Literacy. 21st Century. Student Assessment. Targets. Curriculum. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that’s these words are of the many that we are continually hearing throughout the state. For instance, how can we improve literacy in our students? How can we add to or change our curriculum to account for more writing? More comprehension? More deep thinking? Well…how!?
So many of us freeze when administrators say it’s time to add more to our plate, even into the exploratories, electives, and specials. We freeze because we think, “you’ve got to be kidding – one more thing to add to the ever growing list of district desires.” Or “My curriculum is so hands-on, you can’t possibly expect me to add something so left brain to my right brain class?” Right? Don’t shake your head at me – we all know we’ve had that moment where we wish 5 minutes would go by without another requirement in our curriculum – if we could just perfect what we already have. Don’t make me name names [just kidding!].
Well, it’s time to stop freezing! This is coming from the queen of frost bite. I am the queen of panic. I am the queen of over-analyzing everything. I’m ready to de-thaw and I can tell you there IS a better way to handle your district’s requests than panicking and putting a wall up. Adapt, adapt, adapt. Believe it or not, most of us already have the tools and resources in place to add things such as writing components to our curriculum, to deal with self-assessment, and so on – we just haven’t thawed enough to figure it out. How can you adapt for more when you’ve already put everything you think you need in place? Just take a few steps.
1. RE-ASSES YOUR CURRICULUM.
What components do you already have? Among the many growing components of an effective curriculum are goal setting by the student, targets (specific checkpoints a student should hit), use of a rubric, a self-assessment, and literacy component. Do you have any of these? Do you have all of these?
2. ASK YOURSELF: WHAT NEEDS WORK AND WHAT ARE YOU MISSING?
You may find you already have some of the important components of what your district expects of a curriculum. Now you must ask yourself if they are effective. One hint: if they don’t exist in your curriculum, it’s safe to suppose they are ineffective. If they are effective, you are already ahead of the curve and you can move past this article.
But if you can honestly reflect and know they are not up to par, it’s time to do some work – time to address some of the major components:
3. GOAL SETTING 101
Why is goal setting for student important? We preach for accountability in our students. Teachers are currently revamping their curriculums to include ways for students to plan ahead and make their own goals regarding an assignment. In a class like art, there is no easier place to make this happen. Once a student know the assignment, simply have them outline their objective outcomes – whether it’s by highlighting their final rubric, writing them down (bonus points for literacy) or simply having an oral conversation with you. Chances are, especially in the higher levels, students need time to think about their project choices – so help them be more effective by giving them a structure involving just a smidge of goal setting.
4. USE OF A RUBRIC
Rubrics may take longer than we’d like to create but there are simple ways around this. Not only do rubrics create a visual matrix for students to reference, but they are simple to grade and hold you accountable since every student will have the same [objective] rubric. To be more universal in your classroom, create expectations that are present in each project. This makes creating new projects move quickly since you have the basic rubric ready. Obvious the area in which you are studying will change – but should our expectations for craftsmanship, perseverance, classroom management, or whatever else you hold valuable – should these things not be consistent? If you keep your rubric universal for your projects, first you will find you only have to update the area of study’s section in the rubric each time. Rubrics are also a great way to give feedback to the students without always having to find the right sentence to portray your ideas. If a student sees where your marks lie on the rubric, they already know where they could improve without having to ask – they just need to read.
5. SELF ASSESSMENT
We continue to hear that student accountability is vital in a classroom. Students can easily be held accountable using self-assessment. At the end of any project, have student use the rubric you create to show where they think they ended up. Many people fear the idea of students being over positive and unrealistic in this exercise. I have been doing self-assessment on rubrics for 3 years now and I’ve learned one thing – students tend to be harder on themselves during this then we would be. It can be a great way to discuss their thinking and discuss their successes while improving their struggles. This self-assessment can be a simple exercise or you could even use their scoring to help complete their grade – giving a student ownership in the classroom is one of the best ways to create a purposeful environment.
6. LITERACY COMPONENTS
This is that scary one many art instructors hate spending time on. It’s the one component that will change your curriculum enough that it make take some time to create the best approach. Some art instructors have students write a museum blurb about their artwork as if it was information for a public viewer. Others have worksheets and handouts that use technical writing. Still, others create a writing exercise for the end of each project where students can reflect on their work. I, personally, use a prompt that gives the students guidance on their thoughts – with this prompt, I use the “Quick Write” format; 1 minute to read the prompt and think about it, 3 minutes to write using technical skills, and 1 minute to revise thoughts. No matter what you do, creating a consistent approach to comprehension and literacy in your classroom will be valuable to you and the student.
7. OTHER COMPONENTS
What other components does your district ask of you? Do you have Daily 5? Are you involved in any testing? What math and science requirements are in your curriculum?
These will change your curriculum enough that it may take some time to create the best approach. Some art instructors have students write a museum blurb about their artwork as if it was information for a public viewer. Others have worksheets and handouts that use technical writing. Still, others create a writing exercise for the end of each project where students can reflect on their work. I, personally, use a prompt that gives the students guidance on their thoughts – with this prompt, I use the “Quick Write” format; 1 minute to read the prompt and think about it, 3 minutes to write using technical skills, and 1 minute to revise thoughts. No matter what you do, creating a consistent approach to comprehension and literacy in your classroom will be valuable to you and the student.
8. YOU HAVE IDEAS BUT NEED MORE TIME
So you’ve thought about it and you have ideas that will help your administrators know that art isn’t just sitting by. Now your “problem” is that they aren’t developed enough to be 100% in place and somehow that means you’re not doing it right. Wrong. If you talk to your curriculum director or supervisor about how you plan to implement ideas then whether or not they see it, they know you’re working on it. That is step one in the right direction and the following steps will be easier if you have someone to give you feedback. It’s just like with students – they can’t get anything done unless they have a starting point to build from.
9. SPEND TIME TO MAKE TIME
Well, you’ve decided you’ve had it and you think – this is great; you have the beginnings of something great but you don’t have the time to make it happen. Unfortunately, this is what you have to be willing to let go. As teachers, we tell students that we expect them to put in the time and as students, they should expect the time for us. In truth, spending extra time on figuring out the most effective ways to get through a curriculum will actually save us time in the end. You think spending the time creating something effective is time consuming and only leads to more work but as we develop our strategies further, we learn that everything else slips in to place and runs smoother. For example, if your rubrics all have the same foundation, you will know the only thing that’s different for units, is the skill area. Grading becomes easier and quicker to comprehend for both you and the students. It’s tough to admit, but the saying is simply true: You have to spend time to make time.
It shouldn’t matter what grade you are teaching in art – applying all of the ideas we hear in professional development is just a new and different approach then what many are used to. We have to take a second to RELAX and THAW OUT so we can realize why we are really teaching. We are here for the kids. We are here to benefit the kids. No, we should not turn our curriculum upside down to accommodate the masses – we should not ignore the “art” part of our classroom – far from it, simply integrating with new strategies will only benefit our students. Perhaps literacy and student assessment aren’t something you want taking over your class. That’s understandable – but as you see, they do not have to.
Fact is, we already do most of everything professional development courses tell us to do because the art room is a flexible environment and we are constantly adapting. That’s why the first step is so helpful – if you spend a second to assess or re-assess your curriculum, most of us will see we do more than we thought and the areas that struggle just need a quick tweak to get back on track. And some of us are just ready for something new and fresh.
Then again, maybe you just don’t want to. – maybe your district isn’t on this path. It would be easy to say you can’t fit a square into a circular whole but we are art teachers after all – we think outside the box and we would make it possible. This is simply a relay of all the information educators are constantly hearing during attendance to national conferences, discussions in professional development and conversations with other educators encountering the same advances in their district.
We’ve all heard the craze surrounding Iowa Core and 21st Century Skills. We’ve all been privy to the struggle of Fine Arts in American education. If we pump up our curriculum with cross curricular tools and ideas, focus on how we can use what’s in front of us and continue to create this adaptive environment that still focuses on art, originality, and creativity, then we can only move forward and continue succeeding at
what we do.