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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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Abstract Expressionist artist Mark Rothko had strong opinions on how to teach children art without dampening their natural creativity.

The little I know about modern artist Mark Rothko is from a theatrical production called Red that I saw in Boston. It was pretty comprehensive, but I don’t believe it covered Rothko’s views on teaching art to children. That is something I learned about from an Artsy editorial.

Sarah Gottesman wrote, “If you’ve ever seen Mark Rothko’s paintings — large canvases filled with fields of atmospheric color — and thought, ‘a child could do this,’ you’ve paid the Abstract Expressionist a compliment.

“Rothko greatly admired children’s art, praising the freshness, authenticity, and emotional intensity of their creations. And he knew children’s art well, working as an art teacher for over 20 years at the Brooklyn Jewish Center. To his students — kindergarteners through 8th graders — Rothko wasn’t an avant-garde visionary or burgeoning art star, he was ‘Rothkie.’ ‘A big bear of a man, the friendliest, nicest, warmest member of the entire school,’ his former student Martin Lukashok once recalled.

“Rothko was a thought leader in the field of children’s art education. He published an essay on the topic (‘New Training for Future Artists and Art Lovers’) in 1934, which he hoped to follow up with a book. Though he never completed the project, he left behind 49 sheets of notes, known as ‘The Scribble Book,’ which detailed his progressive pedagogy — and from which we’ve taken five lessons that Rothko wanted all art teachers to know.

“Lesson #1: Show your students that art is a universal form of expression, as elemental as speaking or singing

“Rothko taught that everyone can make art — even those without innate talent or professional training. According to the painter, art is an essential part of the human experience. … For Rothko, art was all about expression — transforming one’s emotions into visual experiences that everyone can understand. And kids do this naturally. …

“Lesson #2: Beware of suppressing a child’s creativity with academic training

“As Rothko saw it, a child’s expressiveness is fragile. When art teachers assign projects with strict parameters or emphasize technical perfection, this natural creativity can quickly turn to conformity. ‘The fact that one usually begins with drawing is already academic,’ Rothko explains. ‘We start with color.’ …

“When children entered his art room, all of their working materials — from brushes to clay — were already set up, ready for them to select and employ in free-form creations. No assignments needed.

“ ‘Unconscious of any difficulties, they chop their way and surmount obstacles that might turn an adult grey, and presto!’ Rothko describes. ‘Soon their ideas become visible in a clearly intelligent form.’ With this flexibility, his students developed their own unique artistic styles, from the detail-oriented to the wildly expressive. …

“Lesson #3: Stage exhibitions of your students’ works …

“For Rothko, an art teacher’s premier responsibility was to inspire children’s self-confidence. To do this, he organized public exhibitions of his students’ works across New York City, including a show of 150 pieces at the Brooklyn Museum in 1934. And when Rothko had his first solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum a year earlier, he brought his students’ works along with him and exhibited them next to his own. … Rothko wanted critics to see that fine art only requires emotional intensity to be successful.

“Lesson #4: Introduce art history with modern art (not the Old Masters) …

“With 20th-century art, children can learn from works that are similar to their own, whether through the paintings of Henri Matisse, Milton Avery, or Pablo Picasso. These iconic artists sought pure, personal forms of visual expression, free from the technical standards of the past. … But while exposure to modern art can help boost children’s confidence and creativity, it shouldn’t interfere with the development of a unique style. Rothko discouraged his students from mimicking museum works as well as his own painting practice. …

“Lesson #5: Work to cultivate creative thinkers, not professional artists

“In addition to fanning students’ creative instincts, great art teachers can help students become more self-aware, empathetic, and collaborative — and this generates better citizens in the long run, Rothko believed. At the Brooklyn Jewish Center, he hardly cared whether his students would go on to pursue careers in the arts. Instead, Rothko focused on cultivating in his students a deep appreciation for artistic expression.

“ ‘Most of these children will probably lose their imaginativeness and vivacity as they mature,’ he wrote. ‘But a few will not. And it is hoped that in their cases, the experience of eight years [in my classroom] will not be forgotten and they will continue to find the same beauty about them. As to the others, it is hoped, that their experience will help them to revive their own early artistic pleasures in the work of others.’ ”

More here.

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I’ve read before about inventive approaches to teaching math — and my daughter-in-law, who coaches teachers of math, probably knows most of them. But recently, the Washington Post examined a new method, one that uses dance.

Reporter Moriah Balingit described observing a kindergarten game that “actually was a serious math lesson about big and small and non-standard measurements. Dreamed up by [drama teacher Melissa] Richardson and kindergarten teacher Carol Hunt, it aims to get the children to think of animal steps as units of measurement, using them to mark how many it takes each animal to get from a starting line to the target.

“[Today] teachers are using dance, drama and the visual arts to teach a variety of academic subjects in a more engaging way. …

“The Wolf Trap Institute, based at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, brought Richardson to Westlawn Elementary through a program that pairs art teachers with early-childhood educators to formulate math lessons. The program also provides professional development to teachers.

“And the program appears to have been effective: A study by the American Institutes for Research found that students in classes headed by Wolf Trap-trained teachers performed better on math assessments than did their peers being taught by teachers who were not in the program. …

“Researcher Mengli Song said the students in the program did not necessarily learn additional math content but they did demonstrate a better grasp of the material. And the effect was comparable to other early-childhood interventions. …

“Jennifer Cooper, director of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, said arts integration — particularly lessons where children get to move and play — is a good way to reach a lot of children who struggle with traditional book lessons.

“ ‘By embodying a concept . . . and putting it through your body in a multi-sensory way, you’re going to reach a lot of different kinds of learners,’ Cooper said.”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Teaching artist Melissa Richardson, right, from the Wolf Trap Institute, watches her kindergarten students at Westlawn Elementary School take large bear steps during a math lesson in Falls Church, Va.

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Everything old is new again. Here’s a story about a type of teaching that is coming back in vogue.

Peter Balonon-Rosen writes for WBUR radio, “Closing the gap between the achievements of low-income students and their peers is such a formidable challenge that some experts say it cannot be done without eliminating poverty itself. By the time children enter kindergarten, there is already a significant skills gap across socioeconomic lines that manifests in an income achievement gap that has widened dramatically over the past 25 years.

“In Revere [MA], a high-poverty school district, school officials have turned internally to raise outcomes for kids in poverty. Their notion is that school success can begin with a successful teaching model.

“ ‘What is this?’ kindergartner Thea Scata asks. She taps the picture of a rabbit with a wooden pointer and looks to the three other girls seated at her table.

“The group of four kindergartners at Revere’s A.C. Whelan Elementary School is learning about the letter ‘R’ — writing its shape and reviewing words that begin with the letter.

“ ‘Bunny!’ replies Bryanna Mccarthy.

“ ‘No, what’s the first sound? “R”— rabbit,’ Scata says to the group. …

“Whelan is one of 43 public elementary schools in the state that Bay State Reading Institute (BSRI), a Holliston-based education nonprofit organization, partners with to implement this teaching model into Massachusetts schools.”

Said “Kimberlee Clark, a first grade teacher at Whelan, ‘I’m really able to target those that need to be challenged and go above and beyond and I’m able to work with those students that need the extra support to get onto grade level.’ …

“Core to BSRI’s approach is independent student learning. As teachers work closely with small groups of students, the other students are expected to work by themselves on separate tasks.

“ ‘Students then own a piece of the learning,’ said Ed Moscovitch, chairman and co-founder of BSRI. ‘They learn how to learn from an independent perspective.’

“ ‘When they’re working together it’s not so much that students are teaching students, but they’re discovering and coming to the knowledge together,’ said Lenore Diliegro, a fifth grade teacher at Whelan.” More here.

Photo: Peter Balonon-Rosen/WBUR
Thea Scata, left, leads a group of kindergarten peers at A.C. Whelan Elementary School in Revere.

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John sent two articles about roles that grandparents are playing in children’s lives — in this case, grandmas.

The blog Microtask details Professor Sugata Mitra’s cool insights about the Grandma Effect.

“The theory is that grandmas are good at encouraging kids. They praise them and say things like: ‘Now that is clever dear, I’d never have been able to analyze the molecular structure of DNA all by myself!’ Supervising village children, Indian grandmothers got some impressive results: test scores almost doubled in two months …

“And the next step? The ‘Granny Cloud.’ While working at Newcastle University, Professor Mitra recruited over 200 UK grandmothers as volunteers. Broadcasting via webcam each ‘grandmother’ spends at least an hour a week encouraging classes of Indian school children. Some of the Indian locations are so remote that the Granny Cloud is the only access kids have to education.” More.

The second link that John sent has more on the Granny Cloud. Jane Wakefield writes for the BBC: “Jackie Barrow isn’t a granny yet but as a retired teacher she felt she might qualify for an advert in The Guardian newspaper calling for volunteers to help teach children in India.

“She did, and today, three years on, she is reading ‘Not Now Bernard’ via Skype to a small group of children in the Indian city of Pune.

“They love it and are engaged in the experience as she holds up an Easter egg to show them how children in the UK celebrated the recent holiday.” More.

Good work, Prof. Mitra! (Or as my grandson would say when I manage to attach the bike helmet properly, “Good work, Grandma!”) Everyone knows grandmas are cheerleaders, but Prof. Mitra took it to the next step.

Photo: Three-year-old photographer
Grandma saying, “Very creative camera work, Dear!”

grandma-art-photo

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Paul Tough has written a book arguing that developing character is more critical to a child’s future success than IQ.

National Public Radio has the story: “Tough explores this idea in his new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.

” ‘For some people, [the] path to college is so easy that they can get out into life and they’ve never really been challenged,’ he tells NPR’s David Greene. ‘I think they get into their 20s and 30s and they really feel lost — they feel like they never had those character-building experiences as adolescents, as kids, that really make a difference when they get to adulthood.’

“That wasn’t true for the teenagers Tough met during the time he spent in some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods. There, he worked with teenagers overcoming unimaginable challenges. One young woman …  was getting into fights in school and was on the verge of dropping out. But then she entered an intensive mentoring program that changed her life.

” ‘She made it through high school, overcame a lot of obstacles and now is getting a cosmetology degree,’ Tough says. ‘For some people, that wouldn’t be a huge success. But for her, she overcame obstacles that won’t only set her on a path for material success, but also psychological success.’

“The difference-maker really depends on the person, Tough says. Mentoring programs that focus on goal-setting can be helpful, and he also says parents should try to help their kids manage stress from a very early age.”

Do you agree with this? Overcoming obstacles is important, but the obstacles that some of the students Tough met were so severe, I can’t help wondering if the consequences have yet to play out. I’m for kids overcoming normal, age-appropriate obstacles that are part of any life — as they say in Italy, “the things that happen to the living.”

More at NPR, here.

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Ashoka, which defines itself as “a global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs,” has a blog called Changemakers that might interest readers. The March 26 post is on teaching and empathy.

Nora Cobo at the Center for Inspired Teaching writes, “While test-based assessments are essential, they reflect only one type of data and one kind of skill that students need. Schools must also focus on students’ social-emotional growth in order to create sound learning environments. Such settings help students develop interpersonal competence and improve short- and long-term academic and personal outcomes.

“Center for Inspired Teaching partners with teachers to change the school experience for students to include these critical skills. … Instead of looking at students’ behavior as something to be corrected, we train teachers to look at students’ behavior in terms of unmet needs. In particular, we ask teachers to consider students’ needs for Autonomy, Belonging, Competence, Developmental appropriateness, and Engagement — the ABCDE of learners’ needs.

“For example, a teacher may encounter a student who repeatedly gets frustrated and leaves his seat to chat with classmates when he encounters a complicated geometry problem. Rather than assuming the student has a bad attitude, the teacher strives to figure out which of the student’s needs is not being met. The teacher may discover that the student learns best when physically engaged – and offer him the option to tackle the equation by measuring distances by walking.

“Similarly, a teacher may find a student who refuses to work in a group setting, saying she just prefers to work alone. In examining the student’s unmet needs, that teacher may discover that the student longs for more autonomy with her work – and empower that student to create on her own.

“The teacher may discover, upon further engaging her skills of empathy, that other members of the group aren’t treating the student kindly, and therefore the student’s need for belonging is not being met when classroom groups are self-selected. …

“Placing empathy at the core of teachers’ practice ensures that students learn how to think, not just what to think – and go beyond covering the curriculum to learn the skills they need in order to thrive.”

More here.

Photograph: Kate Samp, Strategies for Children

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I went to the Concord Library today to hear children’s book author and illustrator Ed Emberley give a charming talk to a crew of little kids sitting on a rug.

Emberley used an easel and colored chalks to demonstrate simple ways to create pictures. It was clear that he was used to talking to young children and loved making them laugh. The kids responded gleefully. Grownups did, too.

Several fans asked him — and his wife and collaborator, Barbara — to sign books they had brought along. One woman told me that her kids, now grown, still knew all the words to the Emberleys’ book Drummer Hoff, winner of the 1968 Caldecott Award for  illustration.

I took home a worksheet with Emberley’s drawing tips so I can do more-interesting doodles in long meetings at work.

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A while back I watched the movie The Little Red Truck, a documentary by producer Pam Voth and director Rob Whitehair highlighting the work of the Missoula Children’s Theatre. It was a moving experience.

The Missoula (Montana) Children’s Theatre travels by truck from city to city all over America to put on productions with children in low-income urban and rural areas. The transformation of some of these children in the week it takes to produce a full-scale, one-hour musical is something to see, with many insecure children discovering talents that no one, including the children themselves, knew they had.

For kids who have never seen a play and have no place to rehearse — nor any props or costumes or sets other than what the theater company can pack into the truck —  putting on a production seems unimaginable.

As the movie unfolds, you see how doing the unimaginable builds self-confidence, and generates both laughter and ideas about possible futures. It’s not about growing up to be actors. It’s about seeing that there are options, and starting to think differently.

And in case anyone is more interested in the academic skills boosted through theater, this Education Week article makes that case. Not a bad case to be made, but it’s the magic of Queen Mab that speaks to me.

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