Art & Art Education Curriculum Design Course: Connecting the Practice to Theory ☆

TC students worked with the LongHouse Reserve to create custom curriculum. This is Sol LeWitt's "Irregular Progression #7," a feature in the museum's sculpture garden.

Taught by Dr. Razia Sadik, TC alumna and Macy Gallery Director, the Art & Art Education Curriculum Design course was enhanced in Spring 2011 in two critical ways:  The first advancement was the addition of a studio component which took the form of a co-requisite studio course.  As Professor Sadik explains, “We are doing practice-based research for this course.  The ideology behind that is something Dr. Burton and the program is very invested in.  Since we are teaching art teachers, art teachers need to be in touch with their practice while they are thinking about teaching.  And they need to engage with materials in order to access a different language to access theory about education.  This language is something familiar, or the language of art.  It is like a conversation, or a dialogic relationship between what you think and read about education and how you might engage with those ideas in handmade or digital media.”

The second enhancement to the course provided real-world impact, with students creating curriculum for area schools and arts organizations that ultimately achieved implementation.   The overhaul of the course was something of a “risk”, as Sadik describes it, but one that ultimately creates an environment where cutting-edge, progressive teacher education can happen.

The Curriculum Design course has four assessment projects, with one task building on the next.  There is a “cumulative learning happening,” Sadik explains.  “It is like a crescendo of students being immersed in curriculum themselves, with the final project as the peak of the whole course.”  Three of the assessment projects are done in collaboration with the studio instructor, Richard Jochum, who works with students in small groups for a superior studio experience.

Most students who are required to take this course are first year pre-service K-12 art teachers. The first task, begun ultimately in the opening weeks of the second semester of a first-year’s graduate education, is a writing assignment where students are challenged with writing a two-page philosophy of teaching.  Sadik explains that students may initially protest, “But I haven’t taught before.  So what is my philosophy of education?”  She encourages them to reflect on past experiences as students, teachers they’ve encountered along the way, and elements of education that they have found helpful or not, liked or didn’t like.  Concurrently, students are at work in their studio class to create a visual statement of their teaching philosophy.  It is an exercise that requires quick thinking to accurately communicate ideas, as the art materials are simple and the work must be completed there and then in the studio.  This type of creation “works at a really abstract level, and for some of them it goes from the abstract to the concrete,” Sadik notes, with ideas eventually emerging.   Initially some students are more comfortable with writing, and others with art-making.  Sadik reminds her students that their educational philosophies will evolve as they grow as teachers and summarizes this first assessment project, essentially a “visual/verbal” way of thinking, as “tremendously difficult and rewarding”.

In the second task, students are asked to find an existing school curriculum that corresponds to their philosophy of education and write a critical analysis of it in a research paper.  They review literature in the field that supports the elements they feel should be in that curriculum, and then make recommendations.  To provide inspiration for teachers in training, Sadik creates a model.  She provides feedback on the students’ submitted work, and explains, “My way of working with students is very dialogical…they can revise until they feel good about what they’ve created.  There is a back-and-forth, which I feel is necessary.  Learning by doing is an important part.”

The third task is a group project with real world implications, which Sadik believes is a goal all curriculum design courses should strive for.  Students identify and contact area schools, art institutes, community arts programs and museums with a request to work with that institution to create custom curricula.  This approach is a marked departure from the way the course was run in years past, where students would create hypothetical curricula for imaginary institutions.  With Dr. Burton’s support, Sadik upgraded the class to involve real institutions, and the results were impressive: students created curricula for a total of seven intuitions, some of which are in effect today.

Three schools signed up to work with the Art & Art Education students:  a Waldorf school in Brooklyn, a private school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and a public school on Roosevelt Island.  Two community arts organizations got involved as well:  the Harlem-based LeRoy Neiman Art Center, a subsidiary of Art Horizons, which is a non-profit community-based arts center that provides arts programming for kids, teens and adults; plus the Brooklyn-based Turning Point, a non-profit organization that works to help disadvantaged youth and adults through educational and community outreach programming. The Turning Point curriculum is now taught by the same group of students who designed it.

The Lalela Project (a New York-based non-profit that works to create positive change through the global exchange of art) also collaborated with TC—they actually reached out to Sadik with a request for help with their curriculum development.  The students who created The Lalela Project’s curriculum will be traveling with the organization to South Africa next summer to see their work in action and to teach their curriculum.

Another curriculum project was created with the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, a living artist’s house museum and contemporary sculpture collection.   Students were faced with the task of bringing LongHouse alive online—no small feat considering much of the collection is displayed outdoors, with moving, natural elements (like wind and water) an integral part of the exhibit.  Sadik’s students designed a website to support LongHouse’s existing site, employed video to capture the art, and made a series of virtual lesson plans and a curriculum that can be adapted for different schools.  She describes the site as “cohesive, comprehensive and immersive,” as well as in close harmony to the  mood of the actual LongHouse location.

Sadik is delighted that her student’s work is being implemented and believes the whole task—working in groups, maintaining communications with the institutions, designing curriculum—“was a huge learning experience” both for the students and for her.

The studio portion of the Curriculum Design class asked students to create a poster of the work they did with their institution.  “The idea of their curriculum should be able to be communicated in a really succinct way to somebody who does not know anything about that project,” Sadik explains.  “Clear, concise communication was really important to Professor Jochum and to me.”  The completed posters, as well as the documentation archive of the development process of each curriculum project, are destined for the walls of Macy Gallery in Spring 2012, where they will constitute a pre-conference program core exhibit for the National Art Education Association’s annual convention, set to take place in New York in March.

The fourth and final task is an annotated bibliography in electronic form that can act as a curriculum resource that students can build over the years.  “We have access to so much information these days and we just dump it into folders.  Information needs to be curated in order to be functional,” Sadik offers as the impetus behind the task.   She credits the technical facility of Professor Jochum, with organizing a “process journal” on Wikispace for students to document each and every step of the courses’ four tasks.  The focus of this journal was a careful chronicling of everything students encountered, from group politics to sketching out concepts to connect ideas.  Sadik sees this Wiki as a good document for future teachers, exploring “How do students think?  How do teachers who are learning to teach think?”

When Sadik herself came to TC as a student, she found the balance of practice and theory in Art and Education to be refreshing and “radical”.  She has taken this method of exploring both the practice of teaching and the practice of one’s own art and put it to work in her Curriculum Design course, creating a dynamic, different space for student learning.