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Creating Lessons Which Lead to MAEIA Assessments

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

When I present at workshops the question I am asked most often is, “But how do I teach this?”. As I reflect on my 20 years of teaching, in year one I probably would have had...

When I present at workshops the question I am asked most often is, “But how do I teach this?”.

As I reflect on my 20 years of teaching, in year one I probably would have had the same question. My more experienced self looks back at that beginning teacher I once was and shakes her head. My kids couldn’t sing. I knew what they needed to do, but didn’t know the steps to get them there. Luckily, we all get by with a little help from our friends, and as I have now switched from the role of the helped to the helper, I’d like to outline a few things for those who find themselves asking this question.

How to Get Started

Each of the MAEIA assessments is built on a key concept, or big idea. So when thinking about these assessments, begin with the assessment as the end and outline the skills that students will need to acquire in order to complete it successfully.

Since this assessment involves singing, do a pre-assessment to see if the students are accessing their singing voice. A simple “hello (student’s name)” sung on so-mi  (I use F major) is a good way to find out if students are using their singing voice and matching pitch.

This simple little test will also tell you the students who are comfortable singing solo and those who are not. After determining singing voice, pitch matching and comfort level, try the following activities to build confidence.

Part One

First, set up a classroom where respect for self and others is a given and no other behavior is acceptable.

Build your classroom routines so that during every class students are exploring their voices, singing alone and with others, and creating melodies and songs of their own.

Encourage students to play exploration, make it fun. There are many great books on vocal exploration and teaching singing. I love John Feierabend’s ‘First Steps in Music for Preschool and Beyond’. So many great exploration ideas, poems, stories and games.

Remember developing any skill takes time and repetition. Eat the Elephant one bite at a time and repeat, repeat, repeat!

Part Two

In every class, after 2-4 minutes of exploration, narrow the focus so that students are participating in fragment singing (echo song) where you or another student is modeling healthy, head voice and in-tune singing.

After many weeks of ‘repeat after me songs’, graduate to call and response style songs. Follow this time immediately with simple songs, songs with 3 or 4 notes in the key of F or G that students listen to you sing, and over a period of a three to six lessons sing in large groups, small groups and then solo.

Simple songs, sung often in small groups and most importantly solo build a child’s confidence.

Choose fun songs, if they are about animals or an object, use a prop. If you have a reluctant singer, see if they will use a puppet to sing. Most importantly repeat, repeat, encourage, repeat.

Smile, be positive and your class will smile and be positive too. Never insist that a child sing, never making singing confrontational. If a child refuses to sing, move to the next. If it is chronic, have a quiet conversation with that student, encourage be positive, they will come around.

Part Three

Finally add in the concept of improvising melodies and songs, use puppets and props.

Give prompts like “what did you have for breakfast, make up a song about it’. Or my favorite, “how would this kitten sing?” and hand them a stuffed cat. Have students sing to the person sitting next to him or her first, then share out, or not. Build their confidence by offering these options every single class.

Holly Olszewski teaches for Grand Traverse Area Public Schools and serves as a MAEIA Leadership Fellow, offering professional learning on the MAEIA tools and resources.

A downloadable pdf of this article is available here: Holly Olszewski_Creating Lessons Which Lead to MAEIA Assessments.

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Cheryl L. Poole: Helping Our Evaluators Understand

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Eavesdropping on a Teacher’s Conversation Recently, I had the opportunity to be present with a small group of art and music teachers. They were young and relatively new to their career. Their...

Eavesdropping on a Teacher’s Conversation

Recently, I had the opportunity to be present with a small group of art and music teachers. They were young and relatively new to their career. Their voices where animated with sharing about their projects, their students, their administrators and the challenges of full days and equally full evenings of preparation. Listening from a position of post-retirement, I enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversations. It made me a bit nostalgic for the years when my career was in full swing and I was still striving to improve my teaching every day.

One brief conversation has lingered with me. A young teacher was frustrated because of a contentious exchange she’d had with an administrator who evaluated her. The feedback she received on her instruction showed little understanding of her teaching goals. She continued saying that she gathered her thoughts before confronting the administrator about her evaluation. She asked why she had received such mediocre feedback. She explained that she had been instructing for higher-level thinking and analysis of the project in a historical context. The administrator listened closely then apologized saying that she didn’t realize what the teacher was doing.

The remainder of the conversation I overheard went something like this: “I can’t believe that she would give me a low score just because she couldn’t recognize what I was doing! She even admitted that she didn’t understand what I was trying to accomplish with my kids. If she couldn’t recognize what I was doing, she shouldn’t have been evaluating me.”

Experiencing a Flashback

That is the part of the dialogue that stuck with me. It caused me to flashback to myself as a young teacher, indignant after an evaluation, because I remember thinking that the assistant principal assigned to observe my teaching and write an evaluation clearly didn’t know what I was attempting to do.

Now, from the far end of my career – post-retirement – I look upon that young teacher’s frustration, along with own, through a wholly different lens.

Wondering Why, as a Young Teacher, I Didn’t Ask Myself …

Why was my default position as a young teacher to believe that my observer’s opinion was absolute and final (albeit, in my opinion, wrong)?

Why didn’t I assume more agency for my own teaching? It had taken me 4 years of college plus several years of practice to learn how to best teach the curriculum I was teaching.

Why did I expect that a randomly-assigned assistant principal (one who hadn’t taught for almost 30 years) would understand what I was doing and why? Especially after only a 30-minute observation? Even an administrator with a background in arts education would likely not be able to do much better.

Analyzing the recent conversation and the flashback I wondered why, way back then, I didn’t I take a more active role in advocating for myself.

I suspect it was lack of confidence. Maybe I assumed my opinion wasn’t valued? I think the attitude at the time was that the evaluator had the expertise necessary to do his job and I was just a beginning teacher.

Looking back on that long-ago experience, I know that he didn’t have the expertise and couldn’t have known what I as a professional was attempting to get my students to demonstrate. He was told to go into my room, observe me and interpret what he saw….and he did.

Making Powerful Instruction More Transparent

Remembering the painful experience of being judged (evidenced by the fact I recall it with a sting even 40 years later) and recently hearing young teachers reflect on similar ‘injustices’ makes me think about how easy it would be today to help the evaluator see more clearly the how and why of instruction.

The MAEIA assessments – all readily available and searchable online – contain tools to make instructional goals more transparent. Each has a concise list of standards associated with the assessment and at least one rubric that describes the preferred student performance.

The sting in an evaluator’s interpretation of a teaching observation often comes from what is a chance interpretation of what the evaluator sees. He/she might simply not understand what you are trying to get your students to deliver.

How better to eliminate the chance factor with a well-timed, one-page sheet listing the standards and a rubric showing the complex behaviors you and your students are seeking!

-It takes is a modest amount of pre-work to search the MAEIA assessment catalogue to find one that comes closest to your instructional goals.

-Then, if necessary, tweak the rubric to be clearer for your evaluator.

-Cut and paste the standards and the rubric into a handy one-pager.

-Make sure it’s available to your evaluator during the observation or drop it off before your evaluation has been processed.

Although the MAEIA tools were not even in the dream stage back when my evaluator critiqued my instruction, what if they had been? I could have helped him see and interpret the performance goals for which my students and I were reaching. He would have been so impressed. I’m sure he also would have been relieved to not have to create a respectable interpretation of what he saw my students and I doing in my classroom.

Here are two thoughts that have condensed from my eavesdropping the conversation between young arts educators and my time-travel back to when I was one of them.

-Don’t assume your observer or evaluator knows how to teach any arts discipline as well as you do or that they are able to decipher your instructional goals by merely observing.

-Be prepared for any observation by having a focused list of standards and one or more rubric(s) that illustrates what standards underlay your instruction and what performance you are seeking from your students.

Search MAEIA online assessment catalogue ( for an assessment that is as close as possible to your current lesson and targeted standards.

Revise the assessment’s rubric to match precisely what you expect your students to achieve.

Print off the rubric(s) and the associated standards on a single page to help your observer interpret what he/she is seeing.

Editor’s Note:

MAEIA has developed and continues to develop tools to facilitate greater ease in the educator evaluation process. Check out our Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness videos, (scroll to mid-page),  particularly DEE videos 3 and 4, to consider your own agency while interacting with administration and sharing the stories of your students and of your teaching more dynamically. See our Educator Effectiveness page for guidance in using the MAEIA resources in the stages of your educator evaluation process.

Cheryl L. Poole is an educator with more than 40 years of experience in visual arts, museum administration and facilitating professional learning. She has had the pleasure of working with educators in the MAEIA project over the last 5 years.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: CherylLPoole_Helping Our Evaluators Understand

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Image: Arts Education Field Guide, Americans for the Arts

Barb Whitney: Advocating for Students through the Arts

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Access to the arts for students in schools offers an avenue for self-expression and a source of inspiration. Beyond that, the arts develop students’ critical thinking skills. Additionally, numerous studies prove the arts benefit academic...

Access to the arts for students in schools offers an avenue for self-expression and a source of inspiration. Beyond that, the arts develop students’ critical thinking skills. Additionally, numerous studies prove the arts benefit academic performance, including that of standardized testing.

Image Credit: Creative Commons

A wealth of relevant data exists proving that students regularly exposed to the arts are more successful both inside and outside of school. In the landmark 2003 Critical Links publication, 62 academic research studies collectively demonstrated that arts education improves not only academic skills, but students’ motivation and achievement.

Moreover, students in low-income schools are affected more significantly than their counterparts. James Catterall’s large-scale longitudinal study titled “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art” found that in particular disadvantaged students with arts involvement showed strong associations with voting and volunteerism, college enrollment, and better earning within careers.

Arts programs are proven to correlate with improved attrition rates and increased participation in school communities. In other words, schools benefit, too. Beyond the value of the arts for individual students, the arts build community within schools. Arts experiences provide students a non-traditional opportunity for academic success and often, a reason to stay in school.

Data from the UCLA’s Imagination Project, a longitudinal study of 25,000 participants, reported positive statistics related to arts involvement. This research recognizes the arts as a driver for increased self-esteem, as well as decreased dropout rates. In terms of application, by offering arts curriculum, schools can use the arts to effectively attract or retain families.

As illustrated by countless studies, accessibility to the arts enables individuals to succeed. However, in recent research published in 2017 by Americans for the Arts in which my research was cited, statewide leaders revealed that due to narrowing of the curriculum, standardized testing, and other factors, the arts are seen as a nicety, rather than as an integral factor in student learning.

Unfortunately, the categorical devaluation of the arts is a factor when schools are faced with difficult budget decisions; cutbacks of the arts are often considered as a potential cost-savings measure. Elimination of arts specialists has occurred in many districts across the country. This trend of unequal access relates to valuation and resources, disproportionately affecting rural and inner-city youth. Critical opportunities for self-expression and upward mobility are overlooked. Unequal access to the arts underscores a need for advocacy measures to ensure arts education access for all students.

To be clear, students do have a right to arts instruction in schools. States are required to provide arts instruction as a part of a well-rounded education within the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed in 2015. To reiterate, the right of arts education for all youth in the USA is currently guaranteed by law, and the right to equal treatment in education is also guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Image Credit: Pixabay vector graphic

In addition, a variety of state policies require school districts to provide students with arts instruction. However, surveys indicate discrepancies between policy and practice. Despite legal recognition and policies upholding the vital role of the arts in appropriately educating the nation’s students, a review of relevant scholarship and state surveys indicate that students throughout the country have not received equal access to the arts over the past two decades.

As an example, the Arts Education Partnership’s ArtScan database currently illustrates that nearly all states have developed content standards for elementary and secondary arts education; yet oversight for the provision of arts education at a school, district, and statewide level is relatively limited, as very few states offer means to monitor policy. In other words, students across the country are not equally receiving regular, sequential, curriculum-based arts instruction, which is proven to help them succeed in school, work, and life.

In some cases, schools or districts assume that volunteers, artists, and community arts organizations will provide increased arts education programming. However, these supplemental tactics require additional resources to upscale arts and cultural programs.

Certainly students benefit from supplemental arts education through community arts education providers. As one example, the recent study of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas included a large-scale randomized lottery selection of youth to tour the museum. Findings revealed causal relationships between increased critical thinking, social tolerance, empathy, and interest in the arts. However, occasional field trips or site-visits from teaching artists ideally supplement classroom coursework and instruction in conjunction with arts specialists. A model without arts specialists supporting the other roles diminishes quality arts instruction for all youth.

Image Credit: Creative Commons

Pictured you will note a guiding document provided by national partners that supported the stance on the value of each role pictured, the important providers of arts education, including: Certified Arts Educators, Community Arts Providers, and Certified Non-Arts Educators.

Image: Arts Education for America’s Students: A Shared Endeavor. Americans for the Arts.

The shared endeavor is best understood by examining the intersections of the Venn diagram. Certified Arts Educators and Certified Non-Arts Educators or classroom teachers, working together, offer students sequential, standards-based arts curriculum. Classroom teachers and community arts providers offer students standards-based connections between the arts and other content areas. Finally, community arts education providers intersecting with certified arts educators offer students deep expertise and professional experience.

As another resource for deepened understanding of our roles within the arts education ecosystem, the Arts Education Field Guide from Americans for the Arts illustrates spheres of influence. As a prescriptive document, the field guide encourages stakeholders in arts education to build more effective relationships in school, community, and statewide that will allow arts education to thrive. By viewing the student as the primary stakeholder at the center of the ecosystem, examination may be made regarding current relationships and opportunities for new connections. Policy and funding decisions should ideally be made with the view of how it will affect a student’s learning experience.

Image: Arts Education Field Guide, Americans for the Arts

To reiterate, the benefits of an arts curriculum without regular, sequential exposure are qualitatively and quantifiably less successful for students and for school communities. The decision has implications to potentially hinder students’ future success. While the reduction or elimination of specialists can mean a reduction in salary expenditures for schools or districts, decisions such at this are made at great cost to students and school communities.

Recognizing the vital importance of arts education is an important first step in a journey toward advocacy. Stakeholders can look to the excellent work from Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project (MAEIA), Creative Many Michigan, and Americans for the Arts to build networks, providing connections and communications about the benefits of arts education and potential crises in reduction or elimination of specialists. We can research, facilitate and build consensus about best practices, solutions and models of excellence. We can understand and participate in policy, which drives measures toward arts education equality for all students.

As we begin to truly understand the value of the arts for students, schools, and communities, we can share this message: the arts matter. We can publicly support arts education and the roles of educators within a shared endeavor. We can interact with and coach others to become advocates in the arts education ecosystem, such as legislators and elected officials, administrators, parents, and even students. Based on the legal mandate for the arts, we can actively promote its inclusion in schools and combat its reduction or elimination. We can identify as champions for the arts and advocates for arts education.

As a MAEIA Leadership Associate I am hoping to make a bigger impact by sharing the vital role the arts play in supporting children’s learning, educational experiences, and future prospects as United States citizens. My goal is that by providing data and recommendations for how the arts can help students, communities, and our society, I will help create a new group of advocates in students, educators, administrators, and more.

Barb Whitney serves as Executive Director for the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center, on the faculty in two departments at Michigan State University, and as a MAEIA Leadership Associate.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: BarbWhitney_AdvocatingforStudents.

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photo: Americans for the Arts, Washington, D.C. 2016. Personal Archive.

Barb Whitney: Curating a Career in the Arts

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

I haven’t always thought of myself as an artist or an arts advocate. I currently serve as the executive director for Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center. I am proud to lead the work...

I haven’t always thought of myself as an artist or an arts advocate.

I currently serve as the executive director for Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center. I am proud to lead the work of a local community arts organization dedicated to providing “public awareness, education and enjoyment of the visual arts by promoting the works of Michigan artists.” Driving community engagement through public art, exhibitions, and education, our team is igniting passion for the visual arts, providing a forum for self-expression and community engagement. As a stakeholder with vested interest in the success of Lansing’s students, a significant part of my work is related to providing access to the arts for all students.

My involvement in the arts may have been a departure from my parents’ anticipated journey for me. My academically-driven primary school experiences offered me success, and achievement, but little satisfaction. Then I discovered musical theatre. I sang and danced my way through high school, through college, and across the country. The All-American Singers offered me the opportunity to travel, a professional performance experience, and friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

That’s me in the lower left corner, pictured with 20 peers from the United States, along with our stages, costumes, and vehicles. Promotional materials, All-American Singers, circa 1995

I learned how to see differently, encountering the world as light and shadows, as edges and spaces. Over the next three years, I spent endless hours drawing and painting, honing my craft and learning to develop a visual narrative for my work. I discovered that the visual arts offer me a way to be completely unique and the means to represent my reality. Each piece I create acts as a thematic means to an emotional end with a goal of facilitating an interaction with the viewer.

photo: Kalamazoo College, Homecoming 2017, personal archive.

I exhibit my work at Grove Gallery in East Lansing, and I have previously shown in Grand Rapids and Toledo, among other venues. This February, I worked on a large-scale commission in Palm Springs, California. Photo credit: Layna Lesnau, Title of artwork by Barb Whitney: Resonance

My undergraduate degree in the arts has produced seventeen years of gainful employment. Importantly, it offered me opportunities to serve in exciting roles that made a difference in my communities. I have taught in inner-city schools, created camps for kids, ran a gallery, and administered funding programs for the arts. I consider myself an artist, educator, and arts administrator. Recently, I have begun to also identify as an advocate and an activist.

I recently completed a national fellowship with Americans for the Arts and defended my Master’s thesis from the University of Michigan – Flint titled “Arts Education: A Fundamental Right for Youth in the United States of America.” This fall, I joined the faculty at Michigan State University in both the Residential College in the Arts & Humanities and Arts & Cultural Management. Within each step of my journey, I advocate for all students who deserve quality arts instruction as a civil right. My academic research is focused on equitable arts education for youth in the United States of America from a sociological perspective, outlining the injustice perpetrated by withholding the rights to arts education from particular populations.

photo: Americans for the Arts, Washington, D.C. 2016. Personal Archive.

In my role as an artist, educator, and administrator, my goals are to drive access for ALL people to this piece of our humanity. We quantitatively know that the arts are a driver for the economy, a vehicle for attraction and retention, and a means for community interaction.

More importantly, the arts offer freedom of expression. They make people think. And feel. And discuss. They offer social commentary and are a first amendment right.

I truly believe the arts make life worthwhile, and I have bet my life on it. Not only are the arts a vehicle for my livelihood, they are the driver for my leisure activities. I volunteer as a juror, panelist, and consultant. I attend arts events regularly in my own community. I seek out arts and culture as a tourist; when I travel, I search for the local arts and culture that tells the narrative of the unique communities I visit. I strive to be a champion for access and equity in the arts, engaging stakeholders regarding the arts and arts education locally, statewide, and nationally.

Barb Whitney serves as Executive Director for the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center, on the faculty in two departments at Michigan State University, and as a MAEIA Leadership Associate.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: Barb Whitney: Curating a Career in the Arts.

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Joni Starr: Arts Integration, Part 2

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Arts integration as a teaching approach started to come into its own in the 1970’s and 80’s. For over 30 years, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Arts integration as a teaching approach started to come into its own in the 1970’s and 80’s. For over 30 years, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., has been offering arts integration learning opportunities for educators.

They define the practice of arts integration as “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject and meets evolving objectives.”

Today this practice of integrating arts with standard classroom subjects is growing as students, teachers, parents, and administrators recognize the value and strength of creative capacity in the 21st century.

In my 30 years experience in arts education, I find the challenge of arts integration is reflected mainly in two points:

1. A clearly stated outcome for the lesson.
2. A thorough understanding of the material being taught.

There are many wonderfully effective lessons that equally partner the arts disciplines with non-arts disciplines, where the outcomes are well matched for teaching two disciplines in one lesson.

For example:

-The levels of the rainforest and the levels of dance choreography.
-The contours of a map and the contours of texture in visual art.
-The understanding of character objectives in literature and drama.
-The understanding of fractions in math and in time signature in music.

Other times, when implementing arts integrated teaching and learning the outcomes are less clear or become complicated. Time is spent closely reading the standards to see which ones might connect across disciplines and which ones might be manageable in the allotted class time. Outcomes can easily become long and multi-layered to address objectives in both subject areas, thus confusing both teacher and student. And teaching can easily sway towards one discipline more than the other, ultimately negating the practice of arts integration.

It is important then to clearly understand how both the arts and non-arts subjects truly integrate. How they support and connect to each other and how they allow for the practice of creativity in the classroom.

Arts integration at its best allows students the creative opportunity to be leaders in their own learning.

In writing and implementing arts integrated lessons, many teachers falter in their confidence of one of the subject areas. If the art teacher is asked to integrate with a science concept, the art teacher must understand the concepts of science. And if a math teacher is asked to integrate with music, then the math teacher must understand music content. A strong solution to this is for teachers from differing disciplines to partner teach and/or learn from each other. In these cases the outcomes are often clear and the lessons effective and impactful for students.

This content understanding and/or partner teaching can, however, be a tall order for any teacher. Most teacher training programs do not integrate the arts into teaching, they actually separate them. Arts teachers are trained in their specific discipline and there are deeply important and valid reasons for this. So when asking teachers to make effective use of arts integration in the classrooms, it is a shift for both arts and non-arts teachers. Sometimes successful, sometimes not.

The benefits of arts integration for both teaching and learning are well documented and highly impactful, yet preparing teachers to do their best work so their students can as well, remains an area of growth.

Do you have examples of best practice for preparing teachers to integrate the arts and/or non-arts content? Or a strategy for facilitating effective collaboration?

Join the conversation by offering your perspective in article comments, social media shares, or by emailing Heather at hvsouthard@gmail with a prospective blog post for the MAEIA blog.

Joni Starr is an arts integration specialist, theatre educator, and teaching artist. She served as a Founding Contributor in Theatre for the MAEIA project.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here Joni Starr: Arts Integration, Part 2.



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Joni Starr: Arts Integration, Part 1

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Arts education benefits students because it affords them creative capacity and this allows students to be a part of making their own education instead of just receiving it. The creative process asks students to be...

Arts education benefits students because it affords them creative capacity and this allows students to be a part of making their own education instead of just receiving it.

The creative process asks students to be inspired and to be imaginative. To pay attention to the world around them and envision something that isn’t there, but could be. It sparks big and small “what if” question in individuals and these inquiries often lead to meaningful and impactful outcomes in all sectors of society.

The creative process also demands a skill from students. Often times this is in the form of artistic expression, from the more formal disciplines of music, dance, theatre and visual art to architecture, engineering and gastronomy. These skills are the foundation for creating, for putting something in the world that wasn’t there before.

The creative process requires students to relate to each other. The work is not accomplished in a vacuum. Making observations, discussing options and recognizing differences all feed the imagination. Choosing of materials, assessing value and editing choices hone the skills. In connecting with others, students are building a community of trust and confidence that provides a platform for success.

This approach to education, this integrating of the arts into teaching and learning, this practice of creative capacity, is a strong reflection of the needs of the world. Students of today are leaders of tomorrow who will be called upon to recognize how to solve problems, how to improve living conditions, and how to connect more authentically with others.

Arts education plays a central role in our world and should also play a central role in our schools.

Joni Starr is an Arts Integration Specialist and Theatre Educator. She served as a MAEIA Founding Contributor.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: Joni Starr: Arts Integration, Part 1

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Ana Luisa Cardona: Chutes and Ladders

Ana Cardona    Leave a Comment   

When I arrived in graduate school forty-six years ago, it became clear that I enjoyed crossing the boundaries of academic disciplines far too often. In those days, crossing disciplinary boundaries was a practice frowned upon...

When I arrived in graduate school forty-six years ago, it became clear that I enjoyed crossing the boundaries of academic disciplines far too often. In those days, crossing disciplinary boundaries was a practice frowned upon by those whose professional careers were built upon ever-increasing levels of specialization. Forging new chutes between education and art, communications and anthropology, image and word, movement and understanding, practice and theory didn’t fall neatly into predetermined knowledge silos. Although change was in the air, evidenced by Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message (1968) and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972), it has taken awhile for the breeze of change to take hold.

In 1984, my hunger for connections led me away from the ivory towers toward work with a community arts organization in Detroit where all forms of knowledge and skills had to converge to support a multi-arts and media community center dedicated to social change. Armed with the “just-released” ground-breaking 128 ram MacIntosh computer, this vibrant organization put the ability to combine words and images in the hands of artists and journalists, poets and musicians, community members young and old.

Continuing my dance with one foot in higher education and the other in the world of community-based arts, I happened in 1997 upon For the Sake of Science, the Arts Deserve Support by Robert Root-Bernstein in the Chronicle for Higher Education. Here was a MacArthur Fellow and “Genius Awardee” granting academic research-based permission to: make meaningful connections across the polar opposites of art and science; to align and make sense across disciplines and bodies of knowledge; and across habits of thinking and doing.

This “connected” approach later informed my work as Arts Education Consultant in Michigan’s Department of Education (1998-2011) where my mantra was – “Remember the arts…you can’t integrate what you don’t have” – a caution to those who use “arts integration” as an artifice to supplant the arts.

In fact, Michigan’s Arts Education Content Standard 5 calls for students to “recognize, analyze, and describe connections among the arts; between the arts and other disciplines; and between the arts and everyday life.” The National Core Arts Standards define the standard dedicated to connecting as “relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.” The connected approach is perhaps best illustrated by Michigan’s Visual Performing and Applied Arts Credit Guidelines developed by a committee of K-12 arts educators and higher education faculty and researchers in 2006- one of whom was the already-mentioned Robert Root-Bernstein, co-author of Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People (2001) with with Michéle Root-Bernsteinand professor of physiology at Michigan State University.

In these Michigan credit guidelines, silos are broken down and the artistic-creative process is described as a rather messy iterative process in which steps are revisited several times, in differing order, before creative results are finalized in significant contrast with the traditional linear process in which each step is visited once in a single order.

While discipline-based knowledge and skills are critical to developing fully in the arts, connections are essential in a world where no one discipline holds the answer to complex problems and the traditional ladders of specialization call out for the chutes that connect us and make our lives and work meaningful. Close to fifty years later, this “graduate student” continues to color outside the lines because that is where the interesting stuff is happening.

Ana Luisa Cardona serves as Arts Education Consultant for the MAEIA project. She brings a state and national perspective to the work of MAEIA.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: Ana Luisa Cardona: Chutes and Ladders.

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Michael Letts: Art as Energy!

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

One integral aspect of many MAEIA assessment items is time limits. Sometimes this may seem unnatural, high pressure, or “test-oriented.” But in the arts, limiting time can often...

One integral aspect of many MAEIA assessment items is time limits. Sometimes this may seem unnatural, high pressure, or “test-oriented.” But in the arts, limiting time can often be good, can even be liberating, and can spur creativity.

Creativity is not just coming up with new ideas. In fact, there are few if any truly new ideas. Usually creative concepts are changes to existing ideas. We can invert an idea, or synthesize it with another idea, or magnify it, apply it to a different purpose. Creativity is change.

Time limits are part of many art forms. Music, drama, and dance are all time based. In visual arts, time limits may seem less appropriate. But, a common question from new art teachers is “what do I do with students who finish early?” That can be a real concern, until we learn to structure visual arts lessons in terms of process, to consider that time is of the essence.

Creative Process as Time and Energy

It is often said the first idea is the worst idea. It is the first thing that comes to mind. It may even be a cliché. It is first because it is the idea we already know. But, it does have some value: it is a start.

So, we change it, we modify, combine, repurpose, transform, extend, or oppose (flip) it. Creative ideas don’t come to us like magic, fully formed. Creativity is what we do with ideas, how we edit, transcend, and develop them. Creativity is really about process. Great works of art come from artists so committed to process that they cannot stop processing ideas until something fresh emerges.

Therefore, we need be sure to teach process, not just product. A product goal is a goal already conceived. Creativity is also finding a new goal. We don’t always just want to get to a product, we want to create a process that leaves artifacts as evidence of a unique trail of thought. Then we arrive at creativity that can flow without a beginning or end.

The great artist/educator Thomas Hirschorn took the idea of a monument and redefined it. Traditional monuments are permanent structures that create and honor memories. Hirschorn flipped the “permanent” part of monuments and came up with the idea of a temporary monument. And he didn’t design it himself. He designed a process and let the people of the community create their monument. The idea was “monument”, but also was “temporary”; it had a time limit. A time limit can be a very empowering idea: we know when it is over. It eliminates the pressure of judgement of the “final product”. It is done when it fills the time, when the energy has been applied and sustained, and the artifact or outcome is the experience: the power of process, the real memory, not the object.

Hirschorn also came up with a great concept to define art: “Quality no, Energy yes!” He says quality is a characteristic of a product, but art is about energy. This is true when we consider that art is communication of ideas and emotion, empathy and expression; the true completion of art lies in also presenting (one of the process categories of the National Arts Standards), not only creating. The impact art makes in experience and ideas is the ultimate value. We make art to communicate and express.

Energy can take the form of time spent. The real goal of most artists is to spend their time making their art. When one piece is done, they don’t quit with relief, they start another. The value for the artist is in the creative thought, the time spent. The goal is to be creative, not to be done being creative. And more and more, for contemporary artists, the real creation is of a process which produces an artifact.

Oliver Herring, in his Art 21 episodes, says he doesn’t care about “the medium or the object…I really care about the process.” His “Task Party” process is one of play; “Play- it’s a thing we put on hold because we get distracted by so many things.” As educators, we know play is a primary learning process. Daniel Pink has identified play as one of the “Six Senses” of right brain creative thought. Picasso famously said “Every child is an artist…”. Herring says “everyone is a creative agent.” Children love play time. Tell a child to go play for an hour, and give them something to play with, and they will fill the hour with energy. Herring simply provides time and materials in his Task Parties and people bring the energy and infectious play.

Time is a major component of systems to structure energy. Ask any musician. Time in the art studio also is identified in Harvard Project Zero as a key benefit of visual arts education, one of the “studio habits of mind”: “engage and persist”. Inspire to play, to explore ideas, we engage and persist. The process of art is often playful search and research, an exploration. Exploring is grounded in play. It doesn’t end when you have a product, it ends when you run out of time.

How can we structure a visual arts lesson to target systems of time and energy as an objective?

Some of my most successful visual arts lessons use structured systems of time and energy as objectives. I think of them as creative systems and as “art problems”: play with a purpose, a structured exploration rather than an “assignment.” Assignment sounds like something you do for work, not play. I like the word “problem.” In math, a problem is about learning a process as much as finding a solution. The successful math answer is evidence that the student knows the process. Why not think of an art project of the evidence of engaging and persisting in a process? Energy, yes! Many less than successful art pieces look like they just lack real engagement or involvement by the artist, for whatever reason.

Time limits can force us to be more creative. If we have all the time in the world, we will search our mind for that next decision, that next best move, the right answer. But the answer is not there. In our mind is only what we already know. With a time limit, we must go back to our play state, make a random decision, go with it, play with it, and then decide what it means and see how it works: the process of discovery. Limits of time and of materials will force new analogies.

As my young son once told me when I asked him what he would do if he wasn’t so lucky to have all his cool toys- he didn’t miss a beat: “It’s okay dad, I’d just go outside and play with sticks.” Play was the experience, not the object, the process not the toy or artifact.

Time limits also give your students freedom and deniability. They do what they can with the time given, the goal is to make it through the process and have something to show for it, and to describe the decision-making process. The art from each student can be unique and surprising, not a replica of something that some other artist already did better than they can. It will be their voice.

In one of my recent MAEIA presentations, I had a group of teachers do a timed collage, based on a MAEIA visual arts performance event. At the end, much of the group discussion was around the feelings and outcomes we encountered because of the time limit. The teachers were interested and surprised by the effect of a timed project. The project was loosely based on the collage-based Performance Event “Communicating an Idea”. If art is about communicating, then this item gets right to the core of our purpose! Don’t be afraid of timed projects and assessments, and take a look at the MAIEA assessments to inspire your own use of time systems to inspire your teaching and students.


Michael Letts is an Associate Professor of Art Education at Northern Michigan University as well as a MAEIA Leadership Fellow.

A downloadable pdf of this post is here: Michael Letts: Art as Energy!

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Stand up and be counted: A message from Creative Many

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Dear MAEIA community, Below is a message from Creative Many Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Sarah Gonzalez Triplett. Creative...

Dear MAEIA community,
Below is a message from Creative Many Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Sarah Gonzalez Triplett. Creative Many and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs are partners of the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project.
As we head into the new year, Creative Many is working again with DataArts to collect valuable information on the impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Michigan. Arts and culture are a powerhouse in our state, contributing to our economy and providing thousands of jobs and cultural experiences across the peninsulas.
Stand up and be counted
The 2018 Creative State Michigan Nonprofit Report is produced in partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. We need all non-profit arts and cultural organizations to complete a data profile in order to accurately capture the sector and make a case for the arts in our communities. If you belong to one, please visit our site to learn more about how you can be counted. If you value arts and culture in your community, share this information with local nonprofits who make a difference every day.
The deadline for completion is January 4, 2018.
Participating organizations will receive important reporting features from DataArts to support your work. Don’t miss the opportunity to be included in the 2018 Creative State Michigan report!
Many Thanks,
Sarah Gonzalez Triplett
Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
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Powerful Voices in Michigan Arts Education

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

We offer hearty congratulations to two MAEIA contributors who have received prominent attention this month. The National Dance Educators Organization convened in San Antonio, TX this November. Executive Director, Susan McGreevy-Nichols, annually awards a dance...

We offer hearty congratulations to two MAEIA contributors who have received prominent attention this month.

The National Dance Educators Organization convened in San Antonio, TX this November. Executive Director, Susan McGreevy-Nichols, annually awards a dance educator for their significant contributions to the field. This year, Michigan’s Nicole Flinn, received the award for her leadership and “grit” in advocating for K-12 dance in the state. Nicki is an assistant professor of Dance at Hope College and a long-time MAEIA contributor serving as Team Lead for many of the phases of the MAEIA work. Our congratulations to Nicki and appreciation for her leadership and dedication.

MAEIA Leadership Associate, Barb Whitney, has had her research published in the Americans for the Arts’ State Policy Pilot Program Summary Findings and Final Report. Barb is the Executive Director of the Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center and is on faculty in the MSU Residential College for Arts and Humanities. You can read her research here: Americans for the Arts: SP3 Summary Findings and Final Report.

Do you know MAEIA has a bragging board? Notify us of your professional accolades or those of your colleagues by adding to the board or email Heather at We want to celebrate the brilliant contributions Michigan Arts Educators are bringing to the field!


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