Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bell Ringers in Studio Art

Last year I really struggled with making the sketchbook a meaningful learning tool in my high school classroom.  Granted, I had quite a few obstacles in my way, including maternity leave and sick time leave for my husband's chemo treatments, however after I was back from all of that, I had the hardest time getting back into using the sketchbook.

I attended a staff development at the end of the year last year that was put on by our Boces.  About 10 art teachers from our county got together and just spent a day brainstorming ideas, discussing APPR, pre- and post-assessments, and basically venting.  It was great!  One of the middle school art teachers from another district shared how he uses bell ringers every day to introduce students to art history.  He uses the first 5 minutes of class every day to introduce, review and expand upon a famous artist from history, spending 1-2 weeks on an artist.

Another high school teacher shared how she calls her sketchbooks "source books" instead of sketchbooks.  She doesn't assign sketchbook assignments on a weekly basis because the students would never do them.  Instead, the source book is used as a place to plan and practice before starting and finishing a final project...(duh!  Isn't that what we teach students the sketchbooks should be used for???)  She had students who completed miniature versions of a large scale project, done perfectly, in oil pastel or colored pencil.  The students then made notes in the margins about their experience with the medium, how the practice product turned out, what they might change or do differently on the final project, and much more.  I thought it was a really cool way to make the sketchbook more of a meaningful tool.

When I stepped away from that professional development meeting, I had tons of new ideas.  I used the summer to figure out how I was going to use those techniques to fit my teaching style, my students, and my classroom.  Bring on the bell ringers!

Because we are using Marzano, bell ringers are one of the big things that the administrators are looking to us to use to show that we are constantly assessing our student's understanding of the material we are teaching. Since I am also an art history major, I decided to use my bell ringers to teach students about famous artists in history and the various art styles (non-representational, abstract, impressionism, realism, etc.).  Last year, I tried to incorporate the styles into my second unit and I failed miserably at teaching the students those concepts.  They did not know them very well at the end of the year and could not describe the styles very well.

So far we have had two complete weeks of school.  I used the first week to introduce Mondrian in bell ringers.  The second week was used to review all of the art concepts we talked about in the unit 1 note packet.  Next week, I will introduce the next artist, which I am planning on being Miro.  The great thing about these bell ringers is that it's a sneaky way to incorporate writing...ahem, common core, ahem...without the students being too suspicious about it!  Once I introduce Miro, we will compare the two artists and their styles, via bell ringers, to discuss why abstract/surrealism is different from non-representational art.

We did 5 day so of bell ringers for Mondrian.  Here is what we did and the order that we did them:
1. On the first day, I had some biographical information on the board for students to copy down.  They also had to paste in a picture of Mondrian as well as "Broadway Boogie Woogie" and its credit line. (This one took about 10 minutes.)
2. On the second day, students inserted "Composition A" and "Self-Portrait".  I gave them both to show them that Mondrian could actually paint quite realistically if he chose to. (5 minutes)
3. On the third day, I asked students to make a list of the characteristics of Mondrian's famous work ("Broadway" and "Composition A"). (5 minutes)
4. On the fourth day, students were asked to compare two paintings I gave them.  They had to tell me which one was a Mondrian and why. (5 minutes)
5. On the fifth day, I asked students to do a quick, 2-minute drawing on their page of a Mondrian inspired design. (5 minutes)

Some students managed to fit everything on one page and those who had smaller sketchbooks did them on two pages.  What I love about this is that they now have a little study guide / note page for a single artist.  

Now that we have done this once, I'm hoping that it will take less time to get them to complete the rest.  The biographical day of bell ringers will probably always take more time, which is ok.  Now, I really just need to hammer into their heads that they actually need to look on the board and do the bell ringer on their own every day...I shouldn't have to remind them!


  1. This is pure brilliance right down to changing the name from sketchbooks to source books.

    I am the head of my department and we are in the midst of a bit of a re-building year and this is just what I NEEDED to read because of my feelings about requiring sketchbook assignments/homework. I completely did away with requiring sketchbook assignments this year and it's been great but I knew I needed/wanted to put something in its place. Your approach is awesome and I'm excited to see how/what you do with it all. So far looks like it's a really great start.

  2. Wow, so this is the third time I've tried to post this comment...hopefully it works!

    I'm not totally stepping away from sketch assignments as homework...I don't give review sheets or anything like that, nor do the students get a textbook to do work from, so I feel they need to be responsible for my class outside of school in some way. I won't give a weekly assignment unless it's something that directly relates to what they are learning in class. For example, last week I introduced zentangles and the unit project which is a zentangle parody of a famous painting. The sketch assignment for the weekend was to draw a random object and zentangle it.

    I do also find that if I assign the sketch assignment during the middle of the week, like on a Wednesday, I get more students to complete it than if I assigned it on Friday. I find more students are doing the assignments at home on the week nights rather than the weekend!