Write-Around + See-Think-Wonder + Gallery Walk-Big Group Share=Art Students’ Awesomeness


I’m continuing to collaborate with amazing art teacher Dorsey Sammataro in AP Studio Art and now with her extended period Introduction to Art class along with her fellow Fine Arts teacher Donna Jones.  Dorsey and I began this mini-collaboration last week with a brief conversation and meeting about the new unit on graffiti and public art that is culminating in the students participating in a Free Art Friday drop in October at Atlanta’s Beltline.  She then shared the unit planning guide (a Google Document) with me; we did a great deal of virtual collaboration at the end of the week and over the weekend using the commenting feature as well as the chat tool—it was wonderful to be able to brainstorm and have conversations about the content and plan the write-around using Google Docs.  I love the ease of sharing and collaborating in Google Docs plus the fact you can export the file with the comments in an easily readable format if you are like me and sometimes need a hard copy in front of you (see below).DSCN1892

To build prior knowledge, the students have watched some videos, read a few articles, (see this page in LibGuides for the background “texts“) and engaged in class discussion around these “texts” with Ms. Sammataro and Ms. Jones; I also did the readings and viewings over the weekend to be up to speed on the content.   I then attended the mini-lecture/conversation about the history of graffiti with both classes yesterday (they meet for a 90 minute block daily); this terrific presentation provided students to come up to the board and interact with the slides as well as opportunities to participate in class discussion.  Not only did I learn many new and interesting facts about graffiti, but I also live Tweeted the session with the hashtag #hoochart and then pulled them together into a Storify story (also embedded in the LibGuide).   Dorsey and I then finalized the write-around questions and discussion prompts; we also incorporated two great prompts suggested by my Norcross High colleague Dan Byrne, who once taught Art History courses!  The prompts included:

Today both classes arrived at the beginning of 4th period; our library assistants helped me set up the tables, butcher paper with prompts, and Sharpies needed for the activity.  Once students were seated, I then reviewed the protocols for our write-around:

As always, we encouraged followed these basic protocols:

  • Move about organically during the first pass at each table and prompt
  • Write quietly and channel their conversation energy onto the paper
  • Respond with text, graphics, sketches, and hashtags
  • Use the second and third passes around each table to respond to their peers
  • Visit each table as long as needed; we did not specify a required time or order to move about
  • Students could choose to initial their work or not
  • For this particular activity, we encouraged students to use their sketchbooks if needed (many had taken notes in these)

Students composed for roughly 30 minutes; the trajectory of the conversation was consistent with what I’ve seen for nearly two years now in doing the written conversations with a build-up of energy.  I was very impressed by how quickly these students, mostly 9th graders, jumped into the activity.  Several visitors, including one of our assistant principals, our visiting instructional technology coach, and a parent volunteer were impressed that every student was participating and engaged.

Vine Video:  Writing Around in Action




We then asked students to self-organized into small groups of 4, and I reviewed the See-Think-Wonder structure for the groups to process their thinking and responses to the ideas and thinking of the write-around as well as the content of the last few days.  For roughly 15 minutes, groups used large post-it notes to record their small group collaboration:

Vine Video: See-Think-Wonder in action:



Dorsey then added a really fabulous twist to our large group share since we had over 40 students participating and about 10 small groups.  Students hung their post-it note responses on the wall, and we then groups could either volunteer to come up to the gallery and present their ideas or we nudged groups to volunteer.  Some groups had a spokesperson come up to the gallery and be the spokesperson; other groups came up together as a team and shared.  Students were very supportive of each other during these mini-presentations and shared some incredibly thoughtful observations, insights/understandings, and wonderings/questions:

Vine Video:  Gallery Walk Share in Action

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You can see the depth  of their thinking in the slideshow below with the photos of their work.  They now are moving onto developing their ideas for an original piece of art they will create for the Free Art Friday field trip drop in a few weeks in October.  I’ll be participating in this great day of authentic learning and fun, so look for a future post live from “in the wild” as we move forward with the unit!

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Researchers as Artists, Artists as Researchers: Tinkering, Messiness, and Meaning Making in Libraries as Learning Studios


Last week, I sent out a needs assessment to our faculty.  Initially, I was concerned it was too lengthy, but as a new media specialist here at Chattahoochee High, I feel a sense of urgency to get some idea of what teachers have done in the past, what they are interested in now, and their points of need.  In spite of some lingering reservations, I shared the assessment with our faulty via email.  The next morning, AP Studio Art teacher Dorsey Sammataro came by to see me because she was intrigued by information literacy concepts embedded in the survey.  Long story short, the survey opened a really exciting conversation between us about certain concepts and skills she saw on the survey and how it dovetailed with the needs for a new unit she is piloting related to 2D Design Service Learning and Natural and Human-Made Environments.  Students have started thinking about topics of importance to them but need help growing strategies for search, developing search vocabulary, and becoming more comfortable with web-based resources as well as databases that students can mine to find inspiration for ideas and issues that can then inspire their art.  Ms. Sammataro identified this working list of issues and topics of importance to her students in the course:

  • Issues of socioeconomic equity (rich, poor, middle class)
  • GMOs/Food
  • Education and Equity
  • Human trafficking
  • Environment
  • Cultural appropriation: identifying its effects in everyday life and raising awareness of it
  • Assimilating into a culture:  how, why, impact on those assimilate—what is gained, what is lost
  • Adolescent mental health issues
  • Body image
  • Emotional health
  • A sense of unity and connection to peoples and cultures in other parts of the world
  • Stereotypes and assumptions people make about specific ethnicities
  • Bullying
  • Abandonment of self because of depression/mental illness as well as abandoned communities and/or groups of people

When she said they would be having a group debrief about the first work of art they had created that had come out of their initial pass at these topics, I asked if I could come listen in, and she enthusiastically said yes!  I was able to join them and listen to most of the 50 minute small group discussion as they talked about:

  • expanded insights about their topic ideas—this aspect of the discussion was quite meaty/weighty as students drew from personal experiences.
  • what they had learned about their idea through their initial research and first efforts at crafting 2D art around it.
  • what community resources (people, groups) might be resources for our work and ideas.
  • how and why one might abandon a topic and how the process of making art around a topic may help you realize that topic is not your true passion.
  • one student shared she had discovered she needs a strong intention for figurative pieces, so the idea/topic of interest is particularly crucial for art making.
  • an extended conversation about the importance of time, space, and ownership of experimentation for both literal and experimental/abstract pieces (echoes of Nancie Atwell’s concept of what writers need); the importance of trying new things, art forms.  In the words of one student, “Don’t be afraid to stray from the path of success.”
  • some students discovered they liked new art forms they didn’t think they would like.
  • one student shared how she was excited about the idea that inspired her art but when it came to do the printing process it was very humbling because it was more difficult than she imagined and the piece didn’t turn out quite as she envisioned, yet this trial and error process was important and valuable to her.
  • some discovered it was more difficult than they anticipated to turn an idea/topic/issue into an art piece.
  • one student shared how important it is to find out what you really are passionate about and then wondered how to better go about mining it to yield more strategic ideas/subtopics or focal points for expression of that through art.

I was struck by how deeply invested the students were in these topics and the group discussion; I was also appreciative of their honesty and openness, something that is not easy to do among peers or with a new adult on the staff who is listening to what they have to say.    Their perspectives on these topics as well as their insights on art making processes had a depth I had not anticipated; it also got me thinking about the parallels between making meaning from art and making meaning from working with information (and some form of research whether formal, informal, or some hybrid).   A few wonderings I’m now contemplating:

  • How do the two (research and art) inform each other, and how might looking at art-making processes foreground our conceptualization of “research”?  I can’t help but wonder if some of the precepts of Dennis Sumara’s work with “literary anthropology” in studying reading literacies might be applied when we think of art, the learning environment of a studio, and research intersect as a site of “information literacy interpretation.”
  • How might a library function as a studio where meaning making is elevated across multiple forms of literacy, particularly information literacy processes?  How is research art?  How might research and the cultivation of information literacy skills in art students impact their art-making processes?  What insights from an art studio might we draw upon in designing a library as a learning studio, and what does research look like in this environment?  How will it translate to learning spaces then outside the library and impact a larger learning community and culture where research seems increasingly marginalized in K-12 public schools by the impact of standardized testing?  What tools, resources, experiences, and learning design drivers do artists and learners need in a research/library learning studio as well as an art studio?
  • How is the act of crafting art like acts of crafting research processes and products?
  • Research and art can both be organic, recursive, and frequently non-linear (even though there are those who would like to prescribe models that are contradictory in nature).    Many K-12 teachers, professors, and yes, even some librarians tend to emphasize the consumption aspect of research rather than frontloading the grittier messy work of mucking about in information; students often miss the experience of wrestling with the friction of ideas that comes when one goes beyond regurgitating facts and engages in higher level thinking; it is often the final product, a paper, that gets the most emphasis.  Yet this creative process is viewed positively when it comes to crafting art—-how might it be viewed if we embrace meaning making as the core of research as it is in art?

Building on the extensive work and efforts Jennifer Lund and I invested in developing the concept of library as learning studio at Norcross High (see any of my posts from the last two years), this budding collaborative partnership with the AP Studio Art students and Ms. Sammataro (and my larger/big picture efforts to now develop the library as learning studio concept at Chattahoochee High) may offer opportunities for us to explore these wonderings together by working from an inquiry stance.   I hope to dwell in these ideas and look forward to see how my thinking is shaped by my experiences with Ms. Sammataro and her students.

Student Research Inspired Art Gallery

Research Inspired Art

This fall, The Unquiet Library has hosted a unique art installation inspired by student research this past spring.  Some of you may remember Teagan from this past winter and her unique approach to creating mindmaps.  Teagan and her partner Kristiena (whom you may remember as one of my co-authors from this fall for a Knowledge Quest article) created a digital multigenre research composition on veterans and PTSD.  Both Teagan and Kristiena were part of a group of students who generously shared their insights and reflections on being immersed in a participatory culture of learning.   In their words, they set out to explore “…PTSD, the effects it has on veterans, and how veterans can receive help from this mental illness. It is very important to understand the severity of this undermined illness because without knowing about the organizations that help these veterans, the specific treatments these organizations use, and what we can do as a community to help, we are letting our country’s veterans down.”  Their inquiry was inspired by their readings of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac, and Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson.


Teagan, who is a gifted photographer, decided to create her own original images to depict some of the key ideas and findings from their research and integrate them into the multigenre digital text.  I was so struck by the artistry of her work that this fall, I asked her if she would consider letting the library create prints of her work and have a research inspired art gallery.  She graciously gave me permission and used excerpts of her research to create informational placards for each print.  After we mounted the prints and placards on art easels, we arranged Teagan’s artwork in the sequence she outlined for us so that viewers could follow the narrative of her artistic creations.  Students and teachers alike have been impressed not only with her moving and striking photography, but they have also been pleasantly surprised to learn that it was sparked by the information she discovered in her research and that the gallery is an alternative representation of those findings.  Not only did Teagan photograph and process the photographs, but she and her father both served as models for the prints.


The research inspired art gallery has not only helped others learn about PTSD and its impact on veterans, but it has also nudged people to see research as something more than an assignment and that it is a mode of learning that can far beyond a class assignment.  I am hopeful that future galleries featuring inquiry inspired creative works will be commonplace and can incorporate additional participatory mediums for interacting with the gallery with a feature like panels coated in IdeaPaint where people can respond to the art and ideas. On behalf of the library and our learning community, I would like to thank Teagan for generously sharing her talent and wisdom with us.

Participatory Learning and Librarianship, NYLA-SLMS Spring Conference 2011

Saturday Luncheon Keynote, Photo by Kate Elstad

I had the pleasure of joining the amazing school librarians of New York at the New York Library Association-SLMS Spring Conference 2011 this past weekend in Buffalo, New York.  Words can’t thank the conference organizers and attendees enough for their incredible hospitality and warm words of encouragement!  My luncheon keynote slidedeck is featured at the top of this post;  you can also view the slidedeck and resources for my morning concurrent session on “Inviting Student Participation in Your School Library Media Program.”    I’m looking forward to returning to New York this August to participate in the 2011 Carol A. Kearney Leadership Retreat: Think, Create, Share and Grow: Transforming Your School Library Leadership.

Buffy and Sue, Niagara Falls Visit May 2011

I’d also like to extend a special thank you to Sue Kretzer for taking time to drive me over to Niagara Falls-–I was absolutely thrilled to see this magnificent and awe-inspiring force of nature.  Getting to see such a beautiful natural wonder was the perfect finishing touch to a special weekend—thank you, Sue!

2011: The Year of Artists and Art

In Linchpin:  Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin shares his working definitions of art and artists and why art and artists matter more than ever in today’s world.

Who/What Are Artists?

I’m going to quote liberally from the book and share a compilation of Godin’s descriptors for artist:

“Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done…An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally..The artists in your life are gift-focused, and their tenacity has nothing at all to do with income or job security. Instead, it’s about finding a way to change you in a positive way, and to do it with a gift. There’s a strong streak of intellectual integrity involved in being a passionate artist. You don’t sell out, because selling out involves destroying the best of what you are.”

What Is Art?

In Linchpin, Godin describes art as:

“…a personal gift that changes the recipient…I think art is the ability to change people with your work, to see things as they are and then create stories, images, and interactions that change the marketplace..Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people..Art is unique, new, and challenging to the status quo. It’s not decoration, it’s something that causes change…Most of all, art involves labor. Not the labor of lifting a brush or typing a sentence, but the emotional labor of doing something difficult, taking a risk and extending yourself. It’s entirely possible that you’re an artist.  I call the process of doing your art “the work.” It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.  The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.”

In his blog post “Making Art“, Godin asserts “By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.”  He identifies three key qualities of art:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

Why Art and Artists Matter to Librarians

So what do art and artists have to do with librarianship?  To be a linchpin, the person who can “bring it together and make a difference”,  Godin says we must:

Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential.”

Not only does framing our work as art and seeing ourselves as artists re-envision us as library professionals, but treating our patrons as artists and providing them learning experiences to help them see themselves as artists cultivates their participation literacy.  If our mission is to help others learn and for the library to be a place and experience of creating art and sharing that gift, then “..the ones you freed to be artists, will rise to a level you can’t even imagine.”

As I reflected last month on my what I learned and how that was reflected in my work and the learning of my students and teachers, I posed these questions:

1.  What did they (your patrons or those you serve) learn through your library program and the conversations for learning you facilitated?  What do you hope they will learn in 2011?
2.  How do we know what they learned?  What tools did you use for assessment?  Did the patrons engage in metacognition and self-reflection on what they learned?
3.  How are you privileging and honoring what they learned?   Where are their stories of learning shared in your physical and virtual library spaces?

I think those questions dovetail perfectly with these essential questions:

  • How will you create art in 2011?  What are the gifts you have to share as an artist?
  • How will you help those you serve, whatever setting you are in, create art and nurture their growth as artists?  How are you and those you serve purposefully cultivating and reflecting on your art?
  • How are you spreading your gifts and your art?  How are your empowering those you serve to share their gifts and privileging their art?

Not only will I continue to try and share the answers I’m discovering along with my students and teachers to these questions here in this space and through my library’s virtual spaces, but I also hope that you will use social media and cloud computing in 2011 to share how you and those you serve in your library are creating and sharing your gifts of art.

How will you invite participation for art and artists through your library in 2011, and how will you participate as an artist in your learning community?