Getting Artsy

My idea of art in my personal life is stick figure drawings and adult coloring books. I have always said I’m not very artistic, whatever that means. This lack of skill or interest in my life doesn’t impact me, but I have noticed that I tend to veer away from using art in the classroom because of my inexperience in it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Ismaili Muslim community of the United States is preparing for a historic event: the visit of our Imam, the Aga Khan, for his Diamond Jubilee. As we get ready for this event, we have been implementing special lesson plans in our classes to help our students understand the historical and spiritual significance of this event for our community and for ourselves as individuals.

In the first couple of lessons, I was unable to even get to the crafty activities due to the multitude of questions that students had as well as some behavioral issues. In the third lesson, however, I wanted to ensure I left time for some artistic expression to take place. My students each got a small 4×4 canvas and were asked to express in writing and drawing and colors their understanding of this upcoming event and what it means to them.

Overall, the activity went well; students were engaged and many put in a true effort in reflecting, internalizing and articulating their thoughts and emotions. The success of the activity made me reflect on the role of art in the classroom. Although the activity took at least 30 minutes and required a bit of scaffolding and support, I believe there are valid reasons for incorporating this type of expression and articulation more regularly (based on the subject and content of the class, of course).

The Teaching Channel (Mariah Rankine-Landers) discusses four reasons for arts integration:

  • development of critical thinking skills
  • the use of collaboration
  • based on the use of collaboration, communication skills are also built
  • development of creative inquiry

This list of skills is not only relevant to art activities, but also to the general growth and development of our students. These are all life skills that are needed in any subject, in any field.

Adding to these, Edutopia’s Susan Riley shares other valid reasons for using art:

  • Art can help students focus more on the process than the product which can connect to math skills as well as the habits of mind
  • The various forms of art can help different students access the content in their own way and connect their personal lives to the classroom
  • Art provides an equitable way for each student to engage
  • Art can help develop analysis and synthesis skills

As with the Teaching Channel article above, these reasons provide not only reasons that relate to the engagement of students, but also reasons that connect to the content and general skill development of our students. My students may have felt more engaged and may have enjoyed the activity, but hopefully it also helped them reflect, synthesize their learning from the previous weeks and articulate their understanding of a big event relating to their religious education.

Do you use art on a regular basis? What are your reasons for or against incorporating art more often?


Lesson Planning: The Collaboration Aspect

Lesson planning is arguably one of the key skills that any educator needs to know. It helps us break down the curriculum, clearly articulate what we want our students to know and figure out how we’re going to get them there. It guides what we do in our classrooms every day. However, the way in which lesson planning is done varies greatly.

Some of us are co-teachers who plan and implement lessons with other educators. Some of us teach completely individually and plan everything on our own (while maybe getting feedback on our planning from a coach or mentor). Some of us hate lesson plans and don’t write them regularly, but naturally know where we want to guide our students. Some of us are still trying to figure out what works best for us when it comes to planning.

I have spent a majority of my 5.5 years planning alone. At first, it was simply because I wanted to ensure my plans were done on time (or ahead of time) and finding time to plan by myself was easier than working with others’ schedules. Sometimes, I’d be a couple weeks ahead in my planning and so was working with different pieces of curriculum than other teachers. Since I’ve become a coach, my meeting schedule has rarely allowed me to have time to plan with others, even if I want to.

It gets lonely planning by yourself. I work very hard to be the best educator I can be for my students, but my ideas are limited, and creativity tends to come when I can bounce back and forth in conversation with others. Throughout this school year so far, I have kept working on my own…until I got stuck on a lesson a few weeks ago.

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Small Class, Large Class

Classes have officially begun for the 2017-2018 year! This year, I am teaching two groups of 9th graders who couldn’t be more different from one another. One class has only gone up to 4 students thus far while the other is a packed classroom full of 20 students. It’s only been a couple of weeks so far, but I’m already starting to see how my planning will need to change based on not only the differences in students, but also just the size of the classrooms.

This size difference is a factor I haven’t had too much variety in over the past few years, and so this is new territory for me. In come several Google searches relating to tips for teaching very large or very small classes. The articles I’ve come across don’t necessarily offer a lot in the “small class” category, as small classes in most secular school systems mean less than 15-20 students, not as small as 4, but there are definitely some good points to reflect on as I plan future classes.

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The Art of Listening

A recent Brainpickings article referenced work by Erich Fromm who wrote about the art of listening and the rules to follow in order to do it unselfishly. Fromm discusses how listening develops a relationship between two people and that relationship is based on love. He also mentions how this love is necessary for unselfish listening to happen. His rules of listening and his thoughts on the listening process made me think about the relationships between colleagues, between teacher and student, between coach and teacher. Take a look at Fromm’s rules below:

  1. The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.
  2. Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.
  3. He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.
  4. He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own.
  5. The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him — not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.
  6. Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.

-Erich Fromm

Here’s to thinking about listening in a different way.

Bringing the World into Our Classrooms

There is a LOT going on in our world today from ongoing conflicts to extreme violence to protests for various causes to controversial political decisions. In this environment, especially when your context only allows you to interact with your students once a week, it can be difficult trying to find the time and the words to discuss what’s happening to our world.

As a human being, I’ve never been interested in politics and although I have felt deep sadness at the violence that is committed around the world, I have never gotten involved in any way myself. It was not until the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. that I told myself I needed to do something, no matter how small. Why now? Well, now it’s something that is affecting my identity in several ways: as a woman, a Muslim, an American.

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Knowing Where You’re Going…

There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a classroom. Students can cause issues for various reasons, the pedagogy just won’t work with a certain class, technology fails on us or we forget supplies we need. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed as I work with other teachers and reflect more deeply about my own practice is that a lot of issues within any classroom space can be resolved if you know where you’re going. By this I mean that, as a teacher, we need to know what it is that our students should achieve by the end of the lesson, unit and school year. We should fully understand the content and we should know why it’s important and relevant to the lives of our students. After all, if we don’t know these things, then how will our students learn them?

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Education at Summer Camp

For the past two years, I have been spending my summers helping out at a couple different camps and it has made me wonder why summer camp experiences are so much different than our yearly classrooms in terms of how content is delivered as well as the impact it has. The two are clearly very different contexts, but why is it that being at a summer camp ensures that a participant walks away with a life-changing experience while being in a classroom at least once a week for 9 months leaves nothing but bitterness and boredom?*

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