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How to Teach Art to Kids, According to Mark Rothko
"If you’ve ever seen Mark Rothko’s paintings—large canvases filled with fields of atmospheric color—and thought, “a child could do this,” you’ve paid the Abstract Expressionist a compliment.

Rothko greatly admired children’s art, praising the freshness, authenticity, and emotional intensity of their creations. And he knew children’s art well, working as an art teacher for over 20 years at the Brooklyn Jewish Center. To his students—kindergarteners through 8th graders—Rothko wasn’t an avant-garde visionary or burgeoning art star, he was “Rothkie.” “A big bear of a man, the friendliest, nicest, warmest member of the entire school,” his former student Martin Lukashok once recalled.

Rothko was a thought leader in the field of children’s art education. He published an essay on the topic (“New Training for Future Artists and Art Lovers”) in 1934, which he hoped to follow up with a book. Though he never completed the project, he left behind 49 sheets of notes, known as “The Scribble Book,” which detailed his progressive pedagogy—and from which we’ve taken five lessons that Rothko wanted all art teachers to know.

Lesson #1: Show your students that art is a universal form of expression, as elemental as speaking or singing

Rothko taught that everyone can make art—even those without innate talent or professional training. According to the painter, art is an essential part of the human experience. And just as kids can quickly pick up stories or songs, they can easily turn their observations and imaginings into art. (Similarly, he believed, taking away a child’s access to artmaking could be as harmful as stunting their ability to learn language.)

For Rothko, art was all about expression—transforming one’s emotions into visual experiences that everyone can understand. And kids do this naturally. “These children have ideas, often fine ones, and they express them vividly and beautifully, so that they make us feel what they feel,” he writes. “Hence their efforts are intrinsically works of art.”

Lesson #2: Beware of suppressing a child’s creativity with academic training

As Rothko saw it, a child’s expressiveness is fragile. When art teachers assign projects with strict parameters or emphasize technical perfection, this natural creativity can quickly turn to conformity. “The fact that one usually begins with drawing is already academic,” Rothko explains. “We start with color.”

To protect his students’ creative freedom, Rothko followed a simple teaching method. When children entered his art room, all of their working materials—from brushes to clay—were already set up, ready for them to select and employ in free-form creations. No assignments needed.

“Unconscious of any difficulties, they chop their way and surmount obstacles that might turn an adult grey, and presto!” Rothko describes. “Soon their ideas become visible in a clearly intelligent form.” With this flexibility, his students developed their own unique artistic styles, from the detail-oriented to the wildly expressive. And for Rothko, the ability to channel one’s interior world into art was much more valuable than the mastery of academic techniques. “There is no such thing as good painting about nothing,” he once wrote.

Lesson #3: Stage exhibitions of your students’ works to encourage their self-confidence

“I was never good at art,” recalled Rothko’s former student Gerald Phillips. “But he…made you feel that you were really producing something important, something good.”

For Rothko, an art teacher’s premier responsibility was to inspire children’s self-confidence. To do this, he organized public exhibitions of his students’ works across New York City, including a show of 150 pieces at the Brooklyn Museum in 1934. And when Rothko had his first solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum a year earlier, he brought his students’ works along with him and exhibited them next to his own.

These exhibitions gave Rothko’s students a newfound excitement about their work, while educating the public about the potential of children’s art. “It is significant,” Rothko writes, “that dozens of artists viewed this exhibition [of student works at the Brooklyn Museum] and were amazed and stirred by it.” Rothko wanted critics to see that fine art only requires emotional intensity to be successful.

Lesson #4: Introduce art history with modern art (not the Old Masters)

When teaching young students about art history, where do you start? For Rothko, the answer was clear: Modernism.

With 20th-century art, children can learn from works that are similar to their own, whether through the paintings of Henri Matisse, Milton Avery, or Pablo Picasso. These iconic artists sought pure, personal forms of visual expression, free from the technical standards of the past. “[Modern art] has not been obscured by style and tradition as that of the old masters,” Rothko explains. “It is therefore particularly useful to us…to serve as an interpreter to establish the relationship between the child and the stream of art.”

But while exposure to modern art can help boost children’s confidence and creativity, it shouldn’t interfere with the development of a unique style. Rothko discouraged his students from mimicking museum works as well as his own painting practice. “Very often the work of the children is simply a primitive rendition of the creative ends of the artist teacher,” he warns. “Therefore it has the appearance of child art, but loses the basic creative outlet for the child himself.”

Lesson #5: Work to cultivate creative thinkers, not professional artists

In addition to fanning students’ creative instincts, great art teachers can help students become more self-aware, empathetic, and collaborative—and this generates better citizens in the long run, Rothko believed. At the Brooklyn Jewish Center, he hardly cared whether his students would go on to pursue careers in the arts. Instead, Rothko focused on cultivating in his students a deep appreciation for artistic expression.

“Most of these children will probably lose their imaginativeness and vivacity as they mature,” he wrote. “But a few will not. And it is hoped that in their cases, the experience of eight years [in my classroom] will not be forgotten and they will continue to find the same beauty about them. As to the others, it is hoped, that their experience will help them to revive their own early artistic pleasures in the work of others.”

And, in turn, Rothko’s own creativity was revived by his students’ unabashed expressiveness. When the artist began teaching, his works were still somewhat figurative, depicting street scenes, landscapes, portraits, and interiors with loose brushwork. Upon retirement, his style had transformed to complete abstraction, taking the form of vivid, color-filled canvases that he hoped would intuitively resonate with adults and children alike.
markrothko  education  teaching  arteducation  art  howwetech  children  lcproject  openstudioproject  creativity  learning  unschooling  deschooling  modernart  modernism  academics  pedagogy  2018  expression  human  humans  conformity 
february 2018 by robertogreco
Finnish Teachers Opt for Less Structured Start of School Year - The Atlantic
"Honestly, I doubted whether I would ever survive at a Finnish school, given the high-performing kids and the well-trained teachers, but my confidence lifted when I recalled one area of preparation I had received in the U.S.: how to begin the school year. When I packed my luggage for our move to Helsinki in 2013, I made sure to bring my trusty college textbook, The First Days of School.

“Your success during the school year,” wrote Harry and Rosemary Wong in this classic American teaching guide, “will be determined by what you do on the first days of school.” In my copy of the book, I had written an enthusiastic “true!” in the margins and circled this sentence in pencil. “You must have everything ready and organized when school begins,” advised the authors.

Like many American teachers I had known, I had taken this philosophy to heart—to such an extent that I had been in the habit of crafting detailed, minute-by-minute lesson plans for the first few days of school since my first year of teaching in Massachusetts. These plans were mostly centered on teaching my elementary-school students important procedures and routines, such as those for fetching paper and visiting the restroom. So, in an effort to make “everything ready and organized” for that big, first day of school in Finland, I did what I had always done as a teacher in America: I spent summer days filling my planner and arranging my classroom.

But in Finland, when that first week of school arrived, I noticed something odd. Many of my Finnish colleagues hadn’t visited their classrooms all summer long. The day before school began, I met one young teacher who admitted she was still deciding what to do that week. I was a little shocked. To my American eyes, my highly trained Finnish colleagues didn’t look particularly ready or organized for the first days of school. They seemed naively laid-back. Meanwhile, I felt incredibly stressed, as I strived to teach the textbook-perfect way.

During one of my tightly scripted lessons that week, I told my Helsinki fifth-graders we would practice the routine of walking in a quiet, straight line—and, immediately, I heard groans. Apparently, my Finnish students had been navigating the hallways on their own since they were first-graders, and my plan irked them. Embarrassed, I ditched this task and quickly moved on to another activity. I had entered that school year thinking that, as long as I controlled the clock and the physical environment, everything would turn out fine in my classroom. But my Finnish colleagues and students challenged this notion. They seemed to prefer to keep things a little loose at the beginning of the year. To understand this philosophy better, I recently spoke with a handful of Finnish teachers, all of whom had never been taught the “right” way to begin a school year.

“I think it's important to have a ‘soft start’ in order to let the school routines and procedures gently grow into the kids,” said Johanna Hopia, a classroom teacher at Martti Ahtisaari Elementary School in Kuopio, Finland. In Hopia’s classroom, the first days are usually spent discussing summer vacation, playing games, and exercising together. During this time, she neither hands out textbooks nor assigns homework. Jere Linnanen, a history teacher at Helsinki’s Maunula Comprehensive School, prefers that his students have “an organic process” of returning to school. “I want to start the school with as little stress as possible,” Linnanen said, “both for myself and my students.” This August, he and his colleagues took four groups of ninth-graders to a nearby park, where they chatted, danced improvisationally, and played Pokémon Go. Linnanen described the first couple of school days as ryhmäyttäminen, which literally translates as “grouping” but means something similar to the English term “team-building.”

At my Helsinki public school, I found a similar policy, where teachers and students started with a half-day and a regular class schedule didn’t start until the following week. Even at the high-school level in Finland, it’s “very common” for students not to have regular classes on their first day back, according to Taru Pohtola, a foreign-language teacher at Vantaa’s Martinlaakso High School. At Pohtola’s school, freshmen get an extra day to settle into the new school environment. “We want them to feel more at home at their new school before the real work begins,” she said.

Many of the Finnish educators I spoke with recognized that classroom structure, which typically stems from establishing rules, routines, and procedures, is valuable, but they emphasized the importance of fostering a welcoming, low-stress learning environment first. A similar sentiment is found in Finland’s newest curriculum framework for basic education: “Learning is supported by a peaceful and friendly working atmosphere and a calm, peaceful mood.”

According to Paul Tough, an Atlantic contributor and the author of the new book Helping Children Succeed, establishing a school environment—“where [students] feel a sense of belonging, independence, and growth”—helps children to develop key noncognitive abilities, such as resilience, perseverance, and self-control. Tough calls this a “different paradigm,” but one that more accurately represents what happens in today’s successful classrooms: “Teachers create a certain climate, students behave differently in response to that climate, and those new behaviors lead to success.” One of the most compelling findings of researchers, according to Tough, “is that for most children, the environmental factors that matter most have less to do with the buildings they live in than with the relationships they experience—the way the adults in their lives interact with them, especially in times of stress.”

During my first days of teaching in Finland, I led my fifth-graders to one of our school’s gymnasiums for structured, group games during their only recess blocks. I had picked the activities; they followed my rules. But this routine quickly grew boring, mostly because I ran out of fun games to introduce. Thankfully, one of my Finnish students suggested that we play “Kick the Can,” as it was something that my class had played with their fourth-grade teacher. I agreed, and the little blond boy returned with an empty plastic soda bottle.

For the next few weeks of school, I played Kick the Can with my Helsinki fifth-graders, at least once every day. Actually, it was the only group game they wanted to play with me. Moreover, they wanted me to be “it” every time, which meant that I’d count to 20, they’d hide, and I’d try to find them. Every time I’d spot my fifth-graders and call out their names, we’d link arms, creating an amoeba-like force. If I caught every one of my students, I’d win, but alas, that never happened because a sneaky fifth-grader would inevitably kick over the soda bottle (with a triumphant shout), freeing all of my prisoners.

Through our wild rounds of Kick the Can, I saw that the most valuable thing I could do during those early days of school was relax—like my laid-back Finnish colleagues—and simply enjoy relationships with my students."
finland  sfsh  schools  education  pedagogy  howwetech  teaching  control  planning  student-led  looseness  cv  2016  timwalker 
august 2017 by robertogreco
Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto – The Tattooed Professor
[Especially for this line: "Teaching is a radical act of hope."]

"Every summer, I take time to reflect on the academic year that was. The classes I taught, the workshops I either facilitated or attended, what I learned from failures and successes in and out of the classroom–when it comes to my teaching, I try to be a critically reflective practitioner. Directing a teaching center on my campus gives me a chance to also ground that reflection in the larger discourse about teaching and learning in higher education.

That discourse often doesn’t give one grounds for optimism; we’re continually reminded of the toll neoliberalism has exacted from higher education. Kansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois are only the most dramatic examples of a larger trend where higher education is a hostage to governing elites’ Randian economic fantasies. The fetishizing of “efficiencies” continues to erode faculty effectiveness, morale, and labor conditions. A narrow and misguided rhetoric of marketability and utility slowly chokes the Humanities. And, like a constant refrain above the din, we’re repeatedly told that students aren’t prepared for college, that technology makes them stupid, that none of them knows how to read or write or declaim or interact or balance a checkbook or do laundry or whatever. It’s easy, then, to slide into a sort of existential despair. Why bother teaching when it doesn’t matter? When no one cares about what you do or why you do it?

And, honestly, that’s where I was earlier this summer. It’s hard enough to cope with the challenges inherent in higher ed; coupled with the greasy dumpster fire that is our state of public affairs at the moment, it seems downright impossible. So I did what comes naturally to a historian–I went to my books, and then I wrote. Reconnecting with some of the books that have shaped me as an educator, and taking the time to write reflectively about where I think I stand, was a reminder that despite all of its problems, higher education is still a place of transformation and possibility. But it remains so only if we continually and intentionally hold it to the standards we know it should meet. And at the heart of that enterprise is what we do in the classroom. It comes down to, as it so often doefists, a conversation about teaching and learning.

In that spirit, I share here the products of my wrestling with angst and dismay, and the renewed drive it ultimately sparked.

This is my Teaching Manifesto.

If I want my students to take risks and not be afraid to fail then I need to take risks and not be afraid to fail.

It is tempting to think that “upholding disciplinary standards” is the only thing standing between us and the collapse of western civilization. It is also comically inaccurate.

Remember what Paolo Freire meant when he criticized the “banking model” of education, and take those insights to heart.

Learning cannot occur without metacognition and reflection. This applies to both us and our students.

Kids These Days are just like Kids in My Day, or Any Other Day, if we choose to remember honestly.

Our students are not us. If we merely teach to how we prefer to learn, we exclude a majority of our students.

I cannot assume my students will be able to do something that they have not been asked to do before coming to my class, and I cannot blame them for struggling with a task that’s new to them–no matter how ingrained that task is for me.

I am not the one to decide if a student is “ready for college.” That’s the student’s decision. If they’re admitted to my university and they’re in my class, I am ethically and morally obligated to give them my best.

They’re not deficiencies, they’re data points for our pedagogical decisions.

Just as students can get better at learning, I can get better at teaching. If I expect it from them, I should expect it from me.

There is a large body of scholarly research on teaching and learning. To not be conversant with at least its major findings is to commit professional malpractice.

If pedagogy and professional development are secondary priorities for you, don’t be surprised when your class is a secondary priority for your students.

It doesn’t matter how much I know if my students aren’t learning; knowledge must be used, not set up on a shelf to be admired but not touched.

Much of what we do in the classroom cannot be quantified.

And yet…“cannot be quantified” is not the same as “cannot be measured.” If we can’t demonstrate student learning, we aren’t doing it right.

Reclaim assessment for what it is meant to do: to show what our students can do as a result our classes. If we don’t tell our stories, someone else will tell them for us.

If universities truly value education, they cannot undercompensate or adjunctify the faculty and seriously claim to adhere to that commitment. As someone in a privileged academic position, I am obligated to speak this truth loudly and often.

Everyone is fighting their own battles, some on multiple fronts. Compassion and flexibility >>> being a hardass

Things whose pedagogical impact is often underestimated: empathy and humor.

Things whose pedagogical impact is often overestimated: shaming and rigidity.

When you say “rigor,” I think of corpses.

“Coverage” for coverage’s sake is where learning goes to die.

No matter what: Teaching is a radical act of hope."
pedagogy  technology  radicalism  teaching  2016  kevingannon  howwetech  why  thewhy  whyweteach  hope  rigor  empathy  humor  shaming  rigidity  flexibility  highered  highereducation  optimism  curriculum  manifestos  learning  metacognition  reflection  professionaldevelopment  content  knowledge  howwelearn  howweteach  via:audreywatters 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Dan Hill Opinion on MOOCs and design education
"(Ah these names. "Coursera." "Udacity." They sound like recently-privatised former state assets. I next expect a slew of social media oriented services, with monickers like Smugly and Learnr, Swotly and Examinr, Cramly and Testr.)"



"And yet despite attempts to fold in collaboration and sharing, it will tend to a solitary pursuit of those exercises. At least currently. The whole point of MOOCs - one of their core values - is that they are *not* social and collaborative. Their dematerialised and dislocated state means they fit into your schedule, but in doing so, it cannot - by definition - bring you together with people at the same time and in the same space.

Design and architecture education however is, I believe, more than ever about collaboration, on working through holistic projects together, face to face, in transdisciplinary teams, learning through doing on real projects with real clients. While digital tools can support this, affording some new patterns of activity, the pull back to the physical, embodied and genuinely social is profound, particularly as systems and outcomes become more complex, more entwined, more hybridised. Schools and research centres like Strelka, CIID, Sandberg Instituut or the work we're doing at Fabrica, are exploring exactly this, as post-institutional learning environments.

It's difficult to see how MOOCs will really shift that aspect of design education.

The great graphic designer and typographer Erik Spiekermann once said: "You can teach yourself everything there is to be learned by observing, asking, taking things apart and putting them back together again. Teachers can help with that process as long as they stay credible. The only way to achieve that is to keep on learning themselves.""



"For me, the ideal design education space - showing my prejudices, here - looks more like the wonderfully messy SCI-Arc in Los Angeles or Royal College of Art in London. The RCA, especially in Tony Dunne's Design Interactions space, can sometimes feel like some kind of gloriously generative cyberpunk favela.

How will MOOCs fit alongside this? Or put it another way, what do you think the student bar at Coursera is like?

The huge opportunity behind non-certified, transdisciplinary learning is that it can be tuned to the 21st century's needs, rather than the last century's. Collaborative project-based learning ought to be intrinsically holistic in nature, with tangible outcomes. This is how design is practiced, and this is how design ought to be practiced in the context of learning. Putting lectures online is really just putting 20th century education on the internet, and there must be more to 21st century education than that."
mooc  moocs  danhill  2013  design  designeducation  openstudioproject  lcproject  schooldesign  sciarc  rca  teaching  learning  collaboration  education  howwetech  howwelearn  learningspaces  messiness 
october 2013 by robertogreco

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