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

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Keeping Score

Today, we will take another look at the Rubric we are developing for our Spoken Word Workshop. In two recent posts on this topic here and here, we characterized the Rubric as a "checklist", something students and Teaching Artists could both use to assess whether or not students have met the criteria for the assignment. 

We asked for feedback, and a reader helpfully pointed out that calling a Rubric a checklist might not be totally skillful or accurate. In fact, our commenter explains "A rubric specifically refers to the grid that defines for the students how close to mastery they are. You would need to define the each step on the range of mastery for each criteria, from developing skills to proficiency, in order for it to be a proper rubric."

Ok, cool. Let's try that.


After observing the student's performance of the assignment, the TA will use this scale to provide appropriate feedback. (Since this workshop will be conducted out of school time, or after school, I would probably not announce the numbers, because numbers sound too much like grades, and I am not required to issue grades.)
5 proficient; the poet exceeds all expectations
4 competent; the poet meets all expectations
3 satisfactory; the poet approaches all expectations
2 emerging; the poet approaches some of the expectations
1 beginning; the poet does not adequately address the criteria

Hey, it seems to me that by adding a scale, or a numerical scoring system to our rubric we increase its usefulness, and we don't lose anything in the bargain. Without the scale, the rubric can still be used a checklist to make sure students have met the basic criteria for the assignment.  But with the addition of a scale, the Teaching Artist is now in a better position to actually assess the quality of the work and give appropriate and useful feedback. 

Review the draft of our new proficiency scale above, and, if you have a moment, please let me know how you think it affects our rubric. The original rubric is reprinted below and links to the related posts are here, here and here.

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

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

For the Win

Great jobs for Teaching Artists are available, even now. But the chances that you'll make a living solely on your Teaching Artist wages do seem to be to be slimmer than ever. As Paul Krugman of the New York Times has noticed, there is "growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn’t care — that a once-unthinkable level of economic distress is in the process of becoming the new normal."

As I've said before, and will again, Teaching Artists deserve a living wage, a pension and decent health care. Unless it's a full-time gig with health care, $20 per hour is a poverty wage. Some may argue, in good faith, that there isn't much our non-profit leaders can do--the funding streams have all dried up, and expenses are high. But there is still the fact that workers have to eat, and, in the immortal words of Ralph Kramden's mother-in-law, "I have no doubt the bills are high, but how much of the food are the Teaching Artists actually getting?*

Below, just after the necessary music video, are the results of our daily job search, courtesy of Keyword "Teaching Artist". Good luck teaching artists, and whatever you do, don't panic!

Sing-along: Lauryn Hill - Everything is Everything - Jobs
Daily Job Search: Key Word "Teaching Artist" (Don't Panic!)

Piano Department Head, Diller-Quaile School of Music
Posted on: Tue Aug 3 14:04:20 2010

Program Associate, DreamYard Project
Posted on: Tue Aug 3 12:03:26 2010

Artistic Director, Project HIP-HOP
Posted on: Tue Aug 3 09:16:12 2010

Office Manager, Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA)
Posted on: Mon Aug 2 19:17:27 2010

Alternate Routes Program Director, Side Street Projects
Posted on: Mon Aug 2 17:27:02 2010

Dance Instructor, Center for Family Life in Sunset Park
Posted on: Sun Aug 1 20:12:02 2010

Theater Instructor, Center for Family Life in Sunset Park
Posted on: Sun Aug 1 20:13:07 2010

Groundwork for Youth Campus Director, Groundwork
Posted on: Fri Jul 30 12:27:30 2010

Associate Director of Education, Philadelphia Young Playwrights
Posted on: Thu Jul 29 17:18:14 2010

Teaching Artist, Changing Worlds
Posted on: Thu Jul 29 11:01:11 2010