Sunday, January 22, 2017

PYP, TAB and single media

One issue that arose straight away for me as I began my choice based art journey was how I could really delve into one particular medium with my students.  I was particularly worried about a finicky medium like clay or more complex printmaking.

Would reference materials (handouts/QR Codes/posters at a Studio Center) and a 5 minute demo be enough for the kids to learn technique and processes and not create a whole class full "kiln bombs"?  I wasn't convinced that it would.

In the end, the whole grade level "did clay" but in a way that is different than I've ever taught before. In fact, two whole grade levels are currently doing clay and it is one of the most fun units that I have ever taught due to the creativity of what the kids are coming up with and the overall level of engagement in the room.

Ceramics then and now...which class would you rather have been in as a child and which is more pleasing to an adult aesthetic?

On the left are Greek pots-- a few years back I collaborated with a homeroom unit on Storytelling and the children learned about how the pictures on the ancient Greek pots told a story via the paintings on them.  We also delved into form and function and how each pot was shaped differently depending on what it was made to carry.  Each child chose a traditional form to create and wrote a story that was painted on the pot.  I loved that unit. *sniff 

This is the part of TAB that I struggle with the most, because there is a part of me that feels like the kids are missing out on that important and deep exploration of the historical context.  I am reminded of Ron Richard's work on the Cultural Forces that define a classroom and one of them is Time.  Time to dig deep and to formulate and share thoughtful responses to a topic.  A five minute Art History lesson no matter how well intentioned isn't enough.  

Maybe the answer is that TAB teachers have to work harder to get their students to make connections between what they are making and other artists, whether those artists happen to currently live in your community or lived in Athens in 500 BC.  I would argue that traditional art teachers have it easy (and I feel comfortable saying this because this is the way I taught art for most of my career)-- study Ancient Greece and make a Greek Pot, study Ancient Egypt and make a sarcophagus.  

What a TAB art teacher, and more specifically a PYP/TAB art teacher who uses a concept based curriculum might do is introduce the concept of an artifact and ask the students-- if people 2000 years in the future found broken shards of your ceramic piece, what information would it give them about your life?  What makes you say that? What did pot shards tell us about life in Ancient Greece?  How do we know? How can we find out more?  This will certainly take more time than a 5 minute demo and I would consider that time well spent.

At the end of the day, if you are teaching conceptually and through exploration does it really matter if they make a Greek pot or a dinosaur plaque or a mug for their mother's birthday?  What tools can we as teachers use to gauge understanding without micromanaging creativity?  

Here is a start: a general rubrics.  I leave this Ceramic Rubric up on the SmartBoard as the kids are working and refer to it often.  
We also put a lot of thought into planning the project.  Everyone had to start with either a pinch pot or a slab and they used the Studio Habit: Envision to create their work in their mind's eye.  As they worked, their sketchbooks needed to be open to this completed page so that I could help them and have an understanding of what their goal was.  This was a critical piece as it allowed me to help them much more efficiently and it kept the kids on track.  

I will certainly post a follow up with all the pieces that they've created.  If you're looking for more information about TAB and single media, check out this blog post by Jean Barnett.

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