When I found out I’d be teaching art, I figured I would be coming up with different projects each week, telling kids to have a blast, and standing back to see beautiful things created before my eyes. I was right about the last — these kids draw, paint, and sculpt some marvelous works of art. However, I was wrong to assume that I would be planning or leading anything at all; I was also very much mistaken in thinking I had any sort of art knowledge whatsoever.
I ate a big ol’ piece of humble pie my first day in Ken’s classroom when I realized that he is an artist and an instructor of art, whereas I am a teacher who has some decent ideas for “cute projects.” Ken is a Thai guy, probably in his late 40s. He is fluent in English, and he demands that students speak English during art class, since our students are part of the International Program. Sometimes he says the wrong word or pronounces it incorrectly, and the students are quick to correct him. While he has a semblance of control over his students, I fear that with any rebellious kids (or any of about 95% of my 5th grade class at Dahl last year), chaos would likely ensue. But overall, the kids respect him as an artist and an expert in helping them with their own artistic endeavors.
For the entire first semester (which just ended on Oct. 5), I assisted alongside another assistant, a Thai teacher named Kittiasak. Ken is terribly talented, and as a trained artist, he teaches students about specific pencil strokes for drawing, the intricacies of color mixing, techniques for holding different paintbrushes, tips for sculpting with potters’ clay, and he stretches all students to their artistic edges. I respect and admire his commitment to demanding that all students reach his very high expectations. He knows that not every kid can be a Van Gogh or an MC Escher, but he knows when a child is not doing his or her best. For instance, he would never accept a piece of art which has any white paper or clay showing. “I still see white…” I hear myself echoing him now. Below, you can see a sort of rubric he used to show the IP2 kids how he graded their artwork. I have some reservations about grading the quality of art, but when he’s really just graded them on their effort, both behaviorally in class and as shown by their art, I can see its benefit. Kids understand that in order to get full credit, they need to show that they are using the new techniques Ken has shown them, which ensures that as they progress through weeks and years in his class, they are continuing to apply new learning.
Teaching IP1-12, he is a busy guy who rarely accepts much help from me (I practically had to beg him to let me help him do his progress reports). I assist when he teaches IP2, IP3, and my own IP6 homeroom class. Assisting generally involves being the children’s art servants. I refill dirty paint water buckets; I sharpen pencils; I gather materials; I retrieve a “better” black pen (all drawings must first be done in pencil, then traced over with black pen, then pencil lines erased). I try to insist on some manners during these times of my servitude. I don’t want these kids to think that I’m just another maid who is at their beck and call (as the school maids and their house maids surely are).
I love to see evidence that Ken’s lesson-planning is entirely spiral. In the beginning of the year when he taught about patterns, IP2 was working on filling in an outline of a teddy bear with creative patterns (“I don’t want to see all the same pattern all over the bear! Don’t make it boring!” he yelled, in a nice way.), and IP6 was working on making line patterns that make an object look 3D. When the younger grades were making little clay ocean creatures, IP6 was using pottery clay to sculpt scary devils for Halloween (yes, we’re doing Halloween here!). In a school where it is the norm for kids to do K-12 in the same place, spiral curriculum really works. They’ve used the same techniques every year since kindergarten, and every year more detail and more sophistication is added on, so by the time they’re in IP12, they can do amazing things. For instance, I recently attended a fashion show put on by some IP12 fashion designers and went to an art show by another IP12 student who used oil paint on canvases to display her interpretations of the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Incredible.
Part II will be about the art, the kids, the collaboration, and the marbles….