Sunday, September 18, 2016

Visual Journals and Daily Bell Ringers

This year, I have focused our first two weeks on really enforcing Visual Journal procedures.  Yep, I said Visual Journals.  I'm really trying to go away form using "sketchbook" as the term for them.  From my three year experience teaching high school, I've noticed that my students really didn't seem to take the sketchbook seriously.  Homework assignments were not done by most students, even the ones who were serious about art.  They didn't feel an urgency to keep their sketchbooks in one piece, or even bring them to class daily (even when I allowed them to keep their sketchbooks in the room!).

So, this year, in my attempt to become more choice-based (a.k.a. T.A.B), I'm calling our sketchbooks "visual journals" and I'm trying to create more open ended, thought provoking assignments.  So far, I really do think they are enjoying them, too!

Our first order of business was to create a bell ringer calendar of some sort in our visual journals.  I have three classes I am using this bell ringer method with: Studio Art, Art 7 and Drawing & Painting.

Since Studio Art meets every day, I had the students create a monthly calendar that spreads across two pages.  Just about everything we are doing in our Visual Journals must be a two-page spread.  Why?  To save paper and conserve space, but also because they will have to find creative solutions when marker bleeds through the paper to the other side!!

Each month, our bell ringer calendars will have a theme.  I saw a post about this over the summer on the Art Teacher Facebook page and it's really what got this idea going in my head.  When I attempted bell ringers in the past, it was always an art question...what are the 7 elements of art?  Why do artists draw portraits?   That kind of thing.  With all of the interim testing and assessment we have to do, I've decided that I want to get as far away from "traditional" bell ringers and do something that is more fun and art based (thus moving towards choice based).  So, this month for Studio Art, our bell ringers are all going to be daily drawings of texture or patterns.  This coincides with our first unit, which is about doodling and zentangling.
My visual journal is the one on the right.  I used blue masking tape to create a border around the edges of mine.  I'm hoping as we progress through the year, my students will get a little more creative each month when we draw out our calendars!  The visual journal on the left is one of my students.  When we started this, it was the first full week of school.  I told the students at the end of each month, I would be grading their entire calendar as a whole, looking at creativity and problem solving they had to do to make sure each square was filled in with a completely different pattern.  I told them that they are welcome to fill in the weekend blocks and the blocks during the week from before we began bell ringers, and she came in on Wednesday that week with all of these amazing little pattern/texture drawings!

Here is the bell ringers looked like for the first week:
Monday: Create a pattern or texture that fills the entire square.
Tuesday: Create a different pattern or texture than the one you drew yesterday.
Wednesday: Create a fuzzy pattern or texture.
Thursday: Choose a zentangle card from my "Yoga for the Brain" card decks and draw it.
Friday: Draw a string to break up the box and then fill it with tangles.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we looked at the artist Kerby Rosanes and his style of doodling, and then they learned about the zentangle process.  So, the Thursday bell ringer coincided with our zentangle practice on Thursday, and then Friday's was a review as to how to complete a zentangle tile.

These are my own bell ringer pages from the other two classes.  For Drawing & Painting, which is on the left, the students created a condensed calendar on one page of their visual journals.  I only see these students every other day.  Again, they were told that they can fill in the other squares on their own time.  Many students left the weekend off of their calendar so that they had bigger squares to draw in.  For Drawing & Painting, their monthly theme for September is "Fall".  On the first day, I told them to draw something that reminded them of fall.  On the second day (which should have been Thursday...I already messed up my days... ;), I told them to draw something that reminds them of fall using food.  I will do a post at the end of September with everyone's calendar pages when they are complete.  This group is doing amazing things...some or working in just pencil, some in Sharpie, and some are experimenting with other drawing media, like colored pencils and oil pastels!

The bell ringer page on the right, is my page from Art 7.  Again, I see these guys every other day.  So, I counted how many days we would see each other for the rest of the month, and then had them split their page up into that many spaces.  It just so happened that 7 was our lucky number, which is perfect because our first unit is the Elements of Art!  They haven't caught on yet, but each day, I am asking them to fill a space with as many lines....shapes...textures...forms...etc. as they can.  

For my Art 7 page, I sprayed it with Liquitex Spray Paint.  I learned about this stuff at the NYSATA conference and it is absolutely AMAZING!  You can use it indoors and you don't have to be well ventilated.  It doesn't have the aerosol chemicals and smells like traditional spray paint.  It's also an acrylic paint, so it dries very quickly.  I ordered two cans of each color this year for my graffiti unit for Art 7.  This was my way of trying to cover up the bleed through from the previous page.  You can see a little bit of bleed through from my Studio Art bell ringer calendar, but if I would have sprayed another layer, it would have been covered up completely. 

 Now, onto the Visual Journal assignments that are homework.  Yes, I am giving homework this year, and so far, they seem pretty excited about the assignments!  I have already mapped out the entire school year for all three classes.  They will have three assignments due every five weeks.  These assignments can be handed in early for a grade (so they have time to re-do, fix, adjust for a better grade), or handed in by the due date, but not late.  I did them every five weeks with a hard due date because (A) I get exhausted from hunting students down to hand in late assignments and (B), the students already have the document with the entire year mapped out on the Google Classroom, which means at anytime, they can do the next assignment if they wish.

In class, I plan on allowing students to work on these visual journal assignments on Fridays only.  I know that most students don't have the materials at home to do this.  They can come down to my room during Study Hall or after school, but for those who are in sports, this can be difficult, so I'm doing my best to give a little.  The first assignment, which we spent the first three days of class beginning was the cover design.  Over summer, my daughter helped me design my cover.  I collaged newspaper and white tissue paper over my cover.  Then, I dropped colored India Ink on it and we used straws to blow the ink.  I use black washi tape to "frame" the cover, and then pink washi tape to write "visual journal" on the front.  I also took a thin sharpie and added some value lines to the visual journal tape.

The second visual journal assignment is a name design.  This has to be on the inside of the front cover and on the front of the first page (two-page spread).  Here is mine so's not quite finished, but I've used Sharpie and colored pencil.  I'll add ebony pencil shading to my name once I'm done zentangling it.

The third visual journal assignment that is due on the first five weeks is a Brain Illustration.  I am asking students to take a right brain / left brain quiz (there is also an app for this website that you can download to iPads) to determine how they think.  I really like doing this as a beginning assignment because I'm hoping it will help students see that if they struggle with creativity, it might be because they are more left brained, and that they need to think about completing art projects using what they know.  If they are really good at math, then maybe they need to take a more mathematical approach to the assignments, and as we progress through the school year, maybe they'll become more comfortable with art and a bit more creative as we go along.  Mine is not finished, but I created my brain using a Gelli Plate (acrylic paint and a round sponge) and Sharpie.  I had this awesome cork board scrapbook paper that I glued down (to cover up the bleed through), and then I framed the border with red masking tape and wrote the characteristics of each side of the brain on the corresponding border.  From here, I was thinking about making little sketches of the things I do to fill up each side according to my percentages (my quiz said I am 67% right brained and 33% left brained) and make them look like they are pinned to the cork board.

So, that's a lot, right?  It is, but I'm confident that if I give them their Friday's, they'll have plenty of time to succeed at this.  Quite a few of the students are already done with their cover, and a few have even told me that they asked their parents if they could go buy some art supplies for at home to do their assignments.  Score!

Here is what the visual journal document looks like to my students in their Google Classroom.  I created a rubric based on the Studio Habits of Mind and in my effort to move towards choice based art, I will be assessing all of their projects using these criteria.  All of their visual journal assignments must be two-page spreads and they must use mixed media.


  1. Mrs. Impey, I really, really enjoy your blog, especially your art journal you have your students doing. A classroom teacher for 27 years, I am far from an art teacher, but I teach art for a Saturday school program (I am really a dancer and musician, and teach those as well), your blog is one of the resources has not only helped me to teach art effectively, but to also begin to enjoy creating art myself. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

    1. Wow, thank you so much! I really love hearing that my posts help! ;)

  2. What books/binders do you use for the Visual Journals? And where do you find them?

    1. We are using two different kinds of sketchbooks for our visual journals this year. I get them through my Boces bids at a bit cheaper of a price, but these are the two different kinds I had this year:

      This one isn't the exact brand I have at school, but I can't remember which brand they sent me this year, I just know these are almost identical looking:

      This is the link for the exact spiral kind we use. I LOVE these sketchbooks. I used them last year as well:

  3. I was curious as to what the monthly themes were for your visual journal calendars?

  4. Ms. Impey,Thank you soooo much for this blog. It is still helping teachers out in 2020! I am an electives teacher at an ALE with no art experience! I'm going to alter it a little for middle school students but this is a great starting point! Thanks so much again.