This is the third installment in “This Week in Kindergarten.” We are following Stacy Glowacki’s class at Washington Elementary School in Janesville. This week we’ll be looking at art education and how it plays a role in literacy and higher-order thinking skills.
In other news, Jax thinks orange is a “bad color.” Students learned a story can begin with pictures. Everyone started their first book. Jonelyn’s book starts with a picture of her dog. We also learned that rain means indoor recess. And indoor recess means everybody is squirrely in the afternoon.
Gee Gee Jannene might have the largest art classroom in the Janesville School District.
It’s located at the end of a long hall in the basement of Washington School. But the location means she has enough room for seven different stations, each representing a different artistic medium or activity.
The classroom’s stations or “centers” are reflection of Jannene’s philosophy of art education: This is not just a classroom, it’s a studio.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, students from Stacy Glowacki’s kindergarten class were in the studio for 60 of their 90 minutes of weekly art time.
For the first 10 minutes of class, Jannene explained the day's project. Using paper crimpers and paper punches that made a variety of shapes, they would punch out or crimp construction paper. Then, they would use those pieces to make collage. Soon, the carpet in front of Jannene transformed from kindergartners sitting nicely to a squirming mass of artists, ready to get to work. When Jannene released them, they took off—but not necessarily to work on the collage.
That’s the rule in Jannene’s classroom: Students can work on the project she presented, or they can pick another station. But whatever they pick, they have to stick with it. Here’s why: Thoughtful, focused work that allows for mistakes and second chances is a big part of what it means to be a student and an artist, Jannene said.
Joseph, for example, had trouble with the paper crimper. He turned the knob one way, and the paper fell out. But it was difficult to turn the knob the other way and hold the little machine still at the same time. Sure, he had to get a little help from an adult, but nobody did it for him.
Blaine used a paper punch that made puzzle-piece shapes. Instead of using the puzzle pieces for the collage, he used the paper he had cut them from--sort of like a photo negative. Mycah cut out circles, then used the paper he had cut them from to make a bridge. The circles became cars.
The national standards for kindergarten art include learning about lines and shapes, creating art from the students’ own experiences and talking about what they’ve made, Jannene said.
“There’s a lot of standards, but to refine them it’s about creating, presenting and interpreting,” Jannnene said.
"Creating" doesn’t mean making something perfect.
Jannene seems to embrace that idea.
“I’m much more about process than product, as you can see,” Jannene said.
In the Janesville School District, classes such as art, gym or music are referred to as “specials” because they don’t happen every day.
But what students learn in those classes supports brain development needed for reading, writing and other subjects, said Kristen Monday, UW-Whitewater program coordinator for art education licensure and associate lecturer in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
“There’s a lot of integration with literacy,” Monday said.
Learning to write, for example, involves fine-motor skills. Those skills are developed or enhanced through holding crayons or paint brushes, squeezing the paper punch or turning the knob on the paper crimper.
“Those are all prewriting skills,” Monday said. “If they get their fingers all nice and strong with scissors , squeezing glue, squeezing clay—it will be easier for them write later, because those muscles are already strong.”
Art helps with the brain development, too.
“It helps them become writers later because they can create an image before they can write a story," Monday said. "They create the image first, and then we help them write from that.”
It seems obvious, but students need to know that they are capable of such work, and a single image can launch a story.
Mycah’s bridge is a good example.
“In his head, there’s already a dialogue going on about his bridge," Monday said. “That’s the start of the story.”
Art develops problem-solving skills and the higher-order thinking that goes along with it, Monday said.
“There’s a lot of decision making going on,” Monday said. “What color paint are they going to use, which way the brush is going to go, where are they going to start, where are they going to stop--they're constantly making decisions."
In Jannene’s classroom, she showed them some examples of collage work, but she didn’t tell them what kind of scene to make, or where any of the pieces were supposed to go. As a result, some students made specific scenes, while other made choices that appeared random. But if you asked them about their work, they could explain it.
Monday encouraged parents to talk to their children about the art they bring home from school. Instead of asking, “What is it?” use nonjudgmental statements or questions, such as “I see you used a lot of colors” or “I like these wavy lines,” or “Tell me about this.”