Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Art is Messy and Teaching is Art

My grandmother had this piece of art that hung in her house forever. It was a tree branch with delicate leaves made out of metal. It was painted delicate shades of green and blue (which matched the shag carpeting in her house). The piece has to be over forty years old.

When it came time for my grandmother to move out of her house, she was getting rid of most of her possessions; she planned to live with one of her children and would not have space for the items that currently occupied her 5-bedroom ranch house. Those of us who lived within driving distance were invited to take any items we wanted that she planned to get rid of - coffee tables, chairs, dining room tables, desks, etc. 

I only wanted two things. 
The piano.
And the tree art.

I had grand ideas of hanging the tree art in my house above the piano, where it could be enjoyed by my child, until it was time for it to be passed down again. After all, doesn't everyone want a 5-foot metal tree in their house?

When I brought the tree into our new house, I assumed that a quick dusting and some drywall screws would be all we needed to hang it. Upon further inspection, I couldn't have been more wrong. 
In my child's mind, the tree was a white birch, with delicate blue and green leaves. In the daylight, it was now a yellowed, hazy, dirt-encrusted, smelly lump of metal. Years of smoking and neglect had ruined the beauty that the art had once had. The task of cleaning and restoring was more than I could tackle.

It's been in the crawlspace for three years.

Yesterday, I got it out. I have grand plans.  I went to the art store and bought new primer and paint. I like to play make-believe and pretend. Sometimes, I pretend I know how to do art.

In my pretend art world, I know that I have to remove the old paint before I can start with the new, beautiful colors I picked out. Fortunately, I found this amazing spray-on paint stripper. You spray it on and wait (that's the hard part) and then wipe the paint off. It sort of works! At least, it works better than attempting to sand off all the paint, which was my original plan.

As I've been sitting in my garage, breathing the toxic fumes from the can, I've been thinking about how much of teaching is like this piece of art. No, not yellowed, hazy and smelly, but that every year we get a chance to start all over again. Every fall, we get to take off the old layers of what has been there before and start with new grand plans. Every fall, we can change what used to be into something better, something more spectacular. 

And, if it doesn't work out how we hoped, that's ok! We can use a little more of the spray-on paint stripper and start over the next day. I'm terrified of actually painting the art once I get the old paint off. It's not like I actually know what I am doing; I'm still playing pretend. But, once I realized how easy it was going to be to use the spray-on paint stripper, I knew I could give anything a try. 

Teaching is the same way. Give it a try. If the lesson doesn't go as planned, or you really don't like the outcome, just start over the next day (or the next hour). It's the only way to make art.


The original art in its natural form. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Now, I'm a Believer

I'm sad to say even a year ago, I didn't see graphic novels as 'real literature'. When students would want to read them, I didn't necessarily scoff or forbid it, as I understand the importance of gateway reading, but I certainly didn't go out of my way to read them myself.
I didn't promote them.
And I most certainly didn't recommend that a child read one of those!

As my two-year-old would say, "So sad, mommy. So sad."

And she's right. This is the best way to describe how I feel about these lost opportunities. I'm hooked and frankly a bit obsessed. While certainly not all graphic novels are created equal, there are many good ones out there. The text and illustrations work together beautifully for students to comprehend and infer the author's story.

Of course, just like picture books, not all graphic novels are meant for all age groups. Just because there are more pictures does not mean that the content and story line will appeal (or be understood) by everyone.

But, there are so many good ones. Here are a few of my favorites.


Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson


El Deaf by Cece Bell


Primates by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks


March: Book One by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin