Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I am a professional teaching artist; a reflective practitioner. This post continues a stream of consciousness that started somewhere around here. Your thoughtful suggestions and comments are appreciated.

XI.  Desired Learning Outcomes
A Teaching Artist is a reflective being, dedicated to the realization of clearly defined and articulated learning outcomes for students.
To be fully realized, desired learning outcomes must exist before the shared experience of teaching and learning begins.
In the physical world, learning outcomes usually take the form of brief statements written at the top of a lesson plan.
These statements may be derived from national learning standards, from state or local learning standards, from conversations with a classroom teacher, or from a combination of these.
Often these statements share a common preamble, such as “the student will understand”, but this is a mistake, since the field of understanding is too broad to be of use as an assessment tool.
Therefore, when stating desired learning outcomes, the wise teaching artist takes care to use language that imagines the student taking the kind of action that is observable, measurable, and repeatable.
This is the realm of active verbs, and phrases such as “the student will draw connections between…” or “the student will be able to….”
The twin foundations of this kind of teaching are the concepts of accountability, and transformation.
The teaching artist is accountable to a set of learning standards, and does work that can be evaluated.
The student transforms concepts into action, and is in turn transformed.
The process of learning is transformative and circular. 
Our work, accountable and specific, leaves traces--evidence of our success or failure.

Also: Sly & the Family Stone - Higher

Monday, September 27, 2010


This post is about student engagement and the practice of Teaching Artistry. It picks up a stream of thought that was last found somewhere around here.

X. Student Engagement
When art is purposefully integrated into the curriculum, opportunities for student engagement are increased.
Student engagement is the key to understanding. Without it, the doors to understanding remain firmly shut, since no one can force anyone to learn. 
Learning is a choice.
When content, comprised of concepts, facts and figures is framed by an essential question, authentic student engagement is more possible.
The lesson that is constructed of questions always provides more than one doorway to enter.
When content is abstracted from experience; unconnected and irrelevant to student’s lives;  things may be memorized, but not truly understood. This truth is made painfully clear during testing.
The qualities that support high student engagement are relevancy, urgency, and agency.
Relevancy means that something is important enough to pay attention to.
Students will not choose to pay attention if learning is irrelevant to their daily lives.
Relevancy honors the idea that these individuals already existed before you came into the classroom, and they will exist when you leave.
Urgency is the feeling that we have to do this now.
A feeling of urgency comes from structuring lessons as problem-solving experiences, collaboratively and incrementally, we work in the now because something must be figured out before we can move on.
This kind of teaching builds excitement in the room.
Agency is the idea that the individual has power and is allowed to make personal choices within the learning experience.
Given appropriate responsibility and power to make choices, most students will feel more inclined to engage.
All of these qualities arise from the essential question. If the question is boring, so will be the class.

Also: Rakim - The M-stery

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Why did Washington,DC's Mayoral incumbent Adrian Fenty, and his school reform champion Michelle Rhee, go down in defeat? For an answer to this question I turn to Diane Ravitch, which is itself deserving of an explanation because I usually disagree with her. But, lately, on very special days, I have noticed Diane Ravitch is right. I think this might be one one of those days.

In her most recent letter to her pen pal Deborah Mier, Ms. Ravitch addresses the election in Washington, DC, and hits the nail on the head, arguing that Mr. Fenty lost because Mayoral control of the school system led to an undemocratic process of school reform. The speed with which Ms. Rhee worked her changes, and her apparent unwillingness to compromise, may have led the majority of African American voters to feel they were being ignored. The vote became a referendum on school reform and the reformers got schooled. Sadly, the district's children may not be so lucky.

Ms. Ravitch makes another strong point:

"When the Tea Party wins a race, journalists don't write about who controlled their vote, but about a voter revolt; they acknowledge that those who turned out to vote had made a conscious decision. Yet when black voters, by large margins, chose Vincent Gray over Adrian Fenty, journalists found it difficult to accept that the voters were acting on their own, not as puppets of the teachers' union."

Read the rest at Education Week.

Also: Keep up with all the news and more by getting on Dale's List. Join the ATA Forum on Yahoo, and stay in the loop with daily updates on everything from jobs, to trends in education. Membership is FREE.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Location, Location

Sometimes you wake up and you ask the universe, where in the world can I find a community of teaching artists?

The answer depends on where you are on the map.

The Bay Area: Teaching Artists Organized has a new website.

New York: The Association of Teaching Artists is on Facebook.

Chicago: Chicago Teaching Artist Collective is on Yahoo.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Brain Work

The New York Times has made me aware of another spectacular teaching and learning community with a nifty slogan: "Abandon all hierarchical learning ye who enter here”, declares the Brooklyn Brainery. I did and entered to find courses in lots of cool topics, and links to skillsharing events I had never known about. To learn more, visit their website:

Also: ATA is on Facebook. Where in the world are you?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

School Day

A thrilling missive from teaching artists Cassie Thornton and Chris Kennedy of the School of the Future arrived in the mailbox today about an event that happens tomorrow, which, depending upon where you are geographically, might be today.

Here is the news flash:

We greet you this Fall from islands of schooling in the South and from the West! Although our student faculties have left the asphalt land of NYC, we still think about the achievement and scholarship that took place this summer.

This Friday to celebrate you and all that you have contributed as both students and teachers, you are cordially invited to join us for an Opening Reception of a show organized by Trust Art and Kidd Yellin called '5 Social Victories', an exhibition dedicated to charting the evidence, processes, communities, and achievements surrounding five visionary public art projects, including the School of the Future by Cassie Thornton and Chris Kennedy, Wildness by Seth Aylmer, Humanity by Anne McClain, Dreamers by Justin Tellian, and Vulture by Dave Olsen.

The Opening Reception will be held on Friday, September 17th at 7:00 pm with the exhibition on view from September 17th-26th, 2010. Kidd Yellin is located in Red Hook at 133 Imlay St. Brooklyn, NY 11231 ( Directions: 4/5 to Borough Hall or A/C/F to Jay St. to B61 Bus (to Van Brunt & Verona St.)

Remember that the future is always in the past as we share our continuing knowledge of a better education in the present.
Please keep in touch.

Still building the school,
Chris + Cassie

Also: The Jackson Five - Medley 1972

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

At the Movies

San Francisco is home to the San Francisco Film Society, and from September 24-26 the organization will present the NY-SF International Children's Film Festival.

This three-day event celebrates "diverse, enlightening, inspiring and entertaining films for kids and teens".  Along with feature films, the festival program includes a global sampling of documentaries, animation, and short films geared toward young people ages 3–18 and their families.

To support the work, the San Francisco Film Society has developed a youth education and school outreach program that includes interactive workshops and special screenings for school children and their teachers.

I am looking forward to Oblivion Island, which is a 3-D adventure movie from Japan. It shows on September 25th @ 2:15 pm and it has subtitles and is recommended for ages 8-16.

All of the films will be screened at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema. 

The program promises visits from some of the filmmakers and much more. Full details of the events are posted here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Free To Be

Today, as usual, we are making it up.  What follows is an attempt to break down my approach to improvisational teaching, which is, of course, impossible. This post joins this streamPlease let me know what you think. Thank you.

IX. Improvisation

Improvisation is an act of reflection.
The ability to successfully improvise within a set of parameters, is a sure sign of professionalism in a teaching artist.
Successful improvisation advances the planned goals of a lesson and is the visible peak of a repeatable four-step process that may be completed in an instant, or may unfold over time.
The steps of improvisation for the teaching artist are goal-setting, observing, diagnosing, and responding.
Goal-setting means the teaching artist has a value system, and knows the criteria for success.
Observing means the teaching artist assesses the situation with internalized rubrics and questions.
Diagnosing means the teaching artist evaluates the situation, and imagines prescriptive moves.
Responding means the teaching artist springs into action during the moment of opportunity, trying to steer people toward a more unified understanding.
Even though the elements of preparation, experience, aptitude, and training are its true source, successful improvisation may appear to be solely the fruit of inspiration, but this is an illusion.
Drawing on past experience, and attached to specific learning outcomes, the skillful teaching artist stays in the moment, predicts the future, and transforms whatever is offered into something useful.
Accepting everything, and judging nothing, the slogan of the successful improviser is "Yes, and..."
All of this was sometime a paradox, but experience makes it true.

Also: September - Earth, Wind and Fire

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Question and Answer

This post continues a look at Teaching Artistry that has a beginning, but no end. Today, the topic is questions, which is terrific because I always seem to have more than my share.

VIII. Modes of Questioning

Teaching Artistry is made manifest whenever the TA displays the ability to pose a useful question at the appropriate time.

Closed Questions are limited in scope. Here the student is expected to recall and respond with a single word or a specific piece of information. In this realm, power stays with the questioner.

Open Questions have a wider scope. Here the student is expected to reflect and respond with more than a single word. In this realm, power is shared.

Questions, whether open or closed, are grappled with in the mind, but can be posed verbally, physically, or through a combination of words and activities.

The number of questions available to the Teaching Artist is infinite as grains of sand, but the available modes of questioning may be reduced to three:

There are questions that help us see the facts. This is the sphere of memory and comprehension.

There are questions that help us see where things converge or diverge. This is the sphere of analysis and application.

There are questions that help us draw conclusions. This is the sphere of synthesis and evaluation.

For the Teaching Artist who discovers how and when to pose questions, teaching is transformed into a learning experience; a reciprocal and collaborative process where surprise is possible.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Essentials

This post is a continuation of this stream. Recent posts quote from and mimic the format of  Yoga: Discipline of Freedom the Yoga Sutra attributed to Pantanjali translated by Barbara Stoler Miller.

VII. Essential Questions

When essential questions are articulated, a workshop’s reason for existence is revealed and obstacles to effective workshop planning fall away.

The obstacles that distract effective workshop planning include apathy, laziness, doubt, misconception, carelessness, failure to attain a firm foundation in pedagogy, and ego.

These distractions can result in poorly integrated lessons with unclear and/or misaligned goals, objectives and activities, along with an often incoherent approach to assessment and evaluation.

The practice of training emerging teaching artists to plan backward, to articulate essential questions, and to continually assess the quality of their work is the means to prevent and overcome these distractions.

Here's a summer reading list of books and authors I must give credit to for many of the ideas in these most recent posts.
Understanding By Design by Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe
Asking Better Questions by Norah Morgan & Juliana Saxton
Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade
The Reflective Practioner: How Professionals Think In Action by Donald A. Schon
Acting Learning and Plays by Jan Mandell and Jennifer Lynn Wolf
Structuring Drama Work by Jonothan Neelands

I believe the term "essential question" is now the property of UBD  and I dig it, but I might rather say "driving question" instead. They also talk about unit questions versus essential questions. I have heard it said that essential questions are "human questions." That works for me. What do you think?

Also: Studs Terkel: Conversations with America

Friday, September 3, 2010

Endurance Testing

This post continues my previous musings on the subject of Teaching Artistry. I do appreciate your thoughtfully worded comments, thoughts, and suggestions. Click here to send a nice email.

VI. Enduring Understandings

Teaching Artistry can also come from dedication to the concept of an Enduring Understanding.

An enduring understanding can be recognized by its usefulness and high value relative to other things that are worth knowing.

It is the kind of understanding that goes beyond facts and figures, stretching across the curriculum to provide a contextual framework for things we already know or things we still need to learn.

An enduring understanding serves us in other areas of our lives, either as a model for grappling with something similar, or as an underlying structure in a broader field of knowledge.

It is a distinct form of awareness; simultaneously augmenting, and relying on, our ability to transfer things we have previously learned to a new context.

An enduring understanding both encompasses, and reconfigures, the familiar taxonomy of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The artist dedicated to generating enduring understandings through their work becomes an accountable and ethical teacher; acknowledging that people need the tools to both decipher and construct meaning for themselves.

Also: ATA is on Facebook. Where are you?

Also: Madonna - Nothing Really Matters

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Learning Experiences

Today, I will continue my attempt to describe the doctrines that make up my teaching practice.  Links to previous posts on the same topic can be found here. I am inspired by Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, so I am writing in epigrammatic fashion, and this is going to take awhile, if not forever. In the meantime, Teaching Artists are invited to comment below, or, if you feel compelled, please send an email with suggestions. That would be nice.

V.  Learning Experiences

In a workshop where the arts are purposefully integrated, understanding can arise through various forms of inquiry, reflection, enjoyment and practice.

Beyond this is a workshop where the teacher and student are engaged in a shared process of discovery.

For teachers and students who are curious, but still enmeshed in a workshop without art, understanding is limited by a reliance on the phenomenal world.

For others, understanding follows from inspiration, imagination, conjecture, experimentation, and performance.

For teaching artists with a lesson plan, understanding arises by design.

Higher than this is a workshop where the student is curious, questioning and self-directed.

Also: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Mustt Mustt