Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Jargon-du-Jour" or Jurassic Jargon?

I guess I'm kind of a practical gal.  I don't care for fancy jargon when there's an easy way to say something, and I particularly don't like the endless string of ever-changing acronyms and "jargon du jour" that has become pervasive in education.  (I don't even much care for the word "pedagogy", but even worse is this version: "pedagogical".  I get tongue-tied every time I try to say it, and then end up making a total fool of myself!)  Maybe I'll invent a new and timely term for how I prefer to talk about education: Jurassic Jargon.  I can call it JurJar, if we need a shortened version.  JurJar will consist of just saying what you mean, without inventing a fancy newfangled label for it.

(Note: this isn't going to be a post that naturally lends itself to images, so for fun I've just selected a few of my old photos to break up the reading a bit for you! They have no significance in relation to the post, except for whatever significance you might want to attach to them! 
When I took my undergraduate college education classes, in the early 70's (yeah, that makes me officially a dinosaur, though I'd prefer to be called a baby-boomer), I really didn't encounter a whole lot of education jargon, other than the phrases "the open classroom" or "schools without walls" (which in the end was a really bad idea and did not work; most of the schools built that way have long since put up walls).  Oh, and there was "sensitivity training", which was a touchy-feely sort of experience that I personally did not care for, but one of my ed professors, in a required class, loved.  It was everyone's favorite class, but not mine.  I was very reserved back then (yes, it's true!) and I hated going to that class, and doing stuff like falling backwards and trusting that I would be caught, and sitting touching backs with a partner and sharing how we felt, and so on.  Ick.

The one really worthwhile bit of 70's terminology I learned is "the stages of artistic development", courtesy of Lowenfeld's Creative and Mental Growth.  I believe that everything I read about and learned in that book still applies today, which is nice, because though our world changes, and we've seen major technology advances, kids are still kids, going through those basic stages, aren't they?  And knowing those stages, and what is developmentally appropriate at certain stages of development, I kind of wonder if some of this "21st Century Jargon" is really necessary.  I know that for me, it causes me to shut down, because I can NEVER remember what any of it means.  It only serves to confuse and befuddle. 

Suppose you want to apply for a grant or need to write a report - well, it seems you've got to have some fancy jargon in order to impress!  Did you know there's actually an Educational Jargon Generator on the internet?  They suggest that you "Amaze your colleagues with finely crafted phrases of educational nonsense!", which describes exactly what I think about much of this jargon. 
On that site, I saw quite a few phrases that I've often heard recent years, that I hadn't previously encountered in my first 25 years or so in the classroom (I taught for 36 years and have been retired for 3).  These included gems such as:  "across the content areas", "differentiated lessons", "critical thinking", "scaffolding", "stake-holders", "cohorts", "performance-based", "flipped classroom", "Big Ideas", "multiple modalities", "brain compatible", "technology infused",  "metacognition", "enduring understandings", "standards-based"...  YIKES.  I just listed 15 of terms and phrases from the site, all of which I somehow survived without (and flourished) for decades!  And there's so many more..........  Do we really need all this pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo to be a good teacher?

I recall the first time I saw the word "exemplar" used on a blog post, a few years ago.  I thought "Huh??"  When did my mock-up stop being my teacher "sample" or "example", and become a fancier word?  And why? What the heck is wrong with an example being an example??  Why does it have to be an exemplar now?  Sheesh!  And when did the word "rubric" arrive in ed jargon? I remember the first professional development program that I attended where the word was used, and I wondered - when did a chart become a rubric??  Who invented a new word, and why?  How did it sneak up behind me?

And in art ed, sometime in the 90's, DBAE (data based art ed, whatever that means) emerged on the scene, sneaking up on me to describe, perhaps, something that maybe I'd sort of been doing all along.  And now of courses there's TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior), choice-based art ed, PLN's or PLC's, VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies; which I recently discovered I have been doing for many years without the label), and there's Design Thinking.

There's Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings.  There are Model Cornerstone Assessments and Anchor Standards.  And performance indicators and learning outcomes, and  value-added, and best practices.

And what the heck is constructivism?

There's formative assessments and summative assessments, and performance based assessments, and data based assessments, and authentic assessments.  And benchmarks.  And metacognition.  And curriculum maps, and vertically aligned curriculum. If you think for even a minute that I can remember what all of these terms mean, you would be wrong. 

And the silly names for things that we teachers always did, but that never had names before: for example, there's think/pair/share, and exit tickets, and bell-ringer activities (when I hear this term, I must admit that I picture Quasimodo). And there are names for the obvious: differentiated instruction and high stakes testing, for example.  Duh.

And here's a few acronyms you might have encountered in recent years: SLO (student learning objectives), SWK (no, not sealed with a kiss; it is "students will know"), KWL (know, want to know, learned; at least I think that's what it stands for).  There's AYP (annual yearly progress), RTI (response to intervention), and ELL (English language learners; when did this label change from ESL - English as a second language?  And why?)

I could keep going, and fill a few more paragraphs with terms, phrases, and acronyms from just the past few years, but I have a feeling that you probably all stopped reading several paragraphs ago because this is just so dreadful....
While writing this post, I came across an article that you might like, called "The Joys of Educational Jargon". I'll end this post with that link for your reading pleasure, and with some open-ended questions for you, below.
  • Does anyone else feel as frustrated as I do with the proliferation of jargon? 
  •  Does the jargon change the way you do things, or just give new names to what you already do?  
  • Can you remember what all these things even mean and easily incorporate the words in your conversation?
  • Does the jargon-du-jour improve your teaching? 
  • Or are you like me and your brain starts to cloud and fog when the jargon deluge arrives? (Perhaps we can call it the jargon-pocalypse?)  
  • And finally, can you comment and tell me all the acronyms and terminology that I might have missed in this post?

Friday, June 26, 2015

A new lens, a little nature

 It's been a while since I've done a post like this, simply sharing recent photos.  This post will contain no education jargon, no controversial art ed issues, no how-to information on a certain art material, and no 'show and tell' of student projects.  
Instead, today I'm simply sharing some recent photos with you.  Some of these images were shot at our lakeside Adirondack 'camp', both on land and in my kayak, others were taken at Quechee Gorge in nearby Vermont, and still more were from a recent road trip to some locks along the Champlain canal system, just 1/2 hour from my home.
I generally take 2 cameras with me when I head out for the day.  One is a Nikon DSLR, and the other is  a good quality Sony point & shoot.  Recently, my Sony was sent out to get its sensor cleaned, and since I was missing its incredible zoom capabilities, I took it as an opportunity to FINALLY buy a telephoto zoom for my Nikon that I've wanted for a while.  I had held off making the purchase because these lenses always seemed too heavy for my needs.  When I was shown this new model Nikkor 55-200 zoom lens, I was smitten.  It is light, compact, and I've been very pleased with the image quality and eases of use. Most of the photos in this post were shot using the new lens.
The pic on the left below, a marsh outcropping, looks to me like a fairy tale castle!
The one on the bottom right feels like a Monet painting, though they are not waterlilies.
 When I was little, watching boats go through the canal was a favorite family activity.
 Doesn't this photo below make you think of the Hudson River School of painting?
 Above, my son on Father's Day
And below, an osprey high above on a perch on top of a power pole.
And a few more pics...
    And that's all for tonight!  Next post, back to our "regularly scheduled programming"!  

Monday, June 15, 2015

My doodles are not Zentangles

 I'm a compulsive doodler, and I've written about it several times before in my blog.  What I create are doodles, not Zentangles.  I want to talk a little here about the difference, and why you haven't even seen and won't ever see me presenting Zentangle art lessons here on this blog.  By the way, all images in this post are from the latest of several little sketchbooks I take with me to meetings or workshops, so that I can keep my hands busy while I focus my mind.  They are done mostly in a combination of black Sharpie and a set of multicolor Flair pens.

I first wrote a blog post on the topic of Zentangle vs doodle in March 2011, and while it is not in my list of most popular posts, it has certainly sparked more response than most other posts.  As a matter of fact, it has received more comments than any other post I've done since the inception of this blog, with today's total of 60 comments (yes, some of them are my responses to commenters, but there's still a lot.)  New comments still frequently appear on that post, so I know it is still a topic of interest.  I also wrote another post about doodling here, with the link to a great TED talk on doodling, too.
So why am I writing another post on the topic today? I've actually been planning it for quite some time, but I would see posts written by other bloggers, or in the Facebook Art Teacher group, about projects/lessons taught that incorporated Zentangle, and I did not want anyone who wrote these posts to think that my blog post was referring to them directly.  So I waited until a 'neutral' time to write this.  This blog post is not directed at any specific person but is intended to make you think about what you teach and why. 
 Here's my concern.  Throughout my long teaching career, my students did lessons and projects that incorporated line, texture, shape, balance, repetition, rhythm, pattern, unity, contrast, and so on.  If you are an art teacher, these words should be very familiar to you, since they are all part of the basic Elements of Art and Principles of Design.  The word 'Zentangle' appears nowhere in the Elements and Principles, nor will you find it in your Core Art Standards or in the Mathematics Standards either.  That's because Zentangle is a trademarked method taught by CZTs (Certified Zentangle Trainers).  In other words, it's a money-making business.  They teach classes and sell products. 

Searching the web, I came across a wiki that gave this definition: "A Zentangle is an abstract drawing created using repetitive patterns according to the trademarked Zentangle Method. True Zentangles are always created on 3.5 inch (8.9 cm) square tiles, and they are always done in black ink on white paper."  It further went on to say that it should without orientation (no up or down).  Already, I certainly know that MY doodles don't qualify.  Mine often incorporate color, they absolutely do have a certain intended orientation, and they are not square.  Further, they do not include the pencil shading that is a part of the Zentangle method.  
Then then I went to the official Zentangle® website, and I learned that "Zentangle's teaching materials are subject to copyright owned by Zentangle." According to the website, they have a patent pending on their teaching method.  Also, I found this: "Many aspects of the Zentangle® Method, including our materials and teaching tools, as well as the material on this site, are covered by copyright which is owned by Zentangle, Inc. All rights reserved."  (So it's a good thing I'm not calling my drawings Zentangles, I guess...)

If you are doing a project with your students that includes drawing something with a specific shape (whether a cat, a tree, an owl, a flower, a whale, an ice cream cone, or whatever...) and a major part of that lesson involves having your students divide up the internal space of the subject and fill each part with repeating patterns, rhythmic designs, or repetitive textural lines, WHY are you calling it a Zentangle?  Isn't it really a lesson on repetition?  On line?  On implied texture? And so on?  You can reference almost every Element and Principle in such a lesson, and that is much more valid to justify as part of your curriculum than calling it a Zentangle!  I would think your administration, looking at your curriculum, would much prefer seeing that you are teaching long-established elements of art and principles of design.  (Just my opinion, I know.)  As a matter of fact, I could probably dig through my ancient School Arts magazines and other resources from my early days teaching elementary art, and find many articles on lessons using repetitive pattern and design that were published before Zentangle® was ever conceived!
 Let's try to put this another way.  I love papier-mache.  Let's say I invent a specific papier-mache mixture, call it "Dragon Drool" (which is already the nickname my students use for mixed Art Paste), copyright it and sell it, train and certify "Dragon-Droolers" in training sessions that cost money to attend, and copyright my specific method calling it "Dragon-Drooling".  Now, every time you use papier-mache, should you be referencing my copyrighted name, even though you might not be doing the process the same way, or using the same material?  Even though you haven't been trained in Dragon-Drooling by a CDD ("Certified Dragon-Drooler")?  No!  You simply call it a papier-mache project!  Similarly, unless you are a CZT, and are using the specific process and materials outlined in official Zentangle classes, should any lesson in repetitive design be called "doing Zentangles"?  

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  In the meantime, please understand; this blog post is in no way criticizing the Zentangle process or the people who teach it.  I simply don't think it's what we are actually doing when we are teaching art to kids!

Friday, June 5, 2015


I was at the gym the other day, wearing headphones plugged into the elliptical, zoning my brain out on mindless TV (because exercising at the gym is so bloody BORING.  Nobody can convince me otherwise.)  And I looked around me and realized probably 9 out of every 10 people had wires extending from their ears, either to an exercise machine or to a device strapped onto their body.
And I thought, if aliens landed on earth, and stepped into Planet Fitness, they'd think it was a recharging station, and that we were all machines.  The thought kind of creeped me out.  We are kind of like the Borg.  Meanwhile, I think this wasp's nest I found in the roof of our shed kind of looks like something alien, or at least something from a creepy horror movie.
But the gym is actually the only place I wear headphones.  When I take walks outside, like I did today, I like to listen to the sounds of nature - birds, bees, flowing water lapping at a shore, wind rippling through trees, kids playing, and more.  I'm amazed at all the joggers and walkers I see outside on a beautiful day, all plugged in, headphones on.  They are missing the chorus of red-wing blackbirds, or the bubbling of a stream.  They might as well be walking on the treadmill.
They might miss this the flutter of the wings of a little bluebird flitting in and out of an opening in his bluebird 'condo'. 
 They might miss the peeps of little ducklings, paddling at breakneck speed to keep up with mom.
 Or the splashing of ducklings as they practice dipping into the water.
 Or the honking of unseen geese lurking somewhere in the marsh.
 Or the rustle of leaves as a caterpillar wiggles his way down a branch.
 Or the subtle sound of dragonfly wings.
 Or the plop of a turtle slipping into the water.
Recently, in my kayak, I took the time to just stop paddling and listen from the center of my quiet little lake.  And I discovered it wasn't quiet at all.  I heard loons calling, and geese honking, and insects buzzing, and I thought how much I'd miss if I couldn't hear the sounds of the 'quiet' lake. 
 Do you 'plug in' whenever you are outside?  Think about what you might be missing!
All photos in this post are from recent walks near my home, or near our Adirondack lakeside 'camp', or from paddling my kayak in the lake.   I know it may not seem like an art teacher-y post, but listening is a part of being observant.  If we don't open our eyes and ears, there's so much to miss.   So maybe this is art teacher-y after all!