Inquiry & the Arts

I am interested in developing an Integrated Arts Education unit with a disposition of Inquiry. I think that the Arts provide a perfect vehicle for carrying an Inquiry approach, leading the exploration, discovery and creation. The Arts have long held the position as the Voice that challenges the status quo. A Post Modern stance that allow us to see from a variety of perspectives, engaging with concepts through many lenses.

What happens if we …?

How will it change if it is ….?

I made a mistake, but now it will become a ….

Inquiry develop creative and critical thinking and encourages students to engage, persist, follow notions, make mistakes into opportunities, envision and to create. Would this kind of approach in Arts Education then have an impact on the student submissions into the local Science Fair?

Sharon Friesen talks about Inquiry as a disposition in this video:

This would be a way to develop material to support the new Sask curriculum – anyone want to collaborate with me? We could play together…

Imagination & Tinkering

A colleague sent me this video as she knows I love all things creative , and I was quite taken with the simple message. John Seely Brown has caught my attention before – he has written about the classroom as an Architectural Studio where students work side by side, exploring with design, tinkering, testing, witnessing one another as they work and struggle. He believes schools must do more to foster imagination, which leads to: creating, reflecting, sharing and building knowledge through a new culture from a peer-based learning community.

At 6:40 in the video he begins to describe how technology can assist this concept and expand learning much further through the use of digital tools and a world audience.  Students know how to “stand on the shoulders” of others, taking their work, re-mixing and mashing it into something new and better. They build upon old ideas, share them and in turn are used once again by someone else. With the spread of Creative Commons we have access to a huge wealth of material to “tinker” with and to create.

Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge Production in a Digital Age: John Seely Brown from carnegie commons on Vimeo.

The rest of the conversations hosted by the Carnegie Foundation can be found at

Collecting Examples

Here is a four minute video I made with grade 5 students in a drama workshop.  The teacher asked me to work with character and story – I decided to use Mantle of the Expert, Role Play, Hot Seat and Drawing as the main strategies.  I chose to highlight select scenes that show students at work in different ways. Though loud and boisterous, most are quite engaged throughout, but when in role they become extremely focused on the task at hand.

Lessons the Arts Teach

This video was made by two high school students as a response to the Eisner article “Ten Lessons the Arts Teach“. It is an excellent example of students thinking critically and creatively as they analyze the lessons and reinterpret it using images of their own world and of their own making.

Kudos to their teacher, Ms. Weber who had the good sense to take a question posed by a student and to turn it into a learning moment. Ms. Weber helped identify a process and guided the students through an exploration about what we have to learn from the Arts. They looked at their real world and made it make sense.

Time to Learn

Today I spent about 5 hours working with a teacher, side by side, problem solving and trying out media tools and social networking together.  Our primary focus was learning how to upload images and getting comfortable on the Ning.  We both had headaches by the time we finished but with it came a feeling of accomplishment. She seemed to feel over the barrier that had been holding her back from engaging with documentation.

Time is the biggest factor when trying to learn new technology – that and the need to make it personal and meaningful to your practice.  I might be a strong advocate for our division’s laptop program and be spreading the word on the value of documentation in the arts, but this drive will only go so far in making change happen. I have found that the teacher needs to feel confident in the procedure, ready to take risks with the tools and feel that the effort will be worthwhile for their practice. No one wants to waste their time. Time is precious.

I realized today that sometimes my job is about holding hands. I don’t mean that to seem condescending – this teacher is intelligent, creative and gifted in her work.  What she needed was time to focus on the task, encouragement to explore and take risks and to support the problem solving.  Holding hands indicates a side-by-side, trusting relationship.

This image was created at and is composed from the text of my Inspiration blog page. This unique tool captures a word based image that relates repetition of language to the size of the font (implied importance). An interesting way to analyze thoughts, to glean meaning from the message.

A PD Moment!

This is what all PD should be like!

This is the comment I was given following our meeting/roundtable/workshop on Monday. I was gratified by all the positive comments, thank you’s and affirmations by the teachers.  A couple said, “our consultant rocks!” and one gave me a hug.  This is also the nature of this group of teachers. They are boisterous, emotional, open, opinionated, intelligent and appreciative professionals. People were happy with the day and left feeling good about the work we are doing and the support being given. This made me happy.

As I cleaned up the room and put away books I started to realize just how little of my original agenda was covered. I estimated we approached about 1/3 of what I hoped or imagined. Granted, I knew I was being optimistic with the agenda (I always have too much in the fear of running out of material), but we spent a good deal of time talking about the nature of art, what constitutes art and the value of process.  The discussion was intense at times and went quite deep as we analyzed where some perceptions come from and influences on attitude. It was quite enlightening.  Middle class values and work ethic in opposition to elitism was raised on more than one occasion. Teachers seemed to be thoroughly engaged in the debate and keen to offer opinion or to challenge assumptions.  What fun! How little we get opportunity to do this in our daily life!

Going into this day I questioned my power and authority and wanted to be aware of agenda driven control over the group. I can see by the outcome that it was not an issue.  Were we too off track? Difficult to know, but I’ll try to find out from the teachers.

Planning: They have been asked to contribute to a Voice Thread as a reflection tool on our process. We didn’t have time in the day and so they are doing it on their own. I have a feeling I may have to gently push this along – its easy to get busy with everything back in the classroom, I certainly understand why it wouldn’t be a priority. I hope to visit each one individually and see if I can help them by covering classes perhaps.

We also agreed to the concept of teacher as researcher and building our “culture of evidence” together. They were given cameras and asked to try to document the process with students, write about the thinking and to post it online on the Ning.  Already, several of them have personalized their pages and have started posting.  One teacher has begun a discussion thread about the nature of art vs technical skill.  I am excited by the prospect of getting our discussions underway through this medium.

Next step: collect Voice Thread reflection, gather feedback on our day, book personal visits with teachers and encourage Ning discussion.  My three actions are complete, now I need to finish gathering the data I need.

Whew! That feels good to take a moment and recognize where I am at.

A Curious Community

I am a curious person. I love to ask questions (sometimes to the despair of my children!)

Thinking, considering, questioning, picking at, guessing, challenging, back-tracking, checking, revising and refocusing daily.  I have the good fortune to be married to a man who also loves to challenge and who helps me work though things.  I also appreciate my office mates – both critical and inquiring people, who are infinitely patient with me as I wrestle with ideas and agonize over concepts, struggling for clarity. Each time I start by saying, “I hope your not too busy, but….”   Or “What do you think would happen…”  and “I just don’t understand how to ….”  And they engage once more with me, helping me find my way, probing my thinking, massaging an idea until I can let it go once more.

Lunch, yesterday, was another example. I had been explaining how my thinking was changing again and can sum it up thus:

I thought we were forming a community of Arts Educators so that we might feel strength from numbers. To combat the isolation of being the only odd ball in your school. But I’m finding that as we clarify our roles, agree to common beliefs, and philosophy, so to our identity becomes more clear.  With this clarity of purpose comes the question “so what?” How is this meaningful to anyone else? Can we sit up at the big boy table and talk confidently about what it is we do and why it is important? In these days of assessment where do we stand? We need to move toward a Culture of Evidence (to use Dr. Burnaford‘s title of a CAPES project in Chiacago).

As I fumbled to articulate these thoughts, I realized it captured a fairly accurate progression of my thinking.  It all seemed to make perfect sense.

The building of the community identity was indeed an important step in the process, but it allowed us to move into a new arena for discussion.  As we give voice to our world we are in a better position to share it with others – to make our case!

I sat at the lunch table, quietly contemplating this awareness. Sounded good, yup, makes sense. Uh huh….

Next, my colleague innocently asked me, “How much are you driving the process? Do you think the teachers in your committee look at you as wearing the “Mantle of the Expert”? Does your word carry more weight because you are a consultant?”

I looked at her and thought, “She found the elephant in the room!” Does my power and authority = compromised collaboration? What does that do to my understanding of my role?

The committee is engaged in a process of coming to understand the terms of Studio Thinking, our identity and common purpose and I think the process thus far has allowed it to happen.  It is a process I designed intentionally to include input and direction from the group, to build the concept of community.  But what is our community doing now? What comes next? I am ready to move us into some new territory, into what I have identified as a natural progression from the process. I also see it having a “big picture” ramification to our work. It will provide validation to the Arts through a firm grounding in assessment for learning.

BUT, are they ready to move into this arena of learning?  As the one who sets the agenda I also have the power. How does this impact our working environment?  We meet again on Monday (3rd action) and this needs to be my question for the day as we work.  We will be reflecting on our process, looking at collaboration, exploring ways to appropriately use technology, the purpose of documentation, and the connection to assessment. I’m concerned that we will be trying to cover too much in too little time (but we have so little time!) I may be pushing too much, too soon.

Upon reflection, it seems apparent that we need to consider our process and direction. I will try to use a VoiceThread for the discussion and will link (or embed) it when done.

We are a curious community indeed – we are curious about the world around us, curious about learning and the way things work…. and we are often seen as curious to others. This curiosity binds us together and will help us move forward.

(Holly Hildebrand “Poppies”)

It’s All About Me!

Ego: The fallacy whereby a goose thinks he’s a swan. (Proverb)

I find myself fascinating. (Milan Kundera)

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)

It isn’t easy doing this kind of research and looking at your practice – and yourself – through clear and open eyes.  I don’t want to fall into the pit of self-recriminations, nor do I want to sing my praises. How does one talk about themselves in an objective (academic) way? I need to find the language to help me express or evoke the image. I understand that the purpose is to look at learnings and awareness, but how is this important in the bigger picture? Who really cares about my change in practice other than myself?

I’m meeting with one of the artists tomorrow and I need to think about the kind of questions to ask so that I might understand my role, my actions, my purpose better (deeper). Perhaps I could say, “So, what do you really think about me?”  Nah.  Or maybe, “Can we talk about something important here? Me.”  Hmm.

Is it because we are Canadian this becomes so hard? I don’t want to draw attention to myself. But why is that so terrible? This will be an on-going tension for me I guess, one to be wrestled with and subdued into some kind of submission.

I think I will simply start a conversation with her and ask her to tell me about our special day – what had impact for her, what was challenging, what was stimulating. And I will ask her to describe my role as she saw it – how I interacted or facilitated or conducted. I would also like to hear how she described the relationship with teachers and the other artists, her impressions of the climate of the day and images that remain. The conversation will evolve as it will. I will listen to her, recording it for later transcription, and try to pull out themes or recurring ideas. From this I will be able to reflect upon my practice as seen through through the eyes of an artist.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.  (Tao Te Ching)

The Role of the Artist

I just returned from the Learning and Arts Symposium in Regina, hosted by the ArtsSmart program and the Saskatchewan Arts Board.  The National ArtsSmart organizes an annual forum to exchange ideas between the partners across the country.  Participants were from every province, except the Territories – although one participant from Labrador spoke about her Innu culture and that of her students.

I was asked to be a part of a panel on Arts Research and to reflect upon our experience with the ArtsSmart project: “Our Voice, Our Story” in which filmmakers Gabriel Yahyahkeekoot and Shane Bellegarde came to Spiritwood and Cutknife for a week each and worked with students to create original films.  I was nervous to be on the panel as the other partners have been involved longer and with much higher numbers of participants.  I realized I still feel rather new as a researcher and my inexperience would be apparent.  Regardless, I decided that my experience (specifically that of our teachers and students) would be of value and would offer a perspective unique to our province.

As I listened to the other presenters on the panel (I went last), I started to zone out somewhat. They were listing statistics and figures and data in an impressive way, but it felt disconnected to my experience. When it was finally my turn to speak (after 2 long power point presentations!) my voice came out squeaky and wavering. Was I more intimidated than I thought?

I did a little game with the audience to make them stand up and identify with categories and I could see their bodies relax as they smiled or laughed. Okay, now I was back in familiar territory, people were with me in the room again. I began to describe Saskatchewan and the isolation we often feel. Especially the isolation of being the Arts Educator or the Artsy student. Our research helped us form a community, a bond as people committed to the Arts and eager to engage with one another.  It was all hinging on relationship. The artists needed to connect to the community, the teachers needed to feel purposeful to the project and the students needed to feel connected to the artists and the concepts being explored.  There was a bond that formed over the course of the week and we could observe high levels of commitment by all parties. We used journals, interviews and observations as a way to collect our data and we were able to analyze it reflecting, sharing and comparing with one another.

I looked around and people were nodding and still smiling (not zoned out). They understood my message and had experienced it as well.

Research and data is necessary, it is a way to systematically organize and analyze our information and get a picture of the growth. It helps as a way of communicating this growth to others – the stakeholders. BUT it is not about the numbers, the charts, the facts, the statistics – it is about the relationships and the people. There is a huge tension for me as I try to understand how this works in praxsis, and it is not easily handled.  On the one hand, the Arts provide an avenue for creativity to flourish by allowing for a process to unflod. The process may be entirely dependent upon factors of personality, philosophy, contextual issues and environement.  We do not identify the arrival before the wandering. And yet we need to be able to foresee methods and moments of importance when data should be collected and documented. How can we begin to anticipate when and how when we are engaged and in it, living the experience?

My job is be both inside (living it)

and outside (analyzing it)

the experience at the same time.

An aha moment!

But …. what to do about it? hhmmm ….

Personalize It

Personalize It

Steve Kemp is a wise man. He knows how to listen, ask questions and challenge.  He has helped me see a new aspect to my research I had not considered previously and has encouraged me to delve a little deeper into my analysis.  He has suggested I “personalize” my research and draw parallels between the experience I create for teachers and the one I engage in myself. I asked the question “What feeds your soul, your creative spirit?” of our teachers and invited them to join us in an experience of a process, without thought to the lesson plan or the product. Why did I choose to develop it in that way, a non-traditional approach to PD? I think it is because I respond well to experiences and realize how stimulated I become in my thinking about my practice as I get to create and not just deliver creative experiences for others. Comments from the day, such as the one above, clearly indicate that others feel the same way and appreciated a chance to take a risk.

The role of the advisor is not an easy one – Steve has to have an understanding of who I am (my philosophy), comprehend my project parameters and have thought about my research question – and then he needs to be able to listen, probe, analyze, synthesize and redirect me on the spot. Critical and creative thinking. He was able to identify my central themes (not even clear in my own mind) and could reframe my thinking by revealing the underpinning understandings. Quite the feat.

As I reflect upon the personal nature of this encounter and draw parallels to the role I play as a consultant (as Steve suggested), I see similarities to the way I interact with teachers. I think I try to do the same thing as I listen to them talk about their work, and identify the underlying beliefs, values and philosophy that drives their practice. Encouraging them through conversation focused not on what they do, but why they do it.

Why do I do what I do? What drives me forward? Why am I always so interested in learning?

As I look at myself, I realize I am looking at a composite of my beliefs about others as well:

  • My motivation is personal, I am curious by nature.
  • I love to sit back and observe. I love to participate too.
  • Sometimes I am spontaneous and impulsive, at other times reflective and quiet.
  • I feel I can make a difference by sharing my expertise with teachers. I share best when I draw it from them, when we create together, constructing through experiences and process.
  • I feel my spirit is fed when I am creative, I need to engage as an artist as well as a teacher.
  • My imagination is fed through laughter, play and interaction with others – but I am also an introvert and require long moments of silence and contemplation in private.
  • I appreciate when others acknowledge my experience, skills and knowledge – I am aware of this and try to do this for others as well.
  • I learn best when I can read, reflect, share, discuss, debate, analyze, compare, imagine, design and create in an open environment. It is especially fruitful when I engage with a like minded community of learners, who understand my language and philosophy.

My next question may be in examining how true these assumptions may be. A next step may be to ask the teachers with whom I work about their beliefs about learning.

Studio Thinking for Teachers: the Artist Within

Oct. 2, 2008

Mixed Messages: Fragmented Stories
An exhibition of textile, collage, mixed media – looking at our histories, and imagined histories, memories and imagined memories.

Holly Hildebrand (the artist) took us through a process – with no product in sight – of creating texture, layers of image (photocopies) and text, prints, stamps and scratching our canvas. We worked the surface of both sides of the canvas.

Then we let it dry and went off to meet with Paul who led us through another process to create a soundscape from text we found in her show.  Then Michele challenged us to work through a process with text and movement that led to scenes inspired from the those same words. All rather risky, creative, messy and with no real product in mind. Participating in the experience, free from expectations or classroom (teacher) considerations.
When we returned to our somewhat dry canvas pieces, Holly showed us how to fold them into books, with a hidden page for secrets or other fragments. We ran out of time, but she also showed us how we might sew the pages and stitch other items in to the piece (she uses old letters, keys, buttons, whatever she finds. She described for us the “zen of make do” from a generation past, and why she likes to collect bits, finding new purpose in reusing.

These books are not done, but they do represent a process of thinking, responding and creating.

“I really enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed the cross curriculum approach. I was very impressed with the instruction and expertise in all three areas of art. I found the music portion challenging and frightening, exciting, and useful all at the same time. I had not considered that type of process before, and as a result would like to consider an artist in residence, or Art SMART grant. My kids could/would benefit from working with people similar to those that you arranged to have us work with and the possibilities excite me. I am looking forward to the Oct. 17th meeting. Thank you again, Sherron.” (a Studio Thinking participant reflecting on the artists workshop)

messy paintings