I introduced puppets towards the end of the year to the elementary students. I showed them a few possible methods for making puppets but a simple technique for making rod puppets was by far the most popular. We had ninjas, princesses, cats, and more. After making them, our first and second graders naturally began to have them interact. With little prompting they began adding sets and props of their own making and produced a long and somewhat wandering plot line about pigs and stolen food. Over a few class periods during the last 10 minutes of class, we would clean up and watch their performance. Most of the class was behind the theater but for those few audience members present, they devised a rating system for their puppet shows. How's that for authentic feedback? There was an electric feeling in the air as they planned and plotted and performed.
A small group of high school students spent the day with Heather Stearns, a teaching potter, in her studio. Her lovely studio is located in Wolcott. Learning how to throw on a potter's wheel is a tricky skill. It takes time. Luckily, our students had the whole day to grasp the basics of centering clay, opening up the clay and forming bowls, cups and pitchers. Afterwards, we glazed our pots back on the Cabot campus.
It was a gorgeous day on our last full week of school. Our students had the opportunity to visit the Fairbank Museum's extensive collection of natural specimens to sketch from observation. At first the students were busy walking from exhibit to exhibit as they excitedly scanned the gallery for the thing they would draw. After about 10 minutes each student quietly settled into a good half an hour of observational drawing. Some students focused their attention on one detailed drawing, while others filled up their pages with multiple quicker drawings. We also spent some time outside in their butterfly tent. Unfortunately, I forgot to pull out my camera while we were there. I was too "in the moment," I suppose. Below are some photos of their sketches We wrapped up our visit with a presentation at the planetarium and learned about our local night sky. The Fairbanks is a fantastic local resource for our community.
Next week, the 5th and 6th graders will travel to the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. We will will spend some time visiting the extensive collection of preserved animals and hunker down to do some observational drawing. In preparation for our visit, I've been thinking about teaching drawing to young students. I've come across the work of Marvin Bartel, an art educator, on many occasions and his words about teaching drawing ring true to my own experience as a young student.
"Often, as well-meaning adults, when we see a drawing like the one shown here, we might offer to show the child the "right" way to draw a person. When we show them how it should look, we may be stunting a child's ability to learn. By "correcting" them and showing them how to draw something, we are both discouraging them and preventing them from learning how good observation is learned. Children may become very frustrated when they reach the next developmental stage. They may wish they could draw more realistically, but not knowing how to practice effectively, they may mistakenly assume that they are too young or not talented enough to learn it. If they do ask for help, many adults give them the wrong kinds of help. As they get older, they begin to compare with others and mistakenly believe that they lack talent while others seem more gifted in drawing. They give up because they see others who appear to do better. This is so common that art educators refer to this as the "crisis of confidence".
It has been my experience as a teacher and as a young art student that inadvertent negativity can shut down motivation quickly. Whenever a student expresses interest in drawing, I move in and try to engage them in what intents them. We have our own collection of taxidermy specimens, bones, and other natural objects just for the purpose of observational drawing. My goal is to maintain internal motivation and to teach students that drawing is a skill, that when practiced yields results. Drawing realistically is not rocket science. It just takes exposure to a few fundamental principles, lots of practice and patience. Over the years, I've worked with students who excel in their drawing ability and it is clear that they spend much more time than is ever possible in our art class working on their own skills at home. They draw a lot. They draw continuously because they are self-motivated. Hopefully, after our adventure to the Fairbanks Museum, our students will experience some success and pleasure and continue to draw on their own. We will make journals this week and students will be encouraged to take them home over the summer and fill them up. There will be more pictures to come next week.