"What’s going on in this picture?"
With this one question and a carefully chosen work of art, teachers can start their students down a path toward deeper learning and other skills now encouraged by the Common Core State Standards. The Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) teaching method has been successfully implemented in schools, districts, and cultural institutions nationwide, including bilingual schools in California, West Orange Public Schools in New Jersey, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It is a key strategy used with both the Create Humboldt and Arts & Creativity Initiative teachers.
This method provides for open-ended yet highly structured discussions of visual art, and significantly increases students’ critical thinking, language, and literacy skills along the way.
Philip Yenawine, former education director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and cocreator of the VTS curriculum, writes engagingly about his years of experience with elementary school students in the classroom. He reveals how VTS was developed and demonstrates how teachers are using art—as well as poems, primary documents, and other visual artifacts—to increase a variety of skills, including writing, listening, and speaking, across a range of subjects.
The book shows how VTS can be easily and effectively integrated into elementary classroom lessons in just ten hours of a school year to create learner-centered environments where students at all levels are involved in rich, absorbing discussions.
Link to book on Amazon here.
Students in Ms. Stengl's class at Alice Birney are creating personal art based on memories and learning about abstract art. They have been practicing abstracting images through simplifying, exaggerating and distorting the original image. After their first iteration, students shared their work and got feedback from classmates:
-you could take out some details to simplify the people
-maybe make the ball bigger to exaggerate something on the field
-add lots of colors to the background
-you can make the arms wiggly
-you could exaggerate the Golden Gate Bridge
-you filled in the space but make the background a different color than that guy or make that guy a different color
-add more fins to your shark
-less details, simplify it
-you could make his eyebrows bigger
-you might want some more shapes, it looks like all background
-it's okay if it doesn't look like a thing, that's not good or bad
When creating their final artwork, students have many considerations. They can use the feedback from peers. They might keep elements of their first iterations or change something about their work that didn't work well for them.
It is exciting to see their creativity and the diversity in their work.
One of the best things about creative education is reimagining curriculum in collaboration with others. A fourth-grade teacher came to me with a California Missions project she had done in the past. The project had worked okay in the past, but she wanted it to be more creative and original on the part of the students. She also hoped it could be more integrated with the social studies and/or English Language Arts. We are still brainstorming ideas with each other and here are some initial thoughts.
Her previous project had students trace a photo of a mission. This created a class full of almost identical images. I suggested a 'viewfinder' approach. A viewfinder is a rectangular opening in a piece of cardboard that allows the artist to crop or reframe the scene-zooming into one area for artistic effect. Even if a whole class of students used the same original image, it is unlikely any two students will crop the new scene in exactly the same way. This process emphasizes the Creative Skills of "Envision-Imagine multiple possibilities" and "Create-Make something original" as well as "Engage-Make it yours". For a demo project, I cut a viewfinder from a piece of cardstock, but empty slide frames are ideal viewfinders. The demo project shown here is done in oil pastel with a watercolor wash, but any medium is suitable.
We're still brainstorming integration concepts for this project. For example, what if students not only used 'point of view' for creating the visual artwork, but also used 'point of view' when writing? How would poetry sound from the viewpoints of those affected by the California missions? How would the colors, mood and tone change in the artwork change when viewed from an Indigenous viewpoint as opposed to a Catholic missionary viewpoint? Could students collaborate to create a two-voice poem with separate artworks that represent each voice?
Step 1: Students use the viewfinder to find the scene they would like for their composition. Here concepts of symmetry and balance can be useful and natural discussions.
Step 2: Use the proportion of the viewfinder opening to create a similar sized canvas. In my case, the viewfinder opening was 2cm x 3 cm or a 2:3 ratio. I set up the canvas as 10 cm x 15 cm to preserve this 2:3 ratio. This can be done by the teacher if the mathematics is outside the grade level of the student. If the canvas is a different ratio, the final artwork will be distorted which can be interesting.
Step 3: Set up a grid. Since this image was so simple, I cut the space in half vertically and horizontally creating 4 quadrants. If the image was more challenging (a portrait, for example), smaller sections might be needed. For example, 6 vertical divisions and 4 horizontal divisions. As shown below, the original image has 4 quadrants and the larger canvas also has 4 corresponding quadrants.
Step 4: Draw the image lightly on the canvas. Here is where the grid can come in handy. For example, the building had a dark line exactly on the horizontal division line, and the tree occupied the entire bottom right hand quadrant, the building is about 2/3 the way across the left-hand quadrants, etc.
Step 4: Erase the quadrant division lines from the canvas and complete the image using the media of your choice. In my case, I used oil pastels and then a wash of watercolor to fill the white spaces on the paper. To emphasize the hard edges of the architecture, I used a cardstock 'blocker' to create the straight edges of the building and the curve of the archway.
Step 5: Add framing, poetry or reflection. How artwork is displayed often determines how it is perceived. The artwork is perceived as a thinking activity when writing, revisions, reflection and curriculum are part of the display.
Fourth grade students in Mr. Magnuson's class studied the abstract art of Wassily Kandinsky. They looked at examples of abstract art made by other fourth graders. Here's what they had to say about abstract art:
-can't tell what it is
-it's fun because you can't recognize all the things
-a way to show your feelings
-hallucinating, like it's moving with shadows
-it can be beautiful
-can be an escape from stressful reality
-illusions and nauseous
-if you're going through something, you can get it out
-it can have images you can recognize but are distorted
-a gateway to freedom
-it has things that might remind you of something but reminds someone else of something else
-images you can recognize but they are distorted
About 50 teachers from Humboldt and Del Norte Counties came together on January 11 for the 2020 Winter Training. The day was spent learning about Adobe Spark Video, Visual Thinking Strategies, Math Arts Integration, Collaboration Skills, and ways to help students reduce the apprehension they have about being wrong or different.
Students across Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino and Lake counties are practicing learning to share their ideas, justify why they suggest their idea, compromising on one idea, planning, and woringk together to create these artworks. The process of learning how to collaborate is critical for all group learning.
Here's what students in Ms. Holland's class had to say when looking at examples of student art:
they have 3 colors
there are different textures on each one
the designs are different in them
some look smooth and some look not smooth
the lines look like they used tape
all the different shapes
some parts are so dark
how they stopped the color from spreading
did they use paint?
Are we going to do this?
how the paper didn't tear
who made those
how they mixed the colors
if they used a lot of water
how it's going to turn out and if we can do that
who is in my group for making this
In Spring 2019, Droop Capone (dr. Oop for short) did a teaching artist residency as part of the North Coast Arts Integration Project at both Trinity Valley Elementary and Hoopa Elementary with 7th and 8th graders.
Click here for more information
Teachers across Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino and Lake counties are beginning their school year with students learning how to collaborate. Teachers use the "How to Collaborate" poster/protocol to teach students the six steps of working with others towards a common goal.
Cutten 6th grade teacher Ms. Cook remarked, "I noticed that the students were quickly able to collaborate on what color palate, texture and design to use." When asked about her students' use of the Creativity Skills, she added, "Develop Craft was developed as we broke down techniques for watercolor, color families, and texture. We used Notice and Wonder when we examined the student examples prior to and during the project. The students Reflected as they co-wrote their reflections. Envision and Create was used as the students first developed their own ideas about the project and then, through collaboration, were able to create a product that was greater than any one idea. The students were Engaged in the project and Persisted, even when the tape (which they had linted) started peeling up the paper. They found ways to keep the damage minimal and to even repair artistically. Ideas were Integrated when the lesson linked mathematic areas and patterns with the art space and design."
Melanie Rick from Focus 5 facilitated Day 1 of the summer institute.
These dedicated teachers are enhancing the lives of children by providing them with a safe environment to build relationships and express their learning in diverse ways.
Many have written about what compromises creativity, but what skills can be taught that support becoming more creative? This question is at the heart of the work of Create Humboldt and the Arts & Creativity Initiative. We have identified eight concepts which are at the heart of the units and the work we do in schools. This graphic, in English and Spanish, explains those eight ideas.
PDF of the skills in English and Spanish here
If you would like a vinyl sticker of these skills, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Bill Funkhouser-sticker request/ Arts & Creativity Initiative/ 901 Myrtle Ave./ Eureka, CA 95501
7th and 8th grade students at Trinity Valley and Hoopa Elementary Schools created two original hip hop songs with teaching artist Droop Capone (dr. Oop for short). Catch the songs on the radio this weekend! Friday 6/21/19 on KMUD between 3-5:30 pm and Sunday 6/22/19 on KHUM between 10 am-3 pm. Thanks to Cory Goldman and Jay Tilghman of The MARZ Project for audio recording and video editing and Piet Dalmolen for mixing the tracks!
"My Destiny" Video by Trinity Valley students
(Open the audio tracks in a new window to download.)
"My Destiny" by Trinity Valley students
"Life is Just The Dopest" by Hoopa students
Students at Arcata High's Arcata Arts Institute collaborated on a sticker project by exchanging stickers they created with ones that 5th graders created at Arcata Elementary School. These photos show some of the AAI students receiving their sticker from the younger student and reading the letter that was written to them about the artwork.
And here are some of the 5th graders working on their stickers.
Here are some of the stickers from the high school students in AAI.
Thank you to Ms. Simoni and her Alice Birney kindergarten artists for helping to pilot the new Collaborative Art Project designed for K-2 students. Below are some of their final collaborative art projects.
Enjoy this video summarizing why Create Humboldt Arts Liaison Johanna Mauro was selected as one of the 2019 Excellence in Teaching Award recipients.
Enjoy this video summarizing why Arts & Creativity Initiative teacher Heidi Conzelman was selected as one of the 2019 Excellence in Teaching Award recipients.
Enjoy this video summarizing why Create Humboldt teacher John Michael Larson was selected as one of the 2019 Excellence in Teaching Award recipients.