Monday, November 25, 2013

"Art makes you smart"

Here is an article published in the 11/24/13 New York Times about some research and data collected from school age children who went to an art museum, some for the first time. The information validates some of the goals of teaching art:
  • critical thinking
  • increased social tolerance
  • historical empathy
  • (my personal favorite) divergent thinking

FOR many education advocates, the arts are a panacea: They supposedly increase test scores, generate social responsibility and turn around failing schools. Most of the supporting evidence, though, does little more than establish correlations between exposure to the arts and certain outcomes. Research that demonstrates a causal relationship has been virtually nonexistent. 

Here at Capitol Hill we are trying our own small experiment to see if the new art program has a measurable impact on a certain area of learning.  I won't say anymore at this point, but if there is a difference in the specific test scores after my targeted projects, I'll be certain to announce it. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Talent verses Learning

Without writing a complete research paper, I wanted to speak to my core philosophy of art education.
I believe that skills, understanding and creativity processes are totally learn-able.  I have not always understood this as wholeheartedly as I do now, but have been convinced as I have seen it happen consistently and repeatedly during my many years of teaching.

I hate to say it in writing, but I went to school in the 1970's when the approach to art education was to provide opportunity and let students "create," explore and see what happens.  While I enjoyed exploring, I remember even then wanting and asking for some systematic instruction, other than just "go for it."

As an artist and teacher (though I did not get my art education degree until 16 years ago) I have always taught art as a series of steps in a process. I did have to answer in my mind, was art class to be offered with an elective attitude, as in students can come but only try as hard as they feel like? Or were the activities and exercises in class requiring mandatory participation?  I had to reconcile my early training with my belief and commitment to art education, and to my teacher/parent/adult observation that successfully participating in any endeavor requires strong work ethic and that strong, solid, consistent work ethic is key to successful adulthood.

In my MAT program at L+C I learned about Vgotsky's zone of proximal development, and that theory articulated why I should require students to participate in art class. 

Vygotsky's Example of the ZPD
Vygotsky (1978) provides an example of the zone of proximal development by illustrating how two children of the same age chronologically (10 years) and mentally (eight years) solve a given problem at their developmental level. Vygotsky’s example suggests the two children should arrive at the same solutions to the problem, but when the children are given the opportunity to solve the problem with assistance (social interaction and the child’s active participation in the problem); it shows that one child can solve the problem at a twelve-year-old level, and one at a nine-year-old level.
more on Vygotsky

As a teacher sets up learning opportunities along with instruction, students master those skills and expanded understanding and are able to do more and more complex and sophisticated visual communication.  They learn and grow.

Society often sees art as difficult or ambiguous, but my experience with students is that they learn it quite quickly, and even abstraction and emotional art forms make complete sense to their youthful minds.  Kids are good at art!
...and I am happy to bring it to them.

Friday, October 18, 2013


News from the Art Studio @ Capitol Hill School

 October 2013

In case you haven't clicked on the Philosophy and Expectations tab, I have copied that page here.
As a brand new program and a brand new teacher to Capitol Hill, you don't know me nor how I approach teaching art.  People have lots of different views on how it should be done because it has been an unregulated, undefined subject area for years and years.  That suits me fine as I am an independent thinker and over my years of teaching, have developed a philosophy that is effective with students at differing developmental stages and true to my experience as an artist and teacher.

Teaching Philosophy – Visual Art

Someone said “Art documents the human experience.”  I believe that statement is true.  Art gives us a window into the thoughts and perspectives of the artist (student who makes art); it is a graphic version of communication in its literal (representative, recognizable objects) and emotional forms (color, texture and shape).   Teaching of communication skills combined with guided opportunities to practice is a valuable portion of any education.  Art skills and concepts are completely learnable and in my experience they are often easier for students to master than many of the other concepts and skills taught in school. 

Humans are meant to make things with their hands.  It is only in very recent history that we have become major consumers and not makers of stuff.  We need to and enjoy making and manipulating materials, assembling layers and understanding the sequence of building processes.  The making of art or art activities are important to satisfaction in our lives.

Famous artists are wonderful and historically interesting, but they are just human.  My teaching strives to demystify art and artists.  What they do is not other-worldly and impossible to recreate.  Artists are just people who took the time to learn skills and commit to their craft and follow through with their ideas. We/students can be artists too when we decide to make intentional effort to master skills (at our own developmental level), control materials and communicate our inspirations and ideas visually.

Expectations for Art Students of all ages

Students need to come to class ready to learn, with an open mind, and willing to try new activities.

The classroom expectations for behavior are no different than a regular classroom, in terms of attentively listening to the explanation, lesson and each other as we brainstorm and discuss the possibilities.  Students need to use their best judgement and respect for the tools, materials and each other.

I expect each student to try and to work to hone his/her skills, so his/her finished product is the best it can be and clearly understandable to whomever views it.  Learning to wrestle with a project, critiquing and needing to rework it, builds persistence of character and the confidence that effort retries and restarts can become successes (and often do).
The end result is that the student will "own" his/her work and be able to take full credit for the accomplishment.

Children have great ideas, a strong sense of color and balance and composition (how it all is arranged).  Art training and the opportunity to work with materials and learn to handle those mediums effectively gives the kids a chance to create and communicate successfully in visual way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September 2013

We have gotten off to a smooth start of a new year and a NEW PROGRAM!  Supplies have been ordered and delivered and the classroom has been set up.  Students have been coming to class since the first few days of school. 

My first impressions are very positive.  The students are very capable, ready to learn and learn quickly.  I notice they are self-reliant and are excellent at taking responsibility to move on to the next logical step.  I believe that attribute is the result of clear expectations from parents and teachers.  These kids are well trained and sharp. 

So, as a teacher, students like this are fun to teach and can move far and at a good pace.  This promises to be a very good year.

Here is what we are working on:
You will notice many self-portraits, review of art vocabulary and simple drawing/coloring skills.  Beginning this way I can make sure we are all starting with the same tools. 
I have removed names from all student work, with a handy iphoto tool.  That may be inconvenient but I would prefer to be discreet online.

Kindergarten- see tab

1st grade- see tab

2nd grade- see tab

3rd grade- see tab

4th grade- see tab

5th grade- see tab

So as you can see we are busy.

If you have any questions or comments concerning your children, please contact me.

Nancy Helmsworth