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The Project Doctors have returned! Back by popular demand, Andrew, and former AOE writer, Alecia Kaczmarek, team up with Tim to answer mailbag questions on classroom management, teaching different media, and even how to make writing in your classroom interesting and exciting. Listen for their open and honest discussion on why you need to keep your cool in tough situations (2:45), the importance of writing in your classroom–and how to make it interesting (14:30), and learning to love projects you can’t stand teaching (21:00). Full episode transcript below.
Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.
Ladies and gentlemen, the project doctors are back. We did this show about a month ago with my favorite co-host, Andrew, and Alecia Kaczmarek, former AOE writer, and people absolutely loved it. The response was overwhelming. People loved all of the advice, all of the instructional strategies, the project ideas, and the classroom management suggestions. We decided to bring it back. This is part two. Andrew is back again, Alecia is back again, and we’re going to take on some of our listeners’ most pressing questions once again. We’re going to talk about classroom management because our mailbag was full of people needing help and needing suggestions on how to deal with some different issues. We also cover some ideas including pop art, sculpture, watercolor, and even writing in the classroom. I know it’s going to take a while for us to get through all of that, so I’m going to ahead and get us right to it. Andrew is here, Alecia is here, and they are both ready to go, so let’s drive in.
We are back with my two favorite project doctors. I’m really excited to run through this again. First off, Andrew, how are you?
Andrew: I’m doing good, man. Thanks for having me back on.
Tim: Awesome, and Alecia how are you?
Alecia: Doing just great. Looking forward to Thanksgiving break.
Tim: Nice, nice. For those of you that missed out on Project Doctors part one, Andrew McCormick is my favorite co-host of this podcast and a middle school teacher. Alecia Kaczmarek is a elementary teacher and former AOE writer. We’ve got a lot of good balance going on, every grade level, and a lot of different experience so hopefully we can do a nice job answering these questions and passing out some advice. Our first question, and this comes from Trish in Utah. She says, “I’m quite a ways into the year of course, but winter break still looks so far away. My classroom management is not the best and I’m really feeling the stress. In all honesty, I’m about to snap, so my question is have you ever just gone crazy on a class, screaming, yelling, the whole nine yards, and did it help? Apart from just losing it on them, what can I do to get things back to the way they need to be?” Andrew, since I see you as more likely to go crazy than Alecia I’m going to give this to you first. Have you ever had that happen to you? Have you ever gone crazy on a class before?
Andrew: Well, no. I would say no. If you ask my students they might say everyday is craziness with me. No, I’ve never done that. I had that happen when I was in high school. I’d have a couple teachers where you’re just like, “Whoa, they lost it.” You know, I’ll have stern words. I do something. It’s debatable whether it’s good or not, but if I have a class that’s really giving me fits, and I have a kid who maybe he’s on a short leash and I’ve really been watching this kid and something happens, I might really light him up and dig into him a little bit. I don’t yell and scream, but I use a stern voice and I’ll look at them. I’ll maybe make it a little bit of a public spectacle so that the class knows, “Whoa, Mr. McCormick’s not playing today.” That’s a pretty measured thing that I do.
It’s almost like, “Okay, this kid has been told four times to stop flipping your stupid eraser, and don’t break this or that, and put this back, and they just keep doing it. I’m going to dig into him a little bit more than maybe I would to set the tone for the day that I’m not having this,” but I’ve never crossed the bounds of full-on screaming, yelling because that’s just not helpful. It doesn’t build rapport. It doesn’t really get you what you want. If anything when you do that and you lose control, I think what the kids see, especially a class that is getting under your skin like, “Oh yeah, we got him right now. We’ve got him now. We know what buttons to push.” I just don’t think it’s going to be helpful at all.
Tim: Yeah, I would agree. I think it’s really counter-productive. I don’t know. I always had a rule that I just told myself just I would never raise my voice. Even when I got really upset with a kid I would quite down. I feel like classes follow your lead. If you can stay calm, if you can project calm and quiet then they kind of can reflect that as well. Alecia, I’m going to pass this to you too. Even though Andrew doesn’t flip out on kids, I definitely sense the frustration in his voice with that misbehavior. I’ll give Trish’s second part of her question to you. What can you do to get things back on track, or if you have those behaviors that are annoying you what is the best way to deal with that.
Alecia: Sure. I definitely agree. Losing your cool is never good. As much as you might want to yell and scream, it’s not going to do any good at all. I was going to say it’s almost scarier sometimes if you do remain calm and quiet because they don’t quite know what to expect. Just in those situations, again it’s really hard because as art teachers this is our day in, day out, every single day. This might just be one chunk, one 45 minutes, one hour of our kids’ entire week. It’s really hard to keep that in perspective. That’s what I try to keep in perspective too. I might be having a tougher day, but this 45 minutes of class can be different for every single kiddo. One of the things that I always try to remind myself of is if I’m getting worked up about something the kid probably is too, so just to give myself a little break. It’s sometimes as simple as like, “I’m going to walk away from this, give us a count of ten, and maybe we’ll come back to it when we can both have a cooler head about things.”
Tim: Yeah. I think that’s a really good way to go about that. I think that’s some really good advice. Cool. All right, well we are going to move on to question number two. This one is from Brian in Chicago. He says, “I really want to teach a pop art lesson but everything I see either comes back to Warhol’s repetition of some sort, or food, or a big word painted with all kinds of dots and bright colors. I’m so tired of all of those things. What else can you give me? What else is out there for pop art?” Andrew, I’m going to put you on the spot. What do you do with pop art and is there anything you can offer him that doesn’t have to do Andy Warhol, or repetition, or food, or Wayne Thiebaud, or anything like that?
Andrew: Sure. Well, first I would say I actually really do like Andy Warhol so I’ve got to maybe get to the point where I can okay with not getting down with Andy Warhol. I agree that it does seem like everyone kind of has the same tried and true things. I haven’t done as much with Thiebaud and food as other people do. My go-to is Lichtenstein and kind of comic book-y stuff, but even that is like, “Okay, we’re just replacing Warhol, one seminal figure of pop art, with a different seminal figure in pop art.” You know, I’ve done some stuff with pop art where I really try to show contemporary pop artists. I think it’s really important that students realize that art is not just made by dead people, the people who lived a long time ago, but people who are out there now who aren’t much older than them making artwork.
I have a couple artists that the students have really gravitated towards. There’s this one comic book artist who does these like comic book collages and his name is Mike Alcantara. You could google search that. He does these really elaborate cool comic collages that the kids like. There’s another guy who he does like kind of cool, cartoon-y drawing on boxes called Bernie Valenta. I really like that one and the kids have dug that one. If you just did a google search for contemporary pop artists there’s like a million people out there doing cool stuff. Actually I’m doing a project right now called pop culture mashups where students have to take two different things that they like in pop culture and then smash them together. For example, Scooby-Doo, if Scooby-Doo characters were designed by Tim Burton. Then it’s like all Corpse Bride and Nightmare Before Christmas but it’s Shaggy and Scooby. That’s been a really successful project.
Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. I think it’s just all about, I don’t know, kind of expanding your horizons. Like you said, even just a simple google search can give you an idea of some good artists. I think the biggest thing is just taking the ideas of pop art if not necessarily the cliché images. Talk about their critiques of contemporary culture of whatever it may be. Alecia, did you have anything that you wanted to add for pop art? I know you love your bright colors and exciting stuff like that, but anything you would want to do? Any advice you want to give about teaching pop art?
Alecia: Actually what I would have added is what you just said, Tim. It’s that if you want to really re-investigate pop art just think about the core of the whole movement, and that’s responding to our society and popular culture. I mean, throwing in Andrew’s lesson would be perfect.
Tim: Yeah, I think that works really well. Brian, there’s your homework is to just do a little bit of research, look for some new artists, and maybe think a little bit deeper about how pop art critiques culture and how you can explain that to your kids, how you can get your kids to think about that. All right Alecia, this next question is going to be for you. This is from Lindsey in Tennessee and it’s about those really annoying kids. Well, I don’t know if you think they’re really annoying, but these kids annoy the crap out of me. The question from Lindsey though is, “I have a kid who is always either fishing for compliments or talking about how bad their work is. What do you do with a kid who’s always negative or always needs some kind of attention or affirmation for what they’re doing? I have 25 other kids to talk to and teach at the same time.” Alecia, what do you do with those kids?
Alecia: There’s a couple different things I do. We have a bigger mentality of we always try in the art room. We can always make something beautiful, beautiful oops out of a mistake. We’re always trying. We’re always learning. I really emphasize that because I think one of the frustrating things about being an elementary art student is that you might see something in your brain and you just don’t quite have the abilities yet, so it can be a really frustrating time. I really just concentrate on that, buy also those kiddos it’s, “You’re the artist. You get to make a choice.” If they really want that constant attention then you might turn to the, “Turn and talk to your neighbor,” or, “Why don’t you go ask that group of students about your work? See what they can say about it.” That way too if they don’t actually want someone else’s option but yours, that can give them a little reminder that they can be their own artist. I would say just encouraging them and feeding into the, “You’re the artist. You can make that decision,” but building up their confidence at the same time if that’s possible.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s good advice. I want to ask you a follow-up too because this is another thing that I’ve noticed that frustrates me. Kids really will not give their best effort and they’ll just try and play it off as, “I don’t even care,” or, “I’m so bad at this.” I guess the question I’m asking, when did it become cool to be really bad at something and why do kids want to make such a show of not being good at art?
Alecia: Oh my gosh. Okay, just today even I said, “It’s not cool to say you’re bad at something. Stop making it cool.” I don’t know. I think maybe it’s a defense mechanism. They want to say that they’re bad at something so no one else can beat them to it. They beat someone else to saying that they’re bad. Really it’s hard to step back and look, but no one’s really looking at their individual piece of artwork. They’re the only ones that are looking at it while every other kiddo is looking at their own artwork. I think that would span to middle school and high school too.
Tim: Yeah, I think it definitely is a defense mechanism. Like you said, if they’re the first ones to say it then nobody else can beat them to the punch and they can’t really criticize them. Andrew, any thoughts, any experience with kids doing that? How do you handle it?
Andrew: I totally agree with Alecia. I mean, it’s much more acceptable to be seen as a bad apple than a dumb apple, but replace the word apple with another A word, right. It’s like if you say like, “I’m horrible at this,” you’re kind of dodging the fact that, “Well, maybe you could just try and try to get better.” It’s like, “Well, I didn’t even try.” Because I deal with a slightly older age group, 8th and 9th grade, I just call them out on their stuff, especially the whole fishing for compliments thing. My students will play innocent or dumb and like, “I’m go bad at this,” when they’re actually really good. I’ll just say, “You’re fishing for compliments right now. Knock it off. That’s really silly. We all see right through you, so you can just stop that right now.”
The whole “it’s good to be bad” thing, I’ve wrestled with that for a while in a lot of different classes and different jobs. My go-to is just it’s bad to be bad and it’s good to be good. If you’re good at something that’s fine. You should be proud of that and you should flaunt it. If you’re bad at something, you should not bring undue attention to that. That’s just stupid. I just try to lay it out there and try to change that mindset right away. If you’re struggling with something, don’t be embarrassed but don’t bring undue attention to yourself.
Tim: Yeah, I like that. All right, that’s a good tough love answer. Actually I think it transitions well, Andrew, into our next question, because I have a feeling this guy needs some tough love as well. This is a question from Isaiah in Maryland. He says, “My principal is asking me to do more writing in my classroom. If I wanted my kids to write I would have been an english teacher. Ugh.” He literally wrote Ugh in this letter. He said, “What ideas do you have to do more writing in my classroom?”
Andrew: Well you know, I remember having that sentiment too early on I think like at my first job. It was like, “Boy, it’s a lot to handle.” The one thing I would say to Isaiah is you’re not going to win that argument really. That’s one of those things where when your principal says, “We want you to show how you’re improving math scores,” let’s say, that seems really preposterous and ridiculous, but you’ve got to play the game. When your principal says, “We want you to infuse more writing in your classroom,” you do have to do it. You’ve got to come up with something that works for you. About a year or two ago something that worked for me, and I think I wrote about this on AOE, was a quick and simple way to get students writing in the classroom. We did a weekly artist reflection or artist critique where I had them look up a contemporary artist and it was basically, “Pick an artist, show me two examples of their work, and tell me why you like them.” It was like two to three sentences. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but we were doing it every week.
Then you can even, depending on what learning management system you use, Google Classroom, or Moodle, or Schoology, or whatever you could even have other students write about the artist that the other artists pick out. You could do portfolio reviews where they have to upload their work, share their work, and then write about it. My go-to with this is definitely try to leverage whatever sort of technology you have because it makes it a lot easier than collecting all these little scraps of paper that they do.
Tim: Yeah. I think that collaborative element is something that’s going to get kids more interested. I did the same thing. I just had kids write in their sketchbook just weekly reflection on whatever artist we were looking at that week. I try and show artists who are exciting, who are cool, kind of intriguing, kind of get kids’ attention. Even just having them write a paragraph that’s just their opinion, what do you like, what do you not like about this. Just easing into that it’s not that difficult to do. Alecia, what about the elementary level? Do you have enough time to do writing at the elementary level and what kind of things do you do?
Alecia: Yeah, sure. I think the easiest and most natural ways to include writing are definitely through artist statements for our bigger show pieces for the hallway, and then just self reflections on rubrics, or even just a simple self reflection as a rubric just to know more about what they understood about the project and to understand their thought process what we were creating. Again, it’s an easy way to include vocabulary and then just really get their writing skills, writing about something other than what they’re learning in writing class.
Tim: Yeah, that’s good. I like that, just kind of expanding that. Reflection is such a big key to learning. I really like those ideas. All right, next question though, moving on. This comes from Beverly in Kansas, and Andrew it is specifically for you.
Andrew: Oh, boy.
Tim: Beverly says, “Andrew, I think I remember hearing you say you had an MFA in sculpture, so I wanted to come to you for some help. What are your best sculpture ideas for every level? I teach K through 12, and I don’t really had a budget so the cheaper the better. Thanks in advance.” Really quickly, sculpture ideas for every level that don’t cost a thing. Ready, set, go.
Andrew: I like paper mache if you’ve got some glue and some newspaper, which the newspaper is free. Paper mache at the elementary level. There’s lot you can do with armature, just basic rolled up paper and then paper mache around that. Let’s say middle school level, I love cardboard, very versatile material that you can find everywhere. You can cut it. You can crease it. You can fold it. You can score it. You can do hot glue but you could also do staples, tapes, I mean office level equipment that maybe you could steal from the building or something.
Tim: It’s donated, Andrew. Things you can have donated.
Andrew: Donated, right.
Tim: Not things you can steal.
Andrew: Okay, sorry. Sorry. Then maybe at the high school level you could even do like a sculpture project where you look at the work of Deborah Butterfield. Maybe you go out on like a nature walk, you grab some sticks. All you would need is some way to maybe cut down some sticks, break some sticks, some string. Maybe you could dip into your repertoire of knot tying skills from boy scouts or girl scouts and show students some simple ways to tie some things together and make these kind of figurative animal sculptures out in nature. That’d be kind of easy. That was just off the top of my head, man.
Tim: Yeah. No, I like all those ideas. Actually I won’t go too in depth there because I’ll put this in the show notes, but I wrote an article for AOE that I think it was called the Six Inexpensive Sculpture Ideas to Start the Year, something like that just all about, like Andrew said, using newspaper, cardboard, found objects, oak tag, whatever you can find and putting things together. Because there are so many sculptural elements that you can teach that really have nothing to do with the material. You can use any material to teach these different ideas. Yeah, there’s a lot out there.
Andrew: I did a project where we looked at Frank Stella where we just took a piece of chipboard and just kind of worked it with patterns, and chevrons, and charcoal, and splatter paint. The kids wanted to do splatter paint. I wasn’t nuts about that. Then it was just roll, score, hot glue together, and it was like really cool. It was neat for the students to think about the notion of fabrication. Everything that has form probably at one point came as a flat stock material. A dress, that was once fabric. Metal, sheets of metal. To get them to think about, “Oh, I just roll this, and tuck that, and then presto, wham-mo it’s standing up.” That was a really good project.
Tim: Yeah, I like that. Conceptually that’s a really, really good idea. All right, we are just about out of time so Alecia I’m going to send the last question your way before we get out of here. This is from Erin in Michigan and she says, “There is literally nothing more boring to me and to my students than watercolor painting. Do you have any lesson ideas that will help my students get into watercolor and any advice for me? How do I get more excited about teaching something I hate?” That’s a two-part answer right there. A- what do you do for watercolor? B- how do you get excited about stuff that you just really can’t stand?
Alecia: You know, I don’t hate watercolor either, but it’s definitely not one of my preferred media. It might go back to one of our other questions. I mean, I know the basics. I’m just not that great at it. I would say definitely I like doing projects with watercolor and then for my younger kiddos tempera cakes that just really kind of get them exploring with watercolor and going past just the main colors that are on the color palette. We do a lot of wet on wet and just exploring with any different sorts of techniques that go along with that. Then I always, because I’m at the elementary level, relate it to different books or pop culture characters that we can incorporate too, and that usually brings the interest level. I’m not sure what age level she’s at, but I would say … I don’t know. I think I would toss this one to Andrew too and see what he things about watercolor.
Tim: Andrew, we’re putting you on the spot. What do you want to do with watercolor?
Andrew: Man, that’s funny. I wasn’t sure if you were going to let me answer this one, but I actually can really feel for Erin because I remember graduating high school and even in college really hating watercolor. I was like, “This is the dumbest media ever.” Then when I taught painting for the first time at the high school level something clicked and I actually for like the first six weeks taught watercolor. I was like, “Oh, I really like watercolor.” I don’t know. It’s like I think you’ve got to be in the zone. You’ve got to pay attention. I think there is nothing more boring than a watercolor project that’s like, “We’re going to do this one simple object just because it’s really freaking hard to do in watercolor paint.” You know, like one of the go-tos is like, “Here’s a metallic wrapper,” which is like crazy, insanely hard.
One of the things I did that I think got me to like it and also got my students to like it, we just did like an abstract thing where we drew like a silhouette of a tree, and then a silhouette of another tree, and there were just lots of like overlapped shapes, so just like shapes that overlapped each other. Then each shape was either like a flat wash or like a gradient wash, but I had really tiny paintbrushes and my students could really control it. They really felt like they had a high level of success and then like they kind of mastered it. Then we moved on to landscape painting. The landscape paintings were really awesome. If you can get a good picture of like tumultuous skies and clouds or like water, my kids were like really into it. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just getting tiny brushes so students, again middle school, high school, kind of feel like they can master it and they don’t stink at it. That’s how I felt in high school. I was like, “I’m just horrible at this.”
Tim: Yeah, I think that’s good. I think easing kids into it works really well. Like you said, those silhouettes, those simple shapes. The toughest thing about it is controlling it, so if you can get some small brushes or if you can work big enough that kids don’t have to get this precise detail then I think that’s really helpful no matter what you choose with the project. Just set them up for success with that and I think you’ll be in good shape. All right, I think that’s going to wrap it up tonight guys. I appreciate both of you coming on again. Andrew, thank you.
Andrew: Yep. My pleasure, man.
Tim: Alecia, thank you very much. It was good to talk to you again.
Alecia: Of course, of course. Thanks for having me.
Tim: Yes, thank you. We will talk to you guys later. That’s going to do it for us for round number two of the Project Doctors. Again, I very much appreciate Andrew and Alecia both coming on so we can have such a good discussion. I think we got through six questions and I really wish we could do a lot more, but I think the six that we chose were very indicative of what’s in the mailbag, what people are asking about, and what they need advice on. I hope that our answers, our ideas, some of the things we shared give you some insight into what you can do in your classroom as well. Like we always say, reflecting on what you do in your classroom is the best way to improve what you’re doing in the classroom. If you’re listening to this, if you’re thinking about what you can do better in your own room, that’s the first step. Like I said, hopefully some of these ideas are things that can transfer, things that can work for you as you are taking the next step to make your classroom a little bit better.
Now before I close out the show I do want to tell you again about the Art Ed Now Conference that is coming up in February. This is AOE’s online conference that they do twice a year and it is going to be amazing, particularly if you enjoy this episode and you enjoy all of these ideas that are being shared. We just announced a whole list of new presenters. Michael Linsin from Smart Classroom Management is going to be one of our featured presenters. He’s going to talk about how to reset with even your worst class. Jessica Balsley, the founder of AOE, is going to be there with some great ideas and strategies on how to make your life easier and make life easier for all the visual learners that you’re teaching as well. Cassie Stephens and Nick Hahn are both going to be presenting, so we have a lot of big names, a lot of great ideas, so make sure you go to ArtEdNow.com and check everything out. If you register before December 1st you can get the early bird pricing, which is $50 off. Again, go check out ArtEdNow.com to see what the conference is all about and who all of the amazing presenters are going to be. It is definitely, definitely worth your time.
Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. You can see more from the podcast on ArtEdRadio.com where you can also sign up for the weekly Art Ed Radio e-mail. Now as we go into thanksgiving break here I need to say a quick couple of thank yous. First, to every at the Art of Education and everyone there to makes this show possible. Secondly, to mister Andrew McCormick who admittedly drives me crazy sometimes, but man I just cannot imagine hosting a show with anyone else. Lately, I know Andrew and I are both incredibly thankful for all of our listeners out there. We have seen our audience for this podcast continue to grow and grow, and the amount of feedback we receive about not only entertaining people but more importantly helping people makes recording this show so fulfilling and so worthwhile. I know we both enjoy it so much and we are very, very thankful for all of you that are listening. As always, thank you and we will see you next week.