Saturday, November 29, 2014

Miriam Spilman's Improbable Beautiful

clay bowl by Miriam Spilman

1. How long have you been a teaching artist?

Formally, for five plus years.

2. What discipline(s) do you teach?

I teach visual arts to elementary school children and am particularly excited to be making the transition to choice-based art. I also have provided arts-integration professional development for staff at my school site.

3. Describe the setting(s) in which you teach

K-5 urban public school setting

4. Describe the relationship between your personal art practice and your art teaching?

In some ways they are very divided: hands in clay in my personal art practice and many kinds of visual arts (but unfortunately no clay) in my art teaching. In other ways they are so integrated: We (my students and myself as artisit) are heavily involved in the 8 Studio Habits of Mind: develop craft, engage and persist, envision, express, observe, reflect, stretch and explore, and understand art world.

5. How do you sustain your art while teaching?

It’s a challenge due to time constraints, energy, family commitments. I carve out time whenever I can. Currently I have been able to work consistently every week in a dedicated studio space.

6. Who shaped your initial thinking about teaching art?

In my childhood I had dual experiences, extremes really. One was in school where my art was judged harshly because it did not look exactly like the art teacher’s (which was the requirement). The other was in a much freer setting where I basically explored all kinds of materials without any guidelines or restrictions. I clearly felt more at home with the second and in my child’s mind explained it to myself that the first was school and the second was art. In my own teaching and for my students, I do not want this distinction to develop. Art making (exploration, expression) happens at school, at home, everywhere.

7. What training in the arts and/or education have you had?

I have a teaching credential/ M.A. in education and also an MFA in Creative Inquiry with the emphasis on clay.

I also have completed (and thoroughly enjoyed) the Integrated Learning Specialist program through Alameda County Office of Education.

8. How do you develop and deepen your teaching practice?

What comes to mind first is showing up, no matter what, putting in the time. A close second is learning from other artists and teachers, books, videos, nature, staying loose and experimenting, observation, day dreaming and particularly all types of artist demonstrations where process as well as product is examined.

9. What are the biggest challenges you face as a teaching artist?

Time! Sporadic (or non-existent) funding.

10. What are the unexpected rewards of being a teaching artist?
It may be a cliché, however I do learn so much from my students—especially since they say whatever is on their mind and make sense of what they are seeing in ways that stretch my own view. Teaching art is a second career for me, and very different than the first. Because of this I feel very fortunate to be involved in what interests and nourishes me every day---art making, the art world, arts oriented colleagues, working with my artist students and everything the 8 Studio Habits of Mind involve.

11. What advice do you have for artists interested in teaching?

Dig deep for hidden reservoirs of patience, humor, persistence, inspiration---you will need them all! Learn from and enjoy every opportunity to participate in professional development, collaboration and conversations with teacher colleagues, other artists, students’ families and community members.

*Please share one anecdote of a memorable Teaching Artist experience

Recently, one of my first grade boys was very engrossed in his art making, standing, talking, moving around all while drawing and gluing collage materials. I walked by and heard him suddenly say out loud, “Oh no, I have a problem. I have a problem. What am I going to do? I have a problem,” with great distress and with his eyes fixed on his work. I did not interrupt him, just quietly watched as he tried –while continuing his conversation with himself--to figure out how to fit his carefully cut out- but way too big-- collage materials onto his paper in a designated spot. Coming back five minutes later, my student was still very engrossed in his art making and still talking, moving, etc. This time he was saying, “I love art. I love my colors. I love my art,” while drawing on top of the carefully cut out collage materials that were hanging mostly off the edge of his paper. He seemed immensely satisfied with what was happening now.

This is a small, everyday type of experience, however it felt like being given a gift. We are all artists in a community art studio when in the school art room. To be fortunate enough to witness my student’s engagement, process, choices, problem solving, and joy and pride while working on his artwork, to encourage and nurture, verbally and non-verbally to students: please do everything you need to do (again the 8 Studio Habits of Mind), to create and express yourself through your artwork, this is what being a teaching artist is all about for me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sam Weinberg's Improbable Beautiful

Sam's work with recycled material

1. How long have you been a teaching artist?
I consider the beginning of my being an artist around 9 or 10 years old when I would take my dad's camera to document and explore any and all types of events. I started to teach art classes back in high school, but have been doing so professionally since 2011. All in all, approximately 10 years at this point? ... woah.

2. What discipline(s) do you teach?
Drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, paper-making, digital photography, graphic arts, comics, ceramics... just about anything that my students will enjoy and/or aligns with some of their core curriculum.

3. Describe the setting(s) in which you teach. (K-5, after school, university, community center, etc &)
I teach at a K-8 charter school in Oakland. CA. There is a very diverse student population both culturally and socio-economically.

4. Describe the relationship between your personal art practice and your art teaching?
The focus in my own practice involves 2 primary elements: utilizing materials and resources immediately or already available, and creating something useful or functional. This often means a focus on resourcefulness in the form of using recycled and found materials, which is very helpful as a teacher with a limited budget and about 275 students. The functionality element comes into my integration approach where I try to create art lessons that connect directly with what the students are learning about in their core classes. I use art-making as a tool to reveal the connections between our visual, social, historical, scientific and mathematical worlds!

5. How do you sustain your art while teaching?
It has been very difficult. I feel like I have very limited time with the demands of my job (I am also an after school instructor and the facilities coordinator) and very limited space in my tiny apartment that it's hard to make the kind of art I would like. But that's really all excuses, and I have been able to work on smaller things like collage when I make the time for it. I took a drawing class, and found that I was much more productive when given assignments and deadlines and such. Ultimately, it comes down to making the time and doing away with excuses... easier said than done!

6. Who shaped your initial thinking about teaching art?
I'd have to say all the teachers at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. This is an amazing after-school arts program that is free to all Pittsburgh Public School students. The experience differed so much from the art classes I took at school that I was inspired to become an arts educator just to try to replicate their approach directly in schools. I appreciated the art teachers I had in high school, but most of the time it just felt like arts and crafts. MCG showed me how empowering an arts education could be and I hope to convey that to my own students.

7. What training in the arts and/or education have you had?
I earned my BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010, and then my MAT from MICA in 2011. I most recently completed the Integrated Learning Specialist Program offered by the Alameda County Office of Education. I have also been taking art classes again at Berkley City College just to stay on my game and keep the art-making going. Fun and cheap, I recommend it to anyone looking for some inspiration and motivation!

8. How do you develop and deepen your teaching practice?
I try to engage in as much PD as possible... the ILSP courses have had a huge impact on my teaching practice and philosophy. I've also tried to reach out to other teaching professionals in the area to observe their classrooms and pick their brains on how they conduct a successful art program.  

9. What are the biggest challenges you face as a teaching artist?
MAKING MY OWN ART!!! I always try to do prototypes of the lessons I teach, which is fun and interesting, but definitely not always what I would make on my own.

10. What are the unexpected rewards of being a teaching artist?
Some of the appreciation that I receive from students who have had a fun or transformative time in my class. Seeing a student all of a sudden "get" something and apply it right away is always inspiring too. I think the best however is when a parent approaches me to tell me about how their child tells them all about art class and how much fun it is, even when the kid never says anything to me! Teaching is not always a thankful profession but it's really nice when it is!

11. What advice do you have for artists interested in teaching?
I think teaching your ideas is one of the best ways for you to really articulate your own thinking. If you are able to effectively communicate your own approach to art making it shows and can often generate a greater understanding of your own practice. You will be amazed at some of the directions your students will take some of your ideas. The process of teaching will enhance and possibly transform your own art practice.

Please share one anecdote of a memorable Teaching Artist experience.

All I'll say is this.... KIDS LOVE PAPER-MAKING! If you get them involved in the process from beginning (recycling and ripping up paper scraps) to end (arranging, pressing and drying the pulp) they will be engaged the entire time! They love getting messy, playing with the slop, and creating interesting patterns with different colored paper. Go for it!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

No Mountain High Enough...

Learning to teach is like climbing a mountain only to find there's an even higher mountain beyond it. I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with being a teaching artist. My love starts with my love of schools.

I LOVE school.

I love being in schools. I love hallways, bulletin board displays, the sounds of chairs scarping the floors, pencil taping, kids scurrying to and from the bathroom, the hush and then the clamor as kids fall out of class to the yard. The bright colors, the hodge podgeness, the order and the chaos.

I love kids. They're nuts. They're funny and surprising and amazing.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE teachers. Seriously? Who works harder for less? Teachers, they keep getting pummeled by our ignorant society. Still they show up at 7:15am to cut paper, grade tests, meet parents before they go to work, sweep the rugs  (it's not in the janitor's contract, or there is no janitor) fed the gecko, lizard, fish, tadpoles, feed the early kid, the homeless kid, do hair for the neglected girls, and wash the faces of the dirty children. And don't forget they actually teach tiny crazy people to read, write, add and subtract and more. AND they teach manners, caring, social, environmental and school yard justice. They sing, dance, drum and generally make fools of themselves so other people's  video addicted, attention limited, entitled, lost, lazy, rude, sad, sweet, spoiled, precious children can become engaged active citizens.

I love school.

I love the unsung heroes of every school. The front office ladies and men who hold down the fort, provide tissue (often paid for by them since, you know, tissue is a luxury and all), give band aids, advice, and tardy slips. They know who is fake crying to get out of class and who is really ill or sad. They are mean and strict in the best grandmother, great auntie or uncle kinda way. They know all the parents and who is in after care, who has a doctor or dentist appointment. They know who waits outside alone after school because mom is always late. They know which forms teachers have to fill out, they order your supplies and make sure they get to you on time, running the ins and outs of dry erase markers, No.#2 pencils and paper clips like a mafia syndicate (Oops, you didn't get that box of paper? Guess you shouldn't be so rude when you ask! Fuggeta 'boutit!)

I love school.

I love the crazy structure. Recess at 10:40 - 10:55. Whaaat?! Few other work environments run off the clock like that. I recently taught a group of teachers. When I said lunch at noon. There was a collective cry of Noooooo! That was too late. They wanted to eat at 11:35. We compromised with 11:45. bells ring at the oddest times  Nothing begins or stops on the hour or half hour. Always 55, 35, 25. Why? BECAUSE schools have to operate with illogical precision, no minute wasted.

There's sooo much more to love and yet and still I also hate schools, I hate teaching art, I'm over it! As I type that I'm already thinking about how I will rearrange my room, the systems I hope to put in place.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Art makes Creative, Happy, Brave Kids

Art makes creative, happy, brave kids!

Our centers experiment was a success.  Choice Based Art is here to stay! As a first attempt my students and I learned a lot. I look forward to fall and many improvements in the system. The kids did great work and more importantly they challenged themselves and they grew. When asked to give three words that describe the feeling of creating a treasured piece of art here are some of the words kids said:


 ACOE's Inventing Our Future Summer Institute.

More Teaching Artists needed! If you are out there in the "interwebs" reading this PLEASE fill out the Teaching Artist Questionnaire so we can continue to build a resource for each other. Read over past post to see what other Teaching Artists have to say about their art and teaching. get inspired, participate. The link is right u there on the right it! Thanks!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

How can I discover the World of Art, within me and all around me?

This is my throughline for teaching art. How can I discover the World of Art, within me and all around me? I want my students to think about this question everyday and figure out their own answers. I have come to believe you can't "teach art". Especially not to little kids, they already know art. Their ideas are so much better than mine. That is why I love the choice based classroom. 

I used to believe teaching the whole class a project was the only way to teach skills. Instead as each center opens I teach the skills needed to use and care for the material in that center. What the students make using the materials is up to them. In choice class the students figure out what they need to know. They take initiative and they ask for the skills, materials and techniques to make their projects work.  Within each project are challenges and questions that must be answered through the act of making. I facilitate students understanding of their work. 

I also try to apply the throughline to myself.  How can I discover the World of Art, within me and all around me? Can I give myself the freedom I allow/expect my students to have? How can I use what happens in the class in my own practice? 

This post is from my other blog C. Moore Art proof that my teaching practice and my art practice are getting more blurred everyday. You can learn more about Choice Based Art here Teaching for Artistic Behavior TAB

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sparks are flying with Choice Based Art

I've changed my classroom into choice based or centers. I have used the resources on Teaching for Artistic Behavior. It has been a great change.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited. - Plutarch
I have no photos to show yet. But I will get some up here soon. I hope to have more guest Teaching Artists post soon as well. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Big Ideas Fest's Improbable Beautiful

In December I was lucky enough to attend the Big Ideas Fest (BiF) in Half Moon Bay ( BiF is a conference like none other combining design thinking and improv in the service of innovation for education. This was my fourth time at the conference and one of the most interesting and productive experiences yet.

The thing about Big idea Fest is there's a lot. I mean a LOT! Rapid fire speakers, key notes, action collabs, Road Trip Nation, and 'smores. This means there's quite a bit to digest and for me it takes a while to distill it all down. In fact I'm going to talk about the key note speaker from last year, George Lakoff, because I am still processing all of the information garnered from his talk. Lakoff according to Wikipedia is an American cognitive linguist, best known for his thesis that lives of individuals are significantly influenced by the central metaphors they use to explain complex phenomena. He currently teaches at UC Berkeley.

George Lakoff tells us metaphors are at the heart of language and communication. Metaphors are a way of being more precise. At the Big Ideas Fest last year he used love as an example. How do we speak about love? We use metaphors (these usually contain image schema of motion). I'm falling in love, this relationship is a dead end, I'm so over him, things are going smoothly, etc.. Since hearing his talk I've been thinking a lot about metaphors and how important they are. We basically can't communicate our true feelings without metaphors. Metaphors help us be precise with language. The issues that are central to our heart , love, loss, joy, pain they need metaphor to be talked about with precision. 

As teaching artists we are well versed in metaphors. What I am interested in is how we show teachers, parents and administrators that Art is about communicating through metaphor and is therefor about communicating with precision? We teach students to express what they feel, think, believe, dream and hope. They are able to express often complex ideas and emotions through a symbol system. This is important work. Art (and I am including poetry, music, dance and drama) is at the core of clear and precise human communication. How do you use metaphor in your work and your classes?

I've been pondering the meaning of metaphors for a year now. George Lakoff was only one of the amazing speakers I've heard at ISKME's Big Ideas Fest. The presenters from the 2013 conference were equally amazing. For 2014 I plan to ponder the meaning of social objects and new ways of interacting in museums and beyond. To find out more check out their website and follow them on Twitter.

Happy New Year!