Archive for August, 2010


Posted 29 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category observation

Twice this week for workshops I used a video of myself from a long time ago, working with two children who were building a bridge in clay. One of the questions I had prepared for teachers to discuss in small groups asked them to critique the teacher–what she did well, what mistakes she made, what might have been done better. As I walked around listening in on the conversations, teachers stopped talking if I was in ear shot for this question.

Critique is not commonly part of the culture of our schools. In fact, it is rare that situations occur where there is a forum for dialogue, exchange and critique of this kind. And in my experience when there is opportunity to observe a colleague or review a video or read a conversation, most educators focus on the actions and words of children and avoid those of the adult. Fear of hurting another’s feelings prevents dialogue and exchange that can greatly (and positively) impact teaching. Perhaps if we considered uncertainty, doubt and mistakes as resources in education instead of liabilities, we would feel more available for this type of exchange, but in the current climate of assessment of teachers, a mistake translates into a sort of demerit. Many teachers are alone or with one colleague in a classroom at best. If we don’t use each other as resources, how will we grow?

Get off the mic!

Posted 21 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category image of the child

It was pouring the other day and so instead of sending my sons (almost 8 and 10) to their all-outdoor camp, they came with me to work at a school.  It was in-service week for teachers–school wasn’t in session officially. Playing on the stage in the auditorium, they happened upon a mic and began singing, mc-ing, and having a great, silly time. Just three of us in a big auditorium, the boys were completely uninhibited. Though I had to remind them to keep the volume low, they were respectful of the situation, environment, and equipment. And then I left the room to copy something.

A few minutes later the boys found me at the copier. I could tell something had happened-you could see it in their down-cast eyes and body language. They had been scolded. The boys were scared, humiliated, and felt guilty. For what, I ask? For having fun? For letting loose? For laughing and playing? For being children?

Adults too often assume the worst of children; assume that they aren’t able, can’t handle, shouldn’t be…

What would happen if we gave them the benefit of the doubt?

Treasures from IKEA

Posted 10 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category environment, materials

Today I went to IKEA with Marley Joyce , Head of School at St. John’s Episcopal Preschool. This is an annual tradition which began the first year Marely came to St. John’s, so I would say this is my 6th trip with her. It is a big treat, for me and for the teachers, and Marley and I look forward to the outing every time.

I always get asked where I find my materials, and so I want to share with you what I see when I go to IKEA…(These cardboard rings separate the glass bowls, above).

Oh man, how about that texture? Don’t you just want to touch it?

Excellent collage and construction possibilities here.

There is almost always a bin full of this stuff, and you may get some strange looks at the check-out counter, but it’s worth it!

Here is a bin full of treasures:Don’t be shy! It’s recycling!

Share #3: The Sunday Papers

Posted 08 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category shares

Two articles in the Sunday papers interested me today, the first in The Washington Post by Blake Gopnik on Dan Steinhilber.

This is a tapestry, or painting, made from duck sauce packages. I love his use of everyday objects, the often obsessive surfaces of his sculptures, and the repetition of form.

The second article was in the New York Times Week in the Op-ed section, showing work by Megan Barron.

These are paintings of the flotsam that she collected everyday for a year. What I like about this is that taken collectively, the individual treasures become a record of a place and time. A diary of sorts. The interesting part of this work for me is when Barron shares her process:

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved walking along the beach and picking things up — shells, washed-up bottles, children’s toys. In 2009, I started making paintings of the objects I’d scavenged. Every day for a year, I’d come home, lay them on a table and experiment with different combinations, then render the piece using acrylic on paper. The objects depicted below were found on the North Fork of Long Island this year. I chose them both for the beauty of their forms and for what they say about our relationship with — and effect upon — the sea.”

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a transcription of the conversation she had with herself about what to select–her decision making process? I think this is something that is often overlooked when it comes to working with materials. Artists must choose what size brush to use,  how firmly to press the edges of the clay together,  what angle to observe and record an object from–every move an artist makes from material selection to concept to technique to display–involves decisions and choices that will influence the final product. These decisions are sometimes instinctual, sometimes calculated, but there is always thought behind the movements that make up a particular piece.

So what’s wrong with Clifford?

Posted 05 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category environment

Did you notice that on August 1 the light changed? The air changed? Summer is waning and this week I began working with early childhood teachers at Walker Jones Elementary School (WJES) to organize their environments (store rooms, classrooms, studio, dining room…). This is such an exciting time of year full of new energy, possibility and anticipation. At WJES, the early childhood program has a number of teachers new to the school, as well as a new building, so in terms of setting up it is more like moving in. Besides the daunting physical challenge of unpacking dozens of boxes and arranging furniture, is the consideration of the environment in connection with the philosophy of the Reggio Approach.

Teachers are asking important questions, wondering for example, how the role of the teacher will influence the physical arrangement of the space. What to do with the teacher desks? How many tables need to be in the studio? How many things should be accessible and available to children for the first weeks of school?

Somewhat more of a challenge for me personally has been fielding questions regarding the aesthetic of the classroom. As of last year, the early childhood program (in another building) had pretty much eliminated commercial, purchased props such as cartoon alphabet boards, or graphic, scalloped borders. But the big question is still out there–why this way and not that way? Why not bright colors, it livens up the room? What’s wrong with a purchased birthday calendar or the Clifford chair children use to wait for the bathroom? They love sitting in that chair! I both love and dread the ensuing discussion that comes with making these choices and decisions. But why is it so difficult? Maybe because aesthetics is subjective…or is it?

Last year at an Inspired Practices in Early Education workshop, I asked participants to mix their own palette given the primary colors plus black and white tempera paint. A classic color-theory 101 experience.

I think the differences, and the similarities, are fascinating. Not just the unique hues, but also the way individuals made their marks-some filled in the squares completely, some made a rough circle, some a dot…each hand is evident. Is one more ‘correct’ than another or more beautiful? Can a person’s personal palette be…wrong?

These are tough questions that I am struggling with when I try to defend an aesthetic different from the norm in terms of early childhood–which is, in general and in my opinion, simplistic, condescending and garish. What makes one person’s sense of color, design, beauty, better than another? Are there rules to follow? On what do I base my choices and decisions? I would say that I rely on values and beliefs of a school about children and education. So for example…

…if I believe that children are intelligent, how does the environment physically embody that belief? With environments that are complex, challenging and provoking.

If I believe in a strong image of the child, then I want children’s thoughts, ideas and theories to be visible. I want the walls to speak their words, not the words of Discount School Supplies. I want to see the work, not the borders or the bright blue bulletin board covering.

If I believe children are capable, then I will have fragile, delicate, real materials in the classroom, not plastic replicas and substitutions.

If I believe that parents are a vital part of their child’s education, I will create a place for them where they can have access to information. I will make children’s learning visible through displays such as panels and books.

So the question becomes not about whose sense of beauty is better, but:

What do you believe about children and education?