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Do not cite deep magic to me…I was there when it was written.” (Chronicles of Narnia);
By Melissa Kandido
Melissa Kandido teaches IB Art, IB History, IB English, & IB Geography for middle and upper grades at the Windhoek International School in Windhoek, Namibia. She is sharing with us her experiences and adventures this year as an international educator and IB teacher.
Today was mock exam day for my International Baccalaureate Art Students. Sounds pretty boring and rather mundane, right? Not for my art students! I am bent on the Constructionist theory of teaching rather than the instructionist methods. They are preparing for their final exhibition called “Narnia.” So this mock exam is a misnomer because I decided to set today up as a mock exhibition instead. It is, after all, my responsibility to create experiences for these students that not only value their art, their creation and their ideas but also connect them with the opportunity to have their own aha moment that feels like a natural discovery. “Teaching involves linking associations with experiences...What is important is what is retained from the experience, how it is codified and integrated with other experience. This implies that the learner be immediately and actively involved on an abstract plane.” (Tinker, 1992) Students were able to explain their art; their concepts, their umbrella themes, read their candidate statements and create title tags/mini placards for their pieces. A more real-life ‘exam,’ so to speak. But I couldn’t be the only participant—the teacher—in this Constructionist exam.
I wanted my students to have an authentic learning experience that enriches their ideas, critiques and inspires their pieces going forward and brings them to a place of self-reflection. Being new to the country (I've only been here four months), I reached out to the performing artists and visual artists I knew in the community to see if I could locate artists who would volunteer their time, energy and expertise to be an actively engaged ‘art-ience’ for this mock exam. Even though the artists I knew could not make it, they reached out to their sphere of artists and I felt blessed to have 4 artists, all with different backgrounds and areas of focus: a sculptor, a painter, a muralist and an art-therapist who works in various media. These artists’ diversity didn’t stop at their media. They varied from 26 years of age to 72 years young; from having just graduated university to being in multiple international shows.
Before we began, students introduced themselves using their candidate statements and the artist shared their background and areas of expertise. We sat in a circle to discuss what it feels like to be critiqued and that criticism will be an ever-present part of any thing an artist chooses to put out there. “Art is not for the weak” because the weak cannot dedicate and push through the criticism. After all, in Narnia, “Who said anything about safe?” (Chronicles of Narnia)
I checked out the iPads from our school so that each art student had a video of themselves to watch on their own time—examining their body language, any filler words or ticks of which they may not be aware; the students found if they said um, and, like or ‘cuz as well as if they crossed their arms, played with their hair or rocked back and forth. There is a plethora of documented research on this approach from athletic arenas to public speaking professionals, so it is nothing new. Study oneself. Replay. Study more. Replay. Examine what led to that moment. 20/20 hindsight is at your fingertips when you invest in the iterative process of learning. As an educator, it is my job to infuse the opportunity into the classroom as a norm. The iPad was also there to capture excellent dialogue between the student and the artist’s feedback.
Each student had 20 minutes of uninterrupted presentation time with their artist in a one-on-one environment with their pieces. After that, the artist had 10 minutes to question, clarify, critique and provide insightful feedback to the student. Some students learned that the most powerful question an audience might ask is “Why?” Why did you choose this to be here? Or, why this media for your message? They also learned to consider backgrounds, framing, and less concrete actualization of concept in their own art.
Then they rotated. This process was repeated until each artist had heard every student. I strongly support iterative design methodology as well as providing time in class for multiple iterations in the way the John Dewey speaks of them: “It is part of the educator’s responsibility to see equally to two things: First, that the problem grows out of the conditions of the experience being had in the present, and that it is within the range of the capacity of the students; and, secondly, that it is such that it arouses in the learner an active quest for information and for production of new ideas. The new facts and new ideas thus obtained become the ground for further experiences in which new problems are presented. The process is a continuous spiral.” (Dewey, 1938) The term ‘problem’ here can be interpreted as challenge. The artists will face the challenge of unveiling their art in a public space, with public critique for the first time. Putting pieces of ‘self’ out on display for anyone to critique is a risk and they are brave to take this risk as many in life choose never to engage in this challenge (art or otherwise) as they choose to fly under a radar of the seeming anonymity rather than engage.
This process was invaluable to the students. Not only could they use the Spiral Design Model (Boehm, 1998) which includes determining objectives, identifying and resolving risks, developing and testing and then planning for the next iteration in this sense of agile development in their creative process. Rather than applying this concept to only engineering, I see it as applicable to every subject, including art. They heard different voices, different views. They were able to make connections with artists whilst iterating their artwork that deals with identity, nationality, inter-nationality, controversial topics and humanity. It enriched them because it was a new non-teacher voice that helped them see things they hadn’t considered. The experience opened their eyes to a way of thinking about art that their peers had not considered.
We came together at the end to share ideas with the entire group. Artists gave constructive feedback in addition to compliments of growth and progression. Students shared how valuable the experience was in that learning that the critique will help them grow and work towards their exhibition with fervor for improved technique, vision and conceptual processing.
All of the students came away introspective, exhausted, excited and ready to take on the next few months to create an incredible exhibition. They personally thanked them and invited the artists to the exhibition. The spheres of artistic influence in Namibia are small, but powerfully grand and creative. The room was alive with a magical buzz and the principal came in just to feel the grandness that was being shared. The room was filled with what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as flow—concentration and absorption with energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the activity because it is a space of motivation. It is an ultimate space of learning. Yes, Narnia is real—it is in my art room and will be exhibited in a few months for all to see. “Do not cite deep magic to me…I was there when it was written.” (Chronicles of Narnia)
*Note: I used other photos for this article other than the students’ work as it shall be unveiled soon and a sneak peak would not be prudent as they are still iterating greatness!
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (2008). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York,: HarperCollins.
Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and education. New York,:Touchstone.
Lewis, C. S. (1950). The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. U.K,: Geoffrey Bles.
Tinker, Robert. (1992). Thinking About Science. CEEB, 57.