Fifth graders chose to work with our teacher intern, Rachel Howell, to design clothing for a manniken. First they created the manniken’s identity and then designed clothing for their models. Some sewed, some glued, some stapled fabric together. Above is the display of the fashion runway at Franklin School.
Ah, June. Out come the irises, peonies and warm days. Here in the lower level of the school (aka the cellar) it stays reasonably cool even on the hottest days. In fact, teachers on the second floor look for excuses to bring their classes down to the library, art and music rooms because the temperatures up there can reach the 90s.
June is a busy month. Lots of field trips, excursions, visitors, extra recess and general loss of attention due to the arrival of summer. How do I keep 430 children happily engaged during art class? Lots of one-class choices that do not make big messes! Kumihimo braiding, watercolor painting, dodecahedrons, Origami, collage, drawing critters and Zentangles, mini 3D designs – or large – to reduce the volume of stuff. Here is what it looks like on a typical June day.
Our PTO raises funds by doing raffles for time with teachers. Typically it happens on a Tuesday afternoon (Tuesdays are half-days) so no one is expected to provide time outside of the school day. My offering was acrylic painting on large canvases that I found in the back of the supply closet. Four boys and four girls from grades 2 and 3 joined me recently to paint their canvases. I wasn’t sure if 2 hours would be enough time but it turned out to be perfect! Most came with a plan in place and started sketching with chalk right on the canvases.
We are up to our ears in clay artwork and it is fabulous! As the pieces come out of the kiln they are sorted class by class. Sculpture surfaces are decorated with watercolor; functional pottery is covered with glaze and returned to the kiln for one more firing. Every time the kiln is opened it is full of surprises.
Even kindergartners can appreciate the tricky nature of clay. Too little water and it cracks; too much water and it can break apart. With lots of play and practice students learn what clay can and cannot do. Observing fired pieces shows clay artists what steps are necessary for kiln-ready clay: score attachments, hollow out thick parts, smooth cracks, names on bottom. As skills grow students are able to take more responsibilities with the clay studio, including cutting clay, labeling names and wiping down tables.
We’ve waited for months. We’ve been patient. We’ve had to trust the process even though that process took eight months for the kiln venting system to be rerouted and approved by the building inspector. Finally, in April, we have received permission to fire up the kiln. During the first firing some pretty nasty fumes emerged and were attributed to oil on the new duct work. I came in over the vacation week to fire again just to see if the odor would disappear and it did. Now, with three firings, it seems the kiln is once again working well!
About half of the fourth and fifth graders chose clay for their 4-class WOW exploration. Students in all other grades can choose clay each class. This means a ton of clay artwork to be fired and sorted by class. Which is great because we have all missed the spontaneity and flexibility of clay in the art studio. We are so happy to have clay back again!
Every year thousands of visual art educators convene for a national conference featuring best practices. Our TAB group is ever-present with sessions on choice-based art education and learner-directed practice. This year my session, “What Were You Thinking?” focused on Studio Habits of Mind and assessment. This time spent with TAB colleagues was most rewarding and provided us all with valuable affirmation that the child is, indeed, the artist!
There is a group of students who draw incessantly (you know who they are). Each year as these artists stretch/explore with new drawing media and develop their craft, they discover new modes of expression. But… somewhere around mid-winter the drawings can get stale. Maybe its the lack of sunshine or fresh air or all too familiar company, but the work appears in need of a shake-up.
What did I do to encourage more experimentation with drawing media in 4th grade? Non-traditional drawing! Just as they have “non-traditional homework” from time-to-time, this challenge might just shake up their divergent thinking skills. Students were shocked at first but agreed to try the plan for a few weeks. Now that they have these new techniques will they ever use them again?
These students are drawing on black paper – it’s what you do when the teacher takes away the white paper that you love so much. To their surprise, drawing on black paper is not all that different, other than it provides opportunities for certain special effects.
Other media included drawing on clear and colored acetate and then layering the pieces, cutting away parts to show different colors in the drawings. The boy to the left is drawing on a piece of clear film with Sharpies. Below two students “discovered” that they can off-set drawing marks by placing paper on top of oil pastels and then drawing lines with pencil.
In case you haven’t heard, we have not been allowed to fire clay all year. This, in addition to being denied the kiln last year from September through December. The issue is the not the kiln itself but its venting system, considered unsafe by the building inspector, then acceptable and then again unacceptable. The actual repair took less than a day but the work was wedged in-between so many other city jobs, apparently far more important than an entire school’s ability to access a vital part of the visual art curriculum.
Sculptors and ceramicists grew weary of asking “When can we work with clay?” and I grew weary of having no real answers for them. In February students in grade 3-5 were offered the opportunity to work with plaster as a 3D alternative. Though my 4th and 5th graders have sculpted with plaster every year this was the first time it has been offered to 3rd graders in my art program. They rose to the occasion and did a spectacular job!
Here’s how students developed craft with plaster sculptures: Starting with aluminum foil and tape students construct armatures that are glued onto foam bases. The next step is to cover the entire sculpture with layers of plaster gauze, similar to the plaster used to make casts for broken limbs.
The final stages are to paint and decorate the sculpture. The yellow goat is the same sculpture as seen in the photo (above) of the aluminum armature by the laptop featuring images of goats as reference to the artist.
Awesome sculptures? Yes! Spontaneous like clay? No. These took 4+ classes to complete and required a lot of materials supervision. Super messy, super fun. But not the same as clay. And you can’t make a bowl you can eat cereal from. It sounds like our kiln might be ready very soon for use. Stay tuned!
The 100th day of school for us was on February 23, a little later than usual because of several snow days, vacation week plus a school closure last October. A few weeks prior to the 100th day students were challenged to help create a collaborative 100 Colors poster to display upstairs in the main hallway. Painters began adding just one of the colors they mixed each class. As the date came closer and closer more and more students participated, eager to be the 100th painter on the poster. Painters named their colors: Bubble Gum Pink, Frog Blood Green, Orange Fire, Swampy Yellow, Princess Purple and so on. So many colors, so many great painterly minds!
It has been a busy winter in art class! Everyone is highly engaged in their work and resulting work is phenomenal. Fourth and fifth graders are developing craft with their WOW (wonderful original work) art. Fifth graders were able to choose from needle felting, marble mazes, plaster sculpture, acrylic painting, and printmaking. Fourth graders had all the same choices except sewing in place of needle felting. Each student made a commitment to spend at least 4 classes with one specific art media to gain skills and understandings about the unique
properties of the media. Third graders continue to be intrigued by watercolor and some are practicing their techniques on large 140 lb. watercolor paper. First and second graders are printmaking. For first graders, it’s a “have to” while second graders can choose to make a 2-color print, applying their learning from 1st grade to a larger printing plate. Kindergartners have been working with our teacher intern, Rachel Howell. Some chose to develop skills with patterns and watercolor resist techniques on their Britto-inspired drawings.