How Do You Know When to Stop?

Mobiles in the Making

I found myself in a bit of a predicament this week.  The task was seemingly simple: Grade 1 students were to dictate their artist statements to myself and my teaching assistant (Alice).  They had completed “movement mobiles” in response to two dance videos.  The purpose was to express their emotional response using lines, shapes and colors inspired by the dances.  I created a spreadsheet with 2 questions meant to get students to explain the meaning behind their mobiles.  As time and skill restraints exist in G1 art, we chose to have students dictate and read back their explanations as a practice in “writing” their own artist statements.

The questions were as follows:

  1. How did you feel when watching the dance(s)?
  2. How does your mobile express your feelings about the dance(s)?

After asking the first few students the two questions above, Alice and I were getting vastly different responses.  We had both interviewed students using the same spreadsheet.  Her students had one word answers.  Mine had multiple sentences.

Ah, the importance of follow-up questions and how I failed to predict that a G1 student would think one word could encapsulate all the thinking that went into creating their art piece. I quickly realized that being able to explain beyond one word (show where on the mobile an emotion was expressed, how the colors connect to an emotion, or tell what the shapes remind them of) did not seem necessary to a young learner who has no experience writing artist statements.   In their own mind, students knew about the inspiration and meaning behind their art…so if a one word answer might trigger the entire creative process in their mind, why wouldn’t it for everyone else?

So, while seemingly simple, herein lies my learning from this “writing” experience.  Explicit knowledge of audience is important when writing, no matter how old you are or what your language ability.  The G1 kids should have known WHO we were writing these statements for (anyone in the library/art gallery who might view them…adults, kids, teachers) from the beginning.

Asking a lot of questions to help students explain their process and “write” it for others to understand is of equal importance.  Even asking the same question in different ways helped students to answer in more depth.  (This can later be translated to students as self-talk and questioning for writing artist statements independently.)    I should have asked my teaching assistant to watch me model questioning a student about their art so that she also understood the expectation of this exercise.  I wasn’t expecting to have to ask so many follow up questions until students gave one word answers and I naturally asked more questions (not on the spreadsheet) to get more information from them.  It is not innate for all students to know when to stop or how to explain the meaning of their art piece.

Knowing when to stop is important.