The Poetry of Seeing
Learning to “see” guides the foundational elements of my life: faith, family, and career. What I call “the poetry of seeing” colors our experiences when we come into this world. At some point during our life, though, many of us lose this sense of wonder; our vision becomes clouded by the full-ness of life. I believe the visual arts—both teaching it and making it—is key to maintaining this critical sense of wonder and maintaining one’s way of seeing the world. For my students, I see how experiencing the visual arts helps them reflect on self and their role in the world. Educational philosopher John Dewey (1897) declared education “begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.” Working with younger children, I get to see them transition out of unconsciousness into understanding by using visual arts education to develop their “poetry of seeing”.
Filling Gaps, Meeting Needs
I taught high school for many years and during that time I found my urban students lacked many of the foundational skills they should have at that age. For them, that usually translated into drawing representationally. From this observation, I developed a series of extensive art exercises that were not only committed to teaching necessary skills for my class, but also instill critical life skills such as perseverance, flexibility, and ownership.
Transitioning from high school to elementary was game changing in terms of my teaching practice, and through reflection, I realized a shift in thinking was needed. Though I saw parallel issues between the age groups, I did not initially realize the importance of child development in providing successful support for their learning needs. I shifted from emphasizing “practice makes perfect” to a variety of projects built around a central theme that also exposes students to a variety of media. And though the mode of teaching may be different from high school, I still challenge my elementary students to persevere, remain flexible, and take ownership.
My role as an art educator has shifted as the age of my students has grown younger; I have moved from being a resource of knowledge and skills, to a provider of encouragement and support. While I still ask my students questions to challenge them in their thinking, the questions have gotten shorter, are less pointed, and need to be repeated more often. In this way, I serve my students more as a guide in their explorations so they do not lose that sense of wonder the process of art making can afford a young mind. I have come to see that art class needs to be less about doing it perfectly and more about learning what opportunities and choices exist at a given time, and finding comfort and resolve in making choices, as they learn to think like an artist.
In this educational climate, assessment of student learning has become paramount to providing effective instruction and setting attainable goals. In response to this call, I have developed both formative and summative assessment practices from elementary though high school grades.
As a high school teacher, I developed assessment strategies that challenged students’ higher order thinking skills and diversified my grading rubric. These strategies included quizzes and tests on materials and techniques, critique of artistic intent and art history, and analysis of theme and context. As an elementary art teacher, I have had to expand my thinking on both qualities of student learning and assessment strategies. Based on my reflections on the artistic development of children, I now take into account cognitive, social, emotional and physical modes of learning. In addition, I must account for less contact time with students given the art-once-a-week schedule adopted by most elementary schools. In response to these learning needs and an adjustment in my teaching style, I have developed a series of assessment strategies such as: daily progress grades, process criteria in rubrics, etc. Each modified and administered in a developmentally appropriate way.
Refining through Reflection
My approach in life and in teaching is founded on self-reflection, responsiveness to others’ needs, and developing a sense of self. For example, in teaching the difference between “critique” and “criticism” I lay out the importance of artistic refinement. Once students understand that reflection is a doorway to inspiration and further growth, they open themselves up to that process and its benefits.
Seeing the Poetry
Grant Wood, 20th century artist, wrote, “the aim of art education in the public schools is not to make more professional artists but to teach people to live happier, fuller lives; to extract more out of their experience, whatever that experience may be.” My ideals of visual arts education and its role in encouraging the “poetry of seeing” align, and it is a message I send to both parents and school administration.
Dewey, John, “My Pedagogic Creed.” The School Journal, Volume LIV, Number 3 January 16, 1897: pages 77-80. Print.
Wood, Grant, “Art in the Daily Life of the Child.” Rural America, March 1940: pages 7-9. Print.