[Kathleen Vaughan, RedHanded]
[Freelance, self-employed, consultant] [Write, Paint, Teach, Edit] [Dog Lover, Royal Poodle Owner] [www.akaredhanded.com] [Portrait, collage, workshop, painting]
[Kathleen's Red Hand in paint] [Writer, Visual Artist, Teacher, Editor]
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[Teaching through the Royal Conservatory of Music's Learning Through The Arts initiative]
"I learned...
... to be creative.
... to think deeply.
... art could be funny.
... that I liked things that I never knew before.
... I have a great imagination.
... it makes you think, wonder."

-- grade 7 student, Oakdale Park Middle School

I work as an artist teacher with Learning Through The Arts (LTTA), which sends artists of all kinds into elementary and secondary classrooms to enliven non-arts curriculum subjects.

By developing a short (150-minute) creative project with students, an LTTA artist helps reveal how the arts can bring meaning to curriculum. LTTA aims to enhance students' learning experiences, enlarge the repertoire of teaching ideas at a teacher's disposal, and, ultimately, transform the learning culture of a school.

In May-June 2000, I worked with about 250 Grade 7 students at Oakdale Park Middle School in the economically- and socially-challenged Jane-Finch neighbourhood of Toronto. We created collages related to the history and language arts curricula. Exploring issues of immigration and their own visual literacy, students were asked to develop a 'passport' for an imaginary individual -- starting with a black-and-white photocopy of a face that I provided. They were challenged to find visual answers to three questions about the person they were creating, "Who am I?" (session 1), "Why have I moved to Canada?" (session 2), and "What are my dreams?" (session 3).

In April-May 2001, I worked with students in Grades 3-6 at three Toronto schools: Niagara St. Public School, Orde St. Public School and Owen Public School. In these sessions, too, we worked with collage, exploring medieval society through individuals' clothing; the various realities of Canada's regions; scientists and their inventions; and life in outer space.

  [The Challenge]
"I want Kathleen to know that she has a good attitude."

-- grade 7 student, Oakdale Park Middle School

[Back to top of page] As I see it, an LTTA artist faces two primary challenges. The first is one of time: there's so little of it. In three 50-minute periods, an artist has little time to seize students' attention, spark their creative juices, and spur projects through to completion. The artist teacher is busier than that proverbial one-armed paper-hanger!

LTTA also challenges its artists to shift their thinking about art-making in the classroom. The goal is not to have the students create highly resolved aesthetic products (if they do so, bonus!). Rather, your focus is process. You don't teach techniques, you model approaches, and so give your students meaningful learning experiences and teachers ideas for future projects of their own.

I realized that to respond to these challenges, my visual arts project must have three key attributes. First, the project must more modular than cumulative, each session individually meaningful. In this way, students who miss a period or two can still benefit from their more limited participation. That's why my 'passport' project asks the students to explore three separate questions, one per session. The questions do build on each other, each step calling for increasingly abstract thinking. But a student who attends any single 50-minute working session can still reap considerable benefits. Plus, teachers appreciate 'bite-sized' projects that can be contained within an individual period. These seem most likely to be integrated into a teacher's on-going repertoire of activities, given that classroom and prep time are at such a premium.

Second, the project must not depend upon developed art skills (like drawing), since some students [wrongly!] consider themselves poor artists or have decided that they don't like Art-with-a-capital-A (the kind of stuff that happens in the art room). The obvious solution: collage. Cutting out imagery from magazines seems eminently possible to most participants. That done, embellishing their cut-outs with coloured pencils or oil pastels becomes not too far a stretch. Teachers, too, feel comfortable with these basic visual media that demand little arts expertise.

Third, the project must give students as much free expression as possible. So much of school is necessarily prescriptive to young people; covering all their course materials, students seem to have little opportunity to explore the magic of their own ideas. The 'passport' project has no prerequisites (other than adherence to school rules regarding imagery choice). We require only that students be able to articulate, if asked, the connection between the images they choose and the person they are creating, according to the questions posed. There are no wrong answers. Students relish their freedom -- and teachers enjoy their students' pleasure.

My LTTA work is greatly supported by the team at the Conservatory and by the classroom teachers with whom I work. Through the teaching year, the Conservatory staff brings their artist teachers together for development sessions and social occasions, giving us lots of opportunity to ask questions, share experiences, and build knowledge. It's wonderful to work within a community committed to the enhancing the presence of the arts in schools and, specifically, to the LTTA initiative. The teachers, too, are invaluable in helping link my collage project to the curriculum and easing my entry into each rambunctious class!

Participants' comments demonstrate students' and teachers' enjoyment of the 'passport' collage project.

[Student art work]  
  Teaching Philosophy ]

Instructor - Concordia University • Artist Teacher - Royal Conservatory of Music ]

Artist in Education - Ontario Arts Council • Gallery of Student Work ]
[Kathleen Vaughan, artist, teacher]  
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[Kathleen Vaughan, artist, teacher]  
  [Toronto, Ontario, Canada]

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[Back to top of page] All original artwork and texts: © Kathleen Vaughan, 2000-2012, except where otherwise noted. 'redhanded' text-based logo design: © Dale Barrett, 1997. 'redhanded' logo photo: © Paul Buer, 1996. • All Rights Reserved

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