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Martin Argyroglo, “Adrian Villar Rojas -Where the slaves live © Fondation Louis Vuitton,” photograph, Forgemind Archimedia, Licensed for noncommercial use under Creative Commons.

Debra Henning: What’s In A Word? Cross-Curricular Instruction and Assessment in the Arts

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The following post offers an example of the manner in which MAEIA’s “Cross-Curricular Connections Assessment,” V.T 312 for Grade 8, can encourage students to think deeply about connections between the visual...

The following post offers an example of the manner in which MAEIA’s “Cross-Curricular Connections Assessment,” V.T 312 for Grade 8, can encourage students to think deeply about connections between the visual arts and language. In the assessment, students are asked to create an artwork that connects the principles and subject matter of another academic subject of their choice to the visual arts. The assessment item assesses several visual arts standards, including students’ ability to “effectively analyze and describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in school are interrelated with the visual arts, as well as their ability to “relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.”

Martin Argyroglo, “Adrian Villar Rojas -Where the slaves live © Fondation Louis Vuitton,” photograph, Forgemind Archimedia, Licensed for noncommercial use under Creative Commons.

A picture, we know, is worth a thousands words. But what’s the worth of a word?  That depends, of course, on the word. Does it refer to a specific object, such as the tallest building in the world, or to something more general, as the word buildings does?  In the vast hierarchy of words – call them concepts, if you like – few words encompass more meaning than vernacular. Commonly defined as “the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people in a particular country or region,” the word, vernacular stands in contrast to literary or cultured language, most frequently to Latin. Carried throughout the Great Roman Empire, the Latin language served as a unifying force in law and religion, yet less so in the everyday lives of the people, who continued to find linguistic expression in their own mother-tongue.  In a slow give-and-take process, aided by the translation of the Bible into English and by patriotic stirrings, the vernacular would emerge supreme as the mother-tongue in England, France, and Germany grew from spoken dialects into full-fledged languages, “adequate for the expression of any and every kind of thought.”

In the centuries-long evolution of language, however, the meaning of vernacular, itself, became something quite different from its origins. Which is why Adrian Villar Rojas’ sculpture, “Where the Slaves Live” makes such an intriguing subject for cross-curricular instruction in the arts.  The title of the massive “living sculpture,” composed of multiple layers of earth and manufactured materials, recalls the Latin root of the word vernacular, i.e., verna, meaning a home-born slave, and, hence, language of the home-born slave.

Like the sculpture commissioned by France’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, Roja’s concept for the sculpture layers multiple meanings. “Where the Slaves Lives” confronts visitors with a silent reminder of France’s vacillating opposition to slavery, which the French abolished, re-established, and in 1848 again re-abolished in her colonies. On the terrace of  Frank Gehry’s magnificent glass ship, Rojas’s sculpture recalls the ships that carried slaves and the fate of many at sea.

Set in a building that is synonymous with wealth, privilege, and luxury goods, Rojas’ work has the potential to stir the kind of debate and reflection intended by the mission of Fondation Louis Vuitton. By using the word as Rojas does – as a reminder that in verna  and vernacular, slavery is at the core of  the French language and the mission of   L’ Academie Francaise – the artist ramps up the potential for debate and reflection.  Today, one of the aims of the Academie is to “protect the French language from foreign, notably ‘Anglo-Saxon’ invasions,” but that goal has not always been central to its mission. Since its founding in 1635, the Academie has been tasked with a much more fundamental aim: to guide the French language from “from the vulgar (or vernacular) state of language to that of language equal in dignity to Latin.”  As used by the Academie, the words vulgar and vernacular become synonymous, both meaning “the common or usual language of a country; both obscuring the meaning of verna – a home-born slave. In “Where the Slaves Live,” Roja recovers the origins of vernacular, while delivering a powerful message about the hidden history of language and the importance of cross-curricular instruction. 

The Fondation Louis Vuitton,
Designed by the Canadian-American Architect, Frank Gehry and Located in Paris, France
Iwan Baan, Frank Gehry – Fondation Louis Vuitton, 2014, Photo 12, Forgemind Archmedia

Debra Henning is a MAEIA key communicator, specializing in visual arts and arts integration. A downloadable pdf of this post is available here Debra Henning: What’s In a Word? Cross-Curricular Instruction and Assessment in the Arts.

 

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Cheryl L. Poole: A Value of a Rubric to the Teaching Artist……and Where to Find One

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If someone wants something from me—a product or a performance—I’ve always been someone to do my best to deliver whatever is expected. The one caveat is that I need to be clear...

If someone wants something from me—a product or a performance—I’ve always been someone to do my best to deliver whatever is expected. The one caveat is that I need to be clear about what’s expected before I have a shot at delivering. Sometimes I’m shy about asking for an example or a very detailed description, but that’s the best way to ensure that I get it right. That is the purpose of a rubric, i.e. to be clear about what is expected and to ensure the best chance of delivering. However, a rubric goes a couple steps further. It provides some insights to a performance or product if it isn’t quite perfect. It helps to identify the characteristics of a performance that falls short of exemplary.

Rubrics have most recently been used by teachers in traditional classroom settings. How often is it used by teachers in nontraditional settings? For example, how often do teaching artists or instructors in community organizations use the tool that will make their expectations as transparent as possible for students? What gets in the way of their using them even if the benefit is quite clear?

The teaching artist might find the creation of rubrics a bit overwhelming especially if teaching is only a small part of their overall professional role. To create a rubric an artist/instructor must reflect first on exactly how he/she will recognize a high quality performance. That reflection then has to be articulated in descriptive words that a student will understand. While obviously beneficial to determine and articulate the description ahead of time, the visiting artist might well find creating a rubric from scratch to be a large expense of time.

Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment (MAEIA) provides already-created rubrics with each and every one of its 360+ assessments. They are free and easily accessible through maeia-artsednetwork.org. It’s important to recognize that the MAEIA rubrics are created to specifically align with the assessment with which it is listed. While all 360+ rubrics are well written by Michigan educators, they are not generic in nature. However, they do provide a starting point for the visiting artist who may not have the time or inclination to learn the skill of creating a rubric.

To locate an appropriate MAEIA rubric, a teaching artist or instructor would first search the assessment catalogue on maeia-artsednetwork.org in the major discipline about which they are teaching; dance, music, theater and visual arts. The list can be filtered down further by grade level. A long list of assessments appear on the screen. The teaching artist can click on and review each assessment that peaks their interest or relates to the skills on which the artist/instructor and the student(s) are working. After finding and clicking on an appropriate assessment, a rubric is visible that was created for that particular assessment. It is an easy and free access to a large range of already-created rubrics.

An easily-accessible rubric does not guarantee that is will fit exactly with the performance or product expectations of the teaching artist. It is only a carefully created articulation of outcomes in a table form. The indicators on the left may need to change or be eliminated altogether. The descriptions of each quality level may also need to be tweaked. Both indicators and quality descriptors will need to reflect the expectations of the teaching artist who is doing the teaching.

In summary, even a non-traditional teacher like a teaching artist or studio instructor can clarify the expectations that they have for their students by using a rubric. They can help the student understand what they are seeking and what it looks like to do well. A teacher serving in a non-traditional role doesn’t need to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of starting from scratch to create a rubric. Hundreds of rubrics are posted with associated assessments on maeia-artsednetwork.org. The critical issue is to find one that most closely aligns with your instruction and expected performance or outcomes. That may take a bit of work using the search feature in the assessment catalogue but, once one is found, it is totally permissible to download it and revise it in ways that fit your expectations of your students.

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 6 years.

A downloadable pdf of this article is available here: Cheryl L. Poole A Value of a Rubric.

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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 (maeia-artsednetwork.org) 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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Cheryl L. Poole: What about the lesson plans?

Cheryl Poole    Leave a Comment   

“These assessments are fine but where are the lessons?” That was the question I would sometimes hear in the conference exhibition booth when introducing the MAEIA assessments to educators attending the conference. They...

“These assessments are fine but where are the lessons?”

That was the question I would sometimes hear in the conference exhibition booth when introducing the MAEIA assessments to educators attending the conference. They were impressed with the actual assessment but, for them, something was missing.

What were they looking for that they didn’t see?
Were they so accustomed to believing that they were asked to “teach to the test” that they assumed that an assessment would be packaged with prescribed lessons? The ones who asked the question seemed to regard the performance assessments as only being half useful. Their reaction implied that I was offering something cool but a tool that only began halfway through their teaching task. The best I could surmise was that they wanted the instruction that would set the stage for these assessments. I think they wanted the ‘whole package’ and how could I clarify what I was offering quickly, before they walked past my booth? I couldn’t think fast enough to have an answer for them in the moment.

Here are four answers that I thought of later that I could have given them.

  1. 1. Using your curriculum and lessons, choose assessments that fit what you are already doing. Select the assessments that align with what you teach and how you teach. There are so many assessments that there will most certainly be ones that match your curriculum and personal instruction.

2. Using your curriculum and familiar lessons, change the assessments to make them fit. Teach the “what and how” that you enjoy. Select a model assessment that will work pretty well but needs a little tweaking to better match your teaching style, the processes your students are familiar with, or simply aligns better with the curriculum you use.

3. Find a model assessment that gives you some fresh instructional ideas and modify your lesson to make best use of the assessment. The model that you use should still fit meaningfully with your curriculum but perhaps simple tweaking to how/what you teach could clear a path to using the assessment to which you are drawn.

4. And, finally, one more option that has proven to be a big boon for teachers like Margaret Thiele who recently blogged about her experience, peruse the array of assessments created for your grade level. Search criteria for appropriateness for your curriculum and simply review the catalogue for inspiration of ways to teach concepts in new, creative ways. Find an assessment that puts a totally new spin on what and how you teach.

Have you used any of the MAEIA model assessments yourself? What was your approach? Was it different than the ones I could think of? Share your experiences that might nudge others to take the leap.

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