Tag: Critical works

Middle School Redo and Role Models

Critical Works

My name is Alvin White, and I am a Teaching Artist at the Columbus Museum of Art. Imagine walking into a middle school classroom and you’ve become the star of 6th, 7th and 8th grade. Students are high-fiving you, asking you questions about art and interested in learning about you. This is completely different from my middle school experiences, actually the opposite. For me to have the chance to redo middle school has been a huge opportunity to learn how to reshape thinking for the betterment of others by talking about complex social issues that are relevant to the students’ lives.

I was the teaching artist this past year for Pressing Matters and Critical Works, programs the Museum conducts with Central and Southeastern Ohio middle schools that lack arts programs. CMA staff brings authentic, socially charged works of art to the classroom to engage students in an interdisciplinary learning experience. Students explore social issues relevant to their own lives and communicate their concerns through creative expression and experimentation.

Pressing Matters

Although teaching about art and social issues is part of my job, I am also indirectly teaching about something else: the importance of an effective black male artist in the classroom. Every time I start a program, I re-learn that seventh and eighth grade students are much smarter than we give them credit for. Students are able to pick up on the significance that I am an one of the few examples of a black male teacher within the building, maybe the only creative black role model they have encountered.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

-Alvin White, CMA Teaching Artist for School and Teen Initiatives

Critical Thinking & Art

What would you say if someone asked you, “What really matters to you?” It seems like that might be a straightforward question, but take a moment to think about it. Now think about what you might have said when you were in the 7th grade …

This is the second year I’ve had the opportunity to co-teach with the social studies teachers at the Columbus Collegiate Academy. This small charter school serves around 100 middle school students from Columbus’s urban center. Due to a generous grant from Chase Bank, we have been able to partner with this school and create a program entitled “Critical Works” that utilizes art to foster critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.

We start by asking the students what critical thinking looks like. What do you do when you are being critical? When you are thinking? One student responded, “I hear the root word ‘critic,’ so you’re being a critic and forming an opinion.” To my question about thinking one student said, “You are expanding your view of the world.” Throughout my time with the teachers and students at CCA, I have considered myself a co-learner. As I ask the students to think, form an opinion, question, take risks, I am doing this along side them as a teacher. We bring a selection of prints to the school that deal with social issues such as inequality, poverty, oppression and race relations. I was impressed with the connections the students were able to make to historical events, literature, and our modern culture.

If you haven’t heard Steve Johnson’s TED talk, “Where Good Ideas Come From” it is worth a look. He explains how ideas come from conversation … not in isolation. I can see this in the classroom when the students are debating and analyzing the art works. When looking at Thomas Hart Benton’s print entitled “Jessie and Jake,” the discussion went from Little Red Riding Hood, to child abduction to No Child Left Behind.

The students are asked to make a statement about a social issue that really matters to them. It surprised me that these students had very little trouble coming up with issues that they cared about. One student wrote about the ways African-Americans are portrayed negatively in the media. Other students chose issues such as gang violence, bullying, and immigration. The teachers held class debates and we spent time brainstorming, discussing the issues and gathering research.

For the final project the students created hand-printed flags that make a statement about their social issue. We asked students to consider words and symbols that would communicate their message, and also where they would install their flag to have the greatest impact.

When we asked Catera where she wanted to install her flag about HIV AIDS, her reply was, “Well, at first I told my mom I was going to put it on her car … but she said I wasn’t going to put it on her car, so I’ll put it on my dad’s car.”

Well, art is often controversial so I take that as a measure of success.

Over the past 18 months, in preparation for opening CMA’s new Center for Creativity (on Jan. 1, 2011), the entire education staff immersed ourselves in research on creativity, particularly what is necessary to cultivate creativity.  Musings from the Center for Creativity is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts on this topic.  Please share your views and resources with us, as well.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Emily Reiser, Educator for Family Programs