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!