While Jonah Lehrer has definitely failed in grand form in very noteworthy ways, one way that he didn't fail was in his chapter about how Pixar does the amazingness that they do not only in the big pictures (no pun intended) but just as much on the daily that no doubt makes each of those big pictures that they churn out so gosh darn successful every single time. A myriad of things contribute to their success and while I can't do all of them - like, centralizing the location of the bathrooms to promote a guarantee that each person working will have the greatest probability of crossing paths with as many other people/coworkers as possible in the midst of their daily work flow - I CAN make one thing happen in my classroom. And that is: A serious commitment to doing (essentially) formative assessments and critiques (both peer and self) of student work and performance FREQUENTLY and CONSISTENTLY.
Now, Pixar is known for having exemplary visual design, illustration, and animation in ALL of their products - be it full-length pictures or animated shorts. While they easily have the "best in the biz" working for them that would certainly cull and employ expert skill, technique, and knowledge for any given task, where they do it right isn't based solely within that. They don't rely on their obvious talents. Why? Because the only way to remain talented is to keep pushing yourself AND your talents to keep sharp enough to cut any competition down to smaller size. That's where the frequent and consistent formative assessments and critiques come into play.
According to Mr. Lehrer, one of the big things that Pixar does that ensures they are always #winning (Yes. I DID just do that!) is by regularly and FREQUENTLY gathering in order to tear apart each others work and design so that it can be put together again in a way that could never be argued to be anything less than THE. BEST. version of itself possible. Even if it takes tireless rehashing of something that doesn't work, that's what they do in order to make it work. Their ultimate goal is to find every and anything that might need tweaked or outright fixed and FIX IT. They do this by putting their work up for all of their colleagues to see and then having seriously critical and analytical discussions about what does and doesn't work for each piece of work. At times they are brutally honest and though it is reported that feelings have been hurt with some of feedback offered, what they do is SO much an integral part of their creative process that pretty much everyone is used to it and they see it less as a tool to be cut out by and more as a tool that is helping them cut from something - whether it is bad design and/or idea or it is cutting the roughness of in order for them to be polish worthy to become (for lack of better way of putting it) DIAMOND-quality type products.
Now, I'm not in the business of multi-gazillion dollar animated films. However, I would argue that what I am in the business of - shaping the hearts and minds and guiding the hands of the individuals who will one day be holding the collective fate and success (or not) of our world - well, what I do is a whole heck of a lot more incredible than trying to top the last blockbuster animated film. (Maybe I'm biased? Whatever. I maintain my position.)
So how does this apply to art education? Well, my thinking is if Pixar can do that and find the incredible success that they find on a regular and continuing basis - and I don't just mean the obvious success but more in their success of being on the cutting edge of visual creativity - why can't I institute this into my own classroom for the sake of my own students' success with their artworks?
Related to all of that, I have some huge confessions to make related to my own failures as a teacher:
- I am TERRIBLE at doing regular and consistent assessments of any and all student work.
- I have rarely (OK, never really - I said it) done peer critiques.
- I have a very general and non-specific grading rubric I give at the beginning of any course I teach but I don't really use it and I also don't really use a specific grading rubric for specific projects even if I do verbally communicate what the "general" idea/learning objective is for any given project.
- The timeliness of the feedback in the form of grades that I provide? Uhmmm it starts out reasonably timely but it doesn't take long until you could say it takes me forever and not be exaggerating. You might even be able to call me late to my own funeral. Seriously. (SHAMEFUL)
Now, the aforementioned isn't said in pride in what I am guilty of in the least. Rather, I am reporting it in order to confess of my own sinfulness so that I can receive forgiveness for what I have done and ultimately redeem myself and seek reconciliation by doing something different that isn't so incredibly shameful and failing to be an adequate teacher to my beloved students. And now that that's out of the way, let's get on with me being oriented toward being a solution versus being the root of the problem.
Each of my students did a quick project (intended to serve as a formative assessment for me to draw direction from and gauge where each of them stands with their abilities and understandings) and on Friday I had each of them do a brief presentation of their work (inspiration behind what they did, techniques they used, etc. etc.) as well as a self-critique and a peer critique. They were required to use the sentence starter "This piece is SUCCESSFUL/UNSUCCESSFUL because... [enter something constructive with specific terminology that does NOT relate to how they liked something because it was their favorite color or the like]"
|One of the pieces that was presented at today's round of critiques. Not bad for a class and a half of working time!|
|One of my students in the midst of her first critique session ever!!|
I know. I KNOW. Pretty much, I'm late to my own funeral by taking three years to FINALLY do this type of thing in class. Let's not dwell on me being an epic failure of an art teacher before though. Let's instead recognize that my failures are a thing of the past and from here on out I am going to be doing critiques like this OFTEN and CONSISTENTLY for both works-in-progress (WiPs) as well as finished pieces. Why? Because doing it this way will do the following:
- Help to teach AND model conscientious working and creative processing
- Regularly employ and practice the use of vocabulary of the elements of art and principles of design
- Provide the opportunity to bounce and springboard ideas within the largest pool of creative minds possible vs. just allowing the students to limit their proximity of creative inspiration to their immediate classmates/best friends that they might be working alongside