Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Meaning of ATA

What does the Association of Teaching Artists mean to our field?

A few years ago my colleagues and I were in the midst of a sensitive and somewhat drawn-out negotiation of a teaching artist union contract. I needed some outside perspective, and when I came upon the Association of Teaching Artists, I called Dale Davis. We had a long conversation about issues surrounding intellectual property, similar situations that other teaching artists had faced, and ramifications of parallel contracts in higher education contexts. We didn't necessarily nail down the answers, but Dale took the time to help me ask the right questions. And if there's one thing that we as teaching artists are called to do – in our ongoing quest to find balance in art-making and educating – it's ask the right questions. 

I am grateful that I could make that call, and like other colleagues who have written this week, I am thankful that ATA provides a mechanism for sharing best practices – for encouraging emerging teaching artists – and for asking the right questions that continue to deepen the professionalism of our field. 

Please consider joining me in donating today!

You can make a check payable to ATA and mailed to:The Association of Teaching Artists155 South Main Street Fairport, New York 14450-2517

Sonya RobinsonDirector, Artist Corps New Orleans

Monday, December 13, 2010

ATA Provides A Forum

This is my first year as an ATA Board Member. When asked to join the ATA Board, I said "yes" for several reasons. I have been a teaching artist, continue to work with teaching artists and have the greatest respect for the profession and the myriad of creative skills that teaching artists share with the students they work with.

ATA provides a forum to share information and advocate for the profession. Especially in these difficult economic times, we need a place where our voices can come together. Because I want to make that voice a little stronger, I will be contributing to the ATA appeal and encourage you to do the same.

Sharon Vatsky, ATA Board Member

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Who Speaks For Teaching Artists?

Who speaks for teaching artists?

Artists don't generally have a problem expressing themselves. After all, art is about the expression of an idea.

Teaching artists generally don't have a problem communicating, since teaching is one of the most fundamental forms of communication.

However, when teaching artists gather and share tales of charming students, grateful parents and helpful administrators, eventually other stories emerge: the frustrations of legal limitations, poor pay rates, and absent medical benefits. A collective sigh is often heard, "Can't someone do something about this? Who can we talk to, who might know what to do?"

Does anyone hear these lamentations? Do these notes from a bitter song find an audience? Who listens to teaching artists?

ATA does.

But who shares these stories, both the charming ones and the frustrating ones? Who lets teaching artists know that they are not, in fact, alone?

ATA does.

How does ATA do it? Despite being a tiny organization with a miniscule budget (with our entire budget, we couldn't afford to buy even half of a 2004 Toyota Prius) ATA is dedicated to helping teaching artists communicate with one another, with potential employers, and with the world at large.

Our website, our listserve, our Facebook page, and our blog are all devoted to presenting the many points of view teaching artists possess. And in 2011, we're engaging in our most ambitious project yet: a Teaching Artists Congress, which will gather key figures from across the nation to address the state of teaching artistry, and hopefully, generate some momentum that will empower teaching artists and strengthen their positions within organizations and community groups.

ATA needs your help to maintain its current projects and to take things forward. Yes, the recession makes donating even more difficult-- but financial challenges are something teaching artists contend with, even during a stable economy. Please consider contributing to the advancement of teaching artists by supporting ATA, with whatever amount you can.

Who speaks for teaching artists?

ATA does.

In everything we do, we try to give a voice to those talented people who help others find expression in their lives.

Who helps ATA?

Now that's a question only YOU can answer


Phil Alexander
Board Chair, Association of Teaching Artists

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ATA Appeal

From the desk of Stephen Yaffe, ATA Board Member:

Every Thanksgiving I send greetings to teaching artists. Some I have worked with. Some I am working with. On the surface it seems like a simple holiday wish. But it's actually a practice for me, a way of expressing gratitude for knowing these gifted people and knowing the good work they do is reaching students across the country.

This Thanksgiving I have one more thing to be grateful for; being on the board of ATA and having the opportunity of serving greater numbers of teaching artists. Help us serve you better, address your needs, support your work, stand behind you, stand with you and, where we can, stand for you.

Send a contribution $5, $10, $20, what you can. It all adds up. We'll put it to good use.

This holiday let's be grateful for what we have, grateful for what we do and grateful to those who support our efforts.

Thank you and happy holidays,

Stephen Yaffe, ATA Board Member

Please make your check payable to The Association of Teaching Artists (ATA) and mail it to:

The Association of Teaching Artists
155 South Main Street
Fairport, New York 14450-2517

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Dear Teaching Artists:

Please give to ATA.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Dancer or the Dance?

A recent article in Education Week trumpets "Schools Integrate Dance into Core Academics".

Hurrah...I think.

I mean, yet again, we are presented with a shining example of Teaching Artists working extremely hard to prove the art's worth and value as a tool to augment a failing educational system’s “core” curriculum.

But Arts Integration works! 


If we can change nothing else, I propose we at least change the term “arts integration” to ARTIST INTEGRATION.

Let's give credit where credit is due.

Is it the art, or the ARTIST that makes the difference?

Is it the DANCER or the Dance?

Is it our art-form that increases levels of student engagement and makes for a better learning environment, or is it us?

Maybe these Teaching Artists are just good teachers?

Perhaps our habits of mind, and the fact that art is a form of communication, make some of us really effective in the classroom?

If the thing formerly known as arts integration is effective, then perhaps  students in teacher training programs should be studying how Teaching Artists operate? We could model best practices.

Also: US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urges states to cut expensive masters degree bonus programs from the budget. According to an Associated Press article  “Duncan told the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday that master's degree bonuses are an example of spending money on something that doesn't work.” At the same event, billionaire Bill Gates said "My own state of Washington has an average salary bump of nearly $11,000 for a master's degree - and more than half of our teachers get it. That's more than $300 million every year that doesn't help kids.”

OMG. I thought they wanted us to enter the world of higher education. I'm so confused!

Friday, November 19, 2010


Like I said last time, I think that Teaching Artists will enjoy the high professional status of plumbers only after we can manage to do two big things:

First, I think that we have to wholeheartedly embrace the idea of accountability in our work. That means we have to have a group of representatives draft a set of core standards and a list of professional competencies that we can all hew to and hate on.

Sure, we’ll bicker, but they will be there, our high standards, uniting us and broadcasting our professional identity as Teaching Artists from sea to shining sea.

And they shall know us  by our jargon.

We have so many terrific starting points for this national conversation. We just need a union, some snazzy letterhead, and an interview with the Wizard.

Secondly, we have to create effective and affordable Teaching Artist training programs that are separate and distinct from the MA programs that train and certify regular classroom teachers.

These Teaching Artist training programs should definitely be in universities, or wherever, I don't care, just as long as they don't cost emerging TAs an arm and a leg, and graduates can get a paper at the end that qualifies them to teach in a public school and earn an actual salary.

Public education is where arts education belongs.

Third, I know I said two, but this is my holiday appeal, so, THIRDLY, we have to get serious and coalesce into something that looks like an actual profession.  The research says we aren't managing to make a collective living in this field we care so passionately about.

According to the previewed results of the Teaching Artist Research Project, the average TA made $17,000 last year.


Stop laughing.

It's true, and it's just ridiculous.

Why are we training people to be Teaching Artists through these MA programs if there are no decent jobs for them? How are emerging TAs supposed to be able to pay off their massive student loans while earning $17,000 per year?

We need to do some community organizing. Studs Terkel didn't hate unions, and that's good enough for me. Capitalism, you might have noticed?

So, if we are going to survive, I think we should pool our resources and get what all the other professions have: plush national and regional offices with overpaid administrators, and lobbyists whose sole job is to make darn sure that Teaching Artists get what we need to get and stay middle class. I am referring to the holy grail of American middle class existence: A living wage, a pension plan and affordable health care. Face it, this may be the last period in American history that these things are in any way attainable and I think we need to move fast as a group, or we’re toast. 

This holiday season, and until our Bastille Day arrives, please, join something nascent that has the feel of a movement. Join and give your time, expertise, and cash for the collective good of Teaching Artists everywhere. It's for your own good.

You’ve got so many choices:

Chicago Teaching Artists Collective is in the middle. At least, they were earlier in the decade. Chicago, are you there?

Please, give to ATA this holiday season.

Give an amount that's significant and meaningful to you.

Next Time on ATA Blog: "It's A Trap" In which I express the creeping feeling that our love for arts integration means we'll always be second-class educators.

Also: Let's Push Things Forward - The Streets

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I am a professional Teaching Artist. I work in a variety of contexts. Like most veteran TAs, I've taught all over: universities, public schools, private schools, classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, gymnasiums, basketball courts, mobile “temporary” classrooms, hallways, stairwells, lobbies, amphitheaters, black-box theaters, outdoor theaters, dance studios, art galleries, offices, prisons, women’s shelters, community centers, storefronts, churches, church basements, regular basements, parking lots, sidewalks and in the street, among other places. 
I still don't know how this thing works.
I have facilitated classes for everyone from infants to seniors. I've taught in English and Spanglish, and something that felt like charades. I dutifully went to school, and I have an MFA that cost too much money. Over the past few years, perusing Craigslist, I’ve seen TA jobs that offered anywhere from $10 per workshop, to $15 per workshop, to $20 per workshop and less. Over the last ten years, I’ve had gigs that paid me something like the following range of fees: zero dollars, $30 per workshop, $45 per workshop, $80 per workshop, $150 per workshop, $175 per workshop and hundreds of dollars per day, all to do what I consider to be, basically, the same kind of intellectual and physical labor.  
I have been a volunteer, begrudgingly, and only for people, and causes, and organizations that I really trust, care about, and admire. I rationalize this by reminding myself that people rarely ask a plumber to volunteer. We have too much respect for a plumber's training and expertise, and expect to pay for it. I would like to think I’m in a profession that as valuable and respected, but I’m pretty sure I’m not because plumbers usually get paid up front.
I think that Teaching Artists will achieve the status of plumbers only after we can manage to do two big things. 
I'll talk about those tomorrow, or like, whenever I can get to it.
In the meantime, give a donation to ATA before the end of the year, please. Give an amount that's significant and meaningful to you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Art is Again the Answer

Someone, I think it was me, recently asked this question:

Is the professional artist with no advanced degree, certification or background in education really qualified to teach?

The short answer  is “Yes, of course@^**&%What? Are you kidding?" 

Yes, yes and, for the last time, yes, artists with no advanced degrees in education are totally qualified to teach. Some of us, right out of the box. 

Here’s one reason why:


Seriously, Ken Robinson is not the first person in the history of the world to point out that creative play is the skill set of the future. John Dewey, who is long dead, goes on and on about imaginative play; noting that, especially in early childhood, play is a “purposeful activity” that has “an end in the sense of a directing idea.” Sure, he makes it sound boring, but if you can manage to get to the end of a passage, you'll realize that Dewey's absolutely on our side.

“In their intrinsic meaning, play and industry are by no means so antithetical to one another as is often assumed...Both involve ends consciously entertained and the selection and adaptations of materials and processes designed to effect the desired ends.” 

See? After much comparing and contrasting and an ironically dreary passage about drudgery, Dewey offers another gem of the ocean:

“Education has no more serious responsibility than making adequate provision for enjoyment of recreative leisure; not only for the sake of immediate health, but still more if possible for the sake of its lasting effect upon habits of mind. Art is again the answer to this demand.”

I don't know about you, but I feel validated.

Get to work!

Also: Cathleen P. Black went to private schools and sent her children to private schools. She has no advanced degree in education, no certifications and, virtually, no experience in public education at all. Ms. Black is going to be the new chancellor of New York City Schools.

Laugh it up.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Enough About Me

For the past two years or so, ATA blog has been, for me, a sort of diary. Sometimes I get serious and write about the hows and whys and ways in which we teach and my favorite books. Often, I just post links to my favorite music videos and complain about how hard it is to make a dollar and a dream.   The issues I write about arise from my experience as a community-oriented teaching artist, and from my strong belief that art is probably the answer, no matter the question. This blog is advocacy, but it’s also kind of an ongoing art project.

I usually begin by acknowledging the truth, which is hardly ever easy, at least in the beginning. The current reality, for many of us, is that we have full artistic lives, we teach part-time, we probably have inadequate training as teachers (at least in the beginning), and we are, generally, poorly compensated.[1]

We arrive in the classroom through many different doorways, some of us by necessity, some of us because we feel we are called to teach.[2]

We do our work in a variety of contexts—schools, church basements—and, although many of us have advanced degrees in education or art, many of us don’t. Many of us learned, or are learning, how to teach on the job. In a supposedly professional field, this reality raises big questions:

Is the professional artist with no advanced degree, certification or background in education really qualified to teach?

What are the qualities of effective teaching and what basic skills, competencies and understandings should a professional teaching artist possess?

This blog addresses these questions over and over and over again because the terrain keeps presenting new challenges. As Dale Davis, ATA's Executive Director often requests, please contribute to ATA, and email your thoughts, comments and links to things that TAs might use. Your input helps make ATA a resource for teaching artists who, "qualified" or not, are out there doing the work.

Go Teach!

Also: The Trammps - Disco Inferno

[1] Teaching Artist Research Project

[2] Teaching Artists and their Work

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What You Said

Dale Davis, Executive Director of the Association of Teaching Artists, reports that Teaching Artists from all fifty states and the District of Columbia responded to ATA's latest survey. The results of Teaching Artists and Their Work (PDF) add valuable insights to the ongoing conversation about Teaching Artists; providing information, resources and data for advocates, administrators and TAs. The responses are available for download, and may be discussed, at your leisure, on ATA's Facebook page, or wherever TAs hang out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I am sort of interviewing Teaching Artists in my spare time, to find out what they think about our craft and our professional identity as TAs. Here is the start of an interview I conducted over lunch with Anthem Salgado, a leading Bay Area Teaching Artist. It has been lightly edited, because sometimes we stopped interviewing to talk about food and whatnot.


Q: How long have you been a TA?
A: On and off for about…oh my gosh, well if you count like the very first workshop I ever gave, I dunno, eleven years?
Q: How long have you considered yourself a professional teaching artist then? Is that different?
A: Well, it’s still on and off. I started getting paid gigs...even back then it's inconsistent. Probably the most consistent, when I started getting consistent work, was maybe five or six years ago? Even then that wasn't all the time consistent. It was just more regular than it ever had been up to that point.
Q: Is there a kind of a line between being a kind of sometime teaching artist and a professional, like “now, I’m a professional?”
A: (Nods) Like, yeah. “Now, I'm doing this pretty frequently…designing classes, you know, I’m having a style that I'm working towards, I have a methodology, a philosophy?” Yeah, then maybe that would be about five years ago I would have started conjuring those ideas more deeply.
Q: What makes a professional teaching artist?
A: I think…(laughs) well, uh, it's such a huge question. There are so many ways to answer it. I think number one is there's gotta be training.... I think training is a big part of it, because I feel like, even when I started giving workshops it took me a while to figure out how to do them properly…to develop your sort of like teacher persona. And that's something that you get with experience and training. I think you gotta have, like any organization or any person doing anything, you gotta have a commitment to certain values, which drives the whole project forward. And those are the kinds of…when you really check in with your values that's how you find out how you're going to teach certain skills, why you're teaching certain skills, what benefit you see your students getting. And those all come from what you value.
Like, I value the narrative…empowering people. So for me, I'm really interested in teaching people basic storytelling skills. And a lot of people ask me technical questions about theater or acting, but I think ultimately, and I say this all the time, you can get technical skills all kinds of different places. But my personal emphasis as a teaching artist, for performance, is I want people to really get to a place where they can connect as humans with themselves, with the audience, with their fellow scene partners. And when we have that human connection, then they can do all the more technical study after that. But for me, because I know that's what I value as a person, that's what I emphasize in my teaching, you know…for example. (laughs)

Thus ended the lunch. Thanks to Anthem for being so generous as to share. I will post more interviews, or something else, soon, or at some point.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Short Bursts of Light

Yes, I know I said I was done here, but I've missed keeping this journal, and have therefore decided I'm going to post whenever I feel like it, because why not?

I am new to San Francisco, and the world is still spinning, so last night I hopped on BART, which is what they call public transportation in this town, and headed to Berkeley to hang out with the other Teaching Artists at an event sponsored by Teaching Artists Organized (TAO).

I'm so glad I attended, for TAO is just what it says; a super-organized group of TAs led by Executive Director Sabrina Klein and an executive committee of teaching artists and administrators.

Researcher Nick Rabkin, who is in town for the National Guild for Community Arts Education Conference, presented the results of the Teaching Artist Research Project (PDF) and I live-tweeted the event on Twitter. You can read my brief notes here. I warn you, there was quite a spread, and it's hard to Tweet while eating crackers.

Off to the races!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The End

Sometimes, the good news is the same as the bad news. This is preamble to the announcement that I have to quit writing this blog. Happily, I have recently accepted a gig in San Francisco, and, since there are only so many hours in the day, sadly, I am out of here.

I have enjoyed keeping this teaching artist blog for the Association of Teaching Artists, and I hope it has been of some use, or, at least, diverting.

Dear professional Teaching Artist: I appreciate you, and I hope you keep in touch by email. If you are a teaching artist who would like to keep a regular blog for other teaching artists, please contact Dale Davis and she'll give you the hook  up!

If you miss me, I can still be found here and here.

As usual, I will close with some rambling essential truths, a couple of slogans and a few random calls to action:
1. ATA's Executive Director, Dale Davis, is a hero and a visionary! The Association of Teaching Artists would not exist without her. This organization belongs to you, the working TA, and with your commitment and contributions it has the potential to be a national organizing body for professional teaching artists. Do something!
2. Teaching Artists of the world, unite! Demand a living wage, healthcare and some sort of a pension plan. They will never give us what we need unless we push for it, and even then, probably not, because paying people what they need to survive is not cost efficient.

3. We do the work.

Also: Got To Get You Into My Life - Earth, Wind & Fire

Friday, October 1, 2010

Draw Them In

Drawing is fun, and sometimes a distraction. For instance, in those rare moments when we are all seated, I may notice a student doodling while I'm trying to teach other things through theater. I'm being all about experiential learning and whatnot and there they are doodling, not paying attention to me, but to the lines unspooling on the page. Noticing, I say "Hey!" but then I wonder, if they are bored, then perhaps I am being boring? If so, my hurt feelings are not the point. Maybe I should check my ego, and expand my thinking? Maybe I should bring the art of drawing into my teaching practice to increase levels of student engagement. Maybe adding more art processes to the mix will grab their attention and draw them in? The first reason I do not use much visual art practice in my teaching, is that I suspect everyone in the room can probably draw better than me, and, secondly, I have no idea how to talk about or describe the process of drawing. Luckily, I discovered this new series called Line by Line by James Mcmullan in the New York Times, which describes the art and practice of drawing by hand. Serendipity. The first article in the series was about drawing an ellipse, referred to as "the frisbee of art." The most recent piece builds on the first, and describes the process of cross-hatching in great detail.  Just like that, my problem is solved. Now I can practice drawing with students, talk about drawing with students, and I can even use this thoughtful series of articles to get students to read about and reflect on the art of drawing. It's like a lesson plan just fell in my lap.

Line by Line by James McMullan can be found here.

Also: It's Friday, and ATA is on the social network called Facebook. Where are you?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I am a professional teaching artist; a reflective practitioner. This post continues a stream of consciousness that started somewhere around here. Your thoughtful suggestions and comments are appreciated.

XI.  Desired Learning Outcomes
A Teaching Artist is a reflective being, dedicated to the realization of clearly defined and articulated learning outcomes for students.
To be fully realized, desired learning outcomes must exist before the shared experience of teaching and learning begins.
In the physical world, learning outcomes usually take the form of brief statements written at the top of a lesson plan.
These statements may be derived from national learning standards, from state or local learning standards, from conversations with a classroom teacher, or from a combination of these.
Often these statements share a common preamble, such as “the student will understand”, but this is a mistake, since the field of understanding is too broad to be of use as an assessment tool.
Therefore, when stating desired learning outcomes, the wise teaching artist takes care to use language that imagines the student taking the kind of action that is observable, measurable, and repeatable.
This is the realm of active verbs, and phrases such as “the student will draw connections between…” or “the student will be able to….”
The twin foundations of this kind of teaching are the concepts of accountability, and transformation.
The teaching artist is accountable to a set of learning standards, and does work that can be evaluated.
The student transforms concepts into action, and is in turn transformed.
The process of learning is transformative and circular. 
Our work, accountable and specific, leaves traces--evidence of our success or failure.

Also: Sly & the Family Stone - Higher

Monday, September 27, 2010


This post is about student engagement and the practice of Teaching Artistry. It picks up a stream of thought that was last found somewhere around here.

X. Student Engagement
When art is purposefully integrated into the curriculum, opportunities for student engagement are increased.
Student engagement is the key to understanding. Without it, the doors to understanding remain firmly shut, since no one can force anyone to learn. 
Learning is a choice.
When content, comprised of concepts, facts and figures is framed by an essential question, authentic student engagement is more possible.
The lesson that is constructed of questions always provides more than one doorway to enter.
When content is abstracted from experience; unconnected and irrelevant to student’s lives;  things may be memorized, but not truly understood. This truth is made painfully clear during testing.
The qualities that support high student engagement are relevancy, urgency, and agency.
Relevancy means that something is important enough to pay attention to.
Students will not choose to pay attention if learning is irrelevant to their daily lives.
Relevancy honors the idea that these individuals already existed before you came into the classroom, and they will exist when you leave.
Urgency is the feeling that we have to do this now.
A feeling of urgency comes from structuring lessons as problem-solving experiences, collaboratively and incrementally, we work in the now because something must be figured out before we can move on.
This kind of teaching builds excitement in the room.
Agency is the idea that the individual has power and is allowed to make personal choices within the learning experience.
Given appropriate responsibility and power to make choices, most students will feel more inclined to engage.
All of these qualities arise from the essential question. If the question is boring, so will be the class.

Also: Rakim - The M-stery

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Why did Washington,DC's Mayoral incumbent Adrian Fenty, and his school reform champion Michelle Rhee, go down in defeat? For an answer to this question I turn to Diane Ravitch, which is itself deserving of an explanation because I usually disagree with her. But, lately, on very special days, I have noticed Diane Ravitch is right. I think this might be one one of those days.

In her most recent letter to her pen pal Deborah Mier, Ms. Ravitch addresses the election in Washington, DC, and hits the nail on the head, arguing that Mr. Fenty lost because Mayoral control of the school system led to an undemocratic process of school reform. The speed with which Ms. Rhee worked her changes, and her apparent unwillingness to compromise, may have led the majority of African American voters to feel they were being ignored. The vote became a referendum on school reform and the reformers got schooled. Sadly, the district's children may not be so lucky.

Ms. Ravitch makes another strong point:

"When the Tea Party wins a race, journalists don't write about who controlled their vote, but about a voter revolt; they acknowledge that those who turned out to vote had made a conscious decision. Yet when black voters, by large margins, chose Vincent Gray over Adrian Fenty, journalists found it difficult to accept that the voters were acting on their own, not as puppets of the teachers' union."

Read the rest at Education Week.

Also: Keep up with all the news and more by getting on Dale's List. Join the ATA Forum on Yahoo, and stay in the loop with daily updates on everything from jobs, to trends in education. Membership is FREE.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Location, Location

Sometimes you wake up and you ask the universe, where in the world can I find a community of teaching artists?

The answer depends on where you are on the map.

The Bay Area: Teaching Artists Organized has a new website.

New York: The Association of Teaching Artists is on Facebook.

Chicago: Chicago Teaching Artist Collective is on Yahoo.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Brain Work

The New York Times has made me aware of another spectacular teaching and learning community with a nifty slogan: "Abandon all hierarchical learning ye who enter here”, declares the Brooklyn Brainery. I did and entered to find courses in lots of cool topics, and links to skillsharing events I had never known about. To learn more, visit their website:

Also: ATA is on Facebook. Where in the world are you?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

School Day

A thrilling missive from teaching artists Cassie Thornton and Chris Kennedy of the School of the Future arrived in the mailbox today about an event that happens tomorrow, which, depending upon where you are geographically, might be today.

Here is the news flash:

We greet you this Fall from islands of schooling in the South and from the West! Although our student faculties have left the asphalt land of NYC, we still think about the achievement and scholarship that took place this summer.

This Friday to celebrate you and all that you have contributed as both students and teachers, you are cordially invited to join us for an Opening Reception of a show organized by Trust Art and Kidd Yellin called '5 Social Victories', an exhibition dedicated to charting the evidence, processes, communities, and achievements surrounding five visionary public art projects, including the School of the Future by Cassie Thornton and Chris Kennedy, Wildness by Seth Aylmer, Humanity by Anne McClain, Dreamers by Justin Tellian, and Vulture by Dave Olsen.

The Opening Reception will be held on Friday, September 17th at 7:00 pm with the exhibition on view from September 17th-26th, 2010. Kidd Yellin is located in Red Hook at 133 Imlay St. Brooklyn, NY 11231 ( Directions: 4/5 to Borough Hall or A/C/F to Jay St. to B61 Bus (to Van Brunt & Verona St.)

Remember that the future is always in the past as we share our continuing knowledge of a better education in the present.
Please keep in touch.

Still building the school,
Chris + Cassie

Also: The Jackson Five - Medley 1972

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

At the Movies

San Francisco is home to the San Francisco Film Society, and from September 24-26 the organization will present the NY-SF International Children's Film Festival.

This three-day event celebrates "diverse, enlightening, inspiring and entertaining films for kids and teens".  Along with feature films, the festival program includes a global sampling of documentaries, animation, and short films geared toward young people ages 3–18 and their families.

To support the work, the San Francisco Film Society has developed a youth education and school outreach program that includes interactive workshops and special screenings for school children and their teachers.

I am looking forward to Oblivion Island, which is a 3-D adventure movie from Japan. It shows on September 25th @ 2:15 pm and it has subtitles and is recommended for ages 8-16.

All of the films will be screened at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema. 

The program promises visits from some of the filmmakers and much more. Full details of the events are posted here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Free To Be

Today, as usual, we are making it up.  What follows is an attempt to break down my approach to improvisational teaching, which is, of course, impossible. This post joins this streamPlease let me know what you think. Thank you.

IX. Improvisation

Improvisation is an act of reflection.
The ability to successfully improvise within a set of parameters, is a sure sign of professionalism in a teaching artist.
Successful improvisation advances the planned goals of a lesson and is the visible peak of a repeatable four-step process that may be completed in an instant, or may unfold over time.
The steps of improvisation for the teaching artist are goal-setting, observing, diagnosing, and responding.
Goal-setting means the teaching artist has a value system, and knows the criteria for success.
Observing means the teaching artist assesses the situation with internalized rubrics and questions.
Diagnosing means the teaching artist evaluates the situation, and imagines prescriptive moves.
Responding means the teaching artist springs into action during the moment of opportunity, trying to steer people toward a more unified understanding.
Even though the elements of preparation, experience, aptitude, and training are its true source, successful improvisation may appear to be solely the fruit of inspiration, but this is an illusion.
Drawing on past experience, and attached to specific learning outcomes, the skillful teaching artist stays in the moment, predicts the future, and transforms whatever is offered into something useful.
Accepting everything, and judging nothing, the slogan of the successful improviser is "Yes, and..."
All of this was sometime a paradox, but experience makes it true.

Also: September - Earth, Wind and Fire

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Question and Answer

This post continues a look at Teaching Artistry that has a beginning, but no end. Today, the topic is questions, which is terrific because I always seem to have more than my share.

VIII. Modes of Questioning

Teaching Artistry is made manifest whenever the TA displays the ability to pose a useful question at the appropriate time.

Closed Questions are limited in scope. Here the student is expected to recall and respond with a single word or a specific piece of information. In this realm, power stays with the questioner.

Open Questions have a wider scope. Here the student is expected to reflect and respond with more than a single word. In this realm, power is shared.

Questions, whether open or closed, are grappled with in the mind, but can be posed verbally, physically, or through a combination of words and activities.

The number of questions available to the Teaching Artist is infinite as grains of sand, but the available modes of questioning may be reduced to three:

There are questions that help us see the facts. This is the sphere of memory and comprehension.

There are questions that help us see where things converge or diverge. This is the sphere of analysis and application.

There are questions that help us draw conclusions. This is the sphere of synthesis and evaluation.

For the Teaching Artist who discovers how and when to pose questions, teaching is transformed into a learning experience; a reciprocal and collaborative process where surprise is possible.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Essentials

This post is a continuation of this stream. Recent posts quote from and mimic the format of  Yoga: Discipline of Freedom the Yoga Sutra attributed to Pantanjali translated by Barbara Stoler Miller.

VII. Essential Questions

When essential questions are articulated, a workshop’s reason for existence is revealed and obstacles to effective workshop planning fall away.

The obstacles that distract effective workshop planning include apathy, laziness, doubt, misconception, carelessness, failure to attain a firm foundation in pedagogy, and ego.

These distractions can result in poorly integrated lessons with unclear and/or misaligned goals, objectives and activities, along with an often incoherent approach to assessment and evaluation.

The practice of training emerging teaching artists to plan backward, to articulate essential questions, and to continually assess the quality of their work is the means to prevent and overcome these distractions.

Here's a summer reading list of books and authors I must give credit to for many of the ideas in these most recent posts.
Understanding By Design by Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe
Asking Better Questions by Norah Morgan & Juliana Saxton
Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade
The Reflective Practioner: How Professionals Think In Action by Donald A. Schon
Acting Learning and Plays by Jan Mandell and Jennifer Lynn Wolf
Structuring Drama Work by Jonothan Neelands

I believe the term "essential question" is now the property of UBD  and I dig it, but I might rather say "driving question" instead. They also talk about unit questions versus essential questions. I have heard it said that essential questions are "human questions." That works for me. What do you think?

Also: Studs Terkel: Conversations with America

Friday, September 3, 2010

Endurance Testing

This post continues my previous musings on the subject of Teaching Artistry. I do appreciate your thoughtfully worded comments, thoughts, and suggestions. Click here to send a nice email.

VI. Enduring Understandings

Teaching Artistry can also come from dedication to the concept of an Enduring Understanding.

An enduring understanding can be recognized by its usefulness and high value relative to other things that are worth knowing.

It is the kind of understanding that goes beyond facts and figures, stretching across the curriculum to provide a contextual framework for things we already know or things we still need to learn.

An enduring understanding serves us in other areas of our lives, either as a model for grappling with something similar, or as an underlying structure in a broader field of knowledge.

It is a distinct form of awareness; simultaneously augmenting, and relying on, our ability to transfer things we have previously learned to a new context.

An enduring understanding both encompasses, and reconfigures, the familiar taxonomy of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The artist dedicated to generating enduring understandings through their work becomes an accountable and ethical teacher; acknowledging that people need the tools to both decipher and construct meaning for themselves.

Also: ATA is on Facebook. Where are you?

Also: Madonna - Nothing Really Matters

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Learning Experiences

Today, I will continue my attempt to describe the doctrines that make up my teaching practice.  Links to previous posts on the same topic can be found here. I am inspired by Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, so I am writing in epigrammatic fashion, and this is going to take awhile, if not forever. In the meantime, Teaching Artists are invited to comment below, or, if you feel compelled, please send an email with suggestions. That would be nice.

V.  Learning Experiences

In a workshop where the arts are purposefully integrated, understanding can arise through various forms of inquiry, reflection, enjoyment and practice.

Beyond this is a workshop where the teacher and student are engaged in a shared process of discovery.

For teachers and students who are curious, but still enmeshed in a workshop without art, understanding is limited by a reliance on the phenomenal world.

For others, understanding follows from inspiration, imagination, conjecture, experimentation, and performance.

For teaching artists with a lesson plan, understanding arises by design.

Higher than this is a workshop where the student is curious, questioning and self-directed.

Also: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Mustt Mustt

Monday, August 30, 2010

Planning & Improvisation

This is my continued attempt to describe the practice of teaching artistry. Read the previous post here.

IV. Lesson Planning and Improvisation

The purposeful integration of art and knowledge comes through lesson planning and improvisation.

Lesson planning is the conscious effort to envision the entirety of a workshop.

A lesson plan is firmly grounded when its goals are specific, measurable, accountable, repeatable, and bound by time.

Improvisation is the sign of mastery in a Teaching Artist.

Effective improvisation advances the goals of the lesson plan, and arises through observation and assessment.

Also: Dizzy Gillespie - Salt Peanuts

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I. OK, this is an attempt to describe the practice of Teaching Artistry.

Teaching Artistry is the purposeful integration of art with specific knowledge so that people can achieve a certain level of understanding.

When arts are integrated into a workshop, the person can achieve a deeper understanding, and is capable of transferring knowledge to other areas.

Otherwise, the individual achieves a shallow understanding, and is incapable of transferring knowledge.

II. Understanding, whether deep or shallow, comes through inquiry and reflection.

Without inquiry and reflection, there is no understanding.

Knowledge, whether of skills or of concepts, can be of two kinds: expertise and awareness.

The person attaining expertise and awareness of specific skills and concepts should be able to demonstrate what they know.

III. Demonstrations of knowledge and understanding can be set up as formative and summative assessments.

Formative assessments are non-evaluative in nature. They are used during the teaching and learning process to answer three questions:

What do I want to know and understand?
How close am I to that knowledge and understanding?
What will close the gap?

Summative assessments are evaluative in nature. They are used at the end of a learning process to answer three questions:

What do I know and understand?
How deep is my knowledge and understanding, especially in relationship to other people's?
What don’t I know and/or understand that I had intended to learn?

That's it for now, but this kind of rambling and musing about the nature of our work will be continued here, quite possibly forever, but at least for the rest of the and on.

Also: @ the New York Times, a report on the winners of the Race to the Top, in which we learn the sad truth: If it's a competition, somebody has to lose.

Also: Ravi Shankar - Mangalam

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Great Beyond

"Somehow, understanding goes beyond knowing. But how?"

This thrilling question, which I am pondering now, and probably forever, is posed by David Perkins in an 1993 essay which you can read in its entirety here.

As you may recall, my new advocacy campaign is based on the idea that Teaching Artists achieve professional status only when we embrace the idea of accountability and find effective ways to integrate it into our planning model. Of course, many of us are already doing this successfully and have done so for decades, usually within schools and cultural organizations that provide the time, money and kind of administrative support necessary to document and assess our work.

The focal point of the discussion is the concept of UNDERSTANDING. There are many seminal books on the subject, including Understanding By Design. Indeed, talking about teaching for understanding is a cottage industry. But I can't afford to buy all these books and seminars. I just want to do good work and get paid a living wage.

Therefore, I shall begin to organize my random thoughts into a nice manageable list of do's and don'ts, or Yamas and Niyamas, mostly Niyamas.

I warn you, this may take some time and there will be detours. Please send me your thoughtful comments and suggestions.

Ok, here goes!

1. DO try your best to create delightfully challenging experiences that move students toward a deeper understanding of specific concepts.

2. DO be really specific about what you are hoping students will know, understand, or be able to do when they are done working with you.

3. DON'T do random things in your workshops that are unconnected to your desired outcomes. It's a waste of time and kind of unethical when you think about it. This does not mean you can't be creative. In fact, disciplining your mind to envision everything you want to say and do in the workshop means that you have to be more innovative and flexible. Also, teaching then becomes more like a partially improvised performance, and you can achieve the same kind of rush you get onstage, just don't go overboard because it's not all about you mister.

4. DO provide multiple ways for students to engage with the knowledge, understandings and skills-sets the workshop has been planned around. Don't set up just one narrow door, because everybody is different, and if you don't believe me, ask Howard Gardner.

5. DO make rubrics because they are infinitely adjustable tools that you can use for planning, assessment and eventually evaluation.

6. DON'T confuse Assessment and Evaluation when you are planning. These are two different things. Assessment is more about observing and identifying where someone is along a continuum. It's a conversation starter. A grade kind of says "we're done here".

In the next few weeks, I will continue to post about these things, but I am traveling, so don't judge me if I miss a day.

Also: ATA is on Facebook. Where are you?

Also: Joni Mitchell - Help Me

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Open

The Open Studio Project, which is produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, is a "Collection of Art-making Ideas by Artists". Open Studio "aims to make contemporary arts education accessible to teachers and classrooms across the nation and around the world." 

Lead artist, and MacArthur Award-winner, Mark Bradford, explains his inspiration for the project in a video on their site.  His delightful 3-part lesson plan is excerpted below:

Assignment #1
Song Text Piece: Arrangement/Subtraction

Pick a song with lyrics that you like, then type the lyrics into the computer. Pick a font you like and make the type size 36 or 48, so that it’s big enough to read at a distance, and then print the whole thing out. Cut the words out and arrange them on a large poster-sized sheet of paper. Finally, use scissors and cut out words that you don’t like, or that make you feel bad or uncomfortable.

… if you re-arrange the words out of order, is it a remix?
Download a PDF version of all the lesson plans at the Getty.

Did you know that links to resources like this are often posted on The Association of Teaching Artists Facebook page?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Super Model

The Arts Education Master Plan developed by the San Francisco Unified School District concludes that "Assessment is inherent to the artistic process" and offers itself as a conversation-starter and step toward  establishing "standards and expectations for the literary arts that can provide a statewide and national model." On page 23, the Master Plan goes on to say that assessments in the classroom should be "formative (conducted when a program is being developed or improved) and summative (typically quantitative, using numeric scores or letter grades to gauge a student’s achievement)."

Using Assessment as the foundation of a TA planning model requires that the Teaching Artist articulate desired learning outcomes that are specific, observable, and measurable. Our planned activities are aligned, and TAs can come away with documentation--written observations, reports and data. I wonder if you feel close to the idea that this kind of planning will make for better teaching, and that our collaborations with Classroom Teachers will be more successful in terms of student achievement? Teaching Artists are invited to send an email or make a comment on the blog.

According to the Master Plan, the assessments should follow the five strands outlined in the California Visual Arts Content Standards:
Artistic perception – processing sensory information through elements unique to the arts.

Creative expression – creating or performing original or existing art works.

Historical and cultural context – understanding and appreciating how the arts represent the time and place of their creation.

Aesthetic valuing – analyzing, judging and pursuing meaning in the arts.

Connections, relationships and applications – applying what has been
learned through the arts to other subjects to support lifelong learning.

Also: Blondie - The Tide is High

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Something to Talk About

This article gives me the thrill one gets from swimming in the zeitgeist. It is peppered with interesting observations, suggestions, and links to online conversations about things like formative and summative assessment. These are all things I adore, and want to know more about.

At one point, Ms. Nickens quotes a blog post by theater artist Bora Koknar, who writes: "Instead of focusing on the ‘soft’ skills we can anecdotally show we improve such as creativity, critical thinking, empathy, ability to make judgments etc, we need to speak the language of the policy makers." 


Ms. Nickens' final paragraph frames the issue quite nicely:

"Ultimately, I don't think that arts educators are from Mars and everyone else is from Venus. We already speak the same language in terms of our mutual desire to effect positive change and development in the lives of young people. (S)haring specific evidence of how our work impacts academic achievement will only facilitate understanding and benefit the children and families we serve."

Read the rest of the post here.

Also: Shirley Bassey - Where Do I Begin?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Be More Specific

Today, and much to our delight, we will share a rubric emailed to us by a fellow Teaching Artist.

Those who have been following along on the blog already know that our most recent fantastic voyage is all about rubrics, and learning the language and processes of assessment. In posts here and there and elsewhere, we have been offering up drafts of a rubric that students and Teaching Artists can use to assess student work in a Spoken Word Workshop for 5th Graders

So far, I have posted two different versions of the rubric. The first version functions like a checklist, asking "did the student meet the criteria? Yes or No." After some feedback, I drafted a second version containing a scale. This scale allows a TA to answer the question "how close to proficiency is the student?" Anything that allows a Teaching Artist to frame observations in multiple ways is alright by me. Think of it, now you too can look up from your artwork to greet a passing administrator  with a cheery "yes, the students are getting it! Here are the numbers: Out of twenty-five workshop participants twelve scored a five, and twelve scored a four on the last assignment.  With one being the lowest, and five being the  highest score, that means nearly fifty percent of the class is exceeding the criteria. The quality of the work is excellent. Sadly, there was one three, and we have a plan to address gaps in understanding later on in the workshop." 

Seriously, we have to be able to talk this way, or we should get out of the game because being accountable, is where the money is. It's literally a Race to the Top.

That reminds me, as promised, here's another rubric to review. The generous author , to whom we are grateful, is Teaching Artist Brendan Boland, c/o Urban Arts Partnership.  I have been told that this sample rubric  follows "the format that DOE uses" but that it has been adapted  for a semester-long theater residency at a high school. Like our Spoken Word Workshop, this class also has students "creating and performing their own work" so, perhaps there are some parallels we can use to improve the rubric we are developing. The areas to be assessed are all in caps. The level of mastery is in italics, and the qualifying language is beneath that. I dig it.

SAMPLE RUBRIC by Teaching Artist Brendan Boland


Does not turn in work
Does not participate in writing/rehearsal process

Turns in written work
Turns in assignments.

Listens to instructions.
Revises material when needed.


Doesn’t move or speak much
Refuses to get up
Not invested in group work

Makes informed, committed choices as a writer/performer
Memorized when needed/self-motivated
Has an active role in rehearsal/script development

Makes informed, committed choices as a writer/performer
Memorized when needed/self-motivated
Has an active role in rehearsal/script development


Doesn’t focus.
Seldom volunteers to participate
If they speak, it is often off topic and/or disruptive to the class

Focuses on activity
Volunteers to participate

Offers suggestions/takes suggestions
Listens to other groups present their work and offers feedback