December 31st, 2013
altspaceeditor

Deep, Rich, Wide & Timeless [2013 ALT/space Retrospective]

ALT/space is about the work of artists who teach in schools, communities and prisons. ALT/space contributors advance the teaching artist field by writing specific, concrete, and powerfully personal stories about what they do and how they do it.

2013 on ALT/space gave us a deep, rich, wide, and timeless swath of stories about teaching artist practice. To celebrate the New Year, let’s take a look back at some of the most evocative and relevant ALT/space stories from the past year.   

As you read, I ask you: How can you ignore the deep expertise and passion for art and learning evident in these posts?  Some question, some observe and ponder, some struggle, but ALL show the power and impact teaching artists have in schools and communities everywhere. Please consider your role in advocating for the teaching artist field and the work we do by sharing ALT/space with others. I also encourage you to consider adding your own stories to the mix in 2014.

Happy New Year!!  —Malke Rosenfeld, ALT/space Editor

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January 
brought us Working with Children on the Asperger-Autism Spectrum by Holly Adams.  This is perhaps the best, most nuanced piece of writing I have read about working with students on the spectrum. Holly’s expertise in this area is applicable to all classrooms, arts-based or otherwise.

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In February Ryan Conarro wrote a highly nuanced and helpful post about what it means to collaborate with teachers. Read his thoughts in Listen to Your TeacherThis is a must read.

In March Alison Holland wrote Taking My Daughters to Work which highlighted the struggles of balancing family with a freelance lifestyle. I hope 2014 brings more discussions like this one.

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April! In her post Art Palooza! Engaging High School Students in Art History through Fashion Design  Chio Flores asked: “As a school visual arts teacher, one of the questions I constantly grapple with is how to engage teenagers in learning about art and artists. Why should they care about art history?” The answer is something we can all learn from. 

Read More

October 1st, 2013
altspaceeditor

The Delicious Math of Comedy | Holly Adams

She enters, pauses, then turns and walks stage right, and Inspector Dreyfus leaps out. She stops. “Why didn’t that work?”

“You have to count to three. A full count. That was just a bit too long, and I think ‘M’ (the boy playing Dreyfus) wasn’t sure when to jump out.”

“Yeah, I thought I was supposed to jump, but you were still there,” the boy adds.

“So, it goes ‘step-think -go, walk 2,3”, then the upstage-right one is the second set?” The girl (‘B’) playing Inspector Clouseau tilts her head, thinking.

“The first grab/miss should be just under three seconds, then three steps, the pause straighten turn go,” I reply.

“Because that’s a three, then there’s the middle one, with the lasso…which is the third one!”

“Exactly!”

“So,”chimes in M, “I have to go twice as fast to get to the other opening for the pounce.”

“That would be awesome,” I nod.

Image via chowdaheads.blogspot.ca

They go at it again, the above math-like jargon making complete sense to them, and this time, Dreyfus leaps just as Clouseau takes a step stage right, then a moment later, he leaps out again, just as Clouseau has turned toward center stage, then finally he and his lasso erupt out of the center stage…just as Clouseau miraculously had to tie her shoe, and another character is captured.

We are on the cusp of the perfect math, because comedy relies on math—the  number of builds/attempts have to be odd, the beats have to be perfectly shorter or longer than the timing of real life, and the rate of acceleration or deceleration has to be perfect. The length of pauses, of suspension, of delivery…there are often many comic options, but for each option, the pattern is rigid. It’s almost like revealing the flawless beauty of a gemstone—the math of the cut has to be perfect.

They have practiced the routine several times now, sensing the places to speed up, noticing the places where it is almost right. “Holly, this part—what could we do to make it funnier?”

“Well, it’s the second section, so start the third beat sooner—cut a teensy bit off that second moment— and stre-e-etch it out to the last possible second, but don’t have the TOTAL time be any longer.”

“Just beat three,” nods B.

“Yes, and inhale as much as you can on that beat-it creates suspense, because you are suspending the relaxing breath. Then the exhale is the ‘GO’.”

Both youth (they are in middle school) nod and reply, “Ahhhhhoh” in that arc-ing sound that shows that the pebble has landed, the combination worked, the light has clicked on. They happily run up to the stage, and begin it again. Unable to help themselves, the other cast members and assistants, all busy with their own tasks, turn to look…because this time it is perfect. The actors are fast and furious, but the characters are relaxed and nonchalant, seemingly completely unaware of anything but the now, the mathematics of timing so perfect you can’t see it. And..the lasso! The group bursts into laughter and a smattering of applause, and the sweating, panting M and B look at each other and grin. They run up to me, out of breath and flushed with happiness.

“Holly, can we put in more gags?”

imageArtistic Director of Shearwater Productions, Holly Adams is a long time mask maker, stage combat choreographer, and performer with a focus on physical theatre styles. Holly also loves being a teaching artist! Whether she is giving a master class in NYC or at a college, or creating arts-a-the-core inquiry based curricula for elementary and high schools, she is loving every minute of it. She is the recipient of ATA’s Teaching Artist Service to the Field award for 2009-2010,a member of APA, Ed Bloggers, and a board member for NYSTEA. An interview with Holly is here

Also in ALT/space by Holly Adams:
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
A Paradigm of Practice
On Teaching Intimacy
Working with Children on the Asperger-Autism Spectrum
Rigor and Joy
Don’t Stop Believing

August 15th, 2013
altspaceeditor

The Well-Told Story: Celebrating Two Years of ALT/space!

Not everyone who contributes to ALT/space is a writer by trade, nor do they need to be.  Writing about our work and the things we are thinking, focusing on, wondering about and struggling with while we teach is a valuable process, whether or not we think of ourselves as writers. 

The kind of writing that gets done on ALT/space is something of a hybrid.  The ALT/space concept is part blog (vignettes of and in the moment), part magazine (presenting a polished work to a public audience) and part reflective practice within community (working with an editor/first reader and sharing with colleagues).  The goal is to provide interesting, generative stories which will potentially spark recognition or new understandings of teaching artist practice across disciplines.

Ultimately, ALT/space is about telling stories about what matters to us about our teaching, our students and the communities in which we work. In the spirit of a tale well told and in celebration of the second anniversary of ALT/space online, here are six really well told stories of teaching artist practice for you to enjoy, ponder and, perhaps, connect in some way to your own teaching practice. 

Enjoy!

Malke Rosenfeld
ALT/space Editor & Curator

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Worth the Mess | Kate Plows

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This morning started with a huge mess.  I was absent from school for a few days, and when I returned, my students informed me that one of our glazes had settled out.  I plugged in the electric mixer, planted my feet, flipped the switch, and the bucket went flying.  Red glaze, steeped in iron oxide, splattered everywhere - the walls, floor, glaze buckets, my pants, a few nearby students’ uniforms.  The incident felt like slow motion.  When the action stopped, we all just stood there, blinking, until one student pulled out his cell phone and snapped this picture - which sent us all into throes of laughter. Read More

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Bamboo: Tools of Storytelling | Jeff Redman

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In February I began working with my 8th grade students to devise a theater piece based on modern day slavery. Doing research in humanities class with my collaborator, they each took a turn writing a story based on a first person account of how someone fell into slavery.

Now they were bringing the stories to drama class.  My job in the project was to guide them through the dramatization process, to help them interpret the material and make it into a theater piece. Read More

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Take a Walk on the Wild Side | Holly Adams
I have just begun a two-week venture called “Imagine That” with ten 3-5 year olds (some of whom have English as a second language, some of whom are maneuvering with other challenges). It’s a project I do with the Ithaca Youth Bureau for a couple sessions every summer, and one I look forward to with relish. The children come from a wide range of ethnic, language, and economic backgrounds, having only age as a common thread. Each session runs from 3:30-5:30 Monday-Friday for two weeks, and I used to think of it as glorified educational babysitting. However, several years ago, I realized that the secret was to have some delicious fun. Obviously, if I have fun, I will be a better teacher, but more importantly, it’s the KIND of fun I want to have.  Read More

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Between the Rattle and the Ease: Art’s Role in Teacher Education | Debora Broderick

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A few years ago one of my students, Ally, said something to me that sticks with me to this day. As she was trying to explain why making art is so important to her, she paused thoughtfully and said, “Art forces people to think and feel.  It rattles and eases the mind.”  Ally described her art making process as one where she’s constantly thinking, working things out while her fingers push the pencil or the paintbrush.  As she gets deeper into the work, her movements become meditative and peaceful, creating a space that eases her mind.  For Ally, having this experience regularly available in school made all the difference.  Art offered her, as writer John Updike reminds us, “…a certain breathing room for the spirit.” Read More

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Color Theory for Writing Teachers | Anna Plemons
By grace and serendipity I recently had the chance to visit the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, Germany.  In looking through some of the color studies by Johannes Itten and Paul Klee I was shocked to discover something new to me—albeit embarrassingly elementary—about how colors work in conversation with each other.  I realize that in sharing my discovery here, I showcase how little I really know about visual arts in general and color theory more specifically; but the discovery was important to me as a writing teacher nonetheless.  Read More

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Best Seat in the Islands | Daniel A. Kelin, II

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As I sat in in the center of the newly-dedicated, freshly painted outdoor cement basketball court, surrounded by a couple of hundred local folks watching youth I had worked with perform, it dawned on me that these local audiences are truly the best audiences in the world.  At 7:00 pm on a Saturday night at the ‘Laura’ end of Majuro island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, people sat on rocks, the cement court, wooden side benches, make-shift chairs made from implements found around the nearby houses, their cars (parked at the far end of the court), or just stood-for the entire three hours of our performance. Read More

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July 23rd, 2013
altspaceeditor

Take a Walk on the Wild Side | Holly Adams

I have just begun a two-week venture called “Imagine That” with ten  3-5 year olds (some of whom have English as a second language, some of whom are maneuvering with other challenges). It’s a project I do with the Ithaca Youth Bureau for a couple sessions every summer, and one I look forward to with relish. The children come from a wide range of ethnic, language, and economic backgrounds, having only age as a common thread. Each session runs from 3:30-5:30 Monday-Friday for two weeks, and I used to think of it as glorified educational babysitting. However, several years ago, I realized that the secret was to have some delicious fun. Obviously, if I have fun, I will be a better teacher, but more importantly, it’s the KIND of fun I want to have.

I make sure we have some active time and some quiet time, some movement, performance, visual, and music arts components, some scientific inquiry and exploration, and a variety of social relationship opportunities. I make sure there are ‘less guided’ and ‘more guided’ moments, and safety as well as freedom. However, I have come to realize that the most significant—and fun—moments are imaginative adventuring/creative play, when what I am really doing is providing a frame for the children to amaze and delight and slightly terrify themselves, me, and each other.

Maybe it is Snow Day. In July. We pretend we are cold and pretend to put on all our winter things, make snow angels and so on. The children are wide-eyed that a person could break the rules like this—pretend there is SNOW?!?! In the SUMMER?!?!? The whole day feels like a big exciting secret, something special and sacred that we have to be careful who to tell or we might get in trouble.

Or maybe we are PIRATES! We build a pirate ship out of chairs or a picnic table outside and imagine an adventure narrative (that we make up as a group) about crocodiles and storms and treasure maps and battles…. we say “argh” and sleep on desert islands. We draw treasure maps and hide treasure from ourselves and then go exploring out into another room or place we have never been before, then come back to dig for treasure. “There’s no treasure there,” I say. “I don’t believe you!” “Look! Ha! Treasure!”  comes the reply. He or she holds up a rock buried 30 seconds ago. “WOW!!! What else in that treasure chest? Rubies? A unicorn?”  I don’t always do large adventurous activities. I often do small activities with tiny adventures folded in, or a learning moment that is creative and quiet.

But the creation of a sacred space with special rules that are just for that moment, special properties of physics and the world around us, special potentialities of ourselves is the key ingredient.

I am outlining a map to get to a magical place, building the habitat for the wondrous to hatch itself, fostering an opportunity to stretch the fabric of ‘what is the world and who am I’ that includes the children as artist peers whose performative work is often novel and captivating, however brief. Certainly, there is much written about the importance of play, and whole websites with supportive information of all kinds. But there is also tremendous pressure for test-prep type programming, even for 3-5 year olds, and tremendous resistance to programming with a little risk and moments of large patterns/organized chaos. How else can we prepare children to solve problems and think creatively and survive in a largely risky and chaotic world if we don’t teach them how to discover meaning, deeply connect to the world around them, and create beauty?

Besides… a little wildness inside the safety of a structure is sooooooooo much FUN.

imageArtistic Director of Shearwater Productions, Holly Adams is a long time mask maker, stage combat choreographer, and performer with a focus on physical theatre styles. Holly also loves being a teaching artist! Whether she is giving a master class in NYC or at a college, or creating arts-a-the-core inquiry based curricula for elementary and high schools, she is loving every minute of it. She is the recipient of ATA’s Teaching Artist Service to the Field award for 2009-2010,a member of APA, Ed Bloggers, and a board member for NYSTEA. An interview with Holly is here

Also in ALT/space by Holly Adams:
A Paradigm of Practice
On Teaching Intimacy
Working with Children on the Asperger-Autism Spectrum
Rigor and Joy
Don’t Stop Believing

May 28th, 2013
altspaceeditor

A Paradigm of Practice | Holly Adams

Many people of late have asked me about my own history as a teaching artist, when I began, who shaped my initial thinking, what were my first forays into this dynamic field. Without question, my practice continues to change and grow as I strive to learn from colleagues, mentors, writings by Teaching Artists here on ALT/space and elsewhere, workshops, and the groups with whom I work.

However, my core frame, my nutrient-rich context into which the seeds of all things arts/education/community are sown, is a gift from my mother, Barbara Lucia Adams.

Let me quote her. “I had a passion for theatre, but more importantly, I saw what it could do. I could see theatre was beyond just doing the plays, that it impacted people in their everyday lives, that it was pretty magical and powerful. I saw that even when I was in high school. So I decided I wanted to teach theatre.”

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My mother, a passionate, delightful, creative and dare I say somewhat mischievous person, got her Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre (with an emphasis on Children’s Theatre), with the additional majors of English and Psychology, although she says, “It wasn’t really like it sounds; some of the English and Theatre classes counted for both.” She also got a minor in Education and became certified to teach high school Theatre and English, and, at first, taught creative drama with 6-12 year olds for a summer program in Sterling, Illinois.

In truth, her own mother was an accomplished pianist (and quite the rabble rouser in her youth) who returned to teaching kindergarten when she was widowed. My mother was nine years old at the time, so the idea that arts and teaching, change, hard work and delight all intersect was a part of her own growing-up.

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My mother again: “Then I decided to get my Masters in Social Work so I could work outside the confines of an educational curriculum.” So she did, having to justify in an interview why and how an undergraduate degree in Theatre prepared her to even enroll in an advanced degree in Social Work, let alone become an excellent social worker. She then got accredited by NASW, and licensed in New York State as a clinical social worker.

Into this context, I was born.

The mother I knew directed community theatre plays, made puppets and did shows in hospitals for very sick children, developed a use for creative drama and puppets in her practice at a time when the phrases ‘Play Therapy’ and ‘Drama Therapy’ did not exist, as the fields were so very new.  She worked with youth in juvenile detention and residency centers.  She worked with severely traumatized children, children in foster care, civil rights activists, the list goes on. She was about taking purposeful actions of empowerment and healing, always with a sense of social justice and social well-being as an intricate part of emotional and physical wellness; her practice was always activist as well as compassionate, often humorous, and taking no guff. Although retired, she is still a force to be reckoned with, volunteering for projects that unify arts, community, and the well-being of children.

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Is it any wonder that I believe the arts are how we process our lives, our most powerful tool and matrix for discovery and transformation—of self, other, and community, of paradigm and process, of social structures and values? I believe that art is how we really connect to, process and understand our world, each other, our communities, our learning, our living, and our dying. Art has the power to make us think and make us invest emotionally.  Making art together makes meaningful change, and I am one piece of the conduit.

This paradigm has informed my seeking and growth as well as my practice. It’s not that I ‘bring’ these ideas into a classroom, group meeting, arts activist project, clown therapy program, script or stage — they are where I come from. 

Thanks, mom.

imageArtistic Director of Shearwater Productions, Holly Adams is a long time mask maker, stage combat choreographer, and performer with a focus on physical theatre styles. Holly also loves being a teaching artist! Whether she is giving a master class in NYC or at a college, or creating arts-a-the-core inquiry based curricula for elementary and high schools, she is loving every minute of it. She is the recipient of ATA’s Teaching Artist Service to the Field award for 2009-2010,a member of APA, Ed Bloggers, and a board member for NYSTEA. An interview with Holly is here

Also in ALT/space by Holly Adams:
On Teaching Intimacy
Working with Children on the Asperger-Autism Spectrum
Rigor and Joy
Don’t Stop Believing

In this space, Teaching Artist correspondents from around the U.S. and the world bring you stories of their work at the crossroads of art and learning. ALT/space is a project of the Teaching Artist Journal, a peer reviewed print and online quarterly that serves as a voice, forum and resource for teaching artists and all those working at the intersection of art and learning. Individual online subscriptions of the TAJ print journal gives you access to a very useful, easy to access, 55-issue archive--the only such archive of its kind.