Background to any discussion of teaching philosophy for art teacher preparation is the larger question, what are the arts for? While that discussion is beyond the scope of this brief statement, I will say that especially in our postmodern, postcolonial, western, urbanized world, I believe that art has several key social and personal functions:
- keeping the chaos of the world at bay while not denying it (paraphrasing philosopher Maxine Greene)
- enabling personally significant engagement with the ironies and dangers of our world (paraphrasing Canadian art education guru Walter Pitman)
- promoting possibilities for growth, change, cooperation and enhanced social justice (paraphrasing artists and theorists Peggy Albers, Suzi Gablik, Loraine Leeson and many others)
- embodying our efforts to find and connect with deeper meanings in life (paraphrasing anthropologist of the arts Ellen Dissanayake)
- facilitating joy (paraphrasing creativity theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)
My belief in these functions of art informs my creative/research/teaching practices. In particular as a teacher operating within such a framework, I have three primary goals with respect to a student’s education. I aim:
- to provide occasions for the student to increase his or her knowledge of the subject, technical skill and pleasure in learning;
- to promote a student’s understanding of political, social, and cultural systems and his or her stance towards them (and in this my work shares ambitions with practitioners of critical pedagogy);
- to enhance a student’s self-understanding and belief in his or her ability to succeed.
My pedagogy for achieving these teaching purposes takes an interdisciplinary, ‘collage’ approach similar to that of my creative and scholarly work. I offer students opportunities for both critique and creativity via multiple forms of experience with greater to lesser degrees of teacher direction: direct lecturing (especially to cover basics and lay common ground for undergraduates); instructor-led close readings of textual passages, of great benefit to students encountering complex postmodern theories for the first time; presentations and performances by visiting artists and scholars; field trips and other occasions for learning outside the classroom; practice-based (hands-on) learning; seminar-based discussions; work in groups; student-led classes; on-line chatting and resource sharing. I also use technology to promote learning and build community: I appreciate the possibilities of a web-enhanced, digital technology-supported learning environment as a world-opening counterpoint to work in the studio exploring—in Sheila Butler’s words—the technologies of the hand.
I encourage collaborative work between students, as well as student input in course and curriculum design. This connects to my interest in emergent curriculum: I strive in course design to have scope for the unfolding of events according to students’ own interests and needs.
Like my pedagogy, my curricula too can be thought of in terms of a collage. Honouring differences, I draw learning materials drawn from various sources, traditions and forms of representation. In keeping with my interdisciplinary/culture studies approach, I incorporate content that relates to popular culture and daily life as well as fine arts.
I believe such diversity of approach and content encourages students to learn through multiple and mutually reinforcing modalities. I base my approach on my knowledge of Howard Gardner’s theories of multiple intelligences as well as notions of multiliteracies, and design courses that provide students with an array of forms of engagement.
I approach teaching as reflective and research practices. For instance, I work to document the learning in my classrooms, adapting principles from the Reggio Emilia pre-schools’ approach to Canadian classroom environments at all levels.
In other words, I have a postmodern, constructivist approach to teaching, one that recognizes that learning is individual, contextual and based on an individual’s prior experience as well as personal orientation and desires. Obviously, teaching from this perspective, I endeavour to know who my students are, their academic and social backgrounds, reasons for taking a course, goals for their studies. I make a point of being personally available to my students.
Image left: At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Nuit Blanche, 2016, participants collaborate on the creation of the decorative panels for the ‘peace kite’ that celebrates the transformative potential of the art museum of promoting social justice and peace.
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