What do you want your students to know? What do you want them to remember from art class next year? What about in 5 or 10 years? In this episode, we’re talking about the power of moments and how to create a curriculum with the big picture in mind.
Hello and welcome to The Art Class Curator podcast. I am Cindy Ingram, your host and the founder of Art Class Curator and the Curated Connections Library. We’re here to talk about teaching art with purpose and inspiration from the daily delight to creativity to the messy mishaps that come with being a teacher. Whether you’re driving home from school or cleaning up your classroom for the 15th time today, take a second, take a deep breath, relax those shoulders, and let’s get started.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Art Class Curator Podcast. This is Cindy Ingram and today on the podcast we are going to talk about a little bit about something that I was inspired to talk about by a book that I’m reading. I am reading a really fantastic book and it is called The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. I haven’t even finished the book and I already have probably five podcast ideas just from all of the content in this book. It’s really, really good. It’s not just good for a teacher. It’s good for a parent. It’s good for a business owner. It’s good for, I think anybody who interacts with other people or is in charge of creating joy in the world. So basically what the book is about is these powerful moments that make up your life and how when you’re looking back on your life, it’s these really pivotal moments that create the memories, that create the transitions in your life, that create the things that you look back on.
One of the things that he talked about in the book, and I could go in many different directions for this episode, like I said, because there’s so much juicy stuff in this book, but he had a whole chapter on it was called, I think the chapter was called Trip Over the Truth, and it was a way to help people craft moments of change in their lives, moments where they can’t not see, they can’t unsee the truth or something like that. I’m going to be more clear on what that means in a minute, but it really to me applies so much towards how we plan our lessons. There’s a couple examples that he provided in the book that I’m going to share and then I’m going to share sort of how that applies in your art classroom.
One of the things that he describes in this book is the attempt to help communities who don’t have proper sanitation in place, get proper sanitation in place to prevent disease and stuff like that. And for a while people would say, “Okay, if we want to have people stop using the restroom outside, then we need to provide them with latrines and then give them a place to use the restroom so then they won’t use the restroom outside.” Well, it turns out they spent all this time and money building these latrines and that people still didn’t use them. So they’re trying to think of a way to solve this problem, and one of the things that they figured out was they have to get people on board with the why, why do we need to use the latrines and not outside like we’ve always done.
And so they developed this thing called community-led total sanitation. And basically what they do is in a nutshell is they have a facilitator come into the community who is there on the pretense of collecting information, asking questions and not necessarily there to tell them, “Hey, you should do this because it causes disease,” that sort of thing. But instead he goes and he says … the book explains a lot better and I’m not going to go into too much detail, but he essentially asked questions like, “Where do you go to the bathroom?” And then he has the people show them where they use the bathroom. He asks questions like where does the water flow when it rains?
And then long story short, but he ends up holding a glass of water from the community and he says, “Who’s willing to drink this?” And everybody’s like, “Okay, yes, I’m willing to doing that.” And then he takes a piece of his hair, dips it in the poop, and then puts it in the water, shakes it up and asks, “Is anybody willing to drink this?” And then they all say no. They’d also had a whole conversation about flies and he’s like, “Well, a fly has six legs. When they step in the poop and then drink your water or go into your water, it’s the same thing” as what’s happening with his hair basically. And then he does it all in a very nonjudgmental way and then they end up wanting to reform the system themselves because it’s like they suddenly can’t not ignore the problem anymore. They all knew that it was a problem, but they didn’t necessarily do anything about it, and that this apparently helps transform them to see the truth and act on the truth. They can no longer avoid the truth.
I love this process. Thinking about how they crafted it in a way that was nonjudgmental. I mean, it’s pretty rough. It’s pretty rough and pretty brutal, but apparently it gets really good results. The book said that in Bangladesh where CLTS has been most used went from an open defecation rate from 34% down to 1%. That’s pretty amazing.
And the reason that I started to connect it to teaching, one, is because I’m always connecting everything to teaching, but also that when I craft my art history lessons especially or any sort of lesson where I’m trying to teach something, that is what I’m thinking about, is that I have somewhere I want them to go usually, and my job is the teacher is to figure out a way for them to arrive at that information on their own.
It is not my role as the teacher in my opinion to tell them the information. The facilitator for CLTS could’ve gone in and said, “Hey, poop causes disease and when you poop outside it gets in your water supply and then you drink it.” That wouldn’t necessarily make any sort of lasting impact because it’s going to be more meaningful for the person, for the student, too, if they arrive at that information for themselves. So, that’s what I’m thinking about when I’m planning a lesson. If I’m going to do a lesson on, say … okay, I’m going to give an actual example for when I first started teaching.
I wanted to do a lesson on Renaissance art. I will never forget this because I have a really hard time teaching Renaissance art. I’ve always, it was really intimidating to me probably because there’s so much you can teach and I always feel like I was leaving stuff out. Same thing with Ancient Egypt. It just gave me total anxiety when I had to teach those two topics for some reason. I’m in my first semester of teaching. I was teaching community college, wanted to do a lesson on the Renaissance, so of course I go to Google and then I start thinking, okay, well I want to teach them about … I started thinking about the content. Okay, I want to teach them about the artist and the style and the context and why it was so different than what came before and what that meant and humanism and all these things, and so then I started mapping out the content and I started putting slides together and pretty soon it became just a lecture where I’m telling them things, that I took the content, I broke it up into chunks, put images to it, and then planned to speak it.
And then I was like, “This is not what I want at all. This is not the way they’re going to learn this. This is not the way they’re going to get excited about it. This is not, there’s no discovery here.” So I really, that was a big lesson for me as I was learning how to be a teacher in the classroom because before, I was a teacher in the museum, and so it was a totally different experience.
So I started to think, okay, well what do I really actually want them to know? And when I anchor my lessons with that information of, okay, what do I actually want in three years, in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years, what do I want them to actually know about this, how do I want it to be a part of their lives when they look back at my class, when they look back at studying art with me, what am I actually wanting to accomplish? And it never is. I want them to know the main details and the dates of Italian Renaissance arts. No, I want them to know how revolutionary it was from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. I want them to know how this was the first time that artists became real artists, that artists became known with their names. This was the first time that art was made … well, not the first time, but it was after the Middle Ages was such a drastic shift. So it was the bigger ideas are really what I’m more interested in.
And then I’m more interested in them finding some personal connection. I’m more interested in them making art a part of their lives. I’m more interested in them going into a museum, seeing a Renaissance painting and being delighted by it and pleasantly surprised by it and remembering, “Hey, I know what that is. I’ve seen that before. I learned about that. I know a lot about that” and to experience that sort of pride that comes with knowing something when you’re faced with art in the world. So it’s not about me giving them information for them to memorize. It’s about them arriving at that information for themselves, and so I want them to arrive at a certain end goal.
In the book of Power of Moments, he calls it the truth, arriving at the truth. I don’t necessarily believe in any sort of truth. That’s not … I don’t think there is truth. I mean, that’s a whole other thing. There is truth, but I don’t know. That’s a whole other situation we could talk about later. I have so many opinions on what, on truth. But anyway, so I have where I want them to go, and then I can craft my activities to get there.
In the book he also describes this man who created a curriculum design for college professors. This man’s name was Michael Palmer, and he worked for the University of Virginia and created a program called the Course Design Institute where he took a bunch of higher education faculty members and over the course of this week helps them, facilitated the process for them to write their curriculum for their course.
And I think this is amazing because one of the things I’m particularly passionate about is changing the teaching of art history and art appreciation at the college level. I think it needs to change everywhere, but the college level, I think is, from what I’ve experienced, and I’m sure there are so many amazing college professors out there who are just rocking it, but there are so many art history professors that are just lecturing, not leading engaging activities, not really engaging deeply with the art and having the students interact with the art. It’s a lot more lecture-y and I think that happens in a lot of subjects in at the college level.
So this guy wanted to change this, and so what he did is in this Institute he asked them that question. In three to five years, what do you want your students to know at the end? And all of their answers were things like, “I want them to click on math articles when they’re faced with them and read them and be interested in them” or, “I want them to understand how human bodies are and how they function and be delighted by that.” None of it was, “I want them to know about mitochondria” or whatever it was, all this sort of bigger picture stuff, and so that helped them facilitate writing their curriculum in a way that helps them get to those goals.
And so I think that’s really important when you’re starting out, you’re planning your curriculum for the school year, when you’re planning your next lesson, not to come at it from a content perspective, like, “I am going to teach this topic and then I’m going to divide this topic into chunks and then I’m going to teach those particular parts of the topic,” but to think about it in a bigger scope. Same thing for projects. “Okay, well, I want my next lesson to be a project on are going to make prints, lithographic prints, and we’re going to use,” I don’t know, line. I’m just making something up, but that it’s … and then you just do the project, but really think about what you’re actually teaching and what you want them to arrive at the end and how do you craft an experience that gets them there.
I’m going to give you a couple of examples of lessons that are, that we’ve created at Art Class Curator that I’ve done in the classroom and that are in the Curated Connections library that show you some examples of how this might work. So one of my favorite lessons that I created, and I created this one of my first years of teaching, I was so pleased with myself. I love this lesson. It is a classical sculpture sorting activity. It is on the blog sites. I’m going to link to that on our Class Curator. You can see that activity in action. You can also buy the individual lesson or you can find it in the membership, the curated connections library. But basically what I was faced with teaching at the time was how the styles of sculpture changed from archaic Greek to Hellenistic and then how it changed into Roman times.
I had that you could show different examples and say archaic and then you could list the styles, or you can even have them list characteristics from looking at them and then you can move on to the next one so you can see how it changes. And then you could tell them all of that information and then it would kind of go in one ear out the other. They might not find it too terribly interesting and they might learn it enough to take a test on it and then it kind of leaves their head. But instead, I really wanted my students to not just recognize the differences or know that there were different, that there were different styles, but I wanted them really trained at looking closely at art and noticing things.
So honestly, the skill for me and what I want to teach them is not necessarily the styles of sculpture, but that they get really confident in finding this information for themselves. So what I do is I have printed out, there’s four groups of sculpture and then there’s four sculptures in each group, so that’s what, 16 pictures. So they get 16 pictures of sculpture from ancient Greece and ancient Rome. They have numbers on them randomly, and then the students are tasked with sorting those sculptures into four groups by the style. And I tell them, “You want to look for the body positions, you want to look for the emotion, but really it’s up to you to find those differences and put them together in whatever way your group thinks that they should be put together.”
So then they sort it, they put them into groups, and they have to write out … then they have to … the older students I would have them rank them by which ones they think are oldest and which ones they think are newest, and then they have to write what they have in common on their paper. And then we go around the room, do a little gallery walk, and have each group explain to the rest of class what groups they chose, why they put them together, and what are some of the things that they noticed.
And then by the end they have seen what everyone else did, they see all the reasonings, and then I can show them like what the actual real answers are. And of course there are a lot that don’t get it right, and honestly it doesn’t matter because to me the experience of doing it really connects them deeply to it. And those kids are, you wouldn’t believe how much they remember that. I did this with sixth graders and they knew it the whole year. By the end of the year, they were still, they knew it. I probably could ask them now. Those sixth graders that I did it last with were … they’re probably ninth grade now. They probably would still, a lot of them would still know it because they just, they got so engrossed in it, and that’s going to stick. They’re going to remember that experience. They’re going to remember that was something different, too.
Another thing you could do with classical sculpture is have them put their … I do this both when I’m going through the answers after and telling them, talking about the different characteristics, having them stand up and put themselves into the body pose of that and then they can see that transfer. They can see, okay, it goes from archaic, we’re standing here, super stiff and awkward, and then in classical we’re feeling really graceful, and then in Hellenistic we’re feeling really dramatic. And they feel it in their bodies. They saw it, they talked about it, they analyzed it, and they feel it in their bodies, and that is just connecting them all to this artwork.
And then you could follow it up with, okay, now you and your group have to create a little movement. I actually don’t know what the right word is. It’s a series of tableaus of you start with archaic and then you transition to classical, transition to Hellenistic, and you have to do it as a group and then do it, but then do it with current day. So someone did it, they did a cell phone thing where it’s just like they had … or the progression of technology through the styles of this sculpture. One of the groups did that and it was just so creative, but they became so intimately connected with that and then could … they knew what to look for when they looked at sculpture in the future.
You can also do this with just art discussions. I usually start in art discussion mainly using VTS, visual thinking strategies where you’re asking questions and you’re not necessarily having an end goal in mind, which I is what I recommend because you don’t want to be too leading of this discussion.
But there are some times when there’s something really cool and interesting about the artwork that you want to tell the student and you want them to know and you want them to discover, but you don’t really want to tell them what it is, and so you have to think about the discussion questions, think about what you’re asking so that they can find that information out for themselves because the joy of finding it out for yourself, the joy of creating an interpretation that’s super insightful? You can craft those moments. You can create that for your student through the questions that you ask.
Thinking about … there’s an artwork I really love to look at. It’s called Selim and Zuleika by Delacroix and it is at the Kimbell Art Museum. It was actually the, I talk about this one a lot mainly cause it really means a lot to me. My first real museum job outside, my first job after college was a fellowship at the Kimbell Art Museum and my first discussion art discussion where I 100% knew that I was meant to do this. You get that amazing high after an art discussion that goes really well and it’s really powerful and really exciting. Was in front of that painting and it was in that fellowship.
It was with actually a bunch of a group of deaf students. We had a partnership with one of the local community colleges who had an interpreter program, and so the kids in the interpreter program were, well, they probably weren’t all kids, but I’d just college students calling them kids, but they were … that was part of their training is they would be the interpreter for this museum program. So it was the deaf school got to come get a call museum program, the interpreter school got to have real life practice, so it was a really cool program.
But it was that discussion where I really saw how amazing and powerful this really was. It’s one of the highlights, I think, when I look back at all the art discussions I’ve ever led, which is hundreds and hundreds, but a few definitely stand out. So anyway, this artwork, Selim and Zuleika, which I’ll link to on the show notes, artclasscurator.com/45, has a really cool use of the elements of principles. And so I don’t always say, “Well, how does this art artists use line? How does this artist use circles or shape” or whatever. I usually … we tie it in with meaning.
So if we say in this particular painting, Selim and Zuleika are running away together. And the first thing most people say is he’s kidnapping her. And I’m like, “Well, what do you see that makes you say that?” And they start looking at it and they’re like, “Wait. No, he’s not kidnapping her” once they look closer because they see, well, he’s not holding onto her, she’s holding onto him. They’re both running in the same direction. They’re both looking the same direction. They look, they have the similar emotions. It’s not like he looks very fierce and she looks very scared. They really look like a pair. They figure that out on their own, and then one of the things that helps them see the protection is that Selim’s arms are in this sort of oval and they … it connects with the sword, connects with the gun and his other hand and his arms and creates this oval around Zuleika. I’m moving my hands around as if you can see me, but it creates this oval around her and creates this sort of protective bubble for her in a way.
And so then we can say, “Oh, that’s so cool that the artist is using line and shape to add to the meaning.” I want them to notice that, so I think about what kind of questions I’m asking to help them get there. I’m not giving them an interpretation, but I’m helping them notice things that they might not have noticed before, which then will open them up to look for those sort of things when they’re looking at art in the future.
Those kinesthetic connections are really important, too. I mentioned that with the classical sculpture lesson, but I do this again with the Nkisi N’kondi power figures from the Kongo people in Western and Central Africa. Kongo with a K. These power figures are these wooden sculptures of men. They have kind of fierce looks on their face. They’re in this sort of hunched over, tense body position, and they have nails hammered into them. They also have a hole in the chest or the stomach that has medicines and herbs and stuff, and they put either a mirror or a shell over the front of that. You might think for something that has a ritualistic type of function, that this was created for a reason. Those nails were hammered for a reason. Those medicine herbs were put there for a reason. It was all crafted for a function. You can still have a discussion about that and you can still help kids arrive at the actual real life function of it in in a way that makes sense.
So one of the things that I do is first we talk about, well what’s going on? They just can open it up. We talk about the facial expression, we talk about the nails, what they could be, why someone would do that, who put the nails in? Was it the artist or was it other people that did the nails, anything they could observe there. And after we’ve had that discussion, then I have them stand up and put themselves into the body position of the sculpture. One, I think this is hilarious because they’ll pose is kind of a, you kind of have to stick your butt out a little bit and they think that’s really fun. But so you do that, you’ve got your arms out. I’m doing the pose again like you can see me. You’re standing, your knees are bent or crunched over a little bit, and then I ask, “Have you ever seen anyone in this position or have you ever been in this position yourself? What’s familiar about this?”
And inevitably one student always sticks their hand out and points their finger like they’re a scolding teacher or a scolding grandmother or something and they say, and they start pretending to them to scold the student or the child. I love sometimes there’s a couple of times that that has not happened and I hate when it doesn’t happen, but it usually does, and then I say, “You know what? That is exactly what this sculpture is all about, that the power figures are actually hunting figures. They … anytime there was someone with a promise or a vow or a treaty, something like that, they would hammer a nail into the sculpture, and if that treaty was broken, if that promise was broken, then the spirit of the power figure would go and punish the person who broke the promise.”
So in a way that’s what the sculpture is doing. They’re scoldings someone for breaking a promise. So they’re, they are being kind of like that scolding teacher. And so that helps them connect with the meaning of the sculpture a little bit more. It’s going to help them connect with it. It’s going to help them remember it. It’s going to help them understand what it was used for and all of that.
So really these lessons can be created so that the student feels confident that they can look at art, they can come up with the answers themselves, that the answers aren’t these things that exist outside of them. They don’t, the answers don’t exist in the teacher, the textbook, the museum label. They have them. They have the ability, the capacity, the creativity, the imagination to do it themselves, and I’ve talked about this again and again, but that our world, we live in a world where we want the answer and we want it now. We have the answer in our pockets, in our phones and we are supremely uncomfortable with the idea that we might not know something and we’ve become a little bit lazy in our thinking that well, I could just look it up.
So I’m trying to one, help myself exist in that discomfort. I have that discomfort all the time, but that I think our students, ones that were not raised without technology, that this is a part of their lives have always been able to have the answer just given to them at any moment, that we need them to be able to have the confidence that they know the answer, that they can find the answer, and that there’s not more than one answer, that there are many truths like I said before.
So when you’re planning these lessons think about what that end goal is. Is the end goal connection, lifelong appreciation for art, creativity, creating powerful memorable moments? Those things are just as powerful and valuable as them knowing the art technique or the art history facts or the dates or … these are the things that are going to make the impact, these soft skills that they … I hate the word soft skills because they’re not soft. They’re hard, but that’s what we can be providing with these lessons.
I am only halfway through The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, and I sure I will talk about it more. It’s such a good book, it’s just full of stuff. I will put the link to The Power of Moments in the show notes, artclasscurator.com/45, and I encourage you to read it. Honestly, I really think that as a teacher, as an educator, it’s really good to think about these sorts of things, about creating these moments for our students because they make big a bigger impact than I think we even realize. So thank you so much for listening. I will be back next week for another episode of The Art Class Curator Podcast, and have a wonderful week. Bye.
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This week’s art quote is from Kurt Vonnegut, and he says, “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, so do it.” Thank you so much for listening. Have a great day.Thanks for listening! Have an idea for an episode topic or think you may be a great guest for the show? Click here to send us an email telling us about it.