Thinking through the AENJ Conference

art_is_inf_bannerWhoosh! What a whirlwind experience the past two weeks have been!

October 3rd and 4th found me in north Jersey at my regional art educator’s conference. Art is Infinite, was this year’s theme. When I got the preliminary agenda in August and saw the number of sessions that offered literacy integration I decided I couldn’t miss this year’s conference. Plus, with the Common Core casting its dark shadow over the face of the Earth, it seemed like Providence was giving me a nudge. So, these next few posts will be covering some of the information and insights I gleaned from this year’s AENJ Conference, Art is Infinite. I welcome your feedback.

Well, my conference experience did not start out very well thanks to a contentious parking garage meter. As such, I missed the first session I wanted to sit in on, SGO’s and Assessment, with Rosie Singalewitch. I sent her an email and she quickly replied. Once I get a chance to look through her presentation and think through the information I’ll post a comment. Therefore, let me move on to my first session.

Fostering Student Writing in the Art Room

The description for the session read:

Interested in having students write statements about their artwork and helpful, positive feedback for classmates? Use Artsonia to showcase students’ Artist Statements and peer comments. Writing exercises and prompts shared.

I’ve never used Artsonia, the premier online school-based portfolio software, though I signed my school up for an account last year. I have to admit to being leery of it simply because I have heard about how much time it takes to implement and maintain the account. But, I’m planning on doing something with it this year to experiment so I’m sure I’ll be writing about my Artsonia experience at some point soon.

Truth be told, I was actually more interested in the handouts (see below) that Patty Gallagher gave us than most of what was said about Artsonia. But, that said, let me quickly cover my take-away about Artsonia. Like many who use the online school-based portfolio software, Patty writes descriptions for the art projects that her students do so their is context for those browsing the site. In addition to this, she has her students write a blurb about their experience with the project as an artist statement, a feature within Artsonia. The site leaves it up to the writer (or teacher, if this is an assignment tied to the project) how literal you want to make your statement. Traditionally, artist statements, as written by professional artists, cover the current direction of their work, their inspiration and, possibly, the future direction of their work. Since elementary art students don’t have a body of work, per se, the statements focus a few sentences on the specific project, the inspiration and what they liked about their piece. So, Artsonia’s attempt to get kids thinking of themselves as artists and including an opportunity for an age-appropriate ‘artist statement,’ is a good step. And, as Patty Gallagher points out, it is an effective way to introduce descriptive and reflective writing into your art curriculum.

Patty Gallagher, by the way, is an elementary art teacher who educates 700 students in two schools in Parsippany, NJ. With 15 years experience teaching at the elementary level, she brought up wonderful points about how she incorporates writing in her art program. So, as I said, the Artsonia component of the session was fine, but what interested me more was her handouts.

Simple, Directed, Age-Appropriate

The first handout, called Write About Art, was very straight-forward: a panel at the top for a simple drawing with an age-appropriate, guided writing exercise underneath.

  • Gr K-1
    Specialty fonts that emulated dotted lines were used to highlight key vocabulary. Students were to trace key words used in the sentence under the area for them to draw.
  • Gr 2-5
    The drawing area at the top remained the same. Students were to complete an age-appropriate fill-in-the-blank statement about their drawing at the top using terms from a word bank.

These worksheets also appeared manageable from a grading perspective–always an important consideration for us elmentary art teachers who can service hundreds of students. They could be scanned quickly and provided an effective way to confirm the student understood how the vocabulary tied into the visual assignment. The application of the samples Patty provided could be extended to a host contexts for an art class and at any age level.

The second handout was called Color. It was visually chunked out using graphical containers for the main concepts relevant to the the concept. Paintings were covered as a primer for a brief writing assignment on the back using age-appropriate means: vocabulary word tracing (k-1) visual literacy-building skills tasks (2-5). As with the Write About Art worksheet, these could easily be reproduced and applied across a wide variety of topics and ages.

Lastly, Patty provided a brief lesson plan called Monster Art and how writing was incorporated in lesson. She showed slides of final projects which were cute.


If you are an art teacher who attends the Art Educators of NJ Fall Conference, then I would take the opportunity to attend a session she is leading if she presents for 2014. Her practical experience and willingness to share from that experience made for a positive experience.

Her recommendations included:

  • Types of Writing
    • Descriptive
    • Reflective/Evaluative
    • Journal/Creative Expression
  • When to Write
    • At the start of class (e.g., journaling)
    • After a project (e.g., reflective/evaluative, artist statement)
  • Progression of Skills
    • K: Dotted lettering to trace
    • 1: Dotted lettering to trace
    • Fill-in-the-blank with Word Bank
    • Fill-in-the-blank
    • Verbal descriptions, adjective lists
    • Written analysis paragraph
  • Provide Examples
    • Post display signs explaining project
    • Post a description of project on Artsonia
  • Sharing
    • Display writing with artwork
    • Artist Statement posting
  • Help with Words
    • Vocabulary word wall

Do you have similar tools you use in class to help your students with understanding art terminology and conceptsapplying art skills and reinforcing literacy in your art program?


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