Assessment Design

Supporting SEL Through Assessment and Choice (Ep. 249)

Today, Tim brings Janet Taylor back on the show to welcome in the new year. In this long and wide-ranging interview, Janet shares her ideas about assessment, growth portfolios, and visual journaling; she also shares how each of these ideas can support our students’ social and emotional learning. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. We will take the discussion in a few different directions as I speak today with Janet Taylor. Janet has been on the show before. You also know her as a writer, as a presenter at Now and a facilitator in PRO and she has maybe even been in your district for a PD Day because she loves to share just everything that she’s doing. I love to hear from her because I absolutely admire her ideas, her teaching, everything that she has done and everything she is doing with her students. She has especially put together some incredible articles over the past couple of months, some really, really interesting ideas, so we’ll dive into all of those in the conversation today.

Before we get started, let me tell you really quickly about the Now Conference that is coming up, less than a month now on the first weekend of February, as you probably know, because I talk about it all the time. The conference is where a lot of my efforts go and it is one of my favorite things that I do at AOEU. We have a great event coming up, like I said, about a month away, February 6th and I could not be more excited about the lineup of presenters we have coming. There have been a few announced, a few more announcements that are going to be coming out soon including our featured presenter, so keep an eye out then. Anyway, it’s going to be a great event, a lot of excitement, a lot of learning and just a fantastic day of professional development. If you haven’t yet registered for the Now Conference, check out the AOEU website and I have all the information that you need.

Janet is here. Janet is ready to chat, so let me bring her on and we’ll get the conversation started. All right, Janet Taylor. Welcome back to the show. How are you?

Janet: Thanks. Hi, I’m good. How are you doing?

Tim: I’m doing really well. I am thrilled to talk to you again because I feel like we always have so much that we need to chat about. This will probably be a really long episode, but that’s okay. It’s going to be fun, but-

Janet: It always is, right?

Tim: Yeah, and like I said, I enjoy the conversation, so hopefully other people will as well. Let me just start, if I can get your thoughts just as we close 2020 because obviously nothing is going very smoothly right now and nothing’s going to be easy because we’re still dealing with all of the same issues as we move into 2021. Do you think teachers are in a better place now to handle things than we were back when we started the school year?

Janet: Yeah, that’s a better place. I’m not sure. I hate saying better or worse right now because I feel like everything is just different, right? We started the school year and they’re like, “Remote’s better,” “In person’s better,” and I’m like, “No, everything’s just so different, but I would like to say that I guess the biggest hang up in the fall was that nobody knew anything, right? We didn’t know what it was going to be. We didn’t know what things were going to look like. We didn’t know what classes were going to look like from week to week. I’d say in one capacity teachers, we’re in a better place because we have more knowledge, right? That’s always like knowledge is power, right?

It’s interesting because last semester, I guess, fall, this past fall, some districts have stayed pretty stable or a little bit dipping up and down in their plans. Other districts have changed from week to week. Then as we move into this next semester, it’s like things are up for grabs again I feel like, right? Districts are making huge changes and teachers are like, “What the heck am I supposed to do now?” I don’t know. I feel like we have a better grasp on technology. Hopefully, we have a better grasp on what it’s like to manage the obstacles. I feel like, at least that piece, we have that down pat, right? I don’t know better, worse.

Tim: Not sure …

Janet: Not sure, but-

Tim: … but I think you make a good point because I feel like so many districts were just saying, “Oh, we just need to get through the first semester and then we’ll reevaluate,” and then they forgot to reevaluate. We feel like we’re just flying by the seat of our pants again. I hear that from so many teachers. I know it’s frustrating, but like you said, we have some knowledge, we have some tools that I think can help us as we move into the next semester. I talked in the beginning of the episode here in my intro about how much I love just everything you’ve been writing over the past couple months. I want to ask you about a few of those things, I want to discuss a few of those things.

First, on that list, I loved what you wrote and how you explain final exams and assessments. Maybe the reason I love it is because I’ve always done something very similar to what you’re doing, but can you talk about just your process for giving final exams, why you like it and why it’s effective, why it works for you and for your students?

Janet: Sure, yeah. Final exams is such an icky word, right? They are so stressful, our students are so stressed. It’s palpable, right? We can feel the stress and the anxiety in the air. We’re stressed, right? We’re usually grading last minute, trying to turn things around as well to start the new semester or even end of the school year, whatever it is, right? Here’s my progression of where I got to where I am, is that there was a time when the district I worked for, we would be expected to give a preassessment in the beginning of the school year and then a post at the end of the semester to show that learning and that growth, right? The assessment that was created was always a multiple choice like vocabulary and then maybe some creative process questions, but it was about literacy, right?

Then we were like, “Well, let’s spend all this time making the best multiple choice questions we can actually make, right? Is this a good multiple choice question? Is it not a good one?” Then we started realizing, “Really? We’re a performance-based class. Why are we assessing things solely on a multiple choice? We never give them multiple choice throughout the entire semester. Why are we doing that now?” I guess the other piece, you’re right, we were like, “Hmm, so what do we assess and how do we do that?” The question is, “Who really cares if a kid forgot what a tool name was? Sure, we want our kids to know what they are, but we also really want them to know how to use that tool.”

Tim: What those tools do, right? That’s the important part.

Janet: Great. Half the time, I can’t even remember my own name. I feel like, “Why am I asking them this?” Now we’re going somewhere and we’re thinking, “Okay, I want the kid to use the tool and to apply it. They’re showing that they know how to do what they learned in my class, right? Now we’re like, “Great, let’s have our students make an artwork at the end of the semester. That will be a large portion of their final exam grade. Maybe we’ll still give the post-assessment because that’s what our district is telling us to do or whatever and we’re actually asking our students too, ‘Can you apply the skills that you’ve been learning all semester?'”

We give a prompt. As teachers, we give a prompt and we have students create an artwork. We usually give them whatever it is, depending on the project, two weeks, let’s say two weeks, three weeks, whatever it is, right? You give them a certain amount of time, and sometimes because of the schedule, we’re like, “Oh, I forgot to teach linear perspective.” I’m just going to toss that skill in there and then they have to do that because I want them to learn all this stuff. You’re cramming all this stuff at the last minute and students are like, “I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never done this. This is a huge percentage of my grade,” or they’re creating something in ceramics and they drop their greenware because they’re clumsy like I am. It’s shattered and then what do you do, right?

That stress, I’ve had students in the past cry when those things happen and I want to cry, right? None of that felt good either, right? You’re like, “Well, what do you do for a final exam?” The other piece right on top of it is you need to make something, an assessment that is easier for you to grade in the timeframe that you have, but the grading is still authentic. It’s not like, “Okay, that looks good.” I know I have this rubric, but I don’t have time to even assess based on that rubric or whatever, right? Basically, all of this is super stressful for everybody. In the article that I wrote, I basically break down ways to really think about how to create your final exams, so that it works for you and your students.

Some of the tips are like, “Don’t cram in those extra skills,” right? If you didn’t give them enough time to practice the extra skills, it’s not really fair to put that as a final exam assessment, right? You can toss some stuff in there, but you need to give them practice, right? Making some of that much smaller scale. Maybe it’s not a three-week huge project with this huge canvas, but maybe it’s a tiny little 4 x 5 or something like that.

Tim: Exactly. Like students can still show their skills on a half a piece of paper.

Janet: Exactly and you’re giving them more time, so if they don’t feel good about it, they could start again. It’s just lower risk, right? Then, let’s see what else. Making sure that you’re giving feedback to your students, as they’re planning their artwork. That’s a big piece too, right? Sometimes we’re like, “Okay, here’s your prompt. Here’s what you should do. Now, I’m just going to let you go and I’m not saying anything to you.” It’s like, “Well, that’s not really authentic here, right?”

Tim: That doesn’t help.

Janet: No, I don’t want my students to come up with this idea that’s not going to work and then just watch them fail miserably. That’s not even good teaching. That’s just not nice, right?

Tim: You’re right.

Janet: Then making a list of skills or concepts and let students deciding how they’re going to show the best of what they can do, right? Instead of saying, “You are going to do linear perspective, but maybe instead, “Okay, I learned all these different shading and maybe portraiture and then maybe also linear perspective,” or whatever, give them a breakdown of all the things that they learned, which is awesome because then they can also go, “Wow, I learned all of these tools and I probably would have forgotten to use some of this. Now I know that I’m really good at this, so I might as well show that off, right?”

Tim: Yeah.

Janet: Giving them a realistic timeframe is really important. That goes back to that smaller scale, right? You don’t want to say, “Oh, you have a week to complete an entire mural on the wall.” That’s ridiculous, right? Just making it authentic or realistic and I think a big piece of that is always remembering that for us, as teachers, it takes us, what is it, an eighth of the time it takes a student to do something. Sometimes we forget or things happen in the classroom or whatever that is, timeframe-wise. Maybe there’s a fire drill or something and then what? Then lastly, giving students the ability to curate maybe a portfolio of their best work, so that they can look back and decide what they want to be fully assessed on, right?

Maybe, they weren’t so good at linear perspective, but they were really good at portraiture and maybe they can still show you some really interesting mark making, for example, right? Let them pick and show off because by them doing that, they’re talking about their artwork, they’re making those connections and I think that learning is clearer to you, right?

Tim: Well, yeah. I think it’s clearer to them too because they have to put so much thought into what they’re doing and they can look back at their old stuff versus their new stuff. They can pick out what’s best. I think it makes it really evident for them too, which I think is really important.

Janet: How many times have we created an artwork after … Maybe you’ve done a ton of different artworks and felt really good about them and then made an artwork and then like, “Oh, this is total,” right? You don’t want to put that on. That’s just not fair, I feel like.

Tim: For sure.

Janet: I’m all about keeping the stress lower.

Tim: I think that’s good, but can we actually dive into the portfolio thing just a little bit too because I enjoyed the article on growth portfolios. I was hoping we could talk about those for just a minute. Can you maybe explain what growth portfolios look like for you and what they do for students and for their learning?

Janet: Growth portfolios have become the number one staple in my classes. I started building them one at a time and then I’m like, “Oh, this is actually really great.” Basically every class I teach has a growth portfolio that they start from day one. You don’t have to start it on day one, but that’s how I do it. Physically or logistically speaking, these can really look like anything. Now, over the years, I’ve really focused on more digital portfolios, especially now in time of COVID, this is really essential, right?

You could have physical portfolios, you could have them start from day one, you could have them curate the pieces like I mentioned, really any of that, but the idea is that the students are collecting and displaying artifacts of learning. They’re evidence of learning, evidence of growth. For me, that includes each part of the creative process. We break it down into four, plan, create, critique and refine is one and then reflect. Students have to find artifacts from each one of those. Then it could be also an artwork, but it also could be something smaller scale like something small [inaudible 00:16:10], or a skill that they’re learning, depending on the level.

Sometimes when the kids get up, higher in levels, I might have them focus in the beginning just on building skills. They’re just collecting a little bit of artifact from even just that skill, and then later, they’re showing how they’re applying that skill that they had. Then at the end, because I use this as my final exam, I have them do a much larger reflection, looking back over the semester or over their time with me. They really have to find evidence of how they learned a skill and how they applied it later and then also how they might take what they’ve learned and apply that later in life, whether that’s making another jewelry piece or it’s going on to be an engineering college or whatever that is, right?

I think these growth portfolios, obviously, I’m huge advocate for them, but they are so important for like multiple reasons. The first one is that students, as you mentioned earlier, they can literally see their own growth and learning over time. To me, that was really exciting because a semester, for example, is only a few months, but it feels like it’s years that is packed into a small amount of time. A lot of times students will create something and totally forget, “Oh, my gosh, I forgot that I did a nameplate in the beginning of the school year where I learned how to do a font and I never knew how to do that before.”

The fact that they can look back and actually see the expertise that they have gained and make those connections like, “Oh, wow, I had no idea that very first darkroom print I made is totally exposed and black and gray or whatever it is and now I can make multiple excellent prints,” or, “I focused on hearts and love in my first artwork and now I’m able to use symbolism in a different way to talk about concepts and ideas.” Just being able to identify those pieces is a huge piece of the growth portfolio. That’s number one, right? Then the second thing is that students are learning how to actually document their process and their end product. That puts it more back on them.

I am like a paparazzi in my classroom. I’m taking photos of kids working nonstop because I love it and I love showing that off, but to some extent, it’s not my responsibility to always photograph their end product. That’s a piece of being an artist too is learning how to document that. It’s in our international standards.

Tim: Exactly.

Janet: That’s a nice piece, right? You’re modeling and you’re teaching them to also value the process. Sometimes, our schools, our communities online, we often see the end product and we’re like, “Wow, look at that,” but we want to teach students that the process is just as important. By documenting it and being able to tell a story through that is part of that, right? The third thing is that they are low risk. Going back to our final exam assessments of keeping things chill, I want my students to feel like they have control over what they’re building and where they’re going, right? Students are talking about their process. They’re thinking about their learning.

That’s that metacognition piece that is happening daily. They’re able to identify what went well, what was challenging, how they overcame an obstacle, I often asked that question to them too like, “Show something was challenging, but can you identify how you overcame that obstacle?” That’s growth mindset and SEL right there. Then, how to take what they’ve learned, apply that to the next work, like I mentioned. In the meantime, they’re doing all of these pieces and I’m able to give them feedback for the entire semester on these growth portfolios, how to make it better. Let’s say, they write … We always get that, right? You have a question, “What went well?” and they’re like, “The shading.” You’re like, “Explain more.”

I don’t want to catch them in that at the end. I’d rather say, “Hey, this is great, but can you explain more?” so then they can have an opportunity to fix that and get better at that, so that when they’re actually submitting that as their final exam and that huge grade that weighs so much, it’s polished and it doesn’t feel so risky. Then, as I mentioned about being a paparazzi, this is my last little plug about this, but I like it because I also then get to have evidence of their learning in my possession, which I think is really important, right? I use it for social media to show off to my community because how often do we have that where, again, it’s snap a finger, “Oh, you’re so talented. You did this amazing masterpiece,” and you’re like, “No, we had to work really hard to get there.”

Tim: Right.

Janet: Being able to show that and especially remotely. I’m using that all the time, screen grabbing their portfolios as they’re submitting to show there’s a lot of work that’s happening, a good work that’s happening in remote learning. It’s not totally disengaged kids like people think, right? Then also, evaluations is a big one and you want to be able to provide that evidence. Administrator might come in your classroom once or on your Zoom call once and it’s really hard to see or really gather all the information that you’re doing in the classroom or building to get there. Having that evidence there is really, really great to provide to your administration, so they can literally see it.

Then lastly again, if you keep building these portfolios year after year, semester after semester, by the time my kid gets to be a senior and wants to put together a portfolio for college or scholarships or EP or whatever, you can say like, “Oh, yeah, remember that piece that you made back as a sophomore that was really, really great? Totally, you should toss that in there.” They don’t have to scrounge looking for images. It’s all a nice package ready to go.

Tim: Absolutely. I feel like I’ve had some old pictures that have saved a couple of AP portfolios. My kids are right on the brink and then you add in a couple of works …

Janet: You’re like, “Toss this in.”

Tim: … and it’s so much better. The other thing I was just saying is, especially for administrators who may or may not always understand everything that we do, it can be really effective to show them, “Hey, this is where the kid was at the beginning of the year,” and show them a picture of one of their drawings and then you show them, “We worked on this, this and this, and now, here’s their final work,” and they can see that development. It makes it really easy for admins to understand what we’re developing and what we’re doing in our room.

Janet: It takes away actually that pretest/posttest thing. It’s there. You don’t even need to give a multiple choice to show learning.

Tim: It’s much more natural, and like you said, much more authentic way to show our learning. Now, I also want to talk about social and emotional learning. I know that’s something you’re really interested in. You have written about it a lot. I want to ask you about two different things that you’ve written about that piqued my interest, the importance of visual journaling, and then secondly, how you can support SEL through choice. First, let’s chat about visual journaling. Ideally, what would that look like, a successful visual journaling practice? What would that look like in your classroom? How does that practice support social emotional learning for your kids?

Janet: Oh, my gosh, there’s so much to talk about, right? Visual journaling is not really something that I did with my students until maybe the last few years honestly, but I guess I would say this, visual journaling has become the trendy new word.

Tim: It’s hot.

Janet: Right, but I would say maybe I was always doing it, just not using that language, right? I’ve always been like this really huge big fan of sketchbooks. There’s always that debate, visual journal versus sketchbook. I use the words interchangeably. To me, I get the difference. A lot of people say sketchbooks more for like the planning only. I’m like, “Well, visual journal, sketchbook, whatever you want to call it is still could be used for any of that, right? It just looks a little different. Anyway, I love to give my students sketchbooks on day one, no matter what medium that they work in. If they’re ceramics, if they are sculpture, it doesn’t matter. Photography, a lot of times, my kids get to AP and they’re like, “Oh, I’m a photographer. I don’t sketch,” and I’m like, “No, that’s not what this is about.”

Anyway, I love to put them in their hands and I give them ownership on day one. Some teachers in the past have used sketchbooks and they’ll say, “Okay, here’s this 20-page sketchbook and you use this only for homework assignments that I’m going to give you weekly or whatever it is. I would give these sketchbooks to the kids and they’d be like, “Okay?” and I’d be like, “No, this is yours.” They’re like, “You mean we can do anything? I can put anything? It doesn’t have to be just my homework?” and I’m like, “No, this is yours. You get to put whatever you want in it.

I always do have that disclaimer that I’m a mandated reporter, right? I talked to them about, even at level one, freshman through senior, advanced, whatever, that, “Whatever goes in there, at any point, I could see it or an adult can see it and then we are responsible to find you the right supports and resources you need. That’s part of my job.” We talk about appropriate stuff to put in there too, right? “Obviously, you’re in school. If somebody else sees it in school or your parents, make sure your parents are okay with what you would put in there, right?”

Anyway, I give them that ownership on day one and I think that authentically or organically turns into a visual journal for them, right? It’s using the sketchbook in different ways, not just, “Oh, I’m planning an artwork, but I’m actually going to use it for meditative purposes or to explore media,” or whatever that is. “It’s your safe place to practice and not feel like there’s risk or you could do this amazing artwork and cut it out and it could be an artwork.” Sometimes I have students pull out the sketchbooks and I’d say, “Okay, we’re planning this artwork,” right?

Sometimes I’d say, “Okay, we’re researching and you’re jotting down notes.” Then other times, I have them pull them out and I start doing this guided exercise with them. It usually tends to be a time when students are stuck in their thought process, don’t really know where to go with their artwork or maybe there’s some traumatic stuff going on, both maybe personally, maybe in the classroom or in the school or whatever or maybe even globally and nationally, etcetera. Times when you can feel that energy that feels a little icky like kids are struggling or something’s going on. Then you do this safe practice guided with them so that they’re not just like sitting in there, unsure of what to do with their feelings, right?

A guided practice could be something like, “Okay, we’re all going to do blind contours of our hands today.” You say something like, “Okay, everybody does a blind contour drawing of their left hand or nondominant hand, I guess, and you’re going to fill up half of the page, right?” It’s a two page spread, let’s say. Then you say, “Okay, now turn your book to the side and you’re going to make a really small drawing of your shoe.” Basically, you’re giving them very guided structured prompts on what to observe, so that they’re not in their head. Then once they get out of that, then you can go, “Okay, now we’re going to do some stream of conscious writing. You’re just going to spend this … I’m going to set five minutes or 10 minutes, whatever it is. I’m going to play some classical music and you’re just going to write like whatever.”

I would sit there and I’d model it to them too like, “I just drink my coffee and I spilled it on my shirt. Oh, man, I just, I’m feeling a little upset about that. You know what?” and then I just start rambling and the kids are like, “What is coming?” but it’s modeling that, that it’s okay to just dump what’s in your brain. Then you’ve got other materials out and you start saying, “Okay, take some color pencil and choose a color and start shading the background of that.” Just basically giving them that structure in place to start … It’s a mindful meditation, I guess.

That’s one way I usually introduce it more into my level ones because they’re not used to doing that. They don’t-

Tim: They need some support to get started with those types of things.

Janet: Exactly. Now, as my kids, if I have more advanced kids, like my AP students for example, we use it for much more targeted specific needs. We’re really struggling with focus. We’re working on our sustained investigation and we have these ideas and I’m not really sure where to go or, “I feel like I’m drifting away from it,” me being the student, right? “I’m drifting too far from my sustained investigation.” “Let’s come back. Get focused. Give us some clarity. Maybe we’ll spend some time slightly guided with that or maybe we need time to release some energy and play and we need to try things like …” What’s a good one? Image transfers or something like that, right?

“Okay, now we’re just going to all play with this and the idea of layering,” or maybe my students are always using canvas and I really want them to think about alternative surfaces. This is a place that they can do it without feeling too nervous. How many times have you laid out materials and said, “Okay, we’re going to make a surface for a painting, so go for it,” and kids are like, “I don’t know what to pick?”

Tim: “What do you mean? Go for it.”

Janet: Exactly. This is their place. It’s, “Practice and feels safe.” I would say those are how I use visual journaling, but I would say this, as far as social and emotional is concerned, right? Obviously, the first example is a good example of that, but when sometimes you just feel like things are just so out of our control, it’s really hard to be creative. Sometimes it’s better, right? Sometimes it fuels our creativity, but other times, it’s like, “I can’t think straight. I have too many things on my mind. I’m upset. I can’t focus away from it.” In our art room, we already know our kids get that opportunity to navigate some of that, but in their sketchbook, in their visual journal, it’s a place for them to really relax and help them gain control and feel grounded over the craziness that’s going on.

I guess that’s what I like about that is that safe space. Then from there, sometimes too … In remote learning with my AP kids for example, we had started implementing it every week. At one point, I started saying, “Okay, who wants to share what they came up with or what they wrote about today or what they drew today?” I’d never want to put that on them because that’s very vulnerable, especially in their sketchbook or in their visual journal, that’s their safe space, but sometimes I’ll say, “Okay, I’m going to give you guys five minutes. If you want to share, share. If you don’t, we’ll just sit here and keep drawing or whatever it is.”

Students will start sharing and other kids will start to connect in a way that they didn’t see that other students like that before. They’ll start to say, “Oh, I didn’t realize that that student also is struggling with some of the same things. Maybe that’s a good idea. Now I realized that I might want to use some of that to feel my next art project because that’s what I’m interested in.” Sharing that personal stuff builds that sense of community that’s so important, especially with our situation.

Tim: Absolutely and just allowing kids to make those connections. They can be making work that the subject matter, they didn’t know somebody else was passionate about. Like you said, those things just build and that’s always incredibly helpful, especially when you are trying to make connections. While we’re on the subject of support and social and emotional learning, I wanted to talk a little bit about choice. I know you’re a huge proponent of offering choice in your classroom. I guess my question for you is, why do you think, or in your experience, how does offering more choice in your classroom support students social and emotional learning?

Janet: What is it? Like you said, choice has really transformed my teaching practice. I see benefits of choice on many levels, but when it comes to SEL, I think that’s really, really important. The difference though that, I guess, I don’t know. This sounds harsh or whatever, but I feel like choice has to be done right and I don’t mean it like there’s a right or wrong way to do choice, but I do mean that, like we were talking about that blank canvas or that like, “Here’s all the materials. Go for it,” if you just say, “Okay, I’m going to support my students with choice with SEL and I’m just going to let them create whatever they want because that feels so good for them,” that’s not going to benefit them at all because they’re going to be like, “What the heck? I don’t know what to do.”

You haven’t established safe space. You haven’t established community. You haven’t established confidence building through small skills, right? You have to get there. Of course, you’re going to have a few kids that always will do whatever and thrive on that. That’d be great, but I can’t even do that. It overwhelms me. I feel anxious. We don’t want to flood their emotional systems. We want to support their emotional system. The idea of choice, in the way that it supports SEL is really that you’re providing students to engage with what they’re interested in, what they’re passionate about. You’re building confidence, because they’re not comparing against each other about who were best, right?

It’s not like that. It’s like, “Oh, right. Yours is really cool. Mine’s really cool. I’m super inspired by you,” and then that builds camaraderie and confidence. It’s all about that kind of support between peers and individuals, right? The reason why I say right or wrong, whatever about delivering choice is really about focusing on that choice continuum. The choice continuum is that sliding scale that goes back and forth between more teacher directed, more student directed and everything in between, right? You need to be able to read your kids to know where that sliding scale should be at any given time.

Some kids might be in a different place on that continuum than others as well, but you need to know what emotional supports, you need to provide your students as you go and meet them where they’re at, right? Both technically and emotionally or conceptually, I say a lot of times technically and conceptually, but that’s emotionally too because a lot of times in choice too, you get students who are … Being a choice teacher, you’re more of a guide. You’re not telling them what to do. I think emotionally, that is very overwhelming for a lot of our kids when they are like, “But I need to know if this is right or wrong. I need to know what to do, where to go with this,” and you’re like, “What do you want to do? I can guide you. I can respond with questions and things like that.”

A student has to be emotionally ready for that and you need to know how to handle that right as you go. I guess going back to that choice continuum, right? I think a lot of teachers are offering choice they don’t think that they are, right? They’re like, “Oh, I’m not a choice teacher,” because a lot of times they confuse choice and tab or they see it as all in one end of the spectrum and that it’s not covering all of it. Teachers just need to identify where they are in with their teaching, right? You can give a teacher-directed project or assignment that has some choice and that’s still going to connect with your students social and emotional needs, right?

If you’re like, “Hey, I have this portrait project that I’m having you guys do,” and you say, “Which colors or how do you want to demonstrate that expression?” or whatever that is, those little pieces are still going to start building supports for your students to know, “Oh, I can make those decisions and I’m not going to fail. Even if I do, I can do it again. It’s not a big deal,” or, “That’s part of learning.” Giving your students that structure and giving them consistency and routine is going to be where the social and emotional wellbeing is going to come into place. If you don’t give that in the beginning, that’s where you’re going to struggle.

I actually found that this semester with remote learning, I actually had to rein in my choice a lot more than I normally would, right? It’s not easy to intervene quickly with remote learning. It’s really best or it has been more successful for me to keep things as consistent as possible and providing more choice when it comes to extension opportunities or intervention needs and looking at it more of those being the choice options. The other thing, a great way to integrate that choice especially now, is through ideation, maybe less in the technical side because again if you can’t … Sometimes the nuances of teaching, as we all have found, have been a struggle with, “I can’t do a hand over hand and I can’t show it in pencil pressure and I can’t do that.”

Sometimes you might have to actually let go of some of the technical expectations right now. Sometimes not, right? I’ve seen some pretty amazing stuff in remote learning on social media right now, but you might have to say, “It’s okay,” and maybe we’re going to keep everything technical the same, so that I can support the best I can and then maybe I’ll give a more open-ended conceptual prompt, so that students get to more explore those ideas in new and unique ways. An extension choice could be something like, “Okay, well, that’s great. Did you think about using this material to demonstrate your idea? If you have it at home, why don’t you add that in there? Once we get to this point in this lesson, I now know you want to explore to add on in some of these more personal and meaningful ways,” so maybe picking some of those options or opportunities for those kids or even being open to letting a student try something out.

Instead of saying, “No, we’re just doing it this way right now,” if a kid says, “Well, I want to integrate this into my practice because I have it at home,” maybe saying, “Why not?” and see what happens. That’s really building that critical thinking and that growth mindset, even in distance learning, right?

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s incredibly valuable. That always has been one of my guiding principles like, “Don’t say no to kids.” Well, sometimes they have terrible ideas, but for the most part, figure out how to make it work and that’s going to keep your kids more engaged. Like you said, it’s going to have more meaning for them. It’s going to be more personal work. I think that’s always something valuable that we can help develop. We’ve been talking for way too long, so let’s go ahead and finish with one more thing.

Janet: I’m sorry, I can’t help it.

Tim: We can go ahead and wrap it up here. I have one last question for you. We started the show talking about 2020. I want to take a minute and try and be more optimistic, look ahead. What do you think is going to come to us in 2021? What do you think might change? What do you think we have to look forward to this year?

Janet: That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

Tim: Yes.

Janet: If only I had a globe that I could see the future. When we talked last time, it was the beginning of the school year and we were chatting about rethinking education and being creative. Here’s what I’m feeling. I’m feeling like hopeful. I think I’m feeling hopeful. That’s where I’m going with this, right? This year, in general, has really exposed and highlighted a lot of problems that lurk in many of our existing systems and that is education inclusive, right? I’m hopeful that we can take some more serious interest and investment in finding ways to think outside the box to address issues that are there, that we’re able to point out, right?

I think remote and hybrid learning have really highlighted ways in which students struggle. We knew that going into it, but we also have noticed that some students who struggled in the classroom actually are thriving in remotes and hybrid, right? It’s just really not a one-size-fits-all solution. Nothing really, really ever is, right? I think the other thing is we’ve seen a lot of inequities that we already knew existed, but they’re pretty glaringly obvious now. It’s almost like you just can’t ignore them anymore. It feels like actually a hopeful or exciting time for me. Maybe, that’s the optimist in me that is deep inside there, but it feels like a really good time to reevaluate what education in general should look like and what we value as educators, right? In art education, I feel like this is the time for us to lead the way.

Tim: Yes, this is what we do.

Janet: Right? We have to set some boundaries. We have to be careful of ourselves and take care of ourselves, but at the same point, it’s like, “This is what we do.” Like you said, we help others think outside the box. This is exactly why art education is so important, is teaching kids to be problem finders and creative problem solvers, right? That’s all we teach them all the time, right? Now more than ever, that’s what we need. It’s really our responsibility to support our students in the classroom and also how to consider creative purposes in life, how are we going to work together to get through this and make things better. I think EJ Caffaro’s article was really spot on about our central role in education, in art education.

There’s just so much to talk about with this. Like you said, we’ve talked too much, but I would say this, I’ll leave you on this, I do strongly believe that the landscape of education, art education, but education in general, I really think it’s changed forever right now, whether we like it or not. I think this is an opportunity for us as art educators to grab hold and do something with this or we can sit by and see what happens, but I’d rather be an integral piece in finding the new path.

Tim: Absolutely and I think we, as our teachers, are uniquely positioned to be part of that conversation, so cool. Well, Janet, thank you so much. It’s been awesome talking to you. Hopefully, we can get you back on the show again soon.

Janet: I’ll promise not to talk as much next time.

Tim: Oh, no, it’s good. I enjoyed the entire conversation, so thank you. We’ll talk to you soon.

Janet: All right, thanks, Tim.

Tim: Thank you to Janet for coming on, for taking the time to chat and to share all of her ideas. I think we can close with one last point. Janet said this way back at the beginning in the conversation. I think there’s one silver lining that we can take from this incredibly difficult year. A lot of teachers have started to realize where their limits are. We have simplified. We have set boundaries for ourselves. We have paid more attention to our mental health. We’re not in a better place. As Janet said, it’s all relative, but we do have more tools in our toolbox and we are better able to take care of our students and more importantly, better able to take care of ourselves and that can only help us moving forward.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.