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Standards vs. Differentiation, a lesson plan

I have been solo teaching since the semester in Drawing and Painting.  Part of my planning is to rework or create lesson plans that fit a newer format the district art departments are trying to implement.  The purpose of the new format is to provide continuity in instruction and to be able to have clear standards for each lesson.  The planning takes fifteen times longer than it will take to teach the lesson but it is vital.  With a clear plan and clear expectations, lessons go smoother and students are more engaged.  The planning keeps both me and the students on track, even though I have learned to be flexible within my time frames.

2-Negative Shape lesson

One of the sections of the lesson plans that I have been working on is the section for modifications.  I have modifications for English Language Learners and Special Ed students who need various types of modifications but I noticed that the lessons have not made specific modifications for gifted students.  I have started including those in my lesson planning.  We do have a year-long Advanced Placement art class for which students must submit a portfolio.  All the other classes are one semester only.  Of the seventeen-hundred students in our high school, only thirty per year can take AP art.  The other students with an artistic bent must go through the same classes as everyone else.  The great thing about art is that it is possible to accommodate a wide range of skill-level within one class.  All our classes are mixed grades and include students from fourteen to eighteen.  It takes some planning to make it workable but it is such a joy to see, in the same class, students who are just beginning to find their creative skills and students who are well-acquainted with their creative side in what Pressley and McCormick called the “zone of proximal development” (Pressley & McCormick 2007. P. 156).  Adjusting instruction to reach all the students, using the visual arts standards for the State of Washington is not as difficult as it seemed at the beginning of the school year.  It turns out, it just takes planning.  When I started this internship, I felt deeply that the word standards was at odds with the word differentiation, and it seemed impossible to differentiate instruction while my overriding guide must be a set of rigid standards.  But I am learning to appreciate that the standards have, built into them, flexibility to teach to all levels.   I look forward to modifying my own lesson further so that every student gets the most out of their time in my art classes.

Pressley, M. & McCormick, C.B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators.  New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Positive Discipline

Student behavior problems can interfere with instruction and make the classroom a place for negative interaction rather than learning.  We had a special staff meeting last week on Positive Discipline.  It was a timely introduction for me.  That very same day, I had a student who had several times over the last couple of weeks, simply refuse to work.  This particular day, he scribbled all over his artwork and turned it in, giving himself a failing grade when he filled out the rubric.  My mentor teacher and I have spoken with him and she emailed his parents, who assured us they would be speaking with him about behavioral expectations and responsibility.  Still, he refuses to work and his noncompliance is preventing him from learning in class.

There were several ideas in the Positive Discipline meeting that were immediately useful to me in class.  First was learning to look at behavior issues in a different way.  Instead of the usual explanation of believing that the student’s behavior is an intentional attempt to get attention, we can look at noncompliant or disruptive behavior as a lack of skills; skills we can help to teach the student.  Sometimes students do not have parents who teach them social skills or adaptability.  With this change in viewpoint, the logical intervention changes from one of imposed consequences to one of teaching students the skills of flexibility and frustration tolerance.  To make that change, we must be mindful of the Positive Discipline definition of good teaching.  It is a three-part definition.

1.  Be responsive to the hand you’ve been dealt (deal with the students you have, not the ones you wish you had).

2.  Be responsive to the needs of the individual.

3.  Be responsive to the needs of the group.

I am still struggling with the same particular student but I now believe that it is up to me to find a positive way to help him learn to be more compliant, remembering that, as the Positive Discipline speakers reminded us, compliance is a cognitive skill.  As a teacher, can teach that skill-set to my students.

I am often reminded that good teaching is very much like good parenting.  We must model the behavior we want students to display.  We must teach students the knowledge and skills they do not have; social, personal, as well as in the content area we teach.  The Positive Discipline introduction will be the first of several staff meetings on Positive Discipline.  I am looking forward to the other meetings.

Dramatic Pause

Yesterday I attended our school theater performances in which the students direct and sometimes write the short skits they perform.  They call it Dramatic Pause, and the performances are judged so students get feedback from people other than their regular theater teacher.  Students manage the lighting, sound, props (there is a theater production class students can take with a wood shop where they make props for all the productions at the school), the costumes.  It was great fun and the skits were everything from serious to silly.  The high school improv team did a few interactive pieces with the audience and cracked everyone up.  What I really like about the theater performances is that each time, I see different students that I know from my classes and I get to meet their parents and friends.  Being involved with activities outside of class can be difficult for many students.  Some have jobs, or family responsibilities, or are new to the country and unfamiliar with extracurricular activities that are different from sports.  Don’t misunderstand me, I like sporting events, too but there are varied and rich opportunities for students of which sports are one component.  The school years, and in particular, the high school years, open up students to an array of possibilities their families might not have considered, be able to afford, or even know about.

2012-11-15 Garfield Theatre 1

When I was a high school student, I did not participate in extracurricular activities for the reasons I mentioned.   My father was an immigrant who learned English after he was  an adult.  My mother grew up during the depression and did not finish high school.  Neither had experience with extracurricular school activities, and those they learned about from us were often things they could not afford.  I talk to my students in class about what they are participating in outside of school and I try to get to different activities (swim meets, theater, music,  political groups).  I want to offer students a view of what they can get from their time at school and it’s more than merely classroom learning.  They learn how to be in the world, how to interact socially, how to take on leadership roles, how to work for and with others, how to question, and how to begin to find their own way.  That’s what school should do.  It should prepare young people to face the world and be able to learn without us.  In many ways, teaching is like parenting.  As my sister always says, “A Mother’s job is to be left.”  If we do our jobs right, our children will leave us and be ready to move forward with their lives without us.  That describes teaching, too.  Certainly we are important and can teach students many things, but we must not only teach them what we can about our subject.  We must help them be ready to leave us and continue to learn on their own.   Giving students the chance to explore many aspects of our society while they are with us (theater, art, sports, mathematics, the sciences, literature, music), makes them ready for the world.  I will continue to acquaint myself with what is happening at the school and encourage my students to take advantage of opportunities.

Sweet Algebra

This morning I observed an experienced math teacher use chocolate to teach algebra.  This teacher was recommended by my mentor teacher as someone who commands a class with her mere presence.  She can.  She also has a big, booming voice.  She also knows her students.  The class I observed was a mixed class of 10,11, and 12th graders.  They were learning about exponential growth and decay by gathering data from cups filled with M & Ms.  The teacher explained the procedure and let the students know the chocolate was theirs to eat only after they collected all their data.  They would have a chance to snack while making calculations.  The students were very engaged and working on their problems and the teacher circulated around the room, stopping at every table group to answer questions and provide guidance.  The students had varying amounts of M & Ms in their cups so they each had to do their own calculations, but they helped each other understand how to do it.  The class was noisy and lively and they were working on math of all things!  It was great.

One of the reasons I like to observe other teachers in their classes is that I find it interesting and encouraging to see how each teacher puts their individual personality characteristics to work.  I have been struggling the past few weeks with my solo teaching, trying to teach classes in ways that my mentor teachers would teach the material.  My mentor teachers are still in the classroom most of the time, working at their desks while I am teaching, and their presence exerts an unintended pressure to do it their way.  They are, after all, my guides in this.  They are also each strong personalities.   The problem is, I am not them and I could not teach like them if I tried (obviously, since I have tried).  This afternoon, I talked with my mentor teachers about that.  They were very helpful and reminded me that I do just fine when I make the lessons my own because then I feel free to teach them my own way, putting my own personality qualities to work for me.  One way for me to do that is to make sample art projects like I did for the lessons I devised.  So  I will be making more art so I can better guide my students to make art.  It’s not chocolate–but then, it’s not algebra, either.

Policies, ethics, and difficult choices.

I am interning in a school with a large percentage of former students working in it.  Teachers, Special Education aides, coaches, and even our principal, are alumni of this ninety-year-old high school.   I attend all the regular staff meetings plus the staff meetings that are for new teachers (and interns).  I am interested to learn how everything works in the public school system and in this school in particular.  What makes it different from private schools and how do policies get adopted, changed, or abandoned?  Why do so many alumni of this school come back here to teach?

This is my first experience teaching in public schools.   Before now I taught in private schools overseas.  They are usually referred to as International Schools, though there are so many different rules and regulations depending on what country one is in that there really is no system to them.  Most are privately owned and run and the owners can and do determine policy with no input from teachers, who come and go on short-term contracts.  The administrators are there to enforce the policies.  Policy makers (owners), administration, and teachers working as a team is sometimes possible but more often than not teamwork is neither expected nor striven for.

In our staff meetings since the very beginning of the year I found an amazing amount of respect and goodwill between the administration at my school and the teachers.  Teachers felt as if administration had the same goals they did: student learning.  The teachers I have observed at this school have been professional and caring toward their students.  As with most teachers, they work long hours that include nights, weekends, holidays, and summer breaks to make sure their students get the best they have to offer.  Administration asks for feedback from teachers and teachers seem to welcome the observations and feedback they get from the administration team.  There is goodwill on both sides.

This school year might have strained that goodwill but miraculously has not.  This year, teachers have determined that it is unethical for them to administer a test required by the school district and have respectfully refused to do it.  http://scrapthemap.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/scrap-the-map-forum-at-the-university-of-washington/  Teachers were threatened with consequences by the district and many feared for their jobs.  Still, they stuck to what they believed was the ethical choice.  Finally, the administration team was ordered to administer the test, which they did.  The way the situation was handled seemed to this outsider destined to create cracks in the smooth workings of the school.  It has not done that.  Administrators respect teachers’ decisions and understand that teachers had the students’ best interests in mind when they took their stand.  Teachers have supported the administrators in doing what they were obligated to do by the district (administer the test).  The fact that this school still maintains its focus on the students makes me feel more optimistic about our public school system.  This school’s students know that their teachers care about them and as the research shows, that one fact is more important than whether a teacher is experienced, has advanced subject knowledge, or is even up to date on current teaching techniques.  The teachers, administrators, and students in this school work hard at maintaining a positive learning community.  No wonder so many graduates come back to work here.

Art Teachers Professional Learning Community

High school art teachers in this district meet several times during each school year to work toward shared goals in art education.  We met this week at another high school art room for several hours.  This school  there are two main focuses for the meetings.

One focus is something called the Cornerstone Assessment (also known as the Classroom-Based Performance Assessment).  For art classes, this is akin to a semester final in algebra, or history, or American literature classes.  It is a way for students to put their best foot forward and show us what they have learned over the course of the semester.  The state of Washington requires this assessment and has one that has been used in Drawing and Painting classes for several years.  Teachers were not thrilled with that plan as it was too specific and left little room for modification.  It also left virtually no opportunities for students to be creative, or to put something of themselves into the project.

With help from the Wallace Foundation Grant, teachers have worked since last school year to devise better Cornerstone assessments which the State plans to adopt.  At the start of the school year, they shared what they had created.  Lessons and assessments were developed for Drawing and Painting, Ceramics, and Photography.  Teachers taught and assessed these lessons in their classes and reported back on what worked and what needed modification.  All three of these are broad enough for teacher modification and more importantly, student voice.  The Drawing and Painting lesson is one on Art as Statement.  One teacher did silhouettes, another mixed media, another printmaking.  The Ceramics lesson is a teapot which students design and make using all the hand-building skills they have learned over the semester.  The teapot must say something about the student, either culturally, or personally.  Photography does a photo-montage with images that fit into different framework.  These are wonderful projects, allowing students to push themselves as far as they can.

The other focus of the meetings was finding ways to effectively and accurately assess the 21st Century Skills .  These are more than just art skills.  They are life skills.  They are the vital but often un-measurable requirements of success in life.  How do you measure whether a student has a growth mindset and believes that they can improve if they persevere?  How do you measure creative thinking?  Well, it is totally possible but it takes some effort on the part of the teacher.  Teachers must observe their students, get to know them, draw them out so they communicate through art, teach them how to make art, talk about it and write about it.  Teachers must create opportunities for students to work collaboratively, to persuade, to motivate, to be flexible, to take on responsibility and allow others to do so.

I feel very fortunate to be able to go to these pivotal meeting during my internship.  It seems education in the US is changing direction (albeit slowly) and beginning to include the less measurable, but oftentimes more important life skills in our teaching.  What a great time to go into teaching.

Treasure Island

I took my daughter and granddaughter to see the school’s performance of Treasure Island.  The drama department puts on one play particularly for children every year and invites all the nearby elementary schools to come during the school day to see it.  They also put on one evening performance so others in the community can come.  My granddaughter loved the play, especially the crazy song and dance routine about cheese that somehow fit weirdly into the story (she’s a little cheese lover).  She was tickled to get up onstage afterward and see the props up close.  My granddaughter is two and a-half and calls her daycare The Small School and my internship site The Big School.   It is very exciting for her to come to the big school for an event, just like it is for the younger relatives of the students.

vivi treasure islan

When we arrived, we saw one of my mentor teachers there with her niece, nephew, daughter, and two great-nephews.  The performance hall was rather full and included family members of the performers, teachers, and many of our high school students.  Several of my students were in the production and it was, as it always is, great to see them outside of class.  I often wonder what other interests my students have.  Art is informed by everything we do and learn and it helps me to better support my art students in class when I know a little of what interests them outside of class.  What was really fabulous was to see how many parents and siblings were there to support their students’ performances.  Cameras were flashing like mad at the end of the play and the pirates were posing with their swords and taking their sisters and brothers backstage to see the workings of the theater.


Students appreciate it when teachers can go to some of the school events.  Even though teachers are really busy, going to even a few extracurricular events during the year is worth more than one might think.  Students remember that a teacher went, and will talk more readily to that teacher.  The same holds true for parents.  Talking to a parent outside the classroom is easy and less stressful for them (and me).  I can chat and get to know parents without them worrying that I am there to talk to them about their child’s failing grade or bad behavior.

And really, even though it’s required for this program, going to the extracurricular activities is encouraging.  They make me feel good about the future.  When my friends start talking about how bad teens are these days, I contradict them.  I remind them that I see teens all day in classes, and also at swim meets, clubs, cultural activities, musical performances and theater productions.  The teens I know are mostly pretty amazing.

Art and Special Ed

Collaboration with other teachers seems at first difficult for a student teacher who does not yet have professional standing.  There are some things we simply cannot do on our own…yet.  One of the things my mentor teacher does is to include me in all the meetings with the Special Ed teacher/caseworker who is assigned to our two sculpture students.  I wrote about these two students (one in a wheelchair and the other with Asperger’s syndrome) early in the school year and mentioned that my mentor teacher was the first one to welcome them to her class.  It has been eye-opening for me to be involved in the planning, accommodation, teaching, and particularly important for this principle, working with the Special Ed department in the best interests of all our students.  This process has been one of both joy and frustration and has evolved into a terrific relationship between art and Special Education.

At the beginning of the semester, there were misunderstandings about expectations from both sides.  Our special needs students did not always have an aide, which they needed to work in the class, and we did not immediately have workable plans for sculpture with those students.  Moving forward took communication and a willingness to be open to the other person’s ideas.  I was nervous at first about being able to do well with those two students, not having any particular experience with such high needs students.  My mentor teacher showed me the emails she sent, requesting meetings when there was a change or she felt one was warranted.  They were professional and polite even when the situation was frustrating (not enough space for the wheelchair or no aide to help facilitate learning).  I watched her interact with the Special Ed teacher and became comfortable talking with him about the students’ needs on my own quite early.  I am learning to ask questions more often and be clear about how and what are realistic options within a class of thirty-two students, all of whom need the best from their teacher.  More is possible than I knew.

We meet with the Special Ed teacher both formally and informally.  He comes in to see how things are going and talks with both of us about the students’ progress.  Working together with the Special Ed department has changed my attitude from initial trepidation to feeling confident about including any student in the art process.  Yesterday, as they often do, both of our Special Ed sculpture students peeked into class before school just to say hello.  We have them the last period of the day.


AP Literature and Composition

Yesterday I observed a veteran teacher in her Advanced Placement Literature and Composition class.  The class is relatively small–twenty-two students and all seniors.  I am accustomed to classes with all four high school grades in them and thirty-two students.  Art classes, especially large ones can easily get out of hand.  Art is a hands on class where interaction and talking are encouraged (at appropriate times).  For that reason, I am very interested in learning how different teachers manage their classes during different types of classroom activities.  So far this school year, I have watched problem-solving, lectures, lab work, drama performances, and homework review.  Yesterday’s class was one where students presented their compositions to the class and were graded on them as they did so.

The teacher has a relaxed way with this class.  She took attendance while students were chatting and getting settled and then she reminded them that they would be presenting.  She told students that they would be reading their introductory paragraph plus their favorite paragraph from the body of their composition for their presentation.  Students had the option of going to the podium in front of the class or standing or sitting at their desks.  There were students who did all three and several students who opted to wait until next class to present.  No students were pressured to go up and speak but they all expected to do it and giving them choices about how and when they would speak to the class made it easier for those who had more difficulty speaking in front of others.

The compositions were student reactions to the book The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  It is about a young black man who is struggling to find his place in 1930s American society, a place where blacks were often ignored or treated as if they were unimportant–treated in such a way that they were made to feel invisible.  There was a variety of reactions to the book.  One student wrote about the betrayals of whites in the protagonist’s life and how he had to come to self-realization that way, and another talked about the focus on black men needing self-actualization, while all the female characters were viewed as distractions or bad influences.

There was some time left after the presentations so for the last ten minutes of class, students read romantic poetry that they had started on previously – Blake, Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Coleridge, Shelley.  They will be writing their own romantic poems after studying these.

Watching this teacher, I could see how she put her personality to work in her management style.  She has a gentle, calm way with the students that is a little self-deprecating (in that way where really good comedian make fun of themselves so you can all laugh at your own flaws more readily).  It puts them at ease and sets a nice tone in the classroom.  All of the teacher I have seen who seem to have a great rapport with their students and who manage their classes well, use their strengths and weaknesses to their advantage.

Lion Dance Team

The Lion Dance Team learns the traditional lion dance performed during Chinese New Year celebrations to bring good luck.  This year’s team got off to a slow start, with only two members but are now up to ten members.  The team has two lions, each of which requires two dancers.  They also have a wonderful huge drum to guide the dance.


Though the dance itself is a Chinese tradition, the team here is as multicultural as the student body.  That diversity is one of the things I will miss most when I leave this internship.  This school has the most diverse student population in the district.  It is like a microcosm of the ‘melting pot’  ideal only better – more like a perfect salad with unique and distinct ingredients that compliment each other while they each maintain their particular unique flavor.