My path is full of rocks

For the last few years I’ve been working hard on my professional goals and trying to advance my career in public education. I’ve done everything “by the book.” I’ve done the course work. I’ve passed the tests. I’ve done absolutely everything that I can do, even so far as having my research published in an educational administrative journal. And I’ve hit the wall over and over again.

Each time I’ve hit the wall, I’ve reevaluated. I’ve asked myself hard questions and I’ve learned important lessons.

But this weekend, after soul-searching after yet another difficult wall, I realized that I’m going after my goals in a traditional approach.. the accepted approach… the textbook approach.

And you know what?

The textbook approach has NEVER worked for me.

My dad has often laughingly said that I created my own degree plans in college and created my own jobs. And you know what? I have. Why? Because I had to in order to survive.

But during the last few years, with a good job and some, what I thought were attainable goals, I forgot that I don’t fit the box that others want. I gave absolutely everything I had to doing what was expected, traditional and allowed.

And I found that not only does that not work for me, I didn’t get the promotions that I worked so hard for. And I really want to give up.

But I’m not.

I didn’t learn to finally read fluently in fourth grade for nothing!

Traditional approaches to education didn’t work for me as a child. My path to reading and basic math was HARD and I have the elementary report cards to prove it.  The four C’s I got in second grade on the second marking period were disappointing. Staying in at recess in third grade so that I could figure out math problems wasn’t fun.  Having to read into a tape recorder at night and play it back and listen to myself read the words wasn’t easy. But I did it. And I learned to read and I passed my math classes.

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No, I’m not showing you the grades on the inside!

Everyday I could have given up. But I didn’t.  My brand of gifted (remembering pretty much every room I’ve ever been in, including the orientation of the bed compared the window for every room I’ve slept in for the last 40 years..) doesn’t make the standard list of gifted and talent attributes.

What I learned is that I have to fight for myself and be willing to take the path full of rocks. The path full of rocks is often lonely, its tough and you are destined to get scrapped up along the way. But it is worth it, because the view from the peak is incredible.

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So that’s what I am going to do.

I’m setting out on my own path. It’s not a path of manicured grass with a pretty pond. It’s a path of rocks and I’m going to conquer it.

Watch out world.

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Educators Need To Do Hard Things

As an educator, it is important to remind myself that learning new things and mastering new skills isn’t always easy. I think educators and those in the business of education often found learning to be easy.. and so we forget that for some, learning is HARD.

So for the third time, I’ve selected the month of May to be my month of hard things… in the form of my Handstand Challenge.

Why? Because handstands are HARD. Because handstands force you out of your comfort zone and require not only that you trust your hands and shoulders to hold you up, but require you to balance and hold your core tight at the same time. In essence, handstands require physical effort and mental strength.

I also really enjoy watching my progress over the month. It fits my grit mindset of 20 times to learn it, 200 to master it. So over the course of a month, I’ve captured my learning process over 20 times (31 to be exact) and I’ve done more than 200 handstands because with every up there are 5 to 10 failures. By the end of the month, I haven’t mastered handstands, but I’ve made a lot of progress!

And interestingly, each year I start from a stronger place. Just like the educational foundation that we hope students have as they are given new content; my handstands are significantly better than last years handstands when you look at the data (date and photo).  Even better, when you go back three years, the progress is quite impressive. In 2015, my day 1 handstand was up against the wall outside of my house. I remember clearly being scared that I would fall, that I would slip, that I would break something!

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But even braced against the wall, I was so proud of the fact that I DID IT!

Moving to 2018, my day 1 handstand this year was in the middle of my living room with no wall to brace me, no helper to stabilize me and no pillow to catch me should I fall. The difference this time was that while I knew the handstand would be ugly, I knew I could do it. In fact, my Day 1-8 handstands are all pretty awesome in my opinion.. even though they only last a second or two!

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Isn’t that what we want for our students? Yes, some learning and some processes are ugly, but students NEED to know that they can do hard things! Progress needs to be celebrated and efforts acknowledged.

When was the last time a student was asked to CHOOSE something outside of their comfort zone that would be hard and then given the tools to accomplish it? And I’m not talking about passing the STAAR (state mandated test) test.. but a student-driven academic goal.

So as I look out at my classroom and watch 150 students pass through my door each day, I tell them about my handstand challenge. I invite them to follow my progress on instagram.. not so that they can make fun of me.. some will no matter what… but so that they can see adults in their lives doing hard things.. things that aren’t in their comfort zone.. things that don’t come easy. Because maybe, just maybe, some of these students will remember my sad attempts at handstands when they are in the midst of their own handstand struggles in life and keep going.

Empty Bowls

Months ago one of my colleagues, Beth, the Culinary Arts teacher came and asked me if I would be interested in having my students work with her students on a community service project. Beth told me about the concept of Empty Bowls and how if my students would make the bowls, her students would make the meal and we could donate the proceeds to a worthwhile organization. Sounded great!

So my students got to work. And work they did!! Oh my. They made hundreds of bowls. Some really great ones.. some not so hot. But everyone of my 150 students made a couple of bowls!

Once the bowls dried, the kiln was either running or cooling constantly for more than a month! So many bowls to fire to bisque and then to glaze and fire and then, we had issues with the glaze and many had to be fired again!

It was a tedious process, but the students learned so much and had so much ownership in this project. Students truly cared about their bowls.. significantly more than they would have if it had just been a clay project where they made a bowl.

These bowls had meaning!

We were also incredibly fortunate along the way to have a number of bisque ware pieces donated to my students, so we had some really great serving pieces and mugs that were already fired and just had to be glazed. This gave us a jump start for sure!

So finally it was time for our Empty Bowl Project. We decided to donate to Backpack Buddies of Erath County as this organization makes sure that students that would otherwise go hungry over the weekend and during school holidays have food. Given that a number of my students are recipients of this program, it was nice that they were able to give back without anyone realizing it!

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The night of the event it was cold and rainy.  The soup was PERFECT! The culinary arts students made a perfect meal and some of the board members of Backpack Buddies were able to come and help sell tickets and pottery.

By the end of the evening, we had sold lots of soup and 2/3rds of the pottery was gone. Whew. One of the really cool things from the event was being able to see the pride the students had in their work and their ability to give back to the community.

It was a great event and SHS Culinary and Visual Art students
were able to donate $744 to Backpack Buddies!

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SHS Students with Backpack Buddies of Erath County Volunteers

Fostering Creative Thinking

Children are innately creative. I know this. I see this everyday.  Yet I regularly hear adults say that their children aren’t creative. I try to be nice. I’ve learned to just keep my mouth shut and not call out these parents, but oh it is difficult! Children NEED to be creative. It is who they are! From invisible friends, bringing soldiers and dolls to life, and even simply playing house, being creative is a necessary part of a child’s growth and development.

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Why do parent’s say that their children aren’t creative? Well, over the years I’ve decided that it is a control issue. Creativity is often messy.  Creativity requires a suspension of disbelief. Creativity embraces differences and pushes boundaries. All of these are areas that make adults uncomfortable. Believe me. I know! Even in my world where creativity is a prized treasure, it is still messy and at times drives me crazy.

But it is worth it.

So what do you do if you can’t fathom the thought of glitter in your carpet, paint on the back porch,  a million legos underfoot or blanket forts in the living room?IMG_5539IMG_7590

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, start simply.

There are some great games that you can play. While Kylie is the one pictured here, all of my girls are willing and happy to play the games in the pictures together! And that is a win in and of itself! Our family plays games. We play card games, board games and dominoes. We put puzzles together and build lego creations. If the idea of Playdoh crumbs smushed into the kitchen table and chairs gives you the willies.. start with games like Otrio, Trax or Mental Blox.

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(FYI.. this is NOT a paid advertisement.. these are my real life recommendations!)

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Fostering creative thinking is a soapbox issue for me. Why? Because I’m amazed at how many adults DON’T KNOW HOW TO PROBLEM SOLVE! And we as a society are not teaching nor are we modeling to our children how to problem solve, how to come up with new or different solutions to problems or even how to think for ourselves!

While I am a huge advocate for technology and I want equal access to information and all that technology brings, I am worried about the immediate reaction to just “google it” when something doesn’t work.

Resiliency is more than being able to survive when the internet is down!

We have to model and teach children that when there isn’t a clear answer, sometimes we have to simulate the what-ifs and work through options. We have to not only allow FAILURE, but embrace it and show our children how to move through failure to success!

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So there you have it. I challenge you to go be creative today. And no, you don’t have to go paint a picture or create a sculpture to be creative. Go play a game, create a fairy garden in the flower bed, build a treehouse.. do something that doesn’t already have a set finish point and that requires your brain and your body to work together in a new way!

And finally, enjoy the journey

Leader in Waiting

Waiting is hard. We all know that. It’s especially difficult when the waiting is personal. It seems like I’ve been waiting for a chance to be an educational leader for twenty years. The reality is that I haven’t been waiting “that” long, it’s just hard when I know that I have so much to offer and my skills aren’t being utilized equal to my potential.

Nevertheless, I’ve been adding to my education and my resume. I may not be an administrator yet, but I’ve completed my Superintendency certificate.

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I’ve also written another play and have a research article accepted for publication.

One of my friends recently posted a question on her social media feed that I have been pondering.. “How long do you knock on a door before you accept that it is closed?”

I have to say, I can’t help but wonder if the same applies to me. By no means am I going to give up my dream to be a leader. I don’t have to… I AM A LEADER. But the reality might be that being an educational leader might have me leading and serving in an area that I didn’t plan or expect.

And isn’t that the sum of life. So much of our life happens in the waiting. I can chose to be bitter about the fact that the “fast-track” to administration has never included me. Instead, I’m choosing to learn more, reinvent myself and ultimately, I will be a stronger leader.

 

It’s not just about HAVING an innovator’s mindset, you have to USE it!

I’m reading George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset.

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I love everything about this book! What I am finding interesting is that even though I have always had an innovator’s mindset and have embraced all that being an innovator entails in both my personal life and as a teacher;  I have not always empowered my student’s to embrace the innovator’s mindset.

As I am reading this book, I am pondering many of the norms in my classroom and in my school and asking myself lots of questions. For example:

  • Why do we have to do ______ a certain way?
  • Why do we come from a place of negativity when it comes to rules and expectations?
  • Why do we expect kids to fail/get in trouble/do things wrong?
  • When are we giving students choices?
  • When are students leading learning?
  • When are we modeling the innovator’s mindset?

All of my questions come back to Couros’ examination of student compliance vs student empowerment. It shames me to think about the fact that even in an artistic environment where students are asked to innovate and create everyday, I have always required compliance! OUCH.

But guess what? I am required to comply everyday as well. I have always hated the posted rules, class room procedures and expectations requirement for “good” classroom management. For years I bucked the system and didn’t post things.. but in order to be an “effective” teacher it was necessary to  post these guidelines.

So I did.

And guess what, students that didn’t comply didn’t care which rule they broke. Students that didn’t behave responsibly didn’t check my posted expectations and procedures to see how they deviated from the posted signs. The only thing that my signage did was to show adults that walked through my class that I had “good classroom management.”

So today I yanked my signs off the wall! These signs take up valuable wall space and I’d rather post positive messages and show off student work! What gave me the courage to take down the warning signs? Well, Couros made me do it!

I want my classroom to be a place of empowerment. I want students to be willing to risk it all and try new things in my space. I want to push students to expand their mindset and become an innovator. And I can’t do that from a place of compliance.

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No, I’m not going to have a free for all in my classroom! I am way to organized and driven for that nonsense! But I need to move past the statements that demand compliance.

Instead, here is one of my new posters…

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So yes, in a way I am still demanding compliance.. but the mindset is different. Instead of requiring that students all put the pencils away the same way or put their name on their papers in the same two inch space on their papers, I am demanding that students imagine. I am demanding that students dream, collaborate and inspire others with their work and their choices.

I can’t wait to see how the shift in mindset frees my students and my own personal creativity. I’m sure it will be wild ride, but I know that it will be worth it.

All for the +1, tweet, share and a follow

Social Media. It is a significant part of our lives.. whether we acknowledge it, believe it, or even if we want to run from it.

Good or bad, social media isn’t going to go away and refusing to figure out how to harness the positive attributes of social media because you hate the bad is like telling a teenager that “rock music is of the devil” and expecting the teen to stop listening to it!(And while no, I don’t believe such nonsense about rock music… I did hear that comment regularly from the ultra-conservative church that I went to as a child… but that is a blog story for another day..)

As a mom of daughters 17, 12, and 7 I am scared to death of what they will see and experience because of social media. But I can’t let that fear drive my decisions. I pray that they don’t have fake accounts and live secret lives on Instagram (if they have a “finsta” account I want to KNOW!!), but I hope that they don’t have choose to live fake lives in general! It’s my job as a parent to invest myself into their lives and make secret social media profiles so difficult that it isn’t worth the effort.

And I feel the same way about social media in the classroom. As a high school art teacher, I am constantly having to redirect students to spend more time on their art than on their phones. Snapchats are sent at a few hundred per minute. I’d like to believe that the majority of my students don’t use social media inappropriately, but given that they can’t stop themselves from looking, checking, snapping and posting everything that comes into their lives, I know that they are not going to consistently make decent choices. That is life.

So how do I model appropriate use? Because truly, that is where the teaching starts.. modeled behavior.

At home, I try not to post pictures of my children that they truly hate. My oldest daughter, Maddie keeps me in check. 🙂 Maddie is such a wise soul and reminds me that not every moment needs to be documented for the world and that basically life is a personal journey, not a social media journey. Yeah, I’m very grateful to have such an awesome 17 year old!

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At school, I takes dozens of pictures every day of students working. I have Stephenville High School Art Facebook and SvilleArt Instagram (that i forget to post on, so I have to tag my pictures from my personal account..eek.) but I post pictures regularly of students working. People love seeing my students in action and chronicling a work in progress is crucial for my students to see where they started and how far they have come by the time they finish their projects.

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One of the benefits of taking so many pictures of students at work is that there are no secrets in my classroom.  If a parent or an administrator wants to know what is going on, check my Facebook or Instagram feed… or better yet, come visit personally! There is no expectation of privacy in my classroom and that is a very good thing. No student or teacher needs to get so comfortable within their environment that they feel like it’s is a private room. What goes on in V21 DOESN’T stay in V21! Yes, I am a mentor and have lots of confidential conversations with students that I would never share on social media, but the general essence of my classroom isn’t a private or protected environment. And even if I wanted it to be, the reality is that with students and their devices, it wouldn’t be private anyway!

So as the world of technology gets murkier with each passing day, I firmly believe in the value of social media. I love that through the use of Facebook and Instagram the families and friends of my students get to see what they are learning and creating on an almost daily basis. No matter where in the world they live!

Are there problems? Of course there are. And this whole fake Instagram “finsta” stuff has me rattled for sure! But I have to keep asking questions and not letting the problems of social media scare me away from the benefits. As parents and teachers our job is to push, to prod, to teach, to encourage, to correct, to forgive, to inspire and to love.  Modeling appropriate use of social media for my students helps me to do that.

And those are my thoughts on the use of social media for  #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 19.

Teaching in a Problem/Project Based Learning Classroom

PROJECT BASED INSTRUCTION – #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 17

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Teaching in a project based learning environment is:

  • exciting
  • fun
  • loud
  • interesting
  • chaotic
  • engaging
  • different everyday

It is not however easy. If a teacher is looking for a simple and quiet environment, a project or problem based classroom is not for him or her…. for that teacher, my suggestion is to stick to the ole’ worksheets and sit back and be bored! A project based classroom is an incredible place to be, but it is work!

Case in point… my classroom. Yes, for the last 9 years I have taught art, but prior to that I taught Economics, Debate, Reading, Creative Writing, Career Investigations, Math, Speech and Theatre and in all of these courses, I used project based instruction. So from a veteran twenty year teacher, I feel like I am a perfect advocate for this type of instruction and learning environment!

So how does project based instruction work? Here is an example..

Over the last few months my art 2 – 4 students have been learning to create logos and to screen print their design on shirts. This project has been a huge undertaking and has lingered on and on!

One of the hardest parts of project/problem based instruction for the teacher is understanding that your schedule, your bundled curriculum, and your lesson plans might just have to be thrown out of the window for the good of the students!

EEK! Yes, I did just say that! But, what I have learned is that while I might have to adjust my plans to make problem based learning work, it is worth it. And, in order to give all of my students time to process and consider the problem or the process, I have students work through the project in stages or increments with breaks for other assignments built-in (this also catches me up on my bundle..) So for example, here is my logo design screen printing project timeline:

Early February: Create a logo for art using a custom graphic and just one color. Students created this by hand and/or digitally. The students that worked quickly set their design aside and moved to a different project. The students that worked slowly were given a couple more class days to work and then had time outside of class to continue working on their own time. Students were told at this point to bring a tshirt and a frame for their screen.

Late February: Students learned how to cut green screen film. This was time-consuming. As the students completed this they were able to adhere their film to their screen and print.. if they brought their supplies. However,  after a couple of class days, students were asked to move to a different assignment and finish cutting as they had time between other projects.

March: Students were expected to have frames and shirts at school. Some did. Some didn’t. As students would complete a different project they were given time to continue their screen printing project. This ebb and flow of the project worked to my advantage as students would get excited when they would see student’s completed work and then want to figure out how to finish their project. I would completely move on and not mention the project for days at a time.

April: Not much happening on the screening of shirts. We were busy with other projects and contests. If a student wanted to work on this project, I let them. But I pretty much ignored it until the late April when I gave a hard deadline that we would be finishing the project the first week of May.

This forced those that had been procrastinating or forgetful to get busy! This was a week of seeing months of on and off work completed.

And why now after all of this time? Because the second Tuesday of May is the day we take our big group picture where everyone wears their creation!

I can’t wait to show those off! I wore one shirt yesterday and am wearing a different design today!

So do all of my students have shirts to wear?

NOPE! And that is one of the real life lessons from project based instruction. I gave lots of opportunities to work, create, problem solve and get help, but in the end, the students had to complete the work for themselves. This week I had one of my oldest, most advanced students get left behind because she missed too many deadlines and never got her green film adhered to the screen. Sad, but that’s part of life and truly one of the best lessons learned with project based instruction.

Do I consider the project successful?

YES! The joy on student’s faces when they successfully created something that could be worn is worth the effort! Besides the fact that I cover a truckload of the required essential skills (TEKS) in this one project, I pride myself on the fact that these students leave with tangible job skills.

Do all of my project based lessons take so long?

YES and NO! Some project based instruction is fast, some is slow. After years and years of this type of teaching I have learned how to weave the projects and expectations of lessons in and out and have multiple things going on in my classroom at one time. This process works for me.. but it would drive some teachers crazy. I get that.

 Is project based learning or problem based learning?

Let me give you an example… I teach four sections of art 1. I really wanted to do a problem based instruction unit on ceramic molds. I knew that this would not work with all of my art 1 classes. So, three classes did a manageable PROJECT based ceramic project where they learned how to create a clay monster and a clay box.

This was PROJECT based… meaning I knew the exact outcome I wanted, but the students still had to experiment, learn and explore the entire process and create a product.

The remaining class whose class dynamics were right for the PROBLEM were given the option to do the project like the other classes or take on the problem. They of course, chose the problem which was to experiment, learn, explore and create using ceramic molds.

The outcome of their problem was not a given. I refused to be anything more than a facilitator and mentor. They loved the process and worked tirelessly for weeks!

For me, the difference between the project and the problem is the willingness for me to let go of the final product. In the world of art, students are constantly working with a project based instruction model.

But when I used problem based instruction, I have to take a step back and let the students drive the process. This happens less often as so much of what we do is for contests. However, when we do, magic happens!

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So in the end, whether you are interested in using Project Based Instruction or Problem Based Instruction, I challenge you to just do it. Giving students hands-on applicable work transforms classrooms, student’s attitudes about school and gives student’s a sense of pride and ownership. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it is SO WORTH IT!

Public Education meet Weight Watchers

Prompt number 16, … Tell a story.. is part of the #EdublogsClub where a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

I’m running behind on my blogging. It’s a sign of the crazy busy schedule. The downside of not being able to respond to the prompt immediately is that I miss out on posting weekly. The upside is that these prompts from #EdublogsClub marinate in my brain for days at a time and I am enjoying the thinking process prior to writing my response.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, right about the time the tell a story prompt came out, I rejoined Weight Watchers. For those of you new to my story, I am constantly battling my weight and have a love/hate relationship with food. A few years ago I joined Weight Watchers and changed my life. Since that time, I have struggled continuously to maintain a healthy weight. Thank goodness I love to run, otherwise the struggle would be much more difficult. However, every so often I try something else.. some gimmick, some supplement, some quick fix.. but in the end, nothing has the staying power of Weight Watchers. Why? Because Weight Watchers doesn’t make me change the very nature of who I am. In order to be successful with Weight Watchers, I don’t have to give up the foods I love, I just have to plan and make better choices. The problem is, Weight Watchers  is boring. It’s not flashy. If you lose a ton of weight week after week, you are doing it wrong. It’s steady, consistent..boring. But it works.8535053-An-image-of-a-person-standing-on-a-scale--Stock-Vector-weight-loss-healthy

And that is the very nature of education.

Quality education is boring. I’m sorry, but if you think that teaching is glamorous, you have not lived in the trenches with teachers very long. Teaching students day after day is hard, it is tedious and to be successful, much of what we do is boring. There. I said it! After almost twenty years in education, I feel like I have earned the right to say it… quality education is boring.

Why? Because the very education that students need, the foundation of our content doesn’t change. Yes, education evolves and yes, new technology brings in new elements and new methods, but the lessons that need to be taught and the skills that must be mastered don’t change. And contrary to what so many talking heads would have us believe, the way we teach much of our information must remain the same. That sameness, that one on one, teacher to student, direct content distribution isn’t flashy, it isn’t cool and it isn’t trendy.  Quality education is like Weight Watchers. It is founded in principles that work, it gives teachers the flexibility to make choices that work for themselves and their students within the guidelines provided and just enough wiggle room each week to keep things interesting, but keep them accountable to the group. See?!school-295226_960_720

And what about the flashy, quick fix? It doesn’t stand the test of time. Over the years, I have seen so many state tests come and go. I’ve seen teaching strategies and classroom management techniques questioned and labeled differently so that the latest and greatest buzz words are being thrown around and used. But at the end of the day, quality teaching and learning is still pretty much the same with a few new additions to improve the process. Just like Weight Watchers… the point system has changed, the activity credits adapted, and the delivery options greater, but the methodology and the results are still based on the same research and continued results.

So as the world continues to watch the state of public education, I offer this… let’s help public education be like Weight Watchers! Sure, the no carb diet gets results, but a person can only live without carbs so long before they give up the will to live. Okay, maybe that is a bit extreme… but really, I’ve tried the no carb thing… it’s no fun. Take the “specials” out of education and leave only the basics and you get a no carb education. Sure you can can survive it, but do you want to?

 

I could go on.. like..

Extreme weight loss surgery that leaves people looking malnourished..yep, we have education systems like that too…

And how bout that crazy diet that some go on that put them in a constant bad mood… yep, we have education systems like that too…

Really. I could go on still, but you get it. From the 15 year old girl who lived on Slimfast to the 40 something woman still fighting the pudgy middle, I have learned that the flashy quick fix doesn’t work. Successful and healthy weight loss and maintenance is slow, it’s steady and it’s consistent daily choices.

And that is what I hope for education.. content that is built on a secure foundation that is capable of withstanding slow and steady growth and change not looking for the flashy quick fix, but strong and steady for future generations.

Fine Art Assessments

The Edublogs Club prompt #15 was over assessments… it was last week’s prompt and I was drowning in the teacher ocean so the prompt has had time to ruminate in my brain before trying to put my thoughts in print.

This morning, as I get ready for the “Parade of Champions” that our community is having for our school’s state champion girls soccer team and our theatre team, I wanted to reflect on the reality of assessments in the world of fine arts.

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While I might be tempted to say that assessments in fine arts aren’t necessary or accurate, the truth is that assessments are important in EVERY discipline. However, appropriate and authentic assessments are crucial. A rudimentary objective test completed on a scantron is never going to accurately students much less assess fine arts students or programs. Fine arts people don’t process the same way that math/science or english/history students primarily process. This is not to say that fine arts dominate students can’t do well on standardized tests…this is contrary to my experience.

But these tests don’t reflect the whole student. 

Therefore, I think that one of the best authentic assessments for fine arts programs (and all programs for that matter) is to evaluate the sum total of the year. While it’s fun to take a snapshot of success and boast about the quality of our programs based on one big win. If we are a one dimensional program, then the students suffer. The same goes for academics. If everything we have, all of our resources and our efforts are spent on getting students to do well on the state mandated test, but in the process student’s miss out on mastering the rest of the content, then we have failed… but who wants to acknowledge that.

That is one of the reasons why I am so proud that I can say I am part of a fantastic fine arts department at Stephenville ISD. Stephenville High School fine arts students are well rounded students within their disciplines, but are also strong academically and are leaders in the community!

My case in point.. the recent big win by the SHS Theatre Team. UIL (University Interscholastic League) is the governing body for Texas extracurricular events and last week, UIL hosted the state meet for One-Act Play and Theatrical Design. Advancing to the state competition is tough. At this competition, UIL crowned the State Champion Theatre Team. This team is made up of the school’s competitors in UIL Film, UIL One-Act Play and UIL Theatrical Design. SHS won State Champion because of the well-rounded team approach. In order to win, students had to show an amazing variety of skills and an incredible commitment to their work. Students began working on these contests in August of 2016! Film students created in the fall and turned in their work in January of 2017 and advanced to state in March. OAP students performances started in February with the state meet in April, but many students begin working on one-act play in August or earlier! Theatrical Design students started as soon as the topic was given in May 2016, really got to work in August, turned in their work in February and if they advanced, went to State in April. From start to finish, more than 300 SHS students participated in these contests… that is 30% of the student body at SHS.

But that isn’t all we do, it just happened to be the most public as this success came with a plaque, a parade and a pep rally.

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Don’t you just love the fact that we had three of our theatrical design students at the parade and peprally via giant head and facetime?! These three students were at the UIL State Academic meet for Literary Criticism. I tell you, we have well rounded kids!

But all of that while fun, isn’t exactly my point.

My point is that assessments need to define what they are really measuring. So many of the assessments that students are given, don’t measure content knowledge or content mastery, but test taking abilities and game play. I want assessments to measure mastery, not the ability of students to handle high stakes testing that capture a moment in time.  Yes, I am fully aware that these kinds of tests are necessary. I have a junior that is living in the land of ACT and SAT. But I don’t believe that school and student mastery should be assessed in this same manner. I want my students to be given the opportunity to prove their knowledge and ability based on a year’s worth of effort.

So am I pushing for portfolio assessments? Yes and no. As my advanced students are deep into AP Art Portfolio creation, I understand the value of such an undertaking. The portfolio is the best representation of what they can do within a time frame and within a set of guidelines. In art world, this means 24 to 29 of the best pieces that the student has created, 12 developed around and exploring one theme. The depth and complexity of this portfolio is not something that I can do with all of my students. But I could have students build and add to their portfolios each year to finish their high school career with a portfolio that they would be proud to show to a grandparent or even would-be employer.

As our district moves to a 1:1 digital environment, I have looked at having students create and curate their own digital portfolio. Our district has used BulbApp, our elementary students are using Seesaw, my advanced students have tried blogs.. the list is endless.

And that in and of itself becomes one of my negatives. As times change and new software becomes available, it is so hard to figure out what to keep, where to put it and who can access it. Usage agreements are ever changing. Parent policies and parent permissions are ever changing. So it’s hard. And I can’t store thousands of artifacts for my students. Not in real life or digital!

Because of that reality, I can’t support portfolio assessments completely.

So my suggestion is that we assess programs and schools on the sum total of the year, not individual kids, not a single test, not a single anything!

We get so caught up in individual student success and or failure and it shouldn’t be that way. I have students miss my class Thursday after Thursday for mandatory math tutorials because they haven’t passed the Math STAAR yet. It doesn’t matter that art is the only thing that is keeping some of the kids in school, they are yanked in mid-lesson, mid-project.. hopefully this approach pays off.. but at what cost to the student.

At the end of the day I am more than aware that there isn’t a perfect answer or a best case. Only a mixed bag of problems and no real solution. That is the world of education. However, the EdublogsClub prompt asked me to consider the role of assessments in education. So this is my wish.. authentic assessments that evaluate a year of effort.

And how would my program fair?

Here is my year end assessment (yes, I know it isn’t the end of the school year yet… I still have a state competition, a congressional competition, and a local competition to complete..):

  • SHS Art students have created work for numerous contests and have a great many awards locally, within the state and beyond.
  • SHS Art students have participated in numerous community service events and have given freely of their time and talents.
  • SHS Art students have created art work using at least 6 different media and have created more than 1000 pieces of art this school year.
  • SHS Art students are active within all student body organizations from Soy Importante to National Honor Society, from FCCLA to Robotics.
  • SHS Art students have been accepted to colleges and universities,  claim an art field as their degree path and begin with college equivalent hours from the AP Drawing and 2D Portfolios.

I’d consider that to be a satisfactory year end assessment for a program!