Pedagogy and Method
My philosophy of education comes from strong personal beliefs in how students learn, the types of experiences they need, and the environment that is most conducive to furthering their education. I have been a life-long student, taught at a number of different levels, and developed a series of educational dispositions that are relative to those various experiences. Pressed to condense my experiences and beliefs into a manageable list, the overriding principles that guide my instructional practice would be knowledge and passion for art, reflective practice as a way to make meaning of experiences in life, the belief in manipulation of materials as a way to understand our world, and the and the conviction that we all need someone who truly believes that we can achieve something wonderful.
Working with pre-service teachers and graduate students, I find that my experiences in the classroom – both as a university instructor as well as a public school teacher – have informed my instructional practice. In higher education, students sometimes view educational theory as being distant from practical application. The transfer of theoretical approach to classroom practice does not come automatically; anecdotal examples from a real classroom are helpful in illustrating how concepts are realized in 'the real world.' The years of experience I have in the classroom – mistakes and all – populate those theories with real faces, with actual situations that beginning educators may find themselves in, and allow students to see that there are actual events in the classroom that reflect the learning theory that may feel quite remote. A student in EDSS450A Curriculum & Methods in Art (fall 2010) said, “I really liked that Laurie has a lot of experience in the public school system, she actually has experience and knows what she’s talking about.”
My passion for artmaking has been the core of my educational practice in the classroom, in introducing the deep satisfaction and understanding of the world with students, both in the K-12 classroom as well as those who will go on to teach their own students. Grounding in the skills of making art, the knowledge of art history, and an ongoing dialogue with aesthetic and critical examination of art on a personal basis has guided my introduction of art and art education in higher education. Being a practicing artist is never far from my own mind, and keeping in mind that singularly unique facet that the discipline of art has, that magical act of creating something where there once was nothing guides my approach in the classroom.
My reflective practice is strongly tied to my own art production, and using reflective visual journals is an integral part of the coursework in the educational methods classes that I teach. Incorporating artifacts as well as relating stories of classroom behavior, emotional ups and downs, 'aha' moments of both students and self – all these facets of the teaching day are put together on the page, allowing students to step back and analyze their actions, the actions of their own students, and what they may have learned from a situation. A lesson isn't complete until it becomes part of a larger core set of knowledge, and to that end, reviewing the material covered in class in personally meaningful ways is part of the educational process. In the classroom, I encourage my students to reflect on their experiences in an artful fashion with journaling assignments. I challenge my students to view this assignment as an opportunity to create an artistic record, using a variety of art media to re-examine their observations and visually rework their experiences in the classroom. I offer students a variety of book-making options and shared a number of visual journals, both my personal journal work as well as the sketchbooks of visual arts professionals so that they could choose an approach that fit their expressive style. The variety of approaches that were presented at the end of the semester was an indication that each student took this challenge in a personal way.
My belief about learning is that a physical activity will make lessons more memorable and meaningful, and my teaching style incorporates movement or material manipulation as often as possible. While there are times when a lecture is necessary, a hands-on activity can be transformative. An example of this would be the approach I developed in looking at course readings, which can often be theoretical in approach. Students often struggle to process theory in meaningful ways. I developed a number of ways that students would create art in response to the readings – through making simple structures, by drawing or painting, by using objects as metaphor, and by developing games – in order to better translate the theoretical approach into something tangible that they could “play” with. In this way, we had much more meaningful discussions about the articles rather than simple summarizing; I felt they were able to have a deeper reading of the theory by translating it through material manipulation. In addition, making teacher samples, which are visual examples of what they write lesson plans for, students more thoroughly understand the ways they must be more explicit in their writing. In Art 407 – Art Practicum, students create a number of artworks that will be usable in their future classrooms as teacher samples, and one student (Fall 2013) identified “the variety of projects introduced and being able to approach learning in a hands-on approach” as the item most valuable to their learning in this course.
My role as an educator is to provide a balance between presenting art problems as approachable and continuing to push higher goals for student performance. In my experience, students will reach the goals you set for them as long as they believe it is possible – and that requires that I believe in them. One means to that end is often to break up a large project into smaller, more manageable aspects. Smaller scale practice builds confidence, and a willingness to continue despite setbacks allowed us to experience failure without being devastated. Some students require more support than others, and one way that I provide that support is through accessibility – my students know they will get a quick response to email or phone contacts, and I am available on a regular basis outside of the regular classroom meetings for one-on-one instruction if necessary. In Art 305: Art Disciplines through New Technology (a class that is a challenge for many of our tech-phobic students) one student commented, “Having a teacher who was willing to explain things more than once and willing to work with you one on one” as the one item that contributed most to their learning.
Teaching, to me, is a joyful challenge of finding the materials, methods, and inspiration that encourages and engages my students in finding meaning in their lives, to understand and interact in knowledgeable ways with the world, and to inspire others.