Join author, educator and speaker Cathy Hunt as she chats with Matt and Laura about the impact of the arts in the classroom. From technology to critical thinking skills, the arts effect every corner of student learning.
Laura: Well, I’m Laura. And this is Matt Grundler. And this is the Creatively Connected Classroom. Today, we’re here welcoming our friend Cathy Hunt from Australia.
Laura: Really excited to have her. She has come in a whole day ahead of us, I think, right?
Matt: From the future.
Laura: From the future, as she always says.
Cathy: [inaudible 00:00:47] than it actually is.
Laura: So, Cathy, I feel very privileged to know you. I think that you’re one of the leading advocates of creativity in education today.
Matt: You’re awesome.
Laura: And there’s so much that I want to ask you today. But to start with, will you just tell us a little bit about who you are, what your educational experiences have been. I know you do so many different things, and our audience would love to hear about it.
Cathy: No worries. It’s always a bit daunting when that’s the starting point. It’s really hard to encapsulate what it is I do now. Which is fun, right? I’m a teacher by day. Doesn’t that make it sound interesting? I work at the beautiful Saint Hilda’s School on the Gold Coast, and I’m really fortunate to be teaching Visual Arts there, as well as Design Technology and working with a lot of fantastically creative young people.
Cathy: And then I get to travel the world in the school holidays and deliver lots of fantastic professional learning experiences for people that are super enthusiastic when you get out the pom poms and the pipe-cleaners and the playdoh and often a lot of iPads too. One of my passions is building resources, lots and lots of free things to support teachers in what I think is quite a difficult context at the moment. Certainly a period of really rapid change and so I’ve found myself really talking a lot recently about something that I’m calling “tradigital” approaches to visual art where we kind of talk about the benefits of bringing technology into our classroom spaces and the world in.
Cathy: So it’s a wonderful time. I’m certainly loving the journey and thanks so much for having me on the show.
Laura: Well it’s amazing to have you.
Laura: So you’ve taught every grade level I think. Is that right? Every one from Pre-K up to-
Laura: 12 … Well I don’t really know what you call it in Australia, but all the way through university, correct?
Cathy: Yeah, so we love calling it Kindie.
Laura: Oh. Kindie. I like that.
Cathy: Yeah, the kindie’s are three years old through to four-and-a-half here in general. And then we’ve got Prep, which you guys are calling elementary and all kinds of different things. In Asia they sometimes call it Foundation Reception, like that. At the end of the day, I teach whoever the heck they put in front of me.
Matt: Whoever shows up. I’d better go.
Cathy: And what I’m saying, sometimes the kindie’s are more coherent than my first years are. I’m sure they wouldn’t-
Matt: No, I’d agree.
Laura: Well that’s, I mean, going back to the chat, that’s one of the things we love about you is that we called the chat K-12 Art Chat because we wanted it to be this really fluid experience for teachers to know that creativity and art is something that, it’s for every age level, and hopefully until you die. I mean that as nicely as possible but that we should be creating forever. From the time we’re little ones till the time we’re old and ancient and that’s something we should never lose. And yet we see that kids seem to lose that sense of wonder and creativity somewhere along the way.
Laura: And so I do think it’s really cool that you’ve taught all the age levels and I guess my question in all of that is to say what are your thoughts about making sure to maintain that sense of wonder and creativity for kids?
Cathy: Yes, there’s a few really great points from that isn’t there? The first one is that I love, genuinely love being able to have a conversation with a three year old on the same day as I may speak to somebody that’s 40 and just beginning an educational journey at school in that setting. And you know what, I can’t really tell you that I learn more, myself, from one of those groups of people than another. It’s really fantastic how much they inform each other. And yet in our schools, we’re so separated. And I often think how fantastic it would be to really have so much more flexibility across the e-levels.
Cathy: I know that so many schools are looking at that, but actually finding a space where that is happening authentically is quite rare. It’s the simple things like how you break down a concept. It’s so important when you’ve got a three year old who’s just needing something pared down and needing the causes and the gaps and the spaces to work into themselves. What you don’t say is critical.
Cathy: And yet I’ll often work with teachers who are in senior education and 90% of the dialogue is coming from the teacher in those instances at times. And you just think, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work together across the curriculum. Kindergarten teachers. Teachers of Year 12 students and really share that knowledge a bit more. And I really think too, that that piece that you were saying about losing creativity, is an interesting one because some much of it I think is actually more about the curiosity piece. It almost comes before, if you like, the creativity, in that with many students we don’t have to give them any prompts. In fact, boredom is so wonderfully related to creativity and curiosity. They will go there on their own at a very young age, and yet as we go through school, sometimes it’s the setting and the structure around the curiosity that means that some students don’t feel as comfortable asking questions, or about acknowledging that they don’t know something.
Cathy: And in those kind of moments, if a teacher doesn’t find a way to allow the student to be curious, the creativity is never going to come from there, if you know what I mean? So we’re talking a lot about creativity but actually most of the time I find that we’re talking about relationships. And if, really, the space in our classrooms is about forming relationships with students where they’re able to be curious, the creativity comes back. It isn’t gone. It isn’t dead forever if they exit particular spaces in our schools.
Cathy: It can come back. And so that’s a, I think, more optimistic and possibly much more helpful space to think about for our teachers rather than this idea that we’re killing curiosity or killing creativity. It’s there. It can lie dormant but gee, a fantastic teacher can really help with their environment and their relationships to just bring that space to the students.
Matt: I would strongly agree with that. I don’t think it’s necessary that it’s … I think it’s going away. I think it’s seeming to be smaller and I think that has to do with that piece of making time, allowing them to be that, and I think that’s …
Laura: Well, I think in the US and I certainly don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but the United States, the idea of these assessments that we have that are so standardized and we’re teaching to the test or what feels like we’re teaching to test. And we have these content things that we have to get done by a certain day. It almost takes away for the teacher’s ability to bring out that curiosity and that wonder. They feel this tightness, that there’s not time to play. There’s not time to not hammer through the content. And I think that’s one of the things at least as an administrator here, is that I see is that teachers feel a pressure to stay on point with content, and not allow the time to wander away from that.
Laura: Because I think the time to wonder is where the curiosity sometimes happens, too, right? You’ve gotta give that the space for it to happen. And so I think that that’s something. It definitely needs to be explored from our end on that, is how we can allow for that and not feel this pressure to get this done by this date. You know?
Cathy: It’s very interesting. It’s a worldwide trend almost that we’re really looking towards the testing kind of environment that we are. And I think it makes it even more important that we explain what it is that we actually do in the classrooms in really reach out for more places. Because I think the reality is that I’ve discovered, that people just don’t know, that are outside the visual art spaces at times. Of course there’s a breadth of understanding but in general it’s very, very hard for people to articulate, even when they are visual arts educators, what’s so fantastic about the arts classroom.
Cathy: And so one of the resources that I like to use is Elliot Eisner’s 10 Lessons The Arts Teach. Because what Doctor Eisner was so wonderfully able to do was to break it into this cheat sheet that is almost something you can’t argue against in terms of its richness.
Cathy: It’s the kind of thing where you just feel like fist-pumping and going “Yeah! Why wouldn’t we want to do that in our class?” And of course, although of course it’s written in an art-specific way, it isn’t an isolated approach, it’s something that all educators could look to when they’re designing experiences that really address the need for us to be fully human, and to be able to show what we know in a whole variety of ways. To be able to, I guess, align it even with 21st Century students is a wonderful thing and I do that quite a lot.
Cathy: We talk about the need for problem solvers in this period of rapid change. We talk about the incredible, I guess, crying out that employers are doing into the workforce saying “We need people who are flexible and resilient and can innovate.”
Cathy: This talks about how that can be achieved through really rich arts-learning experiences, so I do love that and I’m sure you’ll pop that on the resources for people.
Cathy: I think for your cheat sheet factor, the way it’s set out is really important because as we’ve discussed a number of times, although there’s a wonderful wealth of information in Doctor Eisner’s work and of course many other researchers as well, it’s just such a great go-to.
Cathy: And so when you’re having those conversations at parent-teacher meetings, giving out a one sheet like this. When you’re talking about why your classroom space is so important. Or when you’re at a staff meeting, you’re asked to discuss what it is you’re doing at the moment, even when you’re displaying work that students … on boards. Having something sitting there like that and just constantly advocating this really tri-parent way is a fantastic thing because when we put up work, not everybody is actually seeing what’s behind it. There’s already little underpinnings for the choices that we make. Can be invisible to the parents, the wider school community and certain areas of [inaudible 00:10:57]
Cathy: I don’t see many maths teachers having to advocate for their subjects. When you’ve shown other teachers things like this, the sort of sadness around that idea that we have to keep beating the drum for it kind of fades away and you suddenly feel really empowered and just like you have a great document that can really support you to fight that in [inaudible 00:11:15].
Laura: It’s very interesting you bring up that point. And it actually just came up recently at our professional development with teachers is that I’m constantly talking about ways to advocate and certainly bring that document forward with our own teachers.
Laura: But beyond that. One thing that you just mentioned is that when our teachers display art in the halls or in the community, I’m always asking them to give the parents a little bit more. Include the essential questions you used around that big idea. Include the big idea. Include all the technical pieces, however they want to display it. But include process, not just product and that’s … I was challenged a little bit by some of the teachers because of that exact same thing. They’d said “Other teachers don’t have to advocate the way we do.” They right. So-
Matt: So …
Cathy: We can be right or we can be out of the fantastic record experiences that we want them to have at school and I guess that’s the problem. Unfortunately it is what it is. I wish there was another way. I wish that we were just in and that it was a given, but it is not. And if we don’t have these conversations, then from what I see with the trend across the globe, for less minutes in the arts and less specialist art teachers in school, I mean it’ll just be a moot point. And we if don’t do it a consistent way, then it’s a problem.
Cathy: I think aligned with that is the idea that we’ve gotta really examine our programs. And we’ve gotta make sure that what we’re saying that we’re doing or what we’re saying we can do, is actually what is happening. And so one really powerful thing to think about with perhaps just the displays that you’re talking about, is if we don’t show the process in those displays, we may actually be presenting an image of something other to what we’re saying we’re doing in the classroom. In that if we keep talking about the process and we keep talking about how much we value it, but then only show the student’s work at the end point, are we really actually demonstrating what it is that we say is a foundational part of that kind of teaching and learning?
Cathy: So the other thing I would talk about is, if we’re considering the whole person and saying that arts is necessary for all students, then surely the successes that our students have should be celebrated at all different points. In that [inaudible 00:13:36] process and when they have them.
Cathy: So if the success for a student is getting really excited about discovering how many different colors tropical fish come in, and they’ve made this incredible brainstorm of that, but then the clay fish that they perhaps make at the end point, hasn’t happened in the way that we would hope it would, well why would we not have on the display board the picture of that student’s brainstorm as an example of success, and forget about putting up the picture of the clay fish? Because, again, if we’re gonna value process then we should be showing authentically that we did value that process and if we’re gonna say that success isn’t entirely about the end point, then we have to show that we see that. And it isn’t just for other teachers, school community administrators, it is absolutely most importantly for our students.
Cathy: In doing that, in putting up their work and sharing it and celebrating it in that visual way, we’re saying more than we can with words to that student about what we valued about their input. And I think that’s just a sort of side issue but an important one in that we have this incredible advantage as art teachers in that we are visual.
Cathy: And unlike some other classrooms this is where we’ve got the goods. Because what the students make and can do is so visible. And there isn’t a parent that loves their student that doesn’t also love seeing a picture of them smiling, holding something that they have made and just being super-excited about it.
Cathy: And so I quite often talk to teachers about the idea that if there’s a way that you can, and I know it’s difficult sometimes with the really little ones, but photographing what they’ve done in the moment and getting it to a parent as soon as possible is so powerful, because we put things up in the room, but actually the parent doesn’t often see it until it comes home a few months later.
Cathy: And the funny thing is, like particularly you guys will know this really well with upper-primary and middle, they often aren’t that excited about taking their work home. If they don’t take it home until two or three months later, they’re over it. Like their need for immediacy is really about getting something that they’ve done home straight away.
Cathy: So a fantastic stop-motion of them building a clay pot for example is often going to be exciting. It’s going to be shared. It might be on their blog or if they’re a bit older, their Instagram or whatever. But the clay pot might be sitting in the classroom having to dry and needing to be fired and not going home for months. By the time that happens, it’s too late. And particularly for the really little ones, one of the reasons they often don’t wanna take their work home or don’t love it any more, which upsets art teachers a lot, but I know it doesn’t … It’s not [inaudible 00:16:21], and you don’t get to take it home for six months, you’re four and a half now. Essentially like being 90 years old and you didn’t get to take it home for 15 years, you know what I mean?
Laura: Yeah. Exactly.
Cathy: You’re like, “I did that? That was mine?” Like, “Whose is that? Was that mine?”
Matt: Oh I’m so over that.
Laura: Well they just don’t remember. They’re life is so short they don’t have the context. It’s so cute.
Matt: I mean, I guess that kind of makes me think then, okay so you’re talking about documenting the process and showing the process, so I mean, we know how you weigh in on this, but I think, how do you weigh in on this as far as using iPads? Using ways to document it to be able to then share it?
Cathy: It’s really an infinite variety of tools once you start thinking about it. And I think the number one pressure point that teachers say to me, is “I don’t have time for things.” And I think it’s been like that since the dawn of time. I don’t remember any period of my career where my colleagues and myself weren’t saying, “Oh, I’ve got so little time.” It’s just how it is. And I think that it will always be like that because we care.
Cathy: There’s other, of course, pressures around it. But at the end of the day, everybody who loves to teach also knows that at the end of the day there’s more that they could have done. We have an incredibly open-ended role and so that pressure is there. It’s not going anywhere.
Cathy: So with iPads and documenting the process I’m always after things. At the very least it’s not gonna impact on the time and if they do, it’s worth the win. You know? It’s if you really want to bring it because you know it’s gonna be great. It has to be easy and it has to fit. So options for teachers to find things to suit then setting are really important.
Cathy: Stop-motion’s a great one because just with the native camera app, you can put on a time lapse and you can see something that’s gonna grow over time. Move through that process really quickly. So the example I used before was that clay pot, and you know, you’re talking about pushing one button, sitting the iPad in front of a student that’s making a vessel and you get this fantastic thing where it grows.
Cathy: And a student never fails to get excited about kind of thing. And I’ve gotta say that it doesn’t matter how ugly the darn movie is, if they moved the camera, if it falls down for a moment and gets picked up, it doesn’t matter. The wonder will be the same and I think part of the problem that we have as art teachers is that we want things to be right. We want them to look good, and we move away from that with this generation because having it is actually all that they’re after in those first iterations, and until you make those ugly things you don’t have the buy-in.
Cathy: So I’d much rather a student create a stop-motion that’s kind of dorky and kind of a bit dodgy, and the iPad falls over, and get them into it and just see them then in another time because of that excitement and that hook, making another one, and realize that if they put their iPad a little bit further away they’ll get the whole vessel in this time. If they don’t let it fall over, they’ll get a more seamless look. That buy-in is really important. And so making sure that we’re open to these experiences no matter how crusty or ugly, as hooks I think it’s great for us but it’s certainly really beneficial to the kids. So that’s the time lapse deal.
Cathy: The other thing with time lapse is it’s great to have the whole class working and put it on time lapse too. You’ve got a setting that’s full of movement for a day. I tell ya, playing something like that alongside having an exhibition and still objects, is really phenomenal. And for other teachers and parents to see what it is that you do as you moosh around the room, touching base with all the different students, [inaudible 00:20:12] all of these really different objects and just bringing them to the tables, and everybody’s moving around and then they’re off to the seats, it’s just wild and they really get a feeling of what goes on in your classroom that is almost impossible without peeking in through the window for an hour.
Cathy: I don’t think it’s like … I know a lot of people talk about folios and all kinds of things for sharing images and keeping work, but for me the documentation process is really about creating that sense of wonder and that really direct hook to the work. The recording of the process is often a bit artificial, I find, and more for the teacher and their marking in the settings that they’re working with for assessment.
Cathy: Really authentic records and processes should be living, breathing documents, and should actually allow the students to understand how they’re learning. What they’re [inaudible 00:21:02] and to create joy through that process. Because with that comes the wonder, comes the curiosity, comes the need to create. And in doing that you really see that you’re doing a great job. It’s so fun when you think, “Ah, I nailed that this time.” Or when you see a teacher, just really seeing the student who’s become self-directed and doing what your T-shirt says, Matt, Creating Bravely.
Laura: Yeah. It’s a Peter Reynolds-
Matt: It’s Peter Reynolds. So-
Laura: Yeah. It’s lovely. He has more than one. You know, there’s so much there, my mind is just hopping all over the place.
Cathy: What makes you keep asking me questions and I wanna say things.
Laura: I know. That’s the whole idea. You know, I’m sitting here thinking about, even, you said, the hook with the kids, but gosh, just the power of the reflection there too. The meta-cognition and really thinking about their choices and their thoughts around making the art and the power of those visuals. It’s kinda mind-blowing when you really think about it, because when I started teaching, we still had film. I had to go get it developed, and the idea that a child can look at their own art-making process and reflect on it in real time, is so powerful.
Cathy: Funny you say that, because I was telling a story a couple of weeks ago at a conference, but just my experience in Year 11 art, I wanted to do a photography piece. We didn’t have photography as a subject at that time, but we had a darkroom. And so my teacher was like, “Well let’s take a unit from the photography course, it’ll be from Year 11, and you can do that as your folio production.”
Cathy: Well it began with four months of planning essentially. It’s alright, I just wanna put it out there, neither did my art teacher, this was all systems go. Four months of planning your folio and then you got your 24 Kodak roll of film. Go ahead and you would shoot this and then you would develop it and it was essentially a six month process to do this 24 shot deal. We were just like, “Were we insane?” 24-
Laura: Do you remember slides? When you had to get slides made of your artwork?
Cathy: When they took that SOI out of that middle cabinet, I swear to God there was like gold lighting coming out. It was “ahh.”
Laura: “Ahh” Totally.
Cathy: And I just thought, what an amazingly reductionist approach. I can’t imagine how fantastic doing that kind of thing again would be in one way, but on the other hand, I’m also like, “How fantastic that in some classes, we’re making 124 shots happen in that space.” It’s not about one approach being better or worse, right? It’s about how that fits with the student learning and understanding what the outcomes are that you’re looking for from the students. And acknowledging that there are really different practices and ways of engaging with the process. It’s not the medium. A camera hasn’t essentially changed in that way. We’re still using a space, a lens on the world to create a piece of communication. A visual text. We’re making meaning.
Cathy: But the way that you approach that can be so diverse. And I just wonder, are we allowing our students those different pathways? Are we providing for those different ways of thinking about the world? And when I look at an iPad, one of the things that I think’s really an advantage that we’ve got, compared to the kind of photographic pursuits of the past, is that now the difference between process and product is really blurred.
Cathy: When I was taking 24 shots in that example, it was about creating 24 finished pieces. You knew that some might be better than others for sure, and that’s what you were trying to do. Now, you can approach that way of working so differently in a classroom environment. It’s not one camera and it costs a fortune. So many students have these devices in their back pocket. And as they take photos they may be as far away from a finished piece as you can be. The camera may just be recording thoughts, feelings, scraps of ideas.
Cathy: And so another kind of little teacher tip that I talk about, is looking at the camera, of the photo library there, and screenshotting that, so that you get all those wonderful little thumbnails of the images that the student has taken. And what you’ve got there is this great stream of consciousness. You know, you’ve got the way that you can see them dipping in and out of particular thoughts and trains of thoughts. And you’ll see cute little moments where all of a sudden things will change as they make a discovery. You’ll see them come back to things that were there at the start. And you can of course annotate that. So you can print it out and stick it in a visual diary. And you can use text and a pencil to circle and make notes.
Cathy: But you could also pop that into app like Seamlink and have each one of those photos coming alive with a video, where the student’s explaining what it is that they’ve done. It can go on a blog. It’s really about, again, opening up that choice I think as much as possible to the students, because if they’re not a writer, a handwriter with a pencil is going to be a barrier to them.
Cathy: If they love working digitally, it may be a space that they can move through. And I’m certainly not about using digital tools for their own sake, it’s about those access points. And if we can get to a place where we can just recognize as we have as artists forever, that there are ways, different materials to explore the world. If we can do that in our classrooms too and honor the idea that there are different ways to explain your process, then I think we’ve got a better chance of all students being able to find their voice. And that way for us through that process.
Cathy: And that would help us with our assessments as well. I think that that’ll make it easier for us to really allow the students to show us what they know. And that’s probably what we’re all about right? Because when we talk about the pressures with assessments, it’s really about finding ways for the students to be able to show us what they know.
Matt: That’s what it comes down to, is what they want from that.
Laura: The outcome. Yeah. What is their understanding? I mean, you said it. The meaning making. That’s really what we want for all kids, is to be able to have that experience where they’re really making meaning of their understanding and what they’re learning.
Susan: Hey there. It’s Susan Riley from Education Closet. If you’re curious about how to integrate the arts with more intention, check out our brand new Five Day Challenge, coming up in the next few days. It’s completely free and I’ll be sharing one specific tip or technique a day for five days, that you can use immediately with your students, at your own personalized level. Find out more and join in, over at educationcloset.com/challenge. Now, let’s get back to the conversation.
Laura: I’m curious what you would say to a teacher that you mentioned might say they don’t have time for this. Or maybe they have iPads but they feel like, “I do one digital lesson with that iPad, and that’s for that unit.” Versus the idea of more I think what you’re talking about, is that the technology becomes a tool for the child to show that they have their own voice. Whatever access point it is.
Laura: I know that I have struggled from time to time with teachers that just really feel like, “We need to stick to the traditional and this is not appropriate for the art room.”
Cathy: There’s a few things there. Number one is I’m a very, very positive person, but I’m positive in the way that I’m like a steamroller. [crosstalk 00:28:50]
Cathy: It’s a lot of fun.
Laura: In the best way.
Matt: Or is that just being an arsey-? [crosstalk 00:28:58]
Cathy: I know I said steamroller, but anyway. I guess what I’m saying is I’m so passionate about the ideas that I think have currency at the moment. And I’m desperately aware of the timeframe actually being really, really important here. Because I’m seeing art teachers losing jobs. I’m seeing students having less access to the arts. I’m seeing students less joyful in art classes at different times and I’m seeing separation sometimes between art classes and the rest of the curriculum and so there are really some significant problems that mean that, from my perspective I feel, are very big and deep in burning desire to make sure that we’re all essentially creating programs that are going to have longevity in our schools. And that are gonna have more than anything, value to the little peeps that are in those rooms.
Cathy: And so to me it’s not a question any more of whether we should have digital tools in the art room. And to be really brutally honest, I’m kind of tired of having that discussion too. Because artists have been at the forefront of technology since the dawn of time. They have been the innovators since sticks were picked up and rubbed on walls.
Cathy: Those things were incredible developments in the space of human history. Those things allowed us to develop our cognitions. They allowed us to communicate in diverse ways. Incredibly complex systems emerged from those spaces. The camera obscura was absolutely fundamental to the place we’re in today as far as technology goes. And a thousand other examples.
Cathy: One of the examples that I use in a lot of my presentations that kind of blows people’s minds, is the idea that the impressionists, although you may see the artwork as a specific art making genre, the paint tube was developed for impressionists. Basically trying to solve a problem. Trying to take their painting outside and until we could actually move around in the environment, there was no capturing of the sunsets. There was no, “Quick. Let’s jump out there and snapshot this moment.” There was no expression in the same way as there was through that period and the way that that has influenced what we see. Our Instagram accounts, it’s mind-blowing the more you dig into it.
Cathy: And yet a lot of people don’t necessarily see those connections. So when I talk about tradigital art, making spaces with teachers who haven’t gone there … there’s a couple of pathways to that … but the tough love is, if you don’t find a way to connect the practices that you’re working with, modern audiences with young students, with parents who are looking at a curriculum and making really hard decisions with their students about what’s going to best for them into the future, then we just won’t have bums on seats.
Cathy: And I don’t know if that’s a US term that you guys are familiar with, but in Australia we love saying bums on seats. We just won’t have people in the room.
Cathy: We have the most fantastic programs for the arts, and I truly believe that, that they can be absolutely fantastic without using iPads or laptops or whatever it is that you wanna use, but if we don’t, we’re actually excluding tools that are really pertinent to this generation, that they will be using to be creative. And In fact, that device in their back pocket is their go-to device to be creative. Not a watercolor set. So we’re dipping ourselves out of that conversation.
Cathy: The other thing is that in using digital tools that they already have, we’ve got the potential to bring them back to other spaces. So it isn’t a case of, “Well now that we do something on an iPad, they won’t be able to ever engage with oil pastel. They won’t be interested in that”, it’s quite the contrary. I find students love using oil paint at different times, but do they want to take a photo of it and send that home? For sure. Or would they like to see a stop-motion develop from the paper sculptures that they’ve created? Absolutely. Would they love to create a collage selfie that they’ve made with magazine pieces of drawings? Absolutely. And then, if they take a photo of that and use something like Chatterpics or Funny Movie Maker to animate it, and have it talk, well that’s just gold. Because now we have this creative picture we can put on the wall. We’ve got this cheeky little face that’s prattling away to mum and dad at home on their device. And we’ve started this fantastic idea that the world is this wonderful mixed media place.
Cathy: And that it doesn’t matter how we create. The point is that we’re going to create and we’re going to be excited about the wonderful space that we live and breathe in that we can be a part of. And so I think that’s really the kind of long-winded way of saying that we just have to have tool diversity. I think that’s very important in the same way that we would expect that our curriculums would move forward as 21st Century learning looks different to 18th Century learning. Our tools should reflect the breath of experiences that our students can have. And our teachers who are interested in actively working with young people, need to be able to meet them where they are as starting points, and everything can happen from there in terms of actually learning how to use these tools.
Cathy: I haven’t yet discovered a place where people are asking questions about how to use things and people don’t wanna help. I think we can definitely get better about connecting the right people together, and having mentors and professional learning networks and things is a related conversation, but the help is there. It’s gotta come from the teacher actively going, “What do my young people need? How can I support that?”
Cathy: And if we truly look at that, we will acknowledge that they need to be using these sorts of tools in our classrooms.
Laura: I know. I’m like, “Right on.”
Matt: Okay, so you brought the word tradigital. Is that your word? How did you come up with that, and then kind of a-
Cathy: I have impatience with … I can’t even say it now, you’ve made me go funny with tradigital … I started using it about six years ago. And I thought it was my own, but I have since seen other people using it, and I don’t know where it comes from and I guess the thing is, a lot of people love ownership of terms. I couldn’t care less who owns the damn thing. I’m like, “As long as people are talking about it, I’m happy.”
Cathy: It’s a really beautiful way of explaining how we can do two things at once. And I think that’s a very comforting idea for art teachers because at the core, I love how art teachers will preciously guard the wonderful things that they know work for kids. I think it’s beautiful that they’re like, “I want to always do watercolor because I do this thing that’s got this incredible learning. And I’ll come from my students and they’ll guard that.” And I’m always like, ” Right on.” Like, “Don’t let anyone touch the things that are working.” That’s what I say, and to be honest, in starting conversations with people like that, you’re already halfway there relationally.
Cathy: And the relationship piece is the same with teacher-to-student as it is teacher-to-teacher or mentor-to-mentor, or whatever it is. If you can really show that something’s working, well then, hold on to it. And where it’s not working so well, I find that’s often the best place to start. Because if you acknowledge some of the areas that are a bit scratchy on the edges, then sometimes that’s a space where people are willing to change or willing to bring in something new.
Cathy: So sometimes people will say something to me like, “You know, I do this painting unit” or collage or whatever it is. They’re not super-excited about it. Let’s say it’s a portrait. And I might say, “Well let’s start at the beginning of the portrait. How do you actually develop that kind of first bit of thinking around the face and the self portrait idea? How do they get the pose and what’s the emotional content that they’re looking for? Or the costuming that’s going on, the artist that you’re studying.” Whatever it is.
Cathy: And in there there might be a place to work with using the cameras to lay on the floor and take photographs upside down. Or take photographs in groups of three where you’re all upside down. Or take photographs and chop them up. You know, you might print them out and actually let them cut up the eyeballs of all of their friends and steal them from each other, and talk about the difference between Cubism and this crazy process that you’re looking at. And the differences and similarities will be these fantastic places to have discussions and to activate your space.
Cathy: And so all of that preparatory work might lead to some wonderful immersion in that next process which essentially stays exactly the same for the teacher, if that’s what they want. But the entry into it has allowed that creative space to be completely changed.
Cathy: So I think the entry and exit into a particular task is a great point for discussion with teachers that are a bit concerned about the technology disrupting the task. Picking a task where things are not perfect or ready and you’re not seeing the engagement or what have you, is a great way to start a conversation. And again, just allaying those fears, with it’s not about something coming in and that resulting in things having to go out.
Cathy: Teachers are very aware that if we try and put something new in, that has historically meant something else has to fall out. Because we don’t have more time available. So those would be the three areas I’d look for with the teachers that are a bit more reluctant.
Laura: So you’ve mentioned this idea that we’re in this period of rapid change. And I know, interesting, I was recalling a conversation that we had in San Antonio, I guess two years ago or a year ago. A year ago? Two years ago?
Matt: Two I think.
Laura: It feels like a long time.
Cathy: You haven’t aged a day.
Laura: Oh well thank you. It was actually on my birthday so, how ironic. But we were talking about the idea that there’s a certain generation that has experienced all these changes in technology, and that maybe that lends some people to be more flexible or maybe other generations to be more inflexible, I guess. And I’m kinda curious to hear your thoughts about this period of rapid change and how we need to embrace flexibility around that.
Cathy: Yeah. Do you know what, I think for me there’s two parts to that and I can swing either way on it.
Cathy: Firstly I’m sort of like, “Kids have always been the same but different in our classrooms.” Do you know what I mean? Like, if we’ve been [crosstalk 00:39:28]
Cathy: … the individual people in that room, then it’s always been that our classroom’s have been in a state of change. And I think it’s actually a positive that a lot of people don’t talk about, that we talk about it so much. It’s because I think there are so many educators now who recognize those individuals in the classroom as individuals. And there are so many teachers that are really concerned about the programs. Like, “We’re not following the curriculum blindly anymore.” I think that has really changed. There’s a lot of discussion and we need it to go somewhere but there’s a lot of discussion that I didn’t hear years ago in my career.
Cathy: But I think we also need to get over the myth that there are some of that are in and some of us that are out with the [inaudible 00:40:10], in that I don’t know half of the stuff that I’m teaching in terms of the technology. It’s just that I know something is possible because I’ve seen it or I want to explore that, and the students will help me out or other teachers will help me out. At the end of the day, I’m not perfect in my ability to know exactly which button to push is also not perfect. [inaudible 00:40:34] some that works so well for that.
Cathy: So just the other day I went into an app that had looked the same for about four years and they’d completely changed the interface. I had automatic updates on and it’s there on the board, and I’m like, “Hmm. Completely different.” And so I turned to the kids and I go, “Who can work out how to …?” And then it’s a race. And a few students will sit there and look. A few students will have a little play. And a few students are like, “This is my moment. I will be the first.”
Cathy: Between all at once [inaudible 00:41:10] moment, we’ve got where we needed to go and nobody died. It’s just … I really just [inaudible 00:41:17] to not worry so much and put this expectation on ourselves that everything we say or do is gonna be absolutely perfect. We’re human. If we work together with our students rather than trying to be the keeper of all knowledge and the kind of sage on the stage, I think that’s part of it.
Cathy: The second thing is, when I started teaching 17 years ago, we had no technology in the classroom per se. We had to book into a computer lab to do research assignments and that was riveting, the way that-
Matt: An eloquent phrase.
Laura: No, I’m just laughing cos I just started my 18th year of education this week, being an educator, and it is so true. I look back and I’m like, “Holy cow. We had absolutely nothing compared to where we are now.”
Cathy: And it was kind of this thing as well, where we got given three desktop computers, and if you like five or six years into my teaching, and this sounds like a therapy session now, but you were super-excited to have these bloody wretched things. And they were at the side of the room. And I’m like, “What the hell am I gonna do with them?” Because I had no idea what to do and in putting students on them, then they’re essentially completely isolated from the rest of the class. So I was just, “What am I doing here?” I had no imagination with what I could do with them, because I had no point to jump off before that. I hadn’t even been sending emails when I started university. So it was just so foreign.
Cathy: We had this really cool guy, like this first year teacher. You know, we were just talking before how fantastic first year teachers are with their energy and enthusiasm. And he came in and he was doing stop-motion in the small groups. And instead of being super-inspired by him, I was like, “He is a crazy man.” He would get like a big pack of Twisties, and he would sit there rendering these monstrous films that the kids were making. They would spend days doing stuff with him, for this tiny little result and he’d be there, into the dead of night.
Cathy: I’d drive away at like 6 or 7 o’clock at night, thinking I’d done a good day and the light from his office would still be on, and I would just imagine him there all night, crunching the Twisties. And it was just such a huge job to do something that now, with stop-motion, you can do instantly on your phone or iPad. And I just think, again, it’s that wonderful privilege we’ve got now, where we’re not tethered to the desks. Where even though the access is not perfect and we need to have discussion all the time about equity of access in our classrooms with technology, but it’s so much better than where we were. It is so much better, genuinely.
Cathy: And in our classrooms by having one-to-one or trolley or things where we can access small groups with screens, it is just a completely different experience to the desk top environment. So if I had no experience, no training and that was my world that I came from, I hope that that gives other people the kind of idea that they don’t need any formal training. They don’t need a degree in this stuff. As I said, I wasn’t even sending emails at uni. I’m that old.
Laura: Hey guys, we’re about the same age so don’t go there.
Cathy: Sorry. It’s 34. That’s my mental age anyway. But it’s that idea that we really don’t need to do that. And if that’s said in isolation, I think that’s also a problem. I think we have to say “We don’t need formal training, but here are these things that we can connect you to for the support.”
Cathy: So there’s a lot of grabs on Twitter and things like that where people like to throw out flippant remarks like, “I’ve never seen anybody needing professional development to make a sandwich” or whatever it is. It’s [inaudible 00:45:07] for us. You know what I’m talking about, right?
Cathy: And it’s really wrong. I think that there are some people who will be interested enough and enthusiastic enough to go forward and with no profession learning, like I did. I was excited about the iPads that we got, and I tried stuff and asked the kids and did that, but is everyone gonna do that? No. So how do we support them to do that? When we have that knowledge it’s important. And I’ve gotta tell you that it’s the pockets of knowledge that are a problem. There are so many wonderful things that I get back from sharing, that support me to do so many things that I don’t know how to do.
Cathy: So there’s that relationship needs to get right, where what you put out comes back to you. Professional learning is ongoing. It’s continuous. It’s through networks. It’s through relationships. So a bit of tough love around. It doesn’t matter if you know how to use stuff, you need to but then the practical side is we’ve still gotta hook people up with the right networks as well.
Matt: You’ve mentioned that stuff a few times throughout our talk so far today, about the fully human … You’ve used that word “Fully Human”. Do you think that that connection piece ties into that, being fully human, or I guess what’s your context of using fully human?
Cathy: I just think that at the moment there’s quite a lot of people who’ve acknowledged that students learn in all different kinds of ways. And I guess what the outcome from that is, is that we’re trying to look at curriculums that offer a whole variety of learning experiences and the arts would definitely be a part of that.
Cathy: But I think from being one of the missing pieces in the dialog is often the idea that from that learning, we also need to offer them a whole diverse way to actually communicate what it is that they’re learning. And to be able to go into the world knowing that you have an understanding of the world, and that you don’t understand things, and you’d have strategies to find out for yourself. Critical thinking and all those sorts of beautiful things are important.
Cathy: But also then, confidence to express those ideas. And we don’t talk about that a lot. We talk about sometimes speaking or writing, but using images is more than dissecting things in the media. That is a fantastic powerful piece that we’re again, talking more about. But constructing media is another gap for me at the moment. So it’s understanding, even fonts are the clothes that your words wear, and how color schemes actually reinforce values.
Cathy: It’s things like when students take photographs of a milk container for a science project to talk about the preservatives in the ingredients label or something like that. How many blurry photos do we see? Or how many angles do we see where the students actually tried a couple of different shots so that the container looks a certain way. So that the message that they’re creating is really strong. Do they match the background colors to the colors in the containers to try and create a sense of cohesion in what it is that they’re building. Knowing that every part of the presentation they’re producing is constructing meaning for an audience.
Cathy: These are … and this language around this is not a monopoly for an arts teacher, but jeez it’s an opportunity, right …
Laura: Oh yeah.
Matt: Oh yeah.
Laura: You’re right, and it’s not a monopoly for an arts teacher but it’s a conversation that all teachers should be having cross-curricularly. We live in an informational age where our visuals do express a lot of meaning. I think that all of us-
Matt: They take almost more than the words themselves.
Laura: Right. I mean look at Instagram. And the way we use Instagram.
Cathy: It almost has a … visual language is our first language. And somewhere along the line it’s something that we almost deny or push aside as we creep up that food chain of learning. It becomes less and less important to the point where you’re standing at a space with university lecturers and professors reading through, at a lectern, their research papers. And it just blows my mind that we’re doing any of that. Did I say that out loud? Do you know what I mean?
Laura: Oh yeah.
Cathy: [inaudible 00:49:14]many ways to show what you know, and yet it’s very obvious to me that there’s a heirachy at play. And again, it’s gonna be a moot point pretty soon, but the images are winning. And-
Laura: Look at emojis. You know?
Cathy: And we have this knowledge about what it is they’re doing and saying through images have a currency that other people do not have access to. If we don’t understand how an image is constructed, you can’t make one with the same kind of effect, but the reverse is also true. You can’t make one if you don’t understand how they’re constructed.
Laura: All those dots connecting.
Cathy: It’s [inaudible 00:49:50] and the visual literacy piece I think is related to the how to be fully human because at the end of the day, in interacting with our world, it’s a visual world. And the other thing that I think for students is really important, is that everywhere they move, everything that they see through their eyes, feel through their other four senses, is something that their brain is able to make use of. And it’s pretty special and you become pretty connected to this wonderful planet that we live on, when you acknowledge that. When you feel your foot touch the sand and you’re able to be connected to that. When you feel like you can sit down and write a piece of poetry about the smells that you’re experiencing in a space. When you look around you and you see potential textures or color pallettes or ideas, and as we know really interesting ideas, original ideas are usually the product of connections between known things.
Cathy: So the more you can activate all five of your senses, the more you can feel present in a space around you that feels like a space that you can leverage your creativity, the more you own yourself as a creative human being. I think the more potential you have to live a happy life. And I’m not saying that flippantly. I’m talking about living with purpose. Being joyful. Feeling like there is a point to you being here and that there are contributions that you can make to our world. Meaningful contributions for others as well as yourself. This is the empathy piece right in this, and if we come back right to where we started with Doctor Eisner’s words about multiple perspectives and about ideas that have value and about ways to interpret and to feel and to be, I think that we’ve almost come full circle in the chat, you know?
Cathy: To be engaged with the arts is to be fully human. And that’s why I love what I do and I love these conversations.
Matt: We were gonna say for you to add some words of wisdom but I think-
Laura: You just did it.
Matt: I think you just did it before we even had chance.
Laura: That was amazing. Again, we’re so privileged to know you, Cathy, and to have you on this podcast is just a privilege for the audience. I have so many more questions and we just don’t have the time, but hopefully we’ll have you on again.
Cathy: Well I just love what you’re doing and I just think as you know, that this work is so, so important. Most of, maybe everything that I’ve said, is not mine, you know. It’s a wonderful privilege to be in so many art classrooms. I think last year I was in front of 28,000 students or something ridiculous like that. Yeah. 28,000 last year and this year I think I’m up to about 1400 teachers and it’s just, you know, the energy in those rooms. The things that people contribute to this space. I know there’s lots of negativity but it’s work like this, it’s conversations like this, it’s relationships that are going to make the difference.
Cathy: So thank you for all you do and thanks so much for having me.
Laura: Well, thank you so much.
Matt: Alright. Well on that note-
Laura: We’re gonna wrap it up.
Matt: Once again we just thank you Cathy, and we hope that you guys enjoyed listening to it as much as we did. So from us at Creatively Connected Classroom, we will talk to you guys later.
Heads up, Seven Up friends. If you’ve been enjoying these episodes, be sure to subscribe to the Creatively Connected Classroom podcast. You’ll get a notification every time we release a new episode, each and every week. And, take a screenshot and put it on your favorite social media. Twitter, Insta, Facebook, you name it. Tag Education Closet and K-12 Art Chat so we can reach out and say thanks. And if you really love us with all the feels, give us a review and/or a rating over on iTunes. It helps others find the show and connect with our incredible community. Thanks for all your support.
Laura and Matt Grundler are art educators from Plano, Texas. They are also proud parents, bloggers and founders of the popular Twitter Chat #K12ArtChat. After teaching middle school art, high school art and working as an assistant principal, Laura has moved into the role of district Visual Arts Coordinator. Matt started out as a graphic designer; however after finding the commercial side of design to be unsatisfying, he soon found his niche as a K-5 Art teacher. Both Laura and Matt are passionate about raising their three creative kids, sharing their love of art education with their professional learning network and continuing to grow everyday.