Wednesday, December 2, 2009

National Reading Conference II

So, I am here in Albuquerque  (spelled right this time I hope). This morning I went into a session about studying visual representation of children and youth.
The presentation focused on analysis of identities and stories that had very little to do with the work we are doing in arts integration. What it did point to was the way visual texts allow choice, and expression that are not usually acceptable in the classroom. The problem, however, was that most of the projects that presented were not part of classrooms either.... Thus, it is not as much integration in school as it is out of school chances for expression. I am not saying in any way that it is not important. Instead I am trying to say that this has to happen IN schools as part of the fabric of instruction.
The second piece was that there is a need to make our voices about integration heard- next year we will again suggest a session or at least a paper.
As for vocabulary Judith Scott allowed me to see today that we have abandoned at least partially the emphasis on wide vocabulary and focused on other aspects more- well more work to do- maybe in the next grant...
More tomorrow

Saturday, November 28, 2009

National Reading Conference

The conference starts next week in Albuquerque NM.
Two presentations target the intersection of literacy and the Arts both with book illustrators:

The following presentation is scheduled on Saturday, 12/05/2009, from 08:30 AM - 10:00 AM in Santo Domingo.
Voice and Visions of Yuyi Morales: Award winning illustrator discusses her art
Jesse S Gainer, Texas State University - San Marcos
Mary Esther Huerta, Texas State University - San Marcos

This multimodal and interactive session will include an ethnographic interview of Yuyi Morales, an award-winning children’s literature illustrator, providing a “lived-through experience” for session attendees to explore the intersections of art, culture, history, and politics as manifested in her art. This session will feature the illustrator talking about her art while showing it. Facilitators will foreground connections relating to research methodology and data analysis in regard to scholarship pertaining to artwork in multicultural children’s literature.

The following presentation is scheduled on Wednesday, 12/02/2009, from 08:30 AM - 10:00 AM in Taos.
Exploring the intersections of culture and art in the work of one award-winning children's books illustrator

Friday, November 20, 2009

Taking the Long Way Home

Our California second grade team has hit a snag recently. The project they were doing was taking too long- disrupting the normal pace and plan of the second grade classroom. They have in consultation with us (meaning those who do not carry the burden) about choosing to finish a long meaningful project instead of doing one more arts integration cycle.
At the same time a colleague of mine came back from watching a second grade classroom. She, who usually spends time in secondary classroom, reflected that the pace moving from one activity to the next was breath taking - and that she as a student would probably fail to thrive in that room because there was no time to think and act with deliberation. Although I do quick pacing as efficient for teaching some things (phonics for example). I did agree with her that curriculum and administration are often pushing teachers to divide their days into small chunks. The small chunks are not connected and so students do not connect them either and are thus left with many fragments of knowledge and procedures that are not well organized- and thus are quickly lost.
When we integrate the arts and ask ourselves and our teacher researchers to think in longer cycles we are disrupting this cycle. We are proud to be the disruptors....

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Summer Plans

I spent the last few weeks trying to make sure we have three different workshops this summer at UNL. All three address integration in different ways.
The first is our literacy and arts integration class. It is the third time we are teaching this class and I am ecstatic that we have been able to sustain this effort and find a niche with new and experienced teachers. That mix has actually been great for everyone's professional development including mine. The experienced Monique Poldberg will be leading this class- one of the most reflective teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with.
The second piece will be taught for the first time this summer at UNL. It is a week dedicated to Readers' Theatre. The week focuses on scripting in the curriculum and in depth understanding of how Reads' Theatre can be integrated into everyday curriculum and not just as an add on. For me drama is the easiest integration into the language arts and social studies curriculum- almost a gimme. The link is so natural that there is no wonder that despite partial evidence teachers find it useful. The class will be taught by Barbara Egbert- who is internationally trained and brings a broad understanding and classroom experience to the workshop.
Finally, a workshop about technology integration, led by Lance Poldberg closes the line. Lance approaches technology as an opportunity to engage students in making curriculum based media-integrated learning artifacts. It is an opportunity for elementary and middle school teachers to develop and experiment with technology- with an emphasis on meaning making and well fun.
As the plans take shape I will probably add detail...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time and Integration

As a classroom teacher, I am always balancing time -- what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and how long it all takes. Frequently my own timeline does not correspond with the students' timeline. It takes them longer or they finished faster than I anticipated. How often am I right "on the money"? When I consider different learners and learning styles and how I might differentiate instruction, time is a big variable.

I ask myself if the time spent was worth the benefit received. Or I might ask if there is a more efficient way to get from Start to Finish.

In the case of Arts Integration... how much time does one spend on each piece? Should it be equal? - Art Lesson - Content Lesson (i.e. Science, Social Studies) - Literacy Lesson -
Is the equation equal or one greater than the other for the greatest student success? If I spend 60 minutes each on art, content and literacy will the product from each be equal? If I spend 90 minutes on content lessons along 90 minutes on an art lesson and student art production and 90 minutes of language arts lessons and student writing workshops will that yield a better content understanding, an awesome art product and an equally amazing writing product than say the 60 minutes did? It really isn't always about minutes when it comes to students learning. Sometimes the going back and forth in a revision and editing mode (in either art or writing) may take pieces of days for our students. Will more time on an art product make it possible to spend less time on a writing product? Will less time on an art product require more time on a writing product? I believe that certain choices in each area will yield the greatest results.

Integration is a way to combine learning in more than one area, yet it still all has to be carefully crafted and then managed in the general classroom.

There is so much to teach and time is my challenge!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A View from Outside

I have a graduate student who has arrived from China this Fall. I decided to bring her to our Fall professional development meeting as an observer. I was really interested in her view of the process and focus of the group. I of course think we're doing some very interesting and important things and that our group of teachers is outstanding- but does it come across?
Here is what she wrote in response:

It is a precious experience to attend such an eye-opening meeting. When I entered into the meeting room, what caught my eyes were teachers’ engaging in communicating and learning from each other, so earnestly and openly. It is the curriculum for the following several months. Music and arts teachers from two schools came here, worked together, and absorbed new ideas to improve the instructional efficiency. There are two amazing samples showing how to teach music and arts. For music, there are seven hollow beams which were equal to the seven music scales. Then seven kids each holds one beam standing for one music scale. To make music these kids should concentrate on his or her own role as well as working together with other kids harmoniously. It conveys the sense of cooperation, practice and deep impression of music. Brilliant! For the arts, two diverse oil paintings are presented. Kids are given these questions from simple to complex step by step, “what do you see?”, “where are they?”, “what are they doing?”, “why do you think so?” . These kids learn to read arts, from the paintings’ appearance to their essence, from outside to inside, from the gradual developing process. Since they’ve just gained the knowledge about the community, of course, their explanation and imagination about the two paintings has lots to do with community, which is accordance with the theory of schema. One of the kids was such a genius in answering these questions that it raised my concern about what family background he is from, and what he has learned. Would this ground be a backup reason for his outstanding performance? In all, these two examples are really vivid and explicit ways of instruction. Apart from the two examples, teacher Pat has presented us the previous achievement by giving an example about how a cute and smart boy understands the community. By putting kids directly into the real world is such a good idea. They can see and touch the statue of George Washington by themselves when hearing the legendary stories; they can feel the hot whether by standing in the sunshine during the hot summer day. Lost in the thought that kids in my country could also have such an experience, I wonder what would it be like? I am still curious about other kids’ situation and comprehension, which may be unnecessary or futile. The main topic for the next few months is life cycle-- to inform children the basic knowledge about animals, environment, cooperation and skills for how to survive in the wild nature. What I can see is an integration composed by arts and reading, intertwined into each other. Almost everything is perfect and indeed it helps to promote students’ motivation in study and easy students’ development in literacy. I had tried to find the difference between this and my country’s education, which emphasize more on science. Eighteen out of twenty classes were science classes in my high school, and those two arts classes were for those students who cannot go though science class. People had slightly prejudice over arts, considering it of a little practical use and low payback investment. The phenomenon also exist my friend’s country, Chad, Russia, developing countries. Developing country needs to consider the economic factors more for advancing. Still, there is a long way to go before educational systems learn from each other. And yet, what I see is a whole world of arts and reading, almost no science (I even ask Jean why, which is kind of silly of me). Is that because this is the meeting about arts and literacy? I think kids here begin their study about science a little late. Arts and literacy should be considered to be an integral body, and if science is in parallel with arts and literacy’s tempo, then arts, literacy and science would be a better integration too, or interdisciplinary integration. I believe the two hemispheres of the brain need balanced development for uncovering potentials of kids. The end of education here comes out to be the best around the world now, but that does not mean that it has no space to improve. I remember that my high school teacher has said that once a kid is very good at English and math, he probably will be qualified for university. This has been a belief of mine during these years, and I would tell every parent the “truth”. English and math is really opposite and hard discipline in my country. Math classes involve a lot basic knowledge such as probability, geometry, functions, and calculus. And English is a totally different language system. If we believe that “it is too early” or expect children to learn “when they need to”, we may miss the optimal period. Of course, we should not push them and we do not want to. Maybe we just need to think about it, and that is all. Well, in short, it is such a meaningful experience for me. It is like I incidentally fall into a circle full of great ideas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mike on Ken Robinson

I teach an undergraduate literacy methods block for Elementary teachers and in it my students are asked to reflect weekly on hat weeks readings and their classroom observations. I do allow them occasionally to deviate if they find a topic that is particularly appealing to them.
About a week ago Mike wrote this piece in response to a Ken Robinson piece (I am publishing this with his explicit permission):

"I'd like to take this opportunity to depart from the traditional format of the blogs and comment on something else. A friend of mine recently showed me this link:

In the video, Ken Robinson talks about the nature of our education system. He says that our educational system is far too linear. We start kids off in elementary school preparing them for middle and high school where we then prepare kids for college. All of this is designed so that the kids end up getting a degree and can thereby be successful in the world. Robinson argues that it was a great idea back when college degrees were comparatively rare to high school diplomas, but today, we have a higher percentage of people going on to get their degrees than ever before. As such, a bachelor's degree is not what it used to be. So if everyone has a degree, what more can we do with education to keep improving? Robinson's answer is creativity. He says that we need to teach kids to embrace creativity rather than cut our arts and music programs from the school's curriculum.

I like what Robinson had to say, but I think he overlooked some key aspects of education. Yes, more and more people are going on to get their degrees in post-secondary education. And yes, it would be really smart to teach those graduates to be more creative and well rounded. But what about the students we have to specifically tailor our instruction around? Special needs students present some of the greatest challenges to us as teachers. I feel like Robinson completely glossed over this very substantial, important group of people. It's naive to think that our current education system is great if not for it's lack of emphasis on creativity. Yes, we're sending more kids off to college than ever, but we still have a lot of work to do with educating every one of our students. Belmont, especially, has driven this point home for me"

Mike's comments contextualize what many teachers are thinking, namely that before we attend to creativity there is a lot of other work to be done. I wholeheartedly agree with Mike that we are not yet great at teaching all children what they need to be full citizens. On the other hand there seem to be an underlying assumption that creativity is the cherry, like higher order thinking or comprehension instruction something that comes after skills.

This is the danger that talks about the big C can lead to- the fact that teachers, administrators and parents worry about regular everyday capabilities and rightly so. The little dancer from Robinson'sstory would be a heartwarming story if she grew up to be a world class dancer- but we all know the chances are slim. We need a Ken Robinson who follows up and says and look how we can use her dancing to enhance her learning so she feels empowered to learn and we to teach through it- so she can be successful in everything she chooses to be engaged in.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The big C the big I and Diversity

We had a grant meeting in DC last week for currently funded AEMDD and AEPD grants (alphabet soup and a mouthful). It was great being back in a room that included so many people who are facing similar challenges, concerns and joys. The fairly large group spent the better part of the day working in small groups which was a very productive choice. The ability to talk to each other and further our understanding and action was exceptional.
On the positive side we really could be moving forward in our agenda and the ways we integrate the work we do. At the same time I think that lurking under the surface are some meaningful differences. These are differences that we danced around at the meeting but may actually reveal fairly significant divisions in approach.
In my mind it is the big C (creativity) and big I (Integration) groups. I am a big I person- for me it is all about integration. I do not mean that I do not care about creativity, nor that I do not think pure learning in the arts is not important. Instead it is simply not what I do. I support learning in the arts in schools (kids in drama and instrumental music) and need be will fight for it- but when I write, think and teach it is all about integration.
Hopefully we will come out of this year with a conference and possibly publications that will openly discuss some of these approaches and generate some new (or old) insights and ideas for research, advocacy, and most importantly educational practice!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Today I taught a well thought-out and planned art lesson. I had even created the project myself in advance for a sample. I had worked with colleagues in the planning process. However, after the direct instruction part of the lesson, when I watched the students work and create, I realized there were many things I did not think about! The students weren't really unhappy with their work, but I knew their potential was far from reached, at no fault of theirs.

At recess I brought my next-door colleague over to examine the work and listen to some of my comments. She had been part of the planning process with me and was in a good position to help me analyze where things went "wrong" or at least "not as I thought they should." I realized in both my "internal" and "external" conversations that there were many things in my lesson I could have done differently. I could have explained the use of the media more clearly. The examples I gave should have been more thoughtfully discussed and analyzed. I also needed to break down the sequence of creation in smaller steps for greater understanding and incremental success.

So... I decided that we frequently talk about drafts and revisions in writing with students, so I was going to go back to my second graders and explain that we were also going to do that with our art. I was revising my lesson to make it better for them and they were going to get to revise their composition. In both cases (mine and my students') we didn't "waste" the first hour, but rather learned by doing, learned from our mistakes or wrong turns and came out with a better lesson and better product.

My students were thrilled with their work and I was happy to have had the time to re-do it right then. The details were fresh in my mind and my motivation was high to try again. Revise and edit. Practice makes better.... for both the teacher and the learner.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Interest and the Arts

A colleague in a recent meeting passionately described the importance she places on teacher candidates focusing on something they find interesting at the core of their integrated lesson plan. The guiding idea is that our students (future teachers) will find this approach motivating and rewarding and thus will be engaged at a much higher level.
The parallel for me is working with elementary students and my own children. General interest is a very problematic concept as we find ourselves and our students engaged in a topic that they have no apriori interest in. Despite this apparent lack of initial we can engage and motivate enough interest to foster learning- also known as situated interest. This is especially true of elementary teachers who teach many different subjects.
This concept is crucially important since curricula are determined by standards, assessments, and group decision making. Neither students not teachers can afford to be engaged only in what they find initially interesting, thus we need to teach future teachers how to become engaged outside their area of interest and find the interesting and "cool" and exciting aspects of these topics- just like we expect our children to do.
This is very important in arts integration. Engaging future teachers in arts integration is a very important tool that we must promote since they will see very little of it in their schools as they start teaching. My fear is that by focusing on topics that they are excited by we are actually reinforcing the idea of arts integration as a fun but too rigorous activity. One that you engage with when teaching (or learning) a favorite topic in which you are already highly engaged- not the everyday humdrum topic.
The image in the blog was created by a graduate student on a visit to a natural history museum. The students were not motivated in learning science before the visit to the museum but the process and the museum itself created enough situated interest to generate engagement and thus learning.
Arts integration can be helpful in many areas and domains and its success is partially related to arts as an engagement strategy- thus a less effective strategy if the topic is already highly engaging. Ultimately, in the elementary years we teach many topics that we are marginally interested in, we develop situated interest. Arts integration is a way of developing such an interest and not just when we as a teacher are excited about our favorite topic.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where does art integration reside?

Art integration happens on many levels. From the federal grants and policies all the way into the water color brush in the student's hand. But, the work we've done over the last eight years, the research, the observations in classrooms and assessment of student performance all point in one direction. Arts integration is a classroom phenomena and it resides in the details- the how of that classroom practice.
All art educators and most writing ones have for decades focused on process. Our conclusion is very much the same- process is at the heart of what we do. We work with our teachers on transforming their practice- the processes that they use to enable student learning, the processes they use to teach. This is not a one way street because every time we interact with a teacher thinking about their process we learn something ourselves that changes the way we work with that teacher but also with the ones that come after her.
At the same I do not want to imply that we must be present and understand everything about the process to understand the product. In many ways the analysis of products: writing, visual art, and music over the past eight years have confirmed the fact that the products correspond to the process. That is you can judge the quality of classroom practice by the products.
Without an understanding of the process, however, you cannot pin down the reasons for the outcomes. As a result a good evaluation and research must include a clear look at both.
As this administration focuses, and rightly so, on teacher performance and development it is useful to remember that it is the details that count.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A New Academic Year

As August unfolds we face a new academic year. With it a realization that we have to continue to explore ways to bring the arts into classrooms. The promise of a new administration with a different agenda that may help us in classrooms has dissipated. We are faced again with the fact that most of the publi wants the arts in school but consider them secondary to everything else. They are a great addition but also the first thing to go when budgets and time need to be allocated carefully. Thus, we are left in a constant effort to maintain and expand our efforts to teach in and through the Arts.
On our home front in the project we still have a group of teachers that are as committed as ever. All of our indicators show that working on this project empowered teachers as true professionals and helped teachers develop as professionals. We are working on a book highlighting the connected units that our teachers created. As this is a second hand report I will ask Nancy A. to post a little more about it.
The most important thing is that in our last year of funding we are not losing steam, in fact we are gaining momentum.

A thought: We create art to amplify the memory trace of our emotions and to share them with others.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Transition Back

I’m back at home, reflecting on the month of July and thinking about when and how to share the things I’ve learned. I’ve already made a presentation to one group during our district’s staff development days, but a few other ideas are percolating. I’ve got a supportive team around me, so things will get going with their help. I think the hard part will be making time to plan for one “big” event, so I’ll concentrate on one grade level at a time. Think anyone will voluntarily come?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I am surrounded here by a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience. Yet we are all learning and noticing things that we may have “walked by” before. The architectural detail, the story within the painting, the artist’s and architect's connection with the community, even the wallpaper!! We have spent our weekdays in class and related field trips and on the weekends we go together or alone and do more touring and learning about this part of the country. There really is not too much down time!

I’ve tried to get a chance to talk with each one of my fellow NEH'ers over the last 3 ½ weeks. About half are from New England and half from the rest of the country. They will be an inspiration and a resource to me after I leave here. We are all busy preparing final presentations for Thursday and Friday. I look forward to hearing from my new-found colleagues. This really has been an experience of a lifetime. (Although maybe that’s not the way to say it because I want to apply for another one when I’m eligible in three years!)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wow…this week has zipped by!
This institute has been a wonderful example of scholarly rigor. The presenters/scholars share with us what they know, back it up with references and THEN we get to see the REAL THING in person! This week we talked about landscape and literature. The Hudson River school of artists and authors such as James Fennimore Cooper and Henry Thoreau were introduced to me. We traveled to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut to experience the paintings in person. Much of the information was in greater depth than I can recall, but the connections between the literature and the art of the time are evident. I knew what I was looking at and had a sense of being in the presence of an artifact of history. There really is sooooo much more to a painting than originally meets the eye at first or quick glance!

Works of Art

A Salem State creative writing professor came to our class one day this week and presented a wonderful lesson on poetry! We were active participants in a lesson that I will some day replicate in a form for second graders. His “quotable quote” to me was … “A work of art (writing, painting, music) is a way of organizing your world and what you’ve learned.”-- JD Scrimgeour.

I think I need to do more art!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reading for class and for my unit. Landscapes will be a topic that our week will begin with. Took in the local landscape yesterday: the northeastern seacoast. Went to two different art museums today… one contemporary and one (old) European. Vastly different … light compared to dark, large spaces compared to small spaces. Working on my assignment (a unit).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I will never teach “President’s Day” the same way! Even at second grade the students know about Lincoln, a log cabin and the penny; Washington as the father of our country. But what do the presidential portraits reveal about the person and the office! Next February I will teach using resources from the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution. Last Friday we were enriched with the knowledge of yet another expert, Ellen Miles, from the NPG. The connections between the portrait, the person and the office were enlightening and fascinating We followed the content with actual doing. We were led in an art-making (self-portrait) lesson with a member of Lesley University’s art education faculty. I REALLY liked this part. I think we should do the art-making more often in this institute, but that’s my bend. It would probably raise the affective filter for some of my colleagues here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I am surrounded by history! Yesterday we toured a federal period house as well as the Salem Custom House. Nathaniel Hawthorne worked there.

Also these last two days we have visited museums and have received welcomes and presentations from their education departments. Representatives of both institutions made it clear that they value working with educators and want to make their collections useful to us. Many, including these museums, have great resources in person and online both. Yesterday was the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and today was the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester. At the PEM we completed activities related to using objects… observe, write, share. At the WAM she told us about the studio wing of their museum and how they strive to make a connection between looking at art and making art. Both are strategies that we encourage using in our Arts LINC classrooms. At the PEM I saw a “Panorama of a Whaling Voyage” (ca. 1860) --- a wooden stage with scrolling screens. It was a colonial version of Kamishibai. At the WAM I saw a Thomas Hart Benton “Corn and Winter Wheat” that will be a good landscape to show my students for during our Field to Table unit. We are seeing works of artists represented in the Picturing America poster sets that many schools across the country received from the NEH. Today we also saw the “real” Paul Reverse silver tea set too!

Connections, connections, connections.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Picturing America Institute

I am participating in a Picturing America National Endowment of the Humanities Teacher Institute this month at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts. I arrived on July 4 and it started on Sunday, July 5. It will be four weeks of listening, learning, sharing, observing, participating, and integrating visual art, language arts, and history! We have started off at a running pace! It is wonderful to have the opportunity to work with curricular specialists and others who have worked with integration in different settings. The faculty that has been assembled to lead us through these weeks already has my mind going in many directions. Their expertise both individually and collectively is amazing. I will need to narrow down some of my thoughts for a project, but for now I’m taking it all in and it’s comfortably spinning in my brain! This really is incredible! I’m thankful to have received this opportunity!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Prairie Bliss


We have a class of practicing and future teachers who are all learning about arts integration into the elementary classroom right now. The focus is the prairie and its' enveloping sense of place. As they are composing their narratives I am writing for the blog. As I/we teach this class I have this uncomfortable feeling. I am not as much in control as I'd like to be. It is a disconcerting feeling but in many ways it is good for me, for this is what I ask the teachers around me to do- get out of your comfort zone and try something else. Stay in this place where you are not in total control and be ok with it. We plan the lessons around the big ideas of integration but the truth is we do not know how it will come out, what will fall flat and will succeed.

This morning we stepped into the prairie in Spring Creek right outside Denton. We spent close to two hours walking around taking photographs. Slowly as time progressed we hushed fanned out and spent time connecting with the surroundings- with photographs as the focal lens. The mood was muted and perfect for sensing and focusing on emotions. We took the risk and the time... Still there is a lot to do to help these practicing and future teachers as well as ourselves make connections and link all of this to actual classroom instruction.

It would be great to examine these experiences as they develop, my guess is that my concerns and feelings are not unique.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Another Denver Airport post: Creative Teachers

We had our end of the year meetings in both sites over the last 10 days, Nebraska and California. As Monique, Nancy and I discussed the energy and immense productivity we saw in the meeting we started recognizing how uniquely creative and collaborative our teachers are. Our approach focuses on key ideas while letting teachers create their units and variations. The idea is that fidelity is to core ideas and not a prescribed lesson. Our principles are about process, thinking and integration. Our teachers have become amazing at using this platform to be creative. Even though grades have created units together the products were often different in meaningful ways. For example all second grades created a stamp as one assignment- but those were not uniform in the classes- showing that kids are creative, not between classroom showing that teachers are creative. More than that they UNDERSTAND what are the key ideas and where they can be creative and create variations that reflect their classrooms, individuality and skill/ comfort level.
As a researcher this has cost me much- and they are constantly aware of the research asking " we don't want to screw up the data". But the results are exactly what we wanted- implementation that is powered by teachers, sustainable, meaningful. For a second there I thought - if I had to retire right now, I would have retired happy.
If we want a creative generation we need to let teachers be creative! For that to happen professional development must provide the space for teacher creativity to emerge.

Monday, May 18, 2009

More Thoughts about Creativity

Before I start I'd like to send a hello to Regina Murphy of Ireland, and invite her to contribute to the blog (let me know and I'll set this up). I never intended this blog to be a one person act and what Regine is doing I find extremely interesting (I'll let her tell about it...).

In my last post I focused on skill as a part of creativity and potentially a filter for measuring "higher order" processes.
The question stays- what is creativity? My understanding is still evolving and this blog seems to be one of the places I do my thinking, so here goes:
Creativity has a strong creative domain component- like expertise in any field it is highly contextualized. If you are a sculptor a painter or a mathematician your deep understanding of your field is part of being creative or it at least a necessary but not sufficient condition. Such domain knowledge is what enables the artist (and I use this term to include anyone attempting to create an art product) to translate a vision, intent to a product. As Mike Jackson explained to me [I am paraphrasing] For me creativity is when I can translate what I see in my mind on the paper, then it is a good product. I care about the process the most, once it is done I stop being engaged.
Yet, people who describe themselves (or by others) as creative seem to be able to carry some of their creativity with them into new domains explore them and finally be engaged with them in full. Looking at the Universal Learning Model that my colleagues and I are focusing on- creativity becomes a multi-dimensional construct that combines several aspects of learning. The first is knowledge of the domain, most important is procedural knowledge that drives the creative process itself. Second is focus- single minded focus of attentional resources (i.e. working memory) to the task at hand. It is the experience of Flow or just extreme focus on the work that is often romantically portrayed. Finally and maybe the characteristic that most often helps the artist transcend a creative genre and learn a new one- Motivation.
The most universal feature of creativity is motivation. Motivation directs attention and allows the focus described above, which in turn leads to learning of new knowledge of the domain and most importantly the process. In motivation I think the most important features are slef-concept, seeing one's self as an artist or creative person. The second is the longing for complete engagement or flow. I think that once you develop Flow, you constantly search for it. And if you cannot find it you look for new domains in which you can re-experience it. Oliver Sacks describes such a case in "The Case of the Colorblind Painter". A desperate search by the artist for the way to rediscover flow probably the experience that ancient artists used to describe as the presence of a muse.
More later

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Being Skillful

We often disregard the skills. We want kids to think (adults too for that matter). As we try to measure things like creativity, we try to avoid the skill threshold or work around it.
I am like that too to a certain degree. But, as I think about these constructs I strongly believe that creativity, intelligence, and learning are all deeply embedded in domain knowledge and a threshold of skills that allow you to engage meaningfully with the the subject matter.
In other words, Tiger Woods that cannot putt well is just a golf bum who thinks a lot about the game, Einstein without his knowledge of math is just a crazy dude sleeping on a park bench. Before we disregard skills in favor of other "higher order" thinking we must remember that when Bloom created his taxonomy he did not mean that knowledge is not as important as any other level in his hierarchy.
Sooooo, my point is that teaching skills and measuring them should not be disregarded. Moreover, if we intend to measure any higher order thinking about these things- creativity, interpretation. We must also measure skills- to make sure that skills are not the filter that mediates what we measure. If we do not, what we claim is creativity may just be a proxy to skill level and out of school experiences.
In fact, I would argue that the only way to reliably measure creativity is a dynamic assessment in which students are first provided a meaningful context to work in and provide content knowledge and then their actions with these building blocks are measured.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I just finished the AERA presentation on literacy and arts. Despite the fact that we had a round table presentation on a friday afternoon- 7 people showed up.
I presented our the results but on the way conveyed key ideas that have been guiding our research for the past three years.
The first thing I thought was- we need a better forum. As much as I like the Arts and Learning special interest group- too few people pay attention. We must make sure that we reach a wide audience. I think we have something to say. There were also two graduate students in the mix and I thought to myself... they seem to be getting their education in a place that cannot support their interest in arts yo... So nery few places do that. Maybe we need to advertise our expertise or offer a way for students to participate in classes across institutions.
As you can sense these are only beginning thoughts as I enjoy my free afternoon in San Diego.
I can see a number of institutions with faculty interested in education in and through the arts creating a consortium that would help graduate students the kind of classes that really enhance their thinking. Maybe AEP can be the organizing mechanism...
Another random thought- Oxford University Press is interested in a book about arts integration. The editor and I had some ideas about what is needed and how a book can be molded in that direction but I invite comments from others...
Off to get some fish tacos...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What did I learn?

In my last post I was just before my visit to Skinner Academy Arts magnet.
So what did I learn? I learned that things are much better than I imagined in many areas but not all the way where we should be in other ways.
What is encouraging? Well all of our teachers are enthusiastic, they are excited to participate and do the cycles and all of that even when the project stops. What they really have said is- these are well designed units and they are part of our teaching now. We like them, the kids like them, they achieve our learning goals and require some energy in maintenance. I think that the project really encouraged this pattern by focusing on providing professional development and supports that lead to independent application. Our teachers do with a lot of support and very little other resources. As a result once practices become entrenched these "scaffolds" can be easily removed and the building still stands. After we will be gone teachers will not miss the resources as much because they have not come to rely on stipends, lavish classroom products etc.
So if it's all so good what is still missing?
The ongoing struggle is define the boundaries between the arts and music specialists and the classroom teachers. We have different ways of negotiating the boundaries in our different schools (this goes well beyond Skinner). The patterns are- disconnect: you do your thing I'll do my thing, Soap box: I am the expert on this (classroom teachers do this too) you must listen to me, Servitude- Tell what you need me to do . These are all paths on the way to true collaborative practice. We are simply not there yet.
Finally, I've seen only some evidence that the practices we encourage are "spilling over" to the general curriculum as an everyday occurrence. But more on that next week...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spending Time

Monday I am spending a whole day at Skinner Magnet Center. This is very exciting as I often do school and classroom visits but they are so short that I do not have enough time to sit and talk at length with multiple groups of teachers. As we planned our work this semester, the emphasis was on understanding what is happening in our schools. The results is this visit coming after multiple observations of participating teachers' classrooms.
The questions on my mind are many:
What is working well?
What are the obstacles to arts integration in the different grades?
How is the depth and consistency of arts integration mediated by teacher dynamics (leadership, group vs. individual teacher)?
How do they feel collaboration with Arts specialist is going?
Are teachers stretched or is there some capaciuty (now in our third year) to push even further?
Most important of all- how do they see and feel about arts integration? will they still be doing it after we left?
More questions than answers this week. I'll fill in some answers (or more questions) next week.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Change in Teacher Practice

It is still cold but I am assured that spring is almost here...
The question that is always on our mind is how do we help teachers change their every day practices while honoring the efforts and pressures they have to contend with daily.
Recently I read a masters thesis by Alinda Stelk one of Dr Kathy Wilson's students in it she quotes from Black and William:
Similiarly, Black and William state in their 1998 volume Inside the Black Box, "Teachers will not take up attractive sounding ideas, albeit based on extensive research, if these are presented as general principles which leave entirely to them the task of translating them into everyday practice- their classroom lives are too busy and too fragile for this to be possible for all but an outstanding few. What they need is a variety of living examples of implementation, by teacher with whom they can identify and from whom they can can both derive conviction and confidence that they can do better, and see concrete examples of what doing better means in practice" (pp.15-16)... Cahnages require teachers seeing temselves as learners and working with researchers to learn more."
The fit to our experiences is immediatly validating and daunting. Validating since it is identical in many ways to our practice, daunting because we need to imagine what such a system might look like. It does show as many of the AEMDD grants have in past and present that demonstration projects are invaluable labs for examining such change.
The question still remains; How do we translate it beyond existing projects? Or are we 'doomed' to have pockets of excellence in a sea almost completely devoid of Education in and trough the Arts? One possible answer has grown out of practice in Reading and more recently Math- coaching. Coaches are part of schools but they have the great advantage of focusing on "close distance". They are not of the classroom, but available enough and know enough to be immediately helpful. Their focus is mainly on helping teachers reach their potential and thus reach students mostly through the change in teachers practice. Coaches have the time and distance to think compare and transfer new ideas as well as plan, assess, and critique.
In a recent visit to a reading first school I discussed the new vocabulary emphasis with the coach (one of our best).
She said "We wanted all of our teachers to go into the units and decide which vocabulary should be taught. It was too much for them, finally me and [a coach from another school] used some time in the summer to go through the units and pull the vocabulary out. They simply did not have the time!" Her experience similar to ours is that teachers can be asked to do so much at any point, as expertise grows they can do more but still they need modeling, support and ideas- and I would claim, coaches in their close distance are the way to go.
We can think about it as re purposing the teaching artist/ artist in residence more explicitly guiding them to work with teachers as many projects have been doing to a certain degree for a long while. But as I read my own text I realize that repurposing is the wrong approach. We need the artists to help us build domain knowledge but coaches who are (were) classroom teachers as coaches. It goes back to the observation of Black and William:"What they need is a variety of living examples of implementation, by teacher with whom they can identify and from whom they can can both derive conviction and confidence that they can do better".
Can we (those outside the classroom) do better?

Friday, February 27, 2009


We have reached a great point in our project. As in all professional development we spend quite a while building understanding , confidence in each other, and fidelity to the program.
We use fidelity in a very different sense than other programs. When we talk about fidelity is not about adhering to a specific script, instead its about confirming to "big ideas" of integration, quality and discourse.
The process by which teachers learn trust and accept the research team and vice versa is long. In my experience, it takes at least two full years of work together usually much more. I also believe that many projects never actually get to the point where participants from all sides feel confidence about what they are doing and what everyone else is doing.
In Arts LINC we are there. We now have quite a few teachers that keep us honest. Let me give you an example, one of our teachers emailed me today about a problem in our Teacher Log. Some other teachers expressed concern but he questions were concrete grounded in the work. I immediately found that in answering her questions (coming from a need to understand and help the research) I found some of the redundancy in our data collection. I was called to the carpet and found wanting (in a small way). Similarly another teacher looking at the data for kindergarten is asking pesky questions. When I say pesky I mean they bother me because they force me to think again about my chain of reasoning and force me to retrace my steps and make sure my data and interpretations are correct. I lose that- so if you are teachers on any research project, ask, question, participate. Do not let your question prevent you from action, but remember that the researchers can learn from you as much as you larn from them. That is what makes ist so valid ... and fun.
Not much about art this time-

Friday, January 23, 2009

Getting our hands dirty

We all are afraid to get our hands dirty, metaphorically the army every friday was dedicated to cleaning our equipment, as a loader and later Tank commander I was in charge of cleaning the machine guns. Early friday I would start the dance of trying to clean without getting dirty. The problem is that everything needed to be washed in a half barrel of diesel and motor oil. The dance would usually end midmorning with me covered with a few diesel stains. From that point on I would embrace the dirt and oil. I did not care anymore, but as a result had the cleanest MGs in the company. The metaphor for me is clear. To do something well we sometimes have to get our hands dirty, and embrace the dirt.
Some teachers I know are literally avoiding trying any 'messy' media. I have really tried to resist professional development. It's not that I do not do a decent job, instead it's the feeling that I'd rather do something else. As a result I tried to use colleagues and students in that capacity. Having done some professional development recently- which turned out well, I finally realized I have to get my hands dirty and love it. Stretching the metaphor, I think that Education in and through the arts should identify these areas that canbeuseful but nobody wamts to touch. Then we shpuld take the plunge.
Come to think of it, quantitative research is exactly one such area, but I am sure there are others. Thoughts anyone?