Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another Piece

In previous postings here, and there, I've been putting forth some drafts of simple assessment pieces for a Spoken Word Workshop for 5th Graders. Here's a second assessment piece. This would come somewhere in the middle of a nine-session workshop process. Who knows, if this kind of stuff really works? Please feedback, and be nice about it.


About the Assessment Process

- The TA must assess each student 3 times over the course of the workshop process.

- The first assessment must be done early in the process.

- The second assessment must be done at a midway point in the process.

- The third assessment must be done at the end of the workshop process, before the planned culmination, which is a poetry slam. The poetry slam will be graded. The assessments might be a part of the grade, but they are not themselves graded, if that makes sense.

How to Use this Rubric

This rubric functions as a checklist. It lists the criteria for the second of three formal assessments. The criteria for this formative assessment* piece is transparent. Students know the criteria for success, and they know what to expect. They know what it's going to look like at the end. The criteria are transparent because an assessment is not a test and there is no grade..yet. Our value system says that we empower students so that they can independently achieve the desired outcome. The working theory is that a student who understands what's expected will be more able to carry her understanding into the future. She will be more able to achieve transfer of that understanding and apply it in other areas of her life and learning process. (Someone smart has probably proved this, but I just think it's logical because if you're going to succeed here, then you have to be paying attention. Paying attention is pretty much a guarantee that you're engaged. If you're engaged, you must be having some sort of learning experience, otherwise you wouldn't be paying attention...right?)

Before the TA observes the students, there should be a conversation about the criteria and what's expected. The students and the TA should go over the rubric together. In an ideal situation, students might comment on the rubric and add to it. They might even be asked to add their personal desired outcome to the list.  All desired outcomes must be specific, observable and measureable in a way that makes sense to each individual, or none of this is guaranteed to work.

The TA must set up an activity to observe. For this assessment we will set up something like this:

Students are required to write an original poem of at least 14 lines. "Everyone will write a poem of at least 14 lines by next week. We'll work on it today for about 30 minutes and then you can take it home. By the end of the next session, you must have 14 lines written. Your poem must have the following things in it:

1. It must be 14 lines. "Your poem has to be at least 14 lines. Yes you can write more. No you can't write less. Nothing over 2 minutes, please, thank you."

2. It must meet the criteria on the rubric. "Let's go over that together, and see if we need to make any changes."

3. Students must provide four copies of their poem. "You'll need four copies of the poem, because you'll be working with partner and they'll need a copy. One copy stays in your book. The other copy goes to me. The other one is for when you have to do some revising and editing, and because you might lose one. Double-sided is fine. We love trees."

4. Students are paired with partner. "You will work with a partner and I will assign those right now. Partners are supposed to help each succeed. Help your partner meet the criteria."

5. Each student will perform for the other. "When the first draft of your poem is finished, you will perform your poem aloud for your partner."

6.  Partners are required to use the rubric as a checklist to provide feedback to their partner. Partners must make notes on each other's poems, showing where they heard the criteria being met. If criteria are not met, students must go back and help each other revise their work so that it meets the criteria. "Listen to your partner's poem. Use the rubric as a checklist. Did they meet the criteria? If so, make notes on your copy of their poem to show them where you heard the criteria being met. If not, talk to them and help them make notes on their poem. Help them to revise their poem so that it does meet the criteria. When you're done, switch."

7. Students must add their own personal desired outcome to the rubric. "Ok, what's your personal criteria for success? What do you want to accomplish with this reading? Take some time to articulate that for yourself. When you have it, write it down on a fresh copy of the rubric and hand it back to me. I have copies of the rubric right here."

8.  After all students have assessed each other's work and added their own personal criteria for success, we will have a mini-poetry slam. Each student will be required to perform their poem aloud in front of the class. "OK. We are about to do our performances. Each person has written their poem, and rehearsed it in front of a classmate. Each person has used the rubric to make sure their poem meets the criteria. Now is the performance. I will use the rubric now as a checklist, and I'll give a little feedback to each of you, just as your classmates did. Let's applaud for each person before they perform. Show your love!"

9. As the final step in this piece, the TA will observe each student's performance and use the rubric to provide feedback to the student, and to assess where each student is in the process. If there are gaps in understanding--if criteria are not met--the TA will make a plan to address those gaps in a later workshop.


Criteria #1 RHYME
Does the poet employ rhyme? Yes/No

Does the poet employ at least two of the following common literary devices: alliteration, repetition, onomatopoeia? Yes/No

Does the poet use at least three adjectives, or descriptive words? Yes/No

Criteria #4: METAPHOR or SIMILE
Does the poet use at least three metaphors and/or similes? Yes/No

Criteria #5: POINT OF VIEW
Does the poet express a strong personal point of view, or a strong opinion? Yes/No

Criteria #6: VOLUME & CLARITY
Can the poet be heard and understood by the audience? Yes/No

*Many thanks to Jennifer L. Wolf PhD for pointing me toward the light. This changes everything.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Future Perfect

In case you failed to notice, the School of the Future is now, and, as usual, there is no time like the present. It's in Brooklyn and all the details of this exciting project are below.



Upcoming Classes | July 29-31

Details about classes are on the website, at .   Click on the class name to look at the description. All classes are held, or will meet at Sgt. Dougherty Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  

A Note about the Weather: Looks like no rain or just a scattered storms predicted this weekend! Scattered is our middle names, so come on down to Sgt. Dougherty Park!  If you are suspicious of the weather, check our website for updates the morning of the event you plan to attend!  We will keep you posted.

July 29th, Thursday
9:30am - Monitor School 
12:30pm - ReBuilding the City
6pm - Text Performance Creation
7pm - Illustration from Inside
July 30th, Friday
9:30am - Print in the Park
6:30pm - Conviction Fiction: Flight or Invisibility
July 31st, Saturday

12pm - Irish Ceili Dancing
1pm - Interactive Hegelian Lordship and Bondage
2pm - How to Say Goodbye: Hair Extension
2pm - Ballet
2:30pm - Learning Language Guerilla Style
3pm - Human Size Chess
4pm - Easy-to-Draw Dictators
4:30pm - Ticking Time Capsules
5pm - Movement for Seniors
7pm - Graduation Ceremonies and Potluck

School of the Future is a collaborative project by Student Body Cassie Thornton, Head Librarian Christopher Kennedy and an array of community partners and supporters including: Solar One, AlphaOne Labs, Flux Factory, Association of Teaching Artists, Trust Art, Buckminster Fuller Institute, NYC Parks Department, Open Space Alliance of North Brooklyn, St. Nicks Alliance, St. Cecilias, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth and our wonderful Bored of Education.

Also: Oleta Adams - Get Here

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Rubric

Our last post was a basic Formative Assessment Piece for a Spoken Word Workshop for 5th Graders. We are pushing the idea that the language and processes of assessment should be a standard part of the professional Teaching Artists toolkit. (For some, it's already de rigueur.)

The Assessment piece we are working around is basic, because the goal right now is simply to break down an effective way to do this kind of stuff.

So, what's the next step? We asked the hive-mind for feedback and one cool response is reprinted below. I really dig it, because it's clear and it aligns with our value system, which requires that we honor students by asking them to take some responsibilty for their own learning.

So step 1 in the assessment project you set up for the 5th graders is to make a rubric, preferably with them, and share it with the class. This lets the kids know what the expectations are, how they can meet them, and how they can surpass them. You can record asking the kids questions on their comprehension of this rubric at the start, record peer to peer critique the kids give each other using this rubric in the middle, and then measure student performance against the rubric at the end. That’s a basic and quick structure in which you establish data, measure its process, and record its outcomes.

Thank you dear reader.

In our next post, I'll ask you to take a look at an assessment piece that will come later in the workshop. This one should build on past work, and students should be aware of the criteria for success. I'll also do some musing on the difference between being able to parrot the right answer, and actually understanding something in a way that is enduring and useful.

Also: Bryan Ferry - More Than This

Thursday, July 22, 2010

River Deep

Ok, I'm working diligently on my approach to assessment, and I need feedback. So here is an excerpt from a simple plan I am working on for a Spoken Word Workshop. It's for 5th Graders. I'm starting small.

I think we should be doing this kind of assessment  as a matter of course, but we're not because we're often not required to, and because it takes time. That's why they call us "activity specialists" or "group leaders" It's how they justify offering us $20/hour. We have to get serious.

My new advocacy theory is this: IF we Teaching Artists start to really understand and do things in ways that mirror and complement the way the non-arts educators are doing things, THEN maybe we can earn enough to live on as full-time Teaching Artists, rather than perpetually struggling hybrids. If I hear another TA over the age of 40 tell me they don't have health insurance, I'm going to pass out.

Yes, I know we're all doing this for love, but I'm not getting any younger, and the rent's not going down. So, I have taken a pledge to try to do work that is more accountable, even if I'm working in 90 degree heat and there are no grades issued at the end. This is the professional approach and it's the only way we can achieve the kind of professional legitimacy that leads to  interviews with the Lords of Equity, and mortgage payments.

That's what I think. I'm sure you'll tell me if you disagree

Anyway, here goes:


1st Assessment Piece

Requirements: During the course of this 9-session workshop process, the Teaching Artist will formally observe and assess each poet’s performance three times before the culminating project; a Poetry Slam.

Assessment #1: The first assessment will be done early in the workshop process. For our purposes, we’ll use the familiar classic Name, Adjective & Gesture. The criteria for success in this activity will be transparent; students will know what success looks like. However, this assessment may also function as a non-transparent diagnostic; the TA may be observing for skills and understandings not yet discussed or addressed in the workshop. In this case, we might be observing for effective use of volume.*


Teaching Artist invites participants to stand in a circle.

“Here’s the game. We’ll go one by one. Each person will say their name, and then offer an adjective and a gesture that describes a bit about their personality. When you’re done, people watching and listening should know more a bit more about you than they did before. Please don't share anything you don't want us to know, Ok? Ok, I’ll go first and then we’ll talk about it a bit and then we’ll all get to try. Here goes! MUSICAL MARLEY! (TA mimes playing a trumpet)”

TA might ask a few questions here to make sure participants understand the game.

What do you know about me now that you might not have known before I offered my name, adjective and gesture? Did my gesture and adjective work together? If so, how? If not, how would you do it better?

TA might have to define the Vocabulary Words (Adjective, Gesture) for students to be successful.

TA might invite students to arrange themselves in a circle facing out, while they choose their gesture. This can make the activity less “high focus” and give individuals who need it a safer work space.

“Face out. Take about 30 seconds to decide on an adjective. When you’ve decided, put your hand on your head, so I know. (Pause) Great. Everyone should have their adjective. Now, take a few moments to decide on a gesture that matches your adjective. Your gesture should be something you can repeat over and over again. Take 30 seconds to decide. When you’ve decided, put your hand on your head, so I know.  (Pause) Terrific. Everyone should have their gesture. Now, rehearse or practice performing your name and gesture together. Do them at the same time. Do this three times in a row. Rehearsal. Starting now!

The next step would be to do the performance. The TA has a checklist and they should use it here.


1. The poet must offer an adjective that describes a bit of their personality. Example: Musical Marley!

·      Does the poet offer an appropriate adjective? YES NO

·      Is the poet able to justify their choice? Why did you choose that adjective? How and why do you feel it describes you?

2. The poet must offer a gesture that describes a bit of their personality and matches the adjective they’ve chosen.  Example: Poet mimes playing a trumpet while saying Musical Marley!

Does the poet offer an appropriate gesture? YES NO

Is the poet able to justify their choice? Why did you choose that gesture? How and why does it match the meaning of the adjective you’ve chosen?

To end the activity, TA might ask something like "What did we learn about each other?"

* Informal Assessments, Observations, and Diagnostics: Practically, and ethically, the student must know and understand the criteria that they need to meet in order to be successful in the activity. Even so, the TA can withhold some information until it is useful or necessary. The TA should use any available opportunity to diagnose for things that will need to be addressed later on. For example, during this first assessment piece, the TA might be observing to diagnose how students are using their voices. Are they using volume effectively? Can they be heard? Are they pushing too hard, or putting their vocal cords in danger? If there are notable gaps, the TA is wise to go back to the original plan to make sure that the class or the individual gets to work on the necessary skill or understanding in a later session. In this case, the TA knows that using the voice effectively is definitely going to be one of the criteria for success during the culminating project—a Poetry Slam!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Message From Dale Davis

July 21st, 2010


Members of the ATA Listserv,

ATA thanks Board Chair Glenn McClure for his years of service on the Board. Thank you Glenn for your commitment and all the expertise you brought to the ATA Board.

And ATA thanks Georgia Popoff for the dedication she brought to ATA. Georgia's experience and insight as a Teaching Artists and her advocacy for those in the profession are unparalleled.

ATA thanks you Glenn and Georgia!

This is the beginning of ATA's twelfth year and more than ever your financial contributions are important to us. We need your help.

And here we are in midsummer!

Dale Davis
Executive Director
The Association of Teaching Artists

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


After yesterday's post about money, and our lack of it, a faithful reader, an arts administrator, asked me to remind you that administrators are not out to exploit teaching artists. I am happy to do so, primarily because I am giddy with the thrill of finding that someone is actually reading this thing. 

Seriously, since comments on the blog are as rare as unicorns, or full-time teaching artists with affordable health insurance, here is the faithful reader's response, reprinted, verbatim:

Anonymous said...
I've worked as a TA for several organizations and as an art administrator for a small handful. It's a touchy subject, but in each case I made more per hour as a TA than I do as an arts administrator. I made more as a full time nanny than both, incidentally. Insurance and health care aren't free for us either. We're not middlemen fleecing our staff. What would be the point? How would I make education better that way? And most of us are, after all, working for nonprofits, where any extra money goes to offering schools free or discounted programming- which we of course pay our TAs in full for. I know it's hard to cobble together a living as a TA. But rest assured, your boss often makes $8 an hour when factoring salary and the time put in. My job is to try and make teaching artistry as impactful and educationally relevant as possible. I'm not a booking agent. And I don't get paid enough either. We should think about elevating the whole feild and our worth, rather than fostering an internal resentment that is neither relevant nor fruitful.

Also: Joni Mitchell - All I Want

Monday, July 19, 2010

On the Farm

When people ask me, and they do, just how much I think a teaching artist should be getting paid, I usually answer "enough to live on."

It's really very simple when you think of it that way.

If a teaching artist is supposed to be a professional--by that I mean a reflective practicioner with an advanced degree, and the ability to accurately diagnose a problem, plan a course of action, and implement said plan--then I think our expertise has a street value of at least $75,000 per year.

So a good minimum figure is about $75/per workshop hour for a part-time TA. Those with more experience and more training should, of course, get paid more and there is no reason why a spectacularly talented veteran TA shouldn't  be worth six-figures.

A full-time, experienced teaching artist with  the requisite education, artistry, skills and training should be able to afford to pay off their student loans, buy a home and raise a family. It is expensive to be middle class in America in the 21st Century, and the organizations that hire us are going to have to start paying us more if they care about us as fellow human beings. The funders will understand our desire to be middle class. 

The reality is that TAs do much of the actual work, but the arts administrators reap the bulk of the reward--including more job security and health insurance. We are a line item, and when it comes time to cut the budget, we are often first in line. 

The cultural organizations and schools that hire the most TAs operate just like agents, curators and producers in the art world. They are the "middleman" and like artists everywhere, TAs are dependent and relatively powerless in this system. They cut the checks and set the agenda.  We need jobs, and it is not politic to complain too much, especially since there is usually someone standing right behind you, resume in hand.

Faced with a laughably low workshop fee, a TA can always say "no", but then of course she would starve to death.

Back to work.

Also: LaBelle - Are You Lonely?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Just In Sight

I wonder, if the goal is for student artwork to be a demonstration of a newly acquired enduring understanding, then what happens when the student's performance is brilliant, but the facts are all wrong?

How do I assess for understanding, when I have aesthetic preferences?

I have to be hard as nails, that's how. No, not on them, on myself.

I have to ask myself: Brother, what are your desired outcomes? What does success look like? What kind of evidence will you accept from students to prove that you, not them, are really worth your weight in salt?

No more flying by the seat of your pants, buddy.

Our book of the month is Understanding By Design and the salient quote is on page 79:

"...the thorniest problem we face in assessing for understanding is  differentiating  between the student's insights and the student's performance. How do we identify a sophisiticated understanding buried in weak performance or incorrect facts? By contrast, how do we avoid overrewarding students for being articulate and dutiful?"

This line of questioning changes everything.

Also: Kate Bush - Big Sky

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Night Music

Someone at the Metropolitan Opera had this great idea to broadcast on TV, and in movie theaters, and they should get a raise.

Tonight's classic offering is a delight:

Puccini’s La Bohème
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 6:30 pm local time (U.S. Only)  
A magnificent cast comes together for Franco Zeffirelli’s iconic production of the Puccini favorite. The exciting young conductor Nicola Luisotti presides over a glorious vocal ensemble led by Angela Gheorghiu, opposite tenor Ramón Vargas as her lover, Rodolfo.

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti; Production: Franco Zeffirelli; Angela Gheorghiu, Ainhoa Arteta, Ramón Vargas, Ludovic Tézier, Quinn Kelsey, Oren Gradus, Paul Plishka

Monday, July 12, 2010

Celebrating Brooklyn

Celebrate Brooklyn, the annual festival of music, dance, performance and film produced by BRIC Performing Arts is brighter than a thousand suns, and just as hot.

This weekend's events are presented in partnership with the Museum for African Art, which offers free Educator Resources  and other Public Programs of interest to teaching artists, when we are not busy dancing.

Information on this weekend's concert is below:

African Festival with Konono No. 1

Saturday, July 17, 2:00pm
Gates open at 1:00pm
with Omar Pene & Super Diamono, Chiwoniso, Meta & the Cornerstones and Djarara
Presented with the Museum for African Art
Our annual celebration of African music, food and culture builds to an ecstatic crescendo with the distortion-fueled trance music of Congolese thumb-piano wizards Konono No. 1. Dakar heavyweights Omar Pene & Super Diamono, seminal figures in the birth of the modern Senegalese sound, add a jolt of energy to the proceedings, while the distinctive voice of Zimbabwean Afro-soul diva Chiwoniso, the pan-African reggae of Meta & The Cornerstones, and the festival horns and drums from Haiti’s Djarara bring other unique flavors to the day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Too Hot, Two Hot

The Association of Teaching Artists (ATA) is a not for profit professional organization whose mission is to strengthen and serve Teaching Artists from all disciplines in New York State and beyond.

Connect. Get jobs.  Go Teach!*

*There are two job listings below. My favorite is the second one-where they say they would like to hire an artist with a Master's Degree, years of experience, and the ability to speak Mandarin. It pays $20/hr, plus health benefits.  Good luck everybody! You're going to need it.


Urban Arts Partnership is seeking a team-oriented, enthusiastic Program Coordinator to join its full-time staff.  Urban Arts Partnership advances the intellectual, social and artistic development of underserved public school students through arts-integrated education programs to close the achievement gap.  Currently, Urban Arts is providing over 60 New York City schools with in-school and after-school arts programs.
The primary responsibilities are facilitating the development of an arts based literacy curricula targeting the improvement of literacy and fluency skills in English Language Learners; overseeing the implementation of quality arts education programs in Urban Arts' portfolio of schools; collaboratively working with the program department staff to coordinate special events and workshops, and providing support for teaching artists. The Program Coordinator reports to the Director of Programs.


Works with the Program Department to develop and implement comprehensive arts programming for a wide range New York City Public schools.

Works closely with a staff of 70+ teaching artists to help them develop their curricula, evaluate their    programs and maintain the organization's high standard of arts education.

Develops and maintains proactive relationships with school administration and partner organizations. Develops, coordinates and presents professional development workshops to staff and teaching artists. Prepares quarterly and end of year programmatic reports.

Skills and Experience:

2+ years of experience in arts administration or non-profit administration.  Comprehensive experience developing and implementing programs.  Experience with ELL/ESL literacy curricula and development of ELL/ESL programs. Familiarity with the arts education community of New York and the non-profit sector. Background and interest in the arts . A creative and innovative approach to program development . Exceptional writing, editorial, and verbal communication skills. Ability to multi-task and trouble-shoot . A dedicated team player who is able to take initiative and work independently . Ability to deliver effective public presentations .  Excels in a fast-paced, open office environment.  Proficiency in Microsoft Office. Experience working with NYC DOE classroom teachers a plus.
To apply: Send a cover letter, resume and three references to


Salary: $20.00/hour + Benefits (medical, dental, paid vacation, holidays and sick days
Education: Bachelor (BA, BS, etc.)
Location: Elmhurst, New York, 11373, United States
Posted by: Arts & Literacy Afterschool Program

Last day to apply: August 31, 2010
Last updated: July 2, 2010

Innovative after school and summer program seeks teaching artist for elementary schools serving children ages 5-12 in Elmhurst, Queens. The teaching artist teaches her/his discipline to a group of twenty students incorporating literacy in the widest sense of the word. Our teachers work 21 hours per week (Monday -Thursday from 2:15pm-6pm and Fridays 12pm-6pm).

We are looking for versatile teachers who are open to feedback and are excited to be a part of a creative team. We are also open to interdisciplinary artists who can create dynamic curriculums merging two art forms i.e. Yoga and storytelling. The teaching artists are responsible for creating their own lesson plans, communicating with parents and day-time teachers, providing homework help, and creating final projects with the students. We are interested in teachers who focus in any of the following art forms: dance, music, drama, visual arts, yoga, martial arts, photography and video.

Additional Qualifications:
Masters Preferred, BA required. EXPERIENCED TEACHING ARTISTS ONLY. Bilingual Mandarin Required.
How to Apply:
Please email your cover letter and resume to Erica Mena at

Also: I'm Not Your Superwoman  - Karyn White

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) is the place to get Educator Tools, including ideas for projects, professional development and other useful resources. The site, which is made possible by volunteers, also supports teachers who work in afterschool contexts.

Joining is easy.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Believe It Or Not

I predict that one day, in the not too distant future, veteran teaching artists will tell tall tales of the long ago days when we worked in schools with classroom teachers we had never met. 

Anecdotes about "the time I was teaching a workshop and the classroom teacher was grading papers"  will leave incredulous audiences dumbstruck. 

Stories about "the time we showed up and they had forgotten we were coming" will make conferences halls rock with laughter. Teaching artists of the future will confusedly ask "You mean they made you work without a desk or an office of your own? How did they expect you to write lesson plans?" 

Dream on...

Also: Our book of the day is Understanding By Design by By Grant P. Wiggins, Jay McTighe. This book is made of gold, or it should be.