The Best PD You Can Get For Free

The answer is coming, I promise, but first you have to read through how I came to find the answer.  Here it goes…

  1. I am currently in the middle of a Grade 5 photography unit focused on the question, “What makes a successful photo?”  Students have been adding answers to this question as they learn skills and explore how personal perspective plays a role in photography.
  2. I am also in the middle of making the rounds to grade level classrooms during my free periods to observe and learn from their strategies and methods how to better my own teaching practices.  Last week, I visited some Grade 5 classrooms to see what they were up to.  (In addition to this, I have also subscribed to all classroom teacher’s class blogs to keep updated on what they’re doing in the classroom.)

It should have occurred to me earlier that these two things would coincide with one another, however it came to me an “a-ha” moment incited by G5 students…before I get to that, here’s a little background on what specifically we are doing in the G5 art classes:

“Talk” has been a key tool throughout this unit as students take part in verbal critiques of one another’s photos each week.  These critiques have taken form of whole group sharing, guided questions, and partner talk.  I have found photo critiques are an awesome tool for talking about art for students of all languages and abilities as it allows students to give feedback to one another, improve use of vocabulary, and practice talking about the same thing to different people.  I have framed the critiques as informal and a time where all opinions are accepted as a new perspective to consider.

G5 students in a "fishbowl" critique talk
G5 students in a “fishbowl” critique talk

After 3 weeks of these photo critiques, they were getting kind of boring and students were losing interest.  I was trying to think of a way to spice up the critique activities, continue to engage ALL learners, and make them excited about talking or sharing their opinions.  As I walked around and listened to students last week, I heard them defending their answers…saying things like “I object!” energetically.  Typically, this would just phase me as kids being kids.  But, then it hit me, that “a-ha” moment…Grade 5 classes had just been introduced to debate strategies in their homerooms.  I remembered seeing the signs around the classes during my observation and seeing blog posts by the G5 teachers this week about the students’ debate skills and topics.  How did I not think of this sooner?  I should be holding critique debates each week to allow G5 artists to express their perspectives, defend them with reasons, practice debating skills, and consider multiple perspectives in their talk.  It seems simple, but without visiting their classrooms and subscribing to blogs, I never would have made the connection to the language students were using in my class.

So now I have an exciting focus for our next critiques that students already have prior knowledge for.  I plan to connect with the G5 team in the coming days, find ways to support debate skills in the art room, and use this to help strengthen their talk about “what makes a successful photo?” in art critiques.  It all fits together.

All of this is great, right?  But I got to thinking that if I weren’t in the classroom observing G5 or if I didn’t subscribe to all of the grade level teachers’ blogs, or if I weren’t listening close enough to hear students using their debating vocabulary, none of these connections would have been made.  I’d probably still be trying to think of strategies for extending talk and critique skills.  Yet again, I am reminded of the IMPORTANCE of collaboration, communication and curiosity across subjects and grade levels in our school.  Connectivism.  If I don’t know what a grade level is doing in their classroom, there’s no way to authentically integrate and support one another.  I know there’s never enough time (I’m the first to admit to putting off observations, skipping a blog post, or holing up too much in my “art bubble” throughout the day), and collaborative planning is few and far between, but if we make the time, however small…a casual drop in, one blog post, a conversation over lunch…things happen.  Time is valuable to us all, but if we can break it down into these simple things, I guarantee you will find a connection or resource that is valuable to you and your teaching right here at ISPP…and maybe you’ll help someone else along the way without even knowing it 🙂