Monday, December 26, 2016

Art Class Adaptations: Working with Special Needs (January's Stepping Stones)

In each of our classes, we attempt to meet the needs of every child. From special needs to gifted, ELL to non-verbal, as well as all other abilities and qualities, we do our best to accommodate our students and help meet their learning styles. We are trained in our educational degrees how to create accommodations for your students, especially with an individualized education program (IEPs). 
I would like to focus on working with students with special needs. My own daughter has special needs. When she was at 18 months of age, we began Early Intervention therapy and after testing, it was concluded that she was developmentally delayed in speech and on the autism spectrum. We pretty much knew what the answer would be and we still love our daughter just the same, but we know we’ll have a journey ahead with her development. Some of you may have similar stories, but being a parent of a special needs child opens your eyes to a unique set of challenges and joys. 
You will have many students in your art classes with unique personalities, and I would like to provide some advice as both an educator and a parent of special needs children. 
1. Be patient. Having students with any special need will present a learning experience within your classroom, and some days will be tougher than others. You may need to repeat directions again, or work one on one if a paraprofessional is not available. There may be times when a student will shut down and if that happens, give them the time they need to calm down and come back on track. Giving students their space helps the child refocus and continue on their work.
2. Keep up to date on your students’ IEPs. Throughout the school year, meetings will be taking place to determine what services will be recommended to meet the students’ needs and depending on the development over time, students’ IEPs can change. Stay in communication with the special education teachers within your districts to keep up to date with any changes. You can also request to attend meetings. As a visual teacher, you can give a unique perspective on their development, especially with fine motor and social behavior in your classes.
3. Get to know the families. It really makes a parent’s day when any teacher takes an extra step in communication. From my end, I appreciate all of the notes and communication we receive from our daughter’s teachers and therapists. Imagine how your parents would feel receiving a note or phone call from the art teacher! Open communication helps to bridge connections with everyone involved and gives an extra resource of support.
4. Do your best to provide the accommodations needed. There are many ways to work with your students, from where to seat them in class, to providing materials that adapt with their needs. In communication with special education teachers, we acquired scissors that help with fine motor development, special seating for students who need support at the tables, and technology settings for the Chromebooks, tablets and laptops used.
5. Ask questions. It is very good to keep open communication for all parties involved with a child’s development. Sometimes, a situation may arise that stumps you (for example, a student responds to work less than an average day). Attempt to communicate with the student, paraprofessional, or teacher involved to see if there was any recent changes that could have altered the child’s behavior. One method our daughter’s teacher uses is communication slips, which helps provide information for handling the transitions of the day. In knowing how our daughter started off her day, the teacher can provide answers for the therapists and other educators involved working with her. If your student appears to be reacting beyond what you’re familiar with, ask questions.
6. Keep an open mind. As a parent of a special needs child, I am constantly worried about my daughter. When we’re in public, I don’t know if or when she will have a tantrum. We learned that people will have opinions and throw comments at you without knowing our situation, and we admit as much as we try to keep an open mind and shrug it off, it does hurt. Imagine how the parents of your students feel. We are all working together to provide for all students involved. We will have days that are more challenging than others.
On the bright side, there will be successes as well! But I do need to stress that you need to keep an open mind. Do not let your frustrations cloud your ability to work with your students. The best thing you can do is provide the love and support they need to develop and grow. After all, you are part of the team who helps your students become who they are meant to be.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Leap into the Fiber Arts World: December's Stepping Stones

In November’s Stepping Stones, I shared my thoughts on how printmaking was one of my most challenging sets of projects, but I had found ways to work with the materials in the environments I taught in. For this month, I would like to share how I work with some of my most favorite materials, textiles!
When it comes to fiber arts, I enjoy introducing the concepts and techniques and helping students learn the crafts! Prior to becoming an art educator, I worked in textile restoration. I loved working with historic fabrics and artifacts, while restoring and conserving textiles of history. I loved the pre-Columbian tunics, African headdresses, shibori clothes, Navajo rugs, and old America flags. It was through training interns that I discovered my love for teaching!
(My prize-winning ancestry photo-collage quilt from 2006)
1. Fiber arts can be defined as a style of art that uses textiles such as fabric, yarn, and natural or synthetic fibers. This unique style of art focuses on the materials and manual labor involved as part of its importance. Fiber art involves the use of fiber and/or textiles and includes countless techniques ranging from quilting, collage, embroidery, weaving, spinning, knitting, felting, crocheting, recycling fabrics, and even paper.  You see that picture above?  That's me 10 years ago, before kids, with the ancestry quilt my mother and I worked on together.  Prior to being a teacher, I worked in textile restoration  and loved working with fiber arts!
I’ve noticed a recent uphill trend in fiber arts materials used in art classes, as if our historic crafts and processes are making a comeback! Thanks to needle-felting, weaving, and embroidery, students are appreciating many of the old techniques mixed in with new ideas! Here’s a bit of advice I’d like to share when incorporating fiber art projects into your curriculum.

2. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques. Too often I hear from teachers that they do not teach the technique because they’ve never learned them or have forgotten the methods. There are plenty of classes and workshops offered at the state and national conferences that fill up quick! It also would not hurt to take a class at a local quilt shop to pick up on a few sewing, quilting, and weaving techniques. You may even know a friend that can teach you how to knit for free! The more techniques you learn, the more you can spruce up your lessons in your classes.
(This project was inspired by the teacher Cassie Stephens in her blog.  You can find the lesson here.)
3. There is always a way to catch the students’ interests. Have you ever had a group of students that frowned when they heard they were weaving? In many cases, I hear from boys that they think the weaving technique is “for their Grandmas.” I enjoy changing their minds. My trick is reminding them about the “Survivorman” shows and how people use weaving to create bedding, roofing, and other survival materials when out in nature. It’s fun to see their eyes light up as if a light bulb went off in their head! Explaining how certain techniques are life skills changes the game. Many times after a project is completed, students bring back paracord bracelets, pot holders, and woven bags they made on their own after taking an interest in a project created in class!
(My mom sharing her hand sewn quilt, chosen as "Mayor's Choice" in our town.)
4. There are plenty of opportunities to invite local artists. You know whom I invited into my classes to show off her quilts? My mom! In watching her making so many beautiful quilts throughout the years, I picked up on a love for the craft. Students love to meet local artists and view handmade items in their classroom, plus I show off my Victorian crazy quilt! If you know anyone who lives local to the school and created fiber projects as a hobby, consider inviting them for a day to share their works of art! Another wonderful resource is using Google Hangouts to meet artists around the country! You can easily set up a hangout with your class to ask questions and share works of art over the webcam.

5. You’re passing the craft to the next generation. We may not rely so much on quilting, embroidery, or weaving techniques as much as our ancestors had in the past, but it is important to keep these skills alive and to pass them on. Fiber arts have a very rich history and importance not only in our country, but worldwide. From the brightly colored Kimonos of Japan to the tapestries of Europe, students can appreciate the techniques used in preserving history.
(Lesson ideas from Dynamic Art Projects for Children by Denise Logan)
6. Experiment with what’s appropriate with each grade level. You would not want to start introducing quilting to kindergarten students, but you can introduce lace boards to help with fine motor development! If you are unsure of what type of fiber arts projects to introduce to your grade levels, consider researching your options. Explore blogs, ideas pinned on Pinterest, and social-media PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) to find lessons appropriate for different grade levels and try them out in your own classes!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Masks with 5th Grade

There are so many different ways to create a mask in your classroom, but this project is among one of my favorites.  I enjoy it because students have freedom to choose their own designs.  This particular project is known throughout my school and students look forward to reaching 5th grade so they can finally create their own!  I've heard more than once on the first day of class, "We're making masks this year, right???"

I've adapted this project many times over the years due to the spaces I've worked in and the student climate.  Recently, I've been using pre-made pulp masks to save on time (this project can take quite a few weeks depending on how challenging you create the lesson).

Although this particular project was made with pre-made masks, I've also created this project with plaster wraps and mask molds.  It's another step your student can take in making their masks from scratch if you have the time.


-Mask examples (printed out)
-Mask template
-Black tracing markers
-Color markers
-9 x 12 colored frame paper
-pulp paper mache masks (found in Nasco or Triarco)
-Cups for water
-Tempura paint
-Paper towels
-Accessories (beads, gems, feathers, cord, etc.)
-Glitter pens (your choice)
-Hot glue gun (your choice, depending on the classes you teach)


From learning about the uses of masks and designs from many cultures, students will create their own mask design.  Students are to develop an idea on a mask template by drawing and coloring in their own designs.  From that idea, students re-draw their design on the mask form, then apply tempura paint to their masks.  Accessories can be adding at the end of the unit.


This unit lesson takes approximately 5-6 weeks to complete.  Each class period was approx. 40 minutes in length, meeting once a week.

Day 1: I share a Powerpoint I created of many masks from different cultures to help inspire students for their designs.  Afterwards, I begin the demonstration by showing what materials are available for creating the mask drawing over the template.  Students are encouraged to decide on their own design, and to help students who can't think of ideas, I provide a folder of different mask images to help spark the light bulbs in their heads.

(Please note:  I do not know how to share a pre-made Powerpoint on here.  I've tried many times, but I can't seem to figure it out.  Once I do, it will be up!)

(Another note:  I found mask images on Google.  Very easy to create your own printouts copy/paste in Microsoft Word.  You can also have students research on their own if you have the time and technology!)

Day 2: Students will be encouraged to complete their drawing designs, frame them with colored paper, then start their rough sketch on the masks.

Day 3-4: Students will continue to draw and paint their designs onto the masks.

Day 5: Once masks have finished, students can use hot glue guns (at designated stations in the room) to glue on accessories.  I encourage students to find their own accessories if they have something specific in mind.  When I was on a cart and in smaller rooms, I did not create a station and instead asked the students to hand me their accessories, which I glued on during plan time or after school.

Day 6: Wrap up accessories and artist statements.  At our school, we have chromebooks!  I have the students bring the chromebooks into the art room and enter in their artist statements straight to Artsonia.  The students reflect on their designs, the process, and how they felt about creating their artwork.


Drawing Examples

Finished Examples


"My mask design was inspired by how I am half Polish and American. I like this project because it was fun."

"My mask design was inspired by tigers. I liked it because I could create what I want to be"

"My mask design was inspired by my native country which is America, and the bald eagle, our country's symbol. I liked this project, although it got a little messy. I do like working with paint though. I liked this project because we got to pick something representative that we would like. This shows our creativity."

"My mask design was inspired by my thoughts and favorite things. I like this project because my favorite designs are zigzags and rainbows."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Adventures in Printmaking: November's Stepping Stones

For the full article in Arts & Activities Magazine, please click here for the Stepping Stones column.

A few months ago, I was interviewed by Deep Space Sparkle’s Patty Palmer on ways to manage teaching art from a cart.  I was asked what the most challenging projects were when teaching in a mobile situation, and I admitted it was printmaking.  Depending on my classes, I had some amazing projects printed, as well as classes I wished I could have started over again.  As much as I struggled remembering all the brayers, cutters, inks, and paper, I felt it was an important concept that students needed to learn within my classes. 

Printmaking is an important part of our culture and we use objects created from the process every day.  After all, if it wasn’t for Johannes Gutenburg, we would not have newspapers, books, magazines, and art prints without the invention of his printing press in 1440!

If you are starting to take on printmaking in your classroom, I have a few tips that may help you out. I admit I was afraid to work with printmaking materials my first few years of teaching!  I finally jumped in and learned many ways to plan ahead for printmaking in any teaching situation you’re working in. My first bit of advice is to have a feel for your students. 

Know your students before planning the objectives of the lesson.  If you have a high energy batch of kids, get a feel for what you think they can handle.  For example, if you plan on doing a simple ink print lesson with an upper elementary class, decide if they can handle easy-cut rubber blocks or styrofoam sheets.  I’ve learned the hard way that if you give them an objective that is too advanced, most likely your students will miss the concept.  I’ve had a few classes totally rock a 2-color print, and quite a few that struggled.  Knowing what your students can handle will help them make the connections and grow into their work.

Make sure you have all your materials!  I recommend doing a checklist of all the materials you need and plan for extra.  With the block print projects, I always check to make sure I have the brayers, plates, ink, cutters, blocks, paper, and all the extra materials needed for my entire grade level.  Gelli prints also need a number of materials to set up!  Are you working with gyotaku fish prints?  Make sure you have enough fish molds to print with your students!

Make sure you’re prepared for the set up and clean up.  No matter what printmaking project you create, be prepared for the beginning and the end.  When I did printmaking on the cart, I had materials set up in baskets that were dispersed through the students.  For clean up, I allotted a few extra minutes to get the classroom spotless before I pushed the cart out of the room. 

Know your water source. When there’s printmaking, you will need your water source no matter what your teaching situation is.  If you’re on the cart, locate the closest sinks to the classrooms you’re working in.  I would have students collect the materials in buckets  and wash them off in the bathroom while the remainder of students took care of placing artworks on the drying racks and cleaning their desks.  When I was in a room without the sinks, I used buckets filled halfway with water.  When clean up was announced, the blocks, brayers, and pads were placed in the bucket to make the transition as smooth and tidy as possible.

Plan for lots and lots of paper to be used.  Depending on the size of your block, plate, stamp or fish, your students will become addicted to printing as many copies as they can.  Even if you limit the amount of prints, students will still manage to sneak another one in. 

Create your classroom management plan.  Even with having a plan in place throughout the year, you will have a separate set of rules when it comes to printing procedures.  You may have a table arranged as a “printing station,” but you still need to remind student not to use one brayer color with another color.  One tip you can use would be to create a separate chart with the rules to help remind students throughout the project.  You can also start off each class by “quizzing” the students on the printing process to see if they remember the steps needed!

The art of printmaking comes in many forms and depending on your teaching situation, you can adapt any printing style into your classes.  As messy as printmaking sounds you can also work with stamps, rubber plates, vegetables, and toys in creating many types of prints in your classroom!  You may have some trial and error moments, but you will eventually find what works best for you.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Ideas for Early Finishers: October's Stepping Stones

So your students are in the middle of a project, but some of them are starting to approach you with their completed artworks.  There are quite a few options you have for your early finishers until the entire class completes their own masterpieces and help pace your quick finishers.

Encourage students to enhance their pieces.  If your students followed all the objectives and finished far ahead, consider encouraging your student to add more.  Sometimes those extra finishing touches can make your student’s piece stand out!  With teaching in a K-6 school, I encourage students in every grade level to add a little more detail to make their artworks pop.  This is also a good opportunity to do a formative assessment with your students to help them see their work from different perspectives.

Use this time for students to write artist statements or self reflections.  Since our school uses Artsonia, I have students include an artist statement along with their artworks.  I start small with 1st grade by having the students fill in a sentence, such as “My art project makes me feel…” and the students fill in the rest.  We progress each year from one sentence, and by 6th grade, they write up to a paragraph.  There are many options to writing their reflections and statements.  If you use Artsonia, consider adding a place for their statement to their grade sheet, which can be typed into the computer at a later date, or if you have access to tablets, have students add their statements directly to the app.  You can also use Google Classroom with the intermediate grade levels, which makes it easy to copy and paste artist statements into Artsonia.

Create or find worksheets related to the project.  This also works as a good wrap up to a unit!  For many of my projects, I utilize worksheets to help build upon the objectives of the lesson.  For example, After doing a Joan Miro-inspired project, I can use a worksheet called “create a Miro” for students to work with on their own.  I especially use this with the 6th grade level since they often finish at different times throughout the lesson.  Another example can be having students create their own names in hieroglyphs after creating an Ancient Egyptian-inspired project.

Create a resource center.  A resource center provides additional materials for students to use independently until all the students have completed their work.  Your resource center can be as small as a bin on your cart, or as large as a shelving unit in your room.   In my room, I have an art library shelving unit filled with many options for students to use once they have finished with everything listed above.   Your resource center can hold many of the items listed:

Coloring pages are not just for the kindergarteners! Even though I encourage the kindergarteners to practice coloring in the lines, all grade levels enjoy time to just color without worry.  With the new adult coloring book craze, students in the upper grade levels are enjoying more advanced coloring pages to fill their time.

Blank paper is always good to have on hand.  There will always be a handful of students to want to use the time to practice their own drawing skills, and what better way to help inspire them to use “How to Draw” books.  My students are always borrowing drawing books for everything, but because they’re so popular, I never let them leave the room.  Students use the drawing books for projects, art contests, and practicing on their own!

Scrap paper is another resource to have on hand since many kids enjoy making their own collages.  After trimming down paper for project sizes, I always have a pile of multicolor scraps that students love to use.  And if you teach them paper sculpture?  Your scrap bin will empty out faster than you know!

Art games can be fun and educational, without disturbing other students to are completing their artworks.  I have a bin in the art library containing games that students can play with two or more people, such as Art Lingo (a visual bingo that helps students with their art vocabulary), Hue Knew! (to help students match colors), Tangoes shape puzzles, and art puzzles.  The games are labeled in baggies for easy clean up with the art class is finished.

Art-inspired books are also a good resource to have in your stash.  This year’s favorite was “The Day the Crayons Quit” and Peter Reynold’s “Creatology” trilogy!  Students love to borrow books from the art library, and many times, I catch them creating their own artworks inspired by the books they read!

 Throughout the year, you will find many resources to help you balance your time with your early finishers and last-minute crunchers.  Find what works best for you!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mapping Out Your Teaching Environment: September's Stepping Stones

This school year marks a first for meIm in my own classroom with a sink!  It may not sound like that big of a deal, but many art educators struggle to find all the resources needed for their projects in their curriculum when they’re in alternate teaching spaces.  Here’s a few things to check off your list when setting up your space!

Find your water source.  If youre one of the lucky art teachers who have a room with a sink, you’re golden!  Many of us do need to search other avenues to supply the element that cleans our paintbrushes.  If youre working from a room without a sink, I recommend finding the closest water source. When I was on a cart, I surveyed the closest bathrooms, found the classrooms with the sinks, and carried 5 gallon jugs from room to room.

Find your electricity. If you push a cart from room to room and you need the projector or laptop, you need the outlets.  Before starting the school year, I would walk through all the rooms I pushed a cart into and surveyed the space.  If youre in your own classroom, set up your projection or computer station that is convenient for you.

Find your storage. If youre on the cart, you can get creative with your storage.  If you have a closet, plan a space to store your students flat projects in labeled portfolios (or folders) that are easy to change out.  I recommend labeling boxes and bins to make it easier to find the materials you need to load the cart or switch out throughout the day.  If youre in your classroom, figure out a space that you can store projects.  I use metal file holders to hold folders of student 2-dimensional artworks and bins for the 3-dimensional sculptures.  If you struggle to find space on the cart, talk with the classroom teachers to see if there can be a space above cabinets and out of the way of their instruction time.

Find your display space.  Some schools have a dedicated space for art teachers to display, while others think outside of the box.   In the past, I would set up a length of long paper on the wall and tape projects to it that can be changed out.  A colleague of mine uses string and clothespins to hang the artworks, which makes it so much easier to change out.  You also need to find display space in your classes to show project examples.  If youre on the cart, check the boards in the rooms.  I recommend getting your own magnets and labeling them.  Even if you forget them in the rooms, students will still make sure they get back to you!

Find your method of organization.  Being an art teacher means we are masters of organizing chaos.  We have multiple classes, students with different accommodations, material adaptations, and more.  Every teacher I know has their own method of organization that works for them.   If you have a classroom, create seating charts, even if you have 20+ classes a week.  Make sure those charts are written in pencil in case you need to move anyone around throughout the year.  Do you have a list of IEPs?  Organize your paperwork in files and make sure to highlight the adaptations you need to provide for your students.  If you’re on the cart, get yourself a file system that works for your space.  I had a small plastic file container that held all my paperwork in the space I had, which could also travel with me on the cart if I needed to!

Find your privacy.  Every teacher deserves his or her own space, which I refer to as your desk! If you are on a cart and do not have your own desk, I highly recommend you ask for one.  Having your own space provides you with the comfort of having a place within the school to plan, plus, it’s much easier to do all the work you need to accomplish before and after your classes!  If you have a classroom, it’s your choice where you position your desk space.  Find what works best for you, but remember to take the time to sit and take a breather even for a few minutes during your time!

Find your creativity.  Throughout the school year, you may go through lulls with your lessons, even if you pre-plan your curriculum.  Most of you are aware of Pinterest supplying many pinned lessons created by art educator bloggers, but do not hesitate to turn to social media for ideas!  There’s so many different ways to achieve the objectives of your lessons, but don’t lose your creative spark in teaching your lessons! I hope you have a wonderful school year, and let your students’ creativity shine!