Saturday, 17 August 2013

#artinquiry – week 3: Activities as Inquiry – implications for practice - and some thoughts from the Forum:

Content and instructions
For this week, I recommend that you first do your required Week Three reading, and then watch the lecture and Teaching Tips videos. The purpose of the Teaching Tips videos is to give insight into how MoMA educators introduce modern and contemporary works of art to students highlighting the types of conversations they have in the galleries. There is no Quiz for this week.

Big Ideas For Week Three: Activities as Inquiry 

Week Three Components:
·                 READING (see below)
·                 INTRO VIDEO: 
·                 LECTURE VIDEO:
·                 EDUCATOR VIDEOS: 
 We have selected the following videos as they highlight artworks and ideas that can be challenging for students. You are welcome to view all of the Teaching Tip videos showcased on the MoMA Learning site.

Selected Videos
Teaching Tips: Marcel Duchamp. Bicycle Wheel. 1951. with MoMA educator Jackie Delamatre
Teaching Tips: Jasper Johns. Map. 1961. with MoMA educator Mark Epstein
Teaching Tips: Sol LeWitt. Wall Drawing #1144, Broken Bands of Color in Four Directions. 2004. with MoMA educator Lisa Libicki

Required Reading:
Required Discussion Forum Question:
Using the artwork you posted last week in the discussion forum, ask a friend or family member to help you practice leading an inquiry-based conversation around it, and talk about it in the forum: Describe your experience. What was easy? What did you find challenging?

This week…
… Felt really challenging it was very strange to take forth an activity from this MOOC with a friend and really see what worked – and why – or why not…

This post is about IBL: discussing a photograph with a friend in a way that models future practice. I have also summarised some ‘activities as inquiry’ from Hubard and some excellent suggestions for practice taken from the Forum. Many of those are from primary age tutors – but still relevant for my University staff and students – especially I think the ‘jump up and wriggle time’!! Absolutely…

Working class hero – discussion of Billingsgate Fish Market
Last week I chose Bill Brandt’s (c1938) ‘Billingsgate Fish Market’ as my artwork. It is a B&W photograph of a scene at the Fish Market – with three men in the background about their business and one man in the foreground gazing at the camera – or though the camera at us the onlookers.

Discussing Billingsgate with my friend

I asked my friend to look at the photograph and to take the time to respond to my questions – as himself, not imagining himself to be a student or anything, just he himself… though obviously one thing he knows about me is that I do teach and I did say that I was asking him questions that I might ask a group of students at some point.

I sat my friend down in front of my laptop to look at the photograph – and asked him to say what he literally saw in the picture … and to make any observations that he wanted… I then waited and waited. 

After quite some time had passed – with me wondering all the while whether I had made the supplementary statement too soon – he said, ‘Okay.’ Another silence... I then asked for his response:

He: Possibly Billingsgate Fish Market – one man in a white coat – a porter because a basket on his head; one man with boxes on his head – a punter - customer – though unusual because you don’t normally see them carrying … One man with paper in his hand – a tally? The Tally man… Is this a hierarchy? One man is looking at the camera – is this a staged picture? There’s a big fish in the basket which is unusual as we don’t eat big fish nowadays… is it a shark? There’s JE on a box - jellied eels? It’s a cramped busy place. There’s a chopping block – is that fish or meat – it’s a big part of the picture… But they don’t do that kind of thing in a fish market… I don’t like it! I don’t know why. Too ambiguous? What’s it for? Don’t know what’s going on… Wouldn’t have looked twice at it – it doesn’t give me enough…

Me: My next question would have been, What attracts you to or repels you in the picture … It seems like it repels you? And it’s not the subject matter?

He: Yes. It’s the composition – it’s cramped – I can’t see the point of it… I can see it’s night time – and all the different packaging – laughs – could use it with Logistics students…

Me: I might have asked students whether that was documentary or art or whether that mattered?

He: (No real response – kept looking at the picture.)

Me: When do you think that picture was taken?

He: That’s why it’s so frustrating that it’s such a cramped picture. There are wheels there – it could be 1910, 1920? If I could see the wheels… if I could get a better look…

Me: Perhaps the cramped nature of the picture is part of the point?

He (more looking – positive noises)

Me: It was taken circa 1938… Though the clothes could be anywhere up to 1960s?

He: Yes - looking at it – it’s not the cliché jolly cockney pictures … Good…

He (more looking – positive noises)

Me: You noticed one person looking out – at us… I just did another course – Dorothea Lange took documentary pictures in the US – had one, ‘Angel of the Breadline’? With just that – one person looking – inviting us to comment - to be a chorus perhaps… On that hierarchy you were noticing? 

He: – it’s … class… Not the jolly chatty cockneys – you don’t see working men like that - in that picture – closed – working… Not laughing and joking… It’s good – a good thing…

He: I’m glad I looked now, yes…

We then discussed his quite strong reaction against the picture. We also discussed that he only felt able to share his initial negative reaction to the picture because of our trust relationship. He thought that saying he did not like the picture would have pulled forth a lecture on why he should like it – and what makes it good. And even though we have trust, he was surprised that he did not get that lecture but was ‘allowed’ to continue to explore the picture and his reaction to it – until he came at last to his final (in this encounter) reaction. He did have a positive reaction – but not because he felt he had to be positive – or that he had to pretend to be positive… He realized that once he overcame his own resistance (and the feeling that it was all a trick – that he was about to be talked down to and condescended…) he actually did respect and like the picture – for his own reasons.

This brief encounter of no more than twenty minutes at most was a revelation. Naively, I did not think that the mere showing of a photograph would evoke so much emotional and cultural baggage – nor such negative educational or academic baggage.

In this episode, I can see all the weight of a content-based, hierarchical, elitist and measurement-obsessed system. In this brief encounter there was resistance, confusion, frustration, irritation, anger, self-doubt, a tendency not to trust the ‘teacher’ or the teaching scenario; a belief that your own thoughts and feelings will be deemed inappropriate, bad, irrelevant… just plain WRONG. I can see the expectation that students are expected to swallow their pride and lose all of themselves – do as they are told – think what they are told to think… 

That this one small and quite beautiful picture evoked such a strong response in a grown up ... What on earth are we doing to our young?

I am lucky that there was trust in this friendship, otherwise I would never have been allowed to see all this. Now how to remember it – not just in this MOOC and in my final project – but in all my teaching!

Activities an inquiry and learnig: Notes on the Reading – suggestions for practice:

Activities that frame encounters with artworks:
  • Introduce key concepts e.g. modelling a partner to test out resistance in material – which will bring fresh insight to sculpture
  • Hook people in with a riddle
  • Record encounters with artworks tip: make the sketchbook first (see )
  • Reflect by drawing most powerful moment on a postcard 

Activities that deepen and enrich encounters:
  • Foster close observation: use a viewfinder; bend a piece of wire; describe to another; tear off paper and produce mini-collage
  • Access an immediate response: say the first word or draw the gesture that come to mind
  • Elicit an embodied response: become the artwork; write a letter *from * the landscape
  • Access the emotional tone: write a poem or prose piece in response to; create a soundtrack for…

Activities that connect the artwork to other realms of learning, creation, experience:
  • From artwork to own world – e.g. discussing cultural icons – ask students to offer suggestions and descriptions of icons of their own – and to follow up in social studies
  • Developing non-art ‘skills’ – generate nouns/adjectives from an artwork and use in sentences (!)
  • Inspiring artistic creation – expressing an artwork through the medium of dance – seeding own work…
  • Guiding the honing of specific art skills – drawing sculptures to improve draftsmanship.
Useful teaching notes from a Forum Discussion Thread
I have my students keep a 'cuaderno personal', ( a composition book) that they write reflections in on a regular basis and are provided feedback in. Maybe at the closing of class discussion, you could have them reflect/expand on the discussion in their book (or in a class wiki), then you as the teacher can read the entries and give them feedback, or have them peer review it, getting feed back from a classmate. It does take a lot of time to read all of them and to provide feedback, but watching them read the comments when they pick up their notebooks will give you goosebumps. Just a few words on the reader's part makes them re-digest the discussion. Hope this helps.

In my experience, allowing the free flow of conversation (as adults would handle it when talking about a piece) comes with practice. When I teach my students how to do Socratic seminar, there are some weeks of hand-holding and oodles of modeling on my part. We have a facilitator for each seminar, and for the first couple of weeks, it's me! This way, the students, who will all get a chance at being facilitator can see a model of how to redirect a conversation that might be going off of the deep end. It's rough at first, but with each new piece, there's more ownership on the part of the students and a better understanding of how to practice being reflective when thinking about a piece.

I tend to use a lot of literary works and poems, so I have the kids do annotations (a lesson during Orientation week) and come up with critical thinking questions (another lesson). We also review expectations for seminar each time we engage in it (which is weekly) and I'd be more than willing to share these. It's a poster I simply made in PowerPoint that hangs up in my classroom. The students are also aware that they're being assessed throughout the process from annotations to participation, from grace and courtesy to eye contact. If you practice it enough, it becomes second nature! 

The 2 minute silence and focus becomes a "group effort". It encourages students to work be aware of movement and sound around them (a non-interactive group activity). This prepares them for "circle" (an interactive group activity) where they each get a few moments to share their awesome thoughts and's always a wonderful experience (as a teacher) to hear what ideas and thoughts they have. Sometimes, they are PROFOUND! 

This technique has been used with kids from ages preschool thru high school. The initial focus was ACTUALLY more about finding time management solutions which led to patience, self & group awareness, then, focus on art. I kept finding that I (the teacher) was "commanding and directing" the use of time in the classroom (which goes against my teaching methods/beliefs) when ultimately, students must understand (at some point in their lives) how to utilize "time" efficiently on their own (it's the real world, right?). And much of their time management is structured/controlled/directed by parents... waking them up, getting them dressed, driving them to school, etc. etc. There isn't a lot of autonomy…I found myself using SO much of my own energy dictating time and completing state guidelined activities rather than encouraging the learning process and one day, I just thought, "WHY am I doing this? THEY are perfectly capable of accomplishing this...if they can take responsibility for time management, I can focus more on the curriculum and teaching pieces... When the students became responsible for their own time and tasks, things took a dramatic change in the classroom. I would place an easel in front of the class and list the 4 stations they needed to work through. Students each had a journal page with those 4 tasks (for example) and when they moved through each station, it would be checked off (yes, even for preschoolers). I had my own personal station that would be more in depth than the others. Preschoolers were introduced to time as well and instructed that they had until the big hand landed on the 5 (25) to get everything completed (for example). SO, it sounds absolutely crazy, doesn't it? Well, it was...a complete mess in the beginning...but then, something remarkable happened (it took about 3 weeks before things started to catch on) would notice the clock (with excitement and giggles to get everything done) and watch the hand move, which began the process of understanding "time",  they would nudge their other classmates as the big hand moved...and at times, if I looked around and saw unmarked charts, I might "suggest" that they look at the clock as well...with time, these kids became very responsible for their time and tasks for the day. It was quite remarkable, actually (this spilled over into other classes and their home life as well). Even for the preschoolers! When "Looking Time" was integrated, toddlers through 5th grade were limited to 2 minutes (5 minutes for the older kids)....and we'd take turns talking...much like our instructor does with her museum visitors. My only rule was that we allow everyone the opportunity to speak without interruption (because there are some VERY important things being said, everyone deserves the opportunity to share their ideas and if everyone is talking, we won't be able to hear them! :) I've never had to limit the time because the kids already know the first 15 min are for circle and looking time (free time at the end...if not enough time, no free time)...they're watching the clock (not me)! I don't know if this would work for others, I can only tell you that it worked for me and I've used the same concept for light years.  By making students responsible for their own time, you free up more time for you the teacher) to engage in other areas (taking those extra minutes to re-explain a concept to a student or coming up with a new side activity for the next day, etc. etc.) I should also note that another teacher in the same building adopted a similar approach and it worked beautifully in his room as well. :) So, maybe give it a go and see what happens! I would love to hear the responses! Good luck to all!

It is difficult to have a quiet, controlled classroom discussion when children are excited and motivated to share their responses to an artwork. We want the excitement, but when the voices cancel one another out, the students' production of new thinking around a complex idea a can dissolve in the distraction. One strategy from the theater department has been for the teacher to clap her/his hands in a rhythmic pattern, and have the students clap back. This always stops the action.  It is friendly and collaborative, and gives the class enough time to catch their collective breath. Before any rambunctious discussion, let the class know about this technique. . And speaking of ideas, a class motto that reads "All ideas are good ideas" will establish a tone of acceptance.

I've used this technique as well and it is effective. Another attention grabber is turning off the lights (kids know if I turn the lights off, to freeze). Sometimes I'll do a quick "wiggle, giggle, jump up and down" session but it really is based on the dynamics of the group. What works for one class, might not work for others. Positive rewards are VERY helpful as well (stickers, stickers and more stickers). :)

One strategy that worked well with my kindergarten class was drawing names. Each student had their name on a popsicle stick and it was in this shiny can that I decorated. I used this when my class was not responding to my questions. I would shake the can and the students actually would get really excited and want their name to be drawn. This technique worked wonders and I heard many interesting responses.

One strategy that I use when teaching children in the gallery, that may work in the classroom, is to ask the children to spend one minute looking at the painting. I tell them that they will then turn around so they can't see the painting and I will ask each one of them in turn to share something that they remember about it. I have never had the same observation twice within one group. It works well near the beginning of a session as each student gets to stay something and be heard and I get to praise everyone of them individually. It's not only useful for including the quiet children - who incidentally I have found make the most profound observations, so its great to have their input - but its a great method for engaging even the most disruptive child. When we turn back around to look at the painting in more depth, I have them all hooked and eager. 

In the art classroom compared to the art museum, there are some differences of relationship to the teacher. Some of my students have been coming to my studio for more than three years. We are all very comfortable with each other, a learning family. I like to get student impressions after looking at art, after making art.
If you throw the question making and asking to the students and they direct the questions to you, or to each other students, this can produce surprising results. The questions they come up with might be anything from sociological to technical, they are often delicious, funny, totally irrelevant, or not, and often insightful. 

As the teacher, most of the time I do not like to be the one breathing out the learning oxygen, being the main voice in the room will just make me the dominant personality (not what I want to be) followed by a hierarchy of dominant personalities. I want my quiet achievers to have a voice but that might take a different form than through dialogue.

Mixed ability classes: Your comment reminded me of a class I took through Coursera-MIT Global Poverty (my favorite class offered through MOOCs) this past winter/spring. The scenario you described above made me think of a study that Dr. Esther Duflo & Dr. Banerjee conducted in India. I was able to find the study (free-at least for now, so click on and save) for you. Even though this research was completed in India, they faced a very similar situation (further explained in the abstract portion of the paper) and I think this analysis could provide you with some ideas and strategies.

On another side note, I would also consider researching Montessori concepts and teaching methods.....this teaching methodology encourages multiple age integration and students helping other students........

Other MOOCs to consider: I highly recommend that everyone taking this course, sign up for "Art Historical Methodologies ARTH301" through Saylor University (free and virtually all OCW/reading-not much interactive discussion there-so, it would be nice to have some fellow classmates from here to discuss that class with as well) It examines the differences between Art History, Art Criticism, Art Aesthetics and the different philosophical approaches/styles used. I had NO idea there were so many different  philosophies (some were established in the 1700s!) and how these techniques are used today with presenting art and integrating it into the public classroom (schools, museums, etc.). Take a look!

I highly recommend you take Modern and Contemporary Poetry by Prof. Al Filreis. It's the first MOOC I took, and frankly, it spoiled me. It's truly an inquiry-based MOOC that was organized and implemented in a manner that kept me engaged from the first minute. Al was very invested in the course and in the success of the participants, constantly making his presence felt and asking open-ended questions as opposed to lecturing and giving us the answers.

Next week – our Project – good luck everybody!

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