Thursday, August 27, 2009

Teaching with Love and Logic

Today was my first day back at work. We had one of those "Teacher Training" days and I always find the time we spend together as a staff to be both exciting and motivating. In the morning we had a brief meeting, and then, in teams, we hopped into our cars and went on our first grade home visits. Each incoming first grader is visited by a team of teachers, given a small packet containing a book to read, information about school and upcoming events, and a few other items that would interest a child of that age. After that we had lunch and then spent the remaining afternoon with a refresher course on the Teaching with Love and Logic principles.

When I was first introduced to the Love and Logic principles, I was immediately attracted to its simplicity and sensible approach to classroom management. Although there is much that could be said about Love and Logic philosophy, I believe they are encapsulated in the four following principles.

1. Build Relationships: The most powerful thing a teacher can do to effectively manage his or her classroom is to build a meaningful relationship with each student. Get to know their names quickly. Learn something about each student. Notice them and acknowledge. Greet them each day (meet them at your door). Smile. Be sincere. Ask them questions about things that they might find interesting. Use positive body language including safe and gentle touch (side hugs with younger students, high fives, other appropriate touch with older students). With the older boys, I like to give the shoulder bump (like the football players do except I do it softly). Show interest in your students.

2. Show Empathy: We all make mistakes. When a child is frustrated, or hurt, show empathy for the child by acknowledging their feelings. Saying things like, "That must be frustrating." or "You look upset." or "Ouch, that must hurt." shows students you care about how they feel. These are statements of empathy. Say a child is running through the hall and slips and skins his knee. Rather than say, "That's why we walk in the hall." you could say, "Looks like you skinned your knee. That must hurt. Let's go to the nurse and have her take a look at it." Then later, after the child has had time to consider the consequences of his actions (running in the hall) you might say, "How's is your knee doing?" (show empathy) "Have you thought about what you could do differently so that you don't get hurt again?" Most kids have already figured that out.

3. Offer Choices: When a child is acting up and you want the behavior changed, give reasonable choices. Keeping the principle of empathy in mind, acknowledge that the student looks frustrated (or mad) if appropriate. If the student is just acting out, ask if they can pull it together of do they need to go to the back of the room (or across the hall) and pull it together there. Make the choices reasonable and non threatening. (In Love and Logic, you don't always have to give choices. If a strong relationship has been formed, that alone may give you enough of a bond between you and that student to ask for compliance. "Do that for me will you? Thanks." Turn and walk away - assume the student will comply. Most often, they will.

4. Use Enforceable Statements: An enforceable statement is one that you can actually enforce. It's what you will do, not what you expect the students to do. For example, "Turn in your math books to page 14 and look at problem one. We'll start there. I'll begin the lesson in thirty seconds." When the thirty seconds is up, begin the lesson and notice those students that haven't followed through. Walk toward them but continue teaching. As you approach them, most students will magically find page 14 and get on task. The enforceable statement, the one in italics, is one you can enforce. Be sure not to say it unless you can actually do it. Always follow through.

Love and Logic principles also include the ideas of avoiding getting sucked into arguments with kids, delaying consequences until you've had time to reflect what's appropriate for the situation (which also give the students plenty of "think time), and a plethora of other great ideas on relating and dealing with students in one's classroom. The above are really small snippets of a much larger picture. If these ideas are of interest to you, find out more by visiting the Love and Logic website.

Happy Teaching.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Student folders

When the school year begins, it's time to get to know the students, set the boundaries, establish routines, and find that assignment to start the year off right. Since I only see my students every 6 days (counting weekends) and only for 45 minute periods, time is a precious commodity. When the students show up on their first day with me, I get right to work. Boundaries, routines, expectations, and "getting to know you" engagements can all be done in the first few class meetings. I go over boundaries and routines etc as the opportunities arise. Brain reserach tell us that students can handle information in small doses and not in large chunks. So I introduce only those routines that are necessary for that day.

The first assignment is simple" Students are given an 12 X 18 piece of white construction paper. They are told to fold the paper in half and on what would be the front, students place their name (first and last) and the teacher's name on the bottom of the front cover. Then they are to place the words "Fine Arts" somewhere on the folder (I suggest the top but it's only a suggestion.) Then they are instructed to illustrate the folder any way they want. I show some examples, offer some ideas and themes, and give them a time limit (must be completed by the second day of class).

I start day one with my "seven minute rule." I've written on this elsewhere on this blog but I'll briefly repeat it here. I use a timer, projected on the overhead screen, and expect the students to work for a full seven minutes with no talking. When the seven minutes is up, I set the timer to three minutes and allow students to use one of those minutes to stretch and rest their hand (and head) and then to continue to work but quiet talking and sharing is allowed. After the three minutes is up, I repeat the process. First, seven minutes of quiet work, followed by three minutes of a more relaxed time. Also, toward the end of the class time, I allow for quiet talking and encourage the sharing of work.

You thoughts? Here are a few examples of student folders. The images aren't the best but they will give you the idea.

Art Folders and assessment philosophy.

In my previous post I wrote the following concerning assessing the arts:

How does one measure attitudes, self-confidence, self-discipline, a sense of accomplishment, or the development of a student’s neurobiological system? A highly structured arts program complete with a highly structured assessment can’t accurately measure these things. And if the arts are highly structured, there is a danger that individual expression may diminish or be completely lost. Many students will turn off to the arts. This is the exact opposite of what we want to accomplish through the arts.

(I should say from the start that I'm really talking about the report card grades here and not the grades of each individual assignment. While I do grade some assignments, I only do so for my own personal record keeping. I'm more interested in celebrating work accomplished and hearing what students says about their own work, what they like about their work, why they chose the colors they chose, or whatever their thoughts are when reflecting on completed work. In my view, at least at the elementary level, the worst thing to do is to grade each piece of work. Some students already have the "I can't do it" attitude and it seems to me that assigning grades to each assignment would only reinforce that attitude in some students.)

I've always struggled with assessments in visual arts. I don't like attaching a "grade" to a child's artwork. I'd rather simply grade according to a student's attendance and class participation. In my view, the skills students possess in the arts aren't as important as their level of engagement. If, for example, a gifted student slacks off, but produces work that is above that of his/her peers, in most systems they could still get a good grade. Conversely, a student who is fully engaged in the art assignments, displays a positive attitude, but lacks the skills to produce exemplary work, might not receive a good grade, despite the hard work. But which is a more important attribute: natural skill or a good work ethic and positive attitude?

I don't have the luxury of using the “pass/fail” approach that Jensen's suggests as a better way to assess the arts. In the system I must use, the grading is on a scale of 1-4. A "3" is given if the student is meeting the State standards for that grade level.

Using this system for recording grades, my approach is very simple. During the first two class meetings I have the students take an 11x17 piece of white construction paper, fold it in half, and use that "folder" to put all their class assignments and sketches in. I try to do a quick assessment of each child's work as they are completing each project. I do this during class. I also review their folder work and do a quick visual assessment of their work.

There are a few specifics I am looking for when assigning a grade. Did the student complete the assignments and exercises in class? How well did they follow the instructions given? Did the student demonstrate a level of understanding of the concepts being learned? I try to follow Jensen's suggestions for the "pass/fail" approach even though I'm giving a numerical grade.

The criteria for pass/fail are simple, straightforward and reachable by all students. Students must have good attendance in class, participate in the class activities, develop a portfolio of their work, get portfolio feedback via peer sharing as well as other ideas listed by Jensen, and participate in a student/teacher conference.

A portfolio of a student's work (or "Folder" as I refer to it) will tell you something of a student's attendance - missing assignment pieces is likely due to an absence (I don't keep records of attendance as it is just one more thing to track) and certainly will tell you their participation level in class. The portfolio, along with class observations, will give you enough information to assign fair grades.

One drawback to the numerical grading system is that nasty little "skills and concepts" box. Some students clearly are above the line, and some below. Where students clearly fall below the line, I grade accordingly. Where students clearly rise above it, I grade accordingly. I rarely give out "4's" or "2's" except where it's completely clear that under "skills and concepts," that's what the student deserves. Visually, the 1 - 4 grading continuum looks like this in my mind:

1-1//2---2//3-------------------------------------3// 4---4

All points on the grading scale are not equal in my view. Most students will fall under the "3" as it is the largest area. Few fall under the "2" (below grade level) or "4" (above grade level) and even fewer under the "1." To get a "1" in my class you'd have to show up and do nothing (and I've had a few students like that!).

I hope someday that the grading for the arts will more accurately reflect the long term goals of the arts and not simply reflect some need for accountability. Until then, this is the system I use, flawed as it is. In review, Jensen offers these three ideas to include in assessing the visual arts:

1 Have good attendance in class

2 Appropriate participation in the class activities

3 Develop a portfolio of their work and get portfolio feedback (from peers and instructor)

As always, I would love to hear your ideas on the thoughts I've presented.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Jensen states several times throughout the book that the arts are not “efficient.” He means that the benefits are not immediate – they are seen in the long term. Art is a creative process. It’s a personal experience and it’s a meaningful way the artist can express him/herself. The arts help in the development of the brain and the benefits to our brain development happen over time. How does one measure attitudes, self-confidence, self-discipline, a sense of accomplishment, or the development of a student’s neurobiological system? A highly structured arts program complete with a highly structured assessment can’t accurately measure these things. And if the arts are highly structured, there is a danger that individual expression may diminish or be completely lost. Many students will turn off to the arts. This is the exact opposite of what we want to accomplish through the arts.

Assessing creativity poses many problems. Creativity is highly individual. To focus on the grading of artwork is, as Jensen states, to devalue learning and minimize creative expression – the very things we want to enhance in our students. If students think they have to “pass a test” on say a particular drawing or painting or musical composition, they will focus on the wants of the teacher and not on their individual form of expression. Students will care more about what their teacher thinks of their work than focus on the sheer joy of the art experience itself. After all, that is a huge goal of the arts: the joy of personal expression through various art forms.

Jensen proposes a better way of assessing the arts through a “pass/fail” approach. The criteria for pass/fail are simple, straightforward and reachable by all students. Students must have good attendance in class, participate in the class activities, develop a portfolio of their work, get portfolio feedback via peer sharing as well as other ideas listed by Jensen, and participate in a student/teacher conference. Such an approach allows the student to reflect upon his/her work and helps created an atmosphere of trust and artistic freedom that encourages individualism in each artist. Reviewing a portfolio with students is also a way to celebrate the student’s work.

After reading this chapter, I believe I have been on the right track with respect to assessment in the visual arts. There are some weak areas that I need to address but overall I find myself applauding Jensen’s ideas.

I’ve always had students make a portfolio that contains samples of their work. But I don’t think I carry this idea far enough and would like to follow more closely Jensen’s suggestions. For one, I’d like to give students more say in what goes into their portfolio. And, since I have over 400 students, I’d need to figure out an efficient way to hold some student/teacher conferences – I see great value in having them but am not sure how to manage the logistics with so many students. I'd like to offer more time for students to share their portfolio work with their peers not only get valuable feedback of their own work, but to learn from the ideas of others.

I’ve always resisted any formal assessments in the visual arts. Observing my students while they are working, and viewing the work in their portfolios gives me some idea of their skill levels and more importantly, their commitment level to the class art activities. An added step would be conferencing with students about their work.

I’ve participated in art shows before, but never had one of my own. I’m thinking of exploring this idea with the music teacher and see if we can come up with an idea for an art night. The music teacher has a group of choir and mallet musicians and together with visual art displays, we could make a fun and informative night for parents and students where they get a chance to share and celebrate in the student’s work.

A final note: I’ve asked my principal to read this book over the summer. Perhaps there isn't enough of an emphasis in the arts in schools. Individual classroom teachers either feel the art specialist covers the art needs for their students, or there simply isn’t enough time for them to do art, or they don’t feel competent in the area of art. Considering that administrators often claim over and over that teaching should reflect current research, it seems that we ought to be putting some of our staff training time into the area of arts considering its value. We spend most of our time learning about reading and math or science. In my ten years as an art teacher, I don’t think we’ve ever had even one art in-service day. Maybe I can help to change that.

Final note: with this post, my series on Jensen's book ends. I'm currently reading his book, "Teaching With The Brain In Mind" and perhaps I'll share some of my reflections when I'm done.

My next series of blogs will offer up some of the ideas I've used in the classroom. I hope you will stay tuned and that you will find some ideas you can use in your own classroom.


Settling Time

Settling time is a time where there is a break from academics so that the concepts taught have a chance to "settle in." It's a time for the brain to reflect and organize what has just been taught. Students need to get small chunks of information, and then given a "settling time" for that information to be processed.

The author points out that 1st grade Japanese students, many who score better than some US public school students, actually spend less time in school than their US counterparts. While the Japanese students undergo intensive instruction, they have twice as many recesses and have shorter school days for their youngest students. More time is allowed for peer play at home, socialization, and other activities (such as music lessons). Time well spent.

In one of our trainings the instructor said that 7 minutes is typically the amount of time that people are able to focus intently on a given thing before they need a bit of a break or change.

I've been using the 7 minutes idea in my classroom during the last few months of the school year.
I now try to deliver my lessons in 7 minutes segments. I don't give directions for longer than 7 minutes without some sort of break. I try to move things along so that my instructional time is shorter - then take a few questions and if clarification or more instruction is needed, I go from there. The kids had been very talkative most of the time bug since I've been using the "7 minutes" the work productivity has gone way up. Here's the approach I use: I have a timer on my computer and I project the image on an overhead screen. I tell the kids that for 7 minutes there is to be no talking and no questions (unless of course they need information to continue working). After the 7 minutes, I give them 3 minutes of a more causal work time. They can take at least one min to stretch, relax (especially helpful if we are drawing or coloring) shake loose their tired hands, and talk casually to people at their tables. They can share work and ask questions at this time too. They are to keep working but it's not as intense as is the 7 minutes. If after 7 minutes of instruction time, I encourage students to discuss what they just heard from me. During individual work time, I allow for quiet talking and sharing of work and ideas.This seems to be working. I have fewer management problems using this approach. The kids seem to like the timer as they know they will get a break and they know when it's coming.

Timers I use:

Online Timer

One to download (I mainly use this one - it's the same timer used by the instructor in one of our school trainings. (direct download here: )

Reflections on the importance of PLAY

There are many aspects about play that make it valuable to the learner. With play, there is a casual and relaxing element to it. It's a fun way to "let it out" and freely explore ideas with no pressure to perform. In playful activities, there is a safety net. We can experiment and mistakes are not that important. Mistakes teach us the wrong way something is done and allows us to learn through experience. Play allows us to be free in our expressiveness in non-threatening ways. It's a natural way that children begin to learn social skills and conflict resolution. It is especially good for emotional development.

I ran a play-centered kindergarten for 8 years. The core philosophy was that children at that age learn best through play. I still see great value in play at all age levels. Like many teachers, I'm under some pressure to meet State standards. As a professional, I need to find the balance to meet my employer's expectations, while at the same time, making sure I meet the collective needs of my students.

I try to find many opportunities for play centered activities in my art class. Through the year, I have many sessions where I let the children "play" with the ideas they have been learning in class. When painting, I call it "free painting." Children are allowed to paint what they choose, mix colors, experiment with different painting tools (we've used cardboard, tooth brushes, q-tips, straws, and a few other objects as well for painting activities).
We also have "free draw" activities. It's a time where children can experiment with the drawing concepts they have been learning, create something on their own, or use one of the many step by step books I have in my room. At the end of the year I always set up a variety of centers (straw painting, marble painting, construction art, drawing, pastels, clay, and others) and children can choose which center they want to work at. It's always a favorite time with the kids and a time where I have the fewest behavior problems. It's messy, but fun. Throughout the year I also sing, tell jokes and try to allow for movement in my room (the room is small - about 1/3 the size of a normal classroom. My goal is meaningful learning in a fun way.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the importance of play.

Reflections on the kinesthetic arts

I have just a few more entries to share on Jensen's book, Arts With The Brain In Mind. The final posts will cover reflections on the kinesthetic arts, the value of play, something Jensen refers to as "settling time," and thoughts on assessments in the arts.

Blogging is a good way to process one's thoughts or share ideas and experiences. For me, writing about Jensen's book has helped me think through some of his ideas. Last school year I took an online course using Jensen's book as our text. Most of what I've written comes after reflecting on the ideas Jensen presents in his book.

After I finish the next four entries, I'll begin to share some of the art projects I've used in my classroom. I hope to include a gallery of student work, lesson plans, resources, and ideas on how to tie in the lessons to the Washington State ELARS. See this link for my view on the State's learning goals and how that fits into my philosophy of art.


The Kinesthetic Arts: Involving students in intricate and sometimes original movements as a means to activate the brain. Again, reflections from Jensen's excellent book:

Most of the brain is involved when students engage in highly complex and novel movements. The brain goes on alert, stays focused, is "on the lookout," and with many areas of the brain activated, students can handle multi-sensory input. Jensen points out that athletes that achieve excellence in sports are likely using close to 100% of the brain. When the body is involved in complex actions, multiple systems in the brain are activated. This brain activation does not operate this way with traditional seat work. Active learning, learning that involves multiple systems, leads to implicit learning. When students learn from experience, the learning runs deep. Such learning awakens a better understanding of concepts, many of which are stumbled upon accidentally.

While my main focus is on the visual arts, there is much to be said about the benefits of the kinesthetic arts. Participation in the kinesthetic arts stimulates implicit learning. Implicit learning, or hands-on learning is more effective than explicit text-based learning because it involves more area of the brain in the learning experience. It's active learning and shows greater effects than explicit learning. I've explained to my principal that in my art class, many things are taught, more is caught. Implicit learning is caught learning - learning by experience, trial and error, experimentation, and asking the "what if?" questions.

To explore these ideas further see the following links:
Excerpt from the kinesthetic arts chapter of Jensen's book.

Minds in Motion: A Kinesthetic Approach to Teaching

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Art With The Brain In Mind: benefits of an arts education.

Many school districts throughout the Country are experiencing budget issues. When cuts are made, it's often those programs that are the least valued that are eliminated. Perhaps I'm wrong on this next point but it seems to me that the arts are most often the first programs targeted for cuts. Cutting the arts out of the school curriculum is like cutting one's hand to spite one's face. Research is clear that the arts are invaluable to a well-rounded education. Some research strongly suggests that students who participate in music and visual arts programs do better in other subject areas than do students who don't participate in an arts education. Additionally, many students who don't do well in other disciplines, shine in the arts. For many students, the visual arts can significantly contribute to their motivation, work ethic, and self-discipline.

We've all known students who might not otherwise have a strong commitment to school and learning but, are motivated when it comes to the arts. Often that motivation can encourage students to stay in school, and even to excel as they develop a strong desire to learn and participate in the arts. According to Jensen, students who might normally drop out of school, will stay in school rather than drop out providing there is an attractive arts program available to them.

I have some art students who don't always do so well in their regular classroom. They either have academic struggles or issues with peer relations. Many of these students seem to excel in visual arts. It's not that they are gifted, it's that they seem to really enjoy the process of creating. I have observed many "problem" students work quietly and focus on the task. Others can be off task around them, but they stay focused. It's like they are captured by the art activity. A couple of my former students were known for having behavior problems in their regular classroom. But when they come to the art room, it's like they change into a new student. They are focused, creative, and have a positive attitude toward their classwork. Often they will bring in art work that they created on their own at home.

To explore these ideas further check out the following links. Also, your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

Arts in Education
Americans For The Arts

Learning Through The Arts
Teaching Basics Through The Arts by Mona Brookes

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A quick thought on mind mapping. More thoughts on Jensen's book.

When Jensen talks about the visual arts, he speaks about the "doing" of art in a continuous way. Unfortunately, for the most part, I am the only formal art the students get. I suspect this is true in many schools where there is an art specialist.

I only see students once every six days. But as I read Jensen's book, I began to recognize that regular classroom teachers often do a visual art activity but often don't consider such activities "art." For example, the use of mind maps is standard in our building. And teacher's often have students do illustrations with reports (like in science experiments) or other writing assignments. I've noticed that many of the mind maps are very detailed and great visual representations of their ideas. What I'd like to suggest is that classroom teachers often do much more in the way of visual arts (visual representations) than they realize. Perhaps Jensen is really on to something with respect to mind maps. They can be quite detailed, are often color coded, and are visual representations of thoughts and ideas. The parts of the brain that are engaged in the creation of a mind map are those same areas that are ignited during other visual art activities.

Something to think about. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

More thoughts on Jensen's book. Doodling

I've always been a doodler. When attending meetings, or as a student in school, I doodled in most classes. In his book, Arts With The Brain In Mind, Jensen suggests allowing students to doodle during class. More than that, he seems to be suggesting that teachers ought to encourage doodling, illustrating, and mind-mapping during class as a way to better reflect on the student's learning. I think this is a good idea.

I think doodling can help in a couple of ways. Doodling is one way to give a visual representation of what is being learned. But more importantly, drawing/doodling engages our brains - and wakes them up. Rather than distract us from learning, it may serve to help us better concentrate on what's being taught. Doodling can not only help visual learners keep focus, but it can help kinesthetic learners too. It's not so much the visual aspect that's at play here, but the fact that of being engaged in a physical activity that helps students focus and concentrate.

I particularly like this doodling idea of Jensen's because as a visual learner, I've always used symbols and drawings to help me in my learning. I've even developed my own codes in musical notation that remind me of certain guitar licks or musical inflections when I'm learning a song. If I can create a visual of something, I can usually remember the thing that it represents.

The brain is an interesting and marvelous thing. I suppose some will be a bit tentative in allowing students to doodle during lessons. But it's something to consider. Often, students get lost in day dreams. When that happens, we have lost them - they are "someplace else." But with doodling, the brain is engaged, alert, and receptive. Just the very thing we want in our students when we're teaching.

Your thoughts are most welcome.