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Lesson Plans


Curriculum Issues

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Glen Williams (gw1944)
Sun, 6 Apr 1997 13:52:30 -0500


Questions, Experience, Awe, and a Modest Proposal

Dear Fellow Art Teachers:
As so often happens in a discussion I am rediscovering my biases and
root beliefs at the same time. As Alphame, Dr. Short, Mary , and Linda have
alluded to the awe and wonder which may grow from studio and art history
experience, I would like to jump in again. Once this happens in the
classroom I encourage my students to swim with the feeling and luxuriate in
their senses. Initially this may or may not involve words. But after a
time, the feelings almost always need to be shared with others. The source
and nature of the questions which help facilitate these discussions are
part of my concern. There is too often a supply-side, trickle-down theory
of questioning, and as excellent as Dr. Erickson's sample questions are-
they are not home grown. They are imposed on the students- again, Socratic
manipulation. I know that we can not start
ex nihilo in the classroom, but questions grown from activity are so much
better. I believe that the cliche of the moment would be to say that these
questions have resonance. Well, home grown questions do! There are times
when reinventing the wheel is fundamental for each student.

Since I feel free to criticize let me offer a Modest Proposal ( not too
Swift I hope) so that my objections become a little clearer and perhaps
take on definition through the aegis of a positive recommendation.

I used the following activity in a team taught Humanities Class for 4
years. At the beginning of the course I explained to the students that I
was going to give them 10 minutes of class time once a week to select a
single piece of 2 DM visual work which they responded strongly to and
could be put in a folder. Each piece of visual work was to be numbered.
The first week's work being numbered one an so on until each student had
25 selections in his/her folder. At this time the students were asked to
take their folders and organize the contents into categories of their
choice which could be given a name or a phrase which would be indicative
of each category. They were to copy down the numbers that were included in
each separate category. Then they were to exchange their visual collections
with another student, and through careful inspection, try and determine
what the original name (unifying factor) had been for each of the
categories. The feedback that grows from this student interchange is
fertile ground for discussions and questions about the variety of visual
representations. Subjects like communication, taste, subjective and
objective knowledge, ordering, solipsism, visceral reactions.... it's
endless and vital. And an incredible resource for home grown questions.

By stacking the process and only using art reproductions you can
establish another set of parameters for questions and discussions. I would
also take this opportunity to say that this same process could be easily
adapted to seek out 'themes' which students already respond to
unconsciously. I have come to think of this as a distinction between a
Socratic approach and an Aristotelian approach. Perhaps a refresher course
would change my mind. I would argue that methods like this are more
persuasive than manipulative methods as they feed visceral experience which
can be the meat of question formation and discussion. Trickle-up learning.

Forgive me please for one last issue which I would like to mention. As
stated earlier the student awe at the direct experience of the
manipulation of material or being able to respond to art is simply
wonderful to work with. There is a second awe/pleasure principle which is
wonderful too. That would be those points in time when the student
accumulates facts, contextual information, and theories about art and
knows that he knows. He is then able to begin to connect the dots and make
his own order out of the chaos. The Eureka Syndrome. My argument remains
that the memory and experience of yelling eureka and running wet and naked
down the street gives the student a far better chance of having an active
tool in the continuing process of learning.

I would have to say that in rereading this that I want to acknowledge
the points that Dr. Erickson makes regarding the significance in sequencing
events were certainly some of the complaints I had about the questioning
process - although it remained unstated until now. Finally it appears
that a core belief of mine is that the discovery of many of the
appropriate questions can come from the students too. Thank you for your
patience.
Glen Williams