design, and personal expression, communication is one of the four purposes for making art or “aesthetic viewpoints” in art criticism. Of course, one might argue that personal expression is a form of communication as well. You might compare it to poetry, while more direct visual communication is like prose. Color field painters hoped to induce a contemplative experience for their viewers, whereas app developers need to use icons to make their software more intuitive for users. You could argue both are “communicating” non-verbally with their audience.

Collaboration, Compassion, Composure, and Citizenship all have to do with interaction and community. Human beings are social creatures. Call them “soft-skills” or “employability-skills” like Common Core advocates, but truly, they are more essential to being human and more important for adolescents to successfully develop into well adjusted and successful adults than all the math, science and grammar in the world. All teachers should be finding ways both deliberately and incidentally, both directly and covertly in all of their classes.

Standardization, conformity can suppress individuality, imagination, creativity

Insofar as standards can provide educators with  structure around which to build their curriculum, there can be some good. As an educator, I am more frustrated by the minutia of grade-level benchmarks and detailed criteria- not to mention standardized testing.

My double major is Art and Social Studies. Without textbooks or hard district guidelines, I’ve used the J.Paul Getty Institute’s recommended standards or Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) to help me develop units that have been tremendously flexible and differentiated. Since I cover Art History, Aesthetics/Design concepts, Art Production and Art Criticism, I feel like I’ve been able to help a wider variety of students succeed in my classes besides just those who come to me already skilled in realistic depiction through drawing.

I’ve managed to migrate to the National Art Education Association’s new national standards pretty easily since they include expression and reflection, although I’ve been frustrated with some of their emphasis on curation. 

In Middle School Civics, I’ve enjoyed trying to use the many of the newer Social Studies standards to help my students migrate to document-based and inquiry-based/question-driven lessons and away from traditional chapter-notes and vocabulary when our administration chose not to purchase new textbooks. 

This Spring, my administration told me I had to give up Civics and begin teaching STEAM. I have a couple of problems with that that relate to standards. One is that one reason for the change is that they’re eliminating Iowa History as a separate class since all of the new Social Standards are supposed to be incorporated into all of the Social Studies classes.  Why continue to teach separate Geography, American History and CIvics classes then? Why not switch to Sixth, Seventh and Eighth grade general Social Studies classes?

Needless to say, the other, more personal issue, is that while I laud the pretense of integrating Art into STEM, I have no training in Science, Math or Engineering and very little in Technology. I ASKED what the expectations, standards, guidelines or curriculum were going to be and was told vaguely to try to incorporate the 21st Century Skills. Which I do anyway in my Art classes, but I feel as if I’m being set up to fail. I wonder if this is how many of our students feel in many of their cases. Losing a class I’d taught for twelve years and was finally feeling good about making more creative, relevant and differentiated was enough of a blow to my personal and professional morale. I’d like to think I can better empathize with students taking classes they don’t want to take.

Returning to the original questions; For years our district had such an intense emphasis on standardized testing that it consumed all of our professional development time. Practice testing-drill lessons or mini-units were mandated. We were pressured to re-write our assessments so that they were modeled after standardized test formats. Our students actually complained that everything we did was for the school’s test results, not for their learning or their interests.

If anything good came of that orientation, it was that teachers frequently analyzed student test scores and discussed possible strategies for helping classes in their weaker areas.

I spoke out for years that we needed professional development that addressed the affective domain, not just the cognitive one. Mainly because we need to learn ways to inspire student intrinsic motivation to learn- curiosity. If nothing else, to motivate them to take the standardized tests seriously, because otherwise the results are constantly skewed because so many students deliberately sabotage their tests while several others just avoid taking them.

Unfortunately, I think that when we try to address relevance as well as or instead of rigor, we still try to do it in an industrial-age, systematic model. We have a few examples from my own district.

In an effort to permit students the opportunity to have more flexibility in their schedules, so that they can take more FFA classes as well as Construction, Wood shop, and Computer Aided Drafting, we went to a nine period day. As a result, teachers have a greater workload, while students have less class time to complete assignments or tests each period. We already share the shop teacher, send students to a neighboring school for the Construction classes. There was a rumor that we had to eliminate our Family/Consumer Science teacher to be able to afford the new FFA instructor, although community members had set up a foundation to help fund the Ag program, so that may have been just a rumor.

As a result of shifting our emphasis from preparing students for college to a more STEM/career focus, we also shifted to trying to improve our Math and Science scores instead of our reading and composition scores. As a result, we eliminated our silent-sustained reading time. Another consequence is that while teachers aren’t combing through test scores during professional development time, that means that we aren’t discussing in groups strategies for helping those students who are slipping through the cracks. Meanwhile, we still dedicate half days all week three times a year to standardized testing, but teachers no longer review data from the tests.

Finally, while I appreciate that we’re finally spending so much time learning about student trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), it feels like we’re not doing it to understand or care for students, or to find ways to inspire their intrinsic motivation to learn. Instead it seems like it’s just about behavioral management and (sorry if this sound’s cynical) once again, encouraging student conformity. Even while adults on the PBIS committee members, and a handful of students on Student Council or the one or two student representatives on that PBIS committee are challenged to use their imaginations and creativity to find new ways to get the rest of the student body to obey rules.

Learning to Learn as Important as Learning Subjects

One myth that too many in the media and politics have bought into is that schools should be run like businesses. Robinson explains that the standards movement and legislation like No Child Left Behind are an attempt to make schools more efficient and accountable, but they’re trying to apply industrial systems models from the twentieth, nineteenth, even eighteenth centuries. 

Some of the reasons these ideas are doomed to failure is that we don’t educate for the past or present, we have to anticipate what challenges the future will hold and do our best to prepare students for their future. Not only is the population growing rapidly, demographics are changing irreversibly and technology has been advancing exponentially since the end of the last century. 

Another myth that society (often at the hands of politicians and the media), is that public schools are bad, irredeemable, even the whole problem. Robinson makes clear that free public education is an overall good for most members of the population. You might say he’s cautioning us not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” He recognizes that there is more we need to do to help those slipping through the cracks, he just sees the standards movement as making things worse for them, rather than better.

In his speech at Mount Rushmore, President Trump recently lashed out at teachers, “our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.” He’s also tried making re-opening schools this Fall in the midst of a continued surge in Covid 19 cases into a partisan issue, accusing his opponents of wanting to keep schools closed as an effort to prevent his re-election. 

Often state and local politicians blame schools, teachers or teacher associations for poor school testing performance, school attrition rates, and all kind of society’s problems from crime to the economy.

From what else Robinson has written and spoken, I’d venture to guess that a third dangerous myth might just be the fairy tale that “if you work hard in school and get good grades, it’ll be your ticket outta here.” 

I had a professor back in the 1990’s who was a proponent of some of Robinson’s ideas for helping make school relevant and meaningful for students. While models from the industrial age may not address challenges for the future, perhaps having students learn from and work with businesses and community members on problem solving or simulations of social, technological and economic challenges outside of school can be highly stimulating. 

Ultimately learning how to learn and adapt, think critically, problem solve and work collaboratively with others are all just as or more important than learning traditional material about subjects and disciplines.

Our challenge as educators is to not succumb to any of these three myths, but this last one may be the most dangerous. Just because we succeeded in school, enjoyed it or at least enjoyed our subject/discipline/emphasis, that doesn’t mean every student can, let alone will. We have to be humble and creative in seeking ways to reach them.

New Podcast

Amping up Note-Taking with ART


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.


Book It!

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.

RUBRIC; Sketchnoting

Cultivating an ‘Art Mindset’

ORANGE BRAINThis 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.

via 8 Studio Habits of Mind – Drawing and Painting

8 Studio Habits of Mind – Drawing and Painting
(Adapted from artiseducation.org, with my commentary in orange)

  1. 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!).
  2. 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.) 
  3. 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 ).
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.)
  7. 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. 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.)

studio20habitsstudio-habits-of-mindCheck out my “Art Mindset” Board on Pinterest