24 March 2013

Art Educators With heART, Featuring Adrienne Hodge.


When I went back to college in 2007 after a 10 year hiatus, I met some of the most amazing and inspirational people on the planet. (This is not hyperbole, it's an actually fact.) 

Perhaps I feel this way because I was embarking on a new chapter in my life and open to new things, or perhaps it has to do with the warm and cozy creative space that The University of Texas' Fine Arts Department was so good at providing. Whatever the case may be, I am lucky to keep in touch with most of these young artist and makers still today. Most all of them through Facebook, certainly. But several of us have grown closer after school, serving as sounding boards for ideas or creative support. 

This statement certainly rings especially true for Adrienne Hodge.


Adrienne and I met probably in late 2007. I'm guessing. Between 2008 and when I left for Baltimore in 2009 is sort of a blur of VAS (Visual Arts Studies), Poof!! In Movement, and ceramics classes. She was definitely a huge part of both the ceramics and VAS worlds . . . She was also instrumental in helping to judge the Capital One Kids' Art Contest that I put together in the Spring and Fall of 2008. This was an awesome opportunity for artists to get together and look at Austin-wide student work. The winners would be on view at the Pecan Street Festival's Capital One Kids' Art Tent in downtown Austin. It was a catered affair with gifts for the judges! Such fun!

We also ran into each other teaching at the Dougherty Arts Center throughout the year. I found the following picture of us from 2009, at Nathalie Renfroe's baby shower (Nathalie was our manager at Dougherty). 


And we both lamented the closing of the ceramics lab at The University of Texas at Austin (UT), both admitting to crying about it: publicly on the interwebs. I wrote about it in this post. She responded at the bottom of the post, recalling her first experiences with clay. And the similarities we had with the material.

When I went back to UT, I was only there for a little less than 2 years. It's not often that one gets the chance to go back to school, and even less of a chance that they will encounter such life-changing relationships in such a short amount of time. 


So without further ado I give you Adrienne Hodge, in her own words.

What is your name and where do you teach? What do you teach? How long have you been teaching? Have you taught the same subject throughout the whole time that you have been teaching?

My name is Adrienne Hodge, and I am currently teaching 6th - 8th grade Art, Advisory, and Computer Apps classes at Running Brushy Middle School in Leander ISD (located in the suburbs of Austin, Texas). This is my third year of teaching. I previously taught 6th - 8th grade art for two years at Dripping Springs Middle School--Dripping Springs is a small town just outside of Austin, Texas.


I only ever imagined I would be teaching art mediums and art practice. But this year I am learning what it's like to teach subjects I may not always enjoy or feel passion for, myself. Integrating technology into the classroom is something I think all educators feel either a pressure or a desire to do regularly in this current tech age, but taking classes into the computer lab used to be something I did rarely or even avoided for fear of inevitable complications or technical difficulties. 

Now, I have two sections of Computer Applications and my very own computer lab, where I teach daily. It has been a challenge, but also a rich learning experience discovering how to make lessons on Keyboarding, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Internet Research creative and engaging to students who would rather just take photos of themselves on Photo Booth and play games on this math site (they LOVE that website). I think I'm pulling it off!! I have evolved into a teacher who now takes all of my classes into the computer lab almost weekly and constantly takes advantage of its endless resource in teaching art. This year I am also teaching a pre-cursor to the AVID program--an advisory class--to 6th graders. I often use art-based projects to help students make connections to advisory topics like goal setting, self-motivation for success in school, and career and college readiness.


How many students do you work with during a week's time?

I have about 140 students in my current weekly schedule with class sizes ranging from 30 students in Art and Advisory, to very small Computer Apps classes with only 14 - 16 students. I have one Advisory class that rotates a new set of students every 12 weeks and the two Computer Apps classes are semester-long, so my student body total has changed frequently this year!


Do you make your own artwork? If so, where do you make your artwork? Do the students know you make your own artwork? Have you shown it to them before? Do you think making your own artwork enhances, changes, or helps your teaching? 

I enjoy painting, ceramic sculpture, and ink drawing in my own work, but all too often I fail to make the time for my artwork during the school year! In the summers since I started teaching, I have made a lot more time for large paintings, but during the school year, I try to at least develop detailed ink drawings in my sketchbook as much as possible. I can make some pretty good excuses for not setting more time aside for bigger projects! Like, getting married in my own backyard in the middle of the school year last year, or being pregnant with my first child this year . . . But it usually boils down to exhaustion or a seemingly lack of sufficient time to fully develop ideas I have beyond the drawing stage.

My husband and I share a great workspace in an antique parlor room we added onto our garage last year before our wedding. Before that, I would paint in our sunroom. But there are always issues with exploding the supplies needed temporarily into a shared space! Once they are put away, it is such a chore to re-assemble the mess . . . A permanent space would be ideal, but at least the corner of my couch with my sketchbook and calligraphy pens is always there!


I always start out the school year introducing myself to my students as an artist by showing them a slideshow of my most successful drawings, paintings, sculptures, and printmaking works from college. I even show this slideshow to Advisory students to talk about my journey through art courses at community college and eventually The University of Texas at Austin before we start our college research project. I also carry my sketchbook with me and I use the fact that I draw in pens-only to regularly illustrate my philosophy about mistakes as opportunities for growth. 

During a ceramics unit last year, I worked on a personal piece in front of students and used it to demonstrate handbuilding and glazing techniques. I have also painted entire personal paintings in front of students as demos, and I think it helps them immensely to see their teacher practice art making. Apart from the "wow" factor of capturing their attention about a certain process, or impressing them to elicit even celebrity-like status in their eyes (I once had a classroom of kids beg me to draw them or autograph their sketchbooks when I spent a free draw day outside drawing various students sitting near me!), it encourages them to want to keep trying despite failed attempts. 

I really make a big fuss about mistakes in my teaching philosophy and tell stories about my journey to discovering my own abilities in art A LOT. I do not accept the "I can't do this" line from any student, ever. My patience is endless--in fact--for any student who says this because I'm so intent on pushing them from that line, to that moment when they look back and say, "look what I did!" It's likely more selfish then inspirational on my part really, because I also enjoy taking credit for that moment!


Does working with young people enhance your personal artwork?

Yes: incredibly so! I could go on for days about how teaching middle school has changed my mindset about my own work or simply how I think about teaching art. The whole drawing in pens-only thing is something that would have terrified and frustrated me several years ago, but I embrace the thoughtfulness I have to apply when erasing is not an option in a new drawing. I hoard erasers in my classroom too, and only give them to students if they REALLY need them or if I sense a nervous breakdown approaching because I am withholding them. 

I love the life metaphors that lie within this battle to achieve our visual expectations for a work of art while being forced to live with errors and work through them or see past them when we can't help that they exist. Watching a student at the most vulnerable and illogical stage of life (i.e. puberty) go through this process is highly inspirational to me.


What is your favorite thing about what you do?

Probably what I said about taking credit for those moments when I see students building a different inner dialogue about themselves based on the confidence that comes along with discovering art abilities. However, this year things are a bit different because teaching art is not the central focus of my workday anymore. So, it has become less about how to inspire students to feel confidence through what cool thing I can teach them to do in art, and more about how to listen to them and build relationships with them on a much more intrinsic level.

When I am teaching art this year I simply don't have the time in this "elective wheel" class where I have to teach them Advisory and Computer Skills, to facilitate the type of art learning I have in previous years. So I've let go of a lot of my snobbery in regards to expectations, and tried to get them to that "aha" moment as quickly as possible. This usually involves just letting them make a happy mess and steering it toward an outcome easily.

Overall though, my favorite thing about my job is the rapport I build with the students and how nurturing they can be in return when they feel valued. Small moments of appreciation I get out of things like: one of my favorite students who waits for me every day on our path to the computer lab because she knows what time I will be leaving my other classroom to walk with her each day. Or this very mature yet teddy-bear-of-a-boy who takes so much pride in the way I treat him like a teaching assistant each day, never taking advantage of it or lording it over the other kids. Or a boy whose mother is suffering from cancer and is often absent, who is wise beyond his years that stops nearly every day he is present to say, "Goodbye, Mrs. Hodge!" at my door as the loud masses of teenagers exit the building. These students put back all of the energy that is often drained from me in the teaching day, and I used to think these types of connections were only directly related to art somehow.


Do you host any large events that feature your students' artwork so that the larger community can see what the students are making? What about school-specific events?

My current district holds a district-wide art show that is scheduled for early March, and I am looking forward to exhibiting student work in that show. 

My students and I recently participated in a global community art event called the One Million Bones (OMB) that has been several years in the making and will culminate this June at the Capitol Mall in Washington DC to raise awareness about genocide and human atrocities around the world. Our local newspaper, the Austin American Statesman, recently featured an article about our students' participation in this important art project. My fellow art teacher and I at RBMS were both very passionate about our involvement in this project, and it was moving to see how much it impacted the students as well. 


Last year, a close friend of mine, Matthew Remington, coordinated a large satellite event for the OMB project on the Austin Capitol grounds. Matthew is a graduate student in the Art Education Department at The University of Texas at Austin, and an activist who has been very involved in promoting community involvement in art education for students of all ages. 

He has been a guest speaker in my classes for two years now. Last year, a few students of mine at Dripping Springs Middle School joined me on Saturdays at UT's College of Fine Arts to make bones for the event at the Austin Capitol, but this year students in our art classes and art club made close to 300 bones. The bones we made were used in another satellite installation event at UT last fall, and were then shipped to the One Million Bones headquarters to be part of the final installation this June, 2013.



I periodically display student artworks throughout the school hallways and in the school office or library. In addition, I have made sharing art with the rest of the campus a priority of the art club I sponsor along with my co-teacher. When possible, we work with other Fine Arts electives such as Choir, Dance, or Theatre Arts to create events that display student advancement in all of these art genres in a common theme. One such event was an anti-bullying showcase for the "No Place for Hate" campaign.

How does collaboration fit into your teaching methods? What about personal choice? And imagination?

Collaboration is extremely important to me. I keep in touch with several of the other art teachers from my college studies in the Visual Arts Studies program at UT, such as cakecrushonthetown's very own Lindsey Bailey! Some of these connections are kept through social media or periodic phone or online chatting. I also follow many art educators I have never met on pinterest or blogs I have found when poking around on the internet for new ideas.

My former mentor teacher from my student teaching days has been a huge inspiration to me, as well as my former co-teacher from Dripping Springs Middle School. Even though, I still feel like a novice teacher at times in my third year of this gig. The further I get into this profession, the more I recognize the lessons learned from feedback and conversations with those I have worked closely with in this field are invaluable to how I approach the art of teaching itself.

Personal choice is something I have struggled with in my teaching methods, as I first began approaching art teaching to middle school students in a very collegiate way. I have had to let go of those methods to an extent for various reasons, some I have already mentioned in my responses above. 

The biggest idea I am learning to embrace is the “make & take” philosophy. I’m a big fan of process-driven art, and I often don’t care if a student fully completes an assignment as long as the learning objective was fulfilled in some way. However, I’m learning that a lot of the internal confidence I hope for students to obtain in the process of art making can be achieved in a “make & take” project. I am an admitted art snob and a competitive one at that. I feel like there are “tricks” to getting younger students to make high art that is full of skill, and I pride myself in either tricking them or teaching them those tricks. However, there is a lot of merit in just letting kids make a fail-proof project and watching them gleefully create for the sake of it!
 


Imagination is where I shift back to my process-driven preferences because assembly line projects don't always leave room for it or steer students in a direction where they aren't forced to use any. Some of my favorite projects have been open-ended ones where a few guidelines are given and several options are laid out before the student. Yet when the "ok, go!" signal is given, not much movement is made because most of them are thinking about their choices and how they are going to solve the problem and which options they are going to take in getting there. 

These types of projects take much longer, and not all students succeed in the end. But the ones who do surpass all of my expectations; and even the ones that don't, end up with something to take home to their parents. Not to mention, students learn so much more through trial and error that comes with executing their own choices and visual imagination than when they just copy the teacher example or template in front of them.

Do you bring in artists from the community to work with your students?

I once invited a very successful local artist and friend of mine, Steve Brudniak, to talk to 8th graders in a career day showcase during my first year of teaching, but it was just a lecture format. However, bringing artists from the community to work with my students is something I hope to do more of in years to come.

What are your top five favorite supplies to use with students, and why?

1. Book pages, maps, and newspaper! These materials can jazz up pretty much any collage or mixed media work that needs "something" to give it depth or make it feel more intentional.

2. Sharpies or india ink: the more permanent the supply, the better! "Mistakes are opportunities for growth" - that's the mantra I make kids repeat all the time.

3. A nice, pointy light "H" pencil: when learning how to draw and embrace those mistakes, no eraser is needed if you have one of these!

4. Watercolor paint and watercolor pencils: watercolors are just so simple and easy, adding another dimension to a drawing project without a lot of mess or headache for the teacher.

5. Miscellaneous supplies that aren't intended for that use: broken pencils, ballpoint pens, miscellaneous tubes, toothbrushes, popsicle sticks, etc. Anything that can be used to carve into semi-dry paint, smear it in an interesting way or used to draw onto/into some other medium to elicit discovery. Any of these tools can make art, if you hold them right!

Do you have a favorite lesson plan that you could share with us?

Last year, my former co-teacher & I came up with a 2D + 3D-mixed media project we called “Facebox!” It combined self-portraiture with the assemblage process of Joseph Cornell’s memory boxes. This project took several weeks and gave students lots of choices and objectives, but the results were phenomenal in some cases…


Materials: shoeboxes or optional boxes of other materials (wooden, sturdy cardboard, etc.), book pages, maps, newspaper, notebook paper, colored construction paper (for decorating the outside of the boxes), poster board (for making shelves or smaller box inserts, rulers, pencils, drawing paper, masking tape, glue, scissors, also, some small objects brought from home were suggested to students as “artifacts” to be placed in box, but this was not required.

Introduction:

Day 1- Slideshow of artwork and biography of artist Joseph Cornell followed by discussion on why Cornell made these boxes and lots of questions about what individual boxes meant or symbolized to students. Lead in at the end of discussion about surrealist connection of Cornell’s work as well as “Stream of Consciousness” writing of authors like James Joyce that will connect to Day 2 activity.

Day 2- Teacher reads example of “Stream of Consciousness” writings by several famous authors like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf as well as a teacher example written beforehand. Some artwork featuring “Stream of Consciousness” themes are passed around to show students how “doodles” can be representative of our subconscious imagination. Then, to create a mood, students are allowed to sit or lay wherever they feel comfortable in the room, lights are lowered or turned off, and “moody” music is played (I played the Rachel’s but anything that makes good background music would be nice), blank paper, pens & pencils are dispersed, and a timer is set for 15-20 minutes. The only rule is that students have to continue writing the entire time and not think too deeply about what they are writing.

These writings can be used to cover the outside of the box later if students choose OR they can simply be used as a jumping off point for the box’s theme. Students who could not think of a theme on their own were given the instruction to make the box simply about them and their favorite hobby.

Week 1 and 2: Self Portraits. We borrowed cameras from the yearbook class and students staged photographs of themselves in and outside of the classroom (we took a walk around the school and many sports-themed boxes had self-portraits taken on the football/basketball fields, etc. Photos were printed and grid drawings were made. We spent some time learning facial proportions prior to this unit, but students were allowed to take photos of their feet, hands holding a book or other such self-portraits that did not show their face. There was a deadline to complete the self-portrait, but not all students chose to put their self-portrait drawings on the box.

Week 3 and 4: Linear and Atmospheric Perspective. Many of Joseph Cornell’s memory boxes contained depth inside. Students were taught both types of perspective in a drawing unit earlier in the year. It was optional to have linear perspective in the box, but all boxes had to show foreground, middle ground, and background in some way. My teacher example showed a scene from a magazine, cut up and positioned with 3D depth by stacking the foreground, middleground, and background like the stage setting for a play inside of the box.

Week 5 and 6: Box Assemblage. Again, there were lots of options and choices made about whether or not to include the self-portraits or perspective works in the final box. The final product had to have: an obvious and unified theme, a foreground, middleground, and background somewhere on the box, and good craftsmanship represented throughout.


I did this project with 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes including my advanced 8th grade HS Art I class. The 7th and 8th graders in the mid-level class had to have at least one shelf in their box. HS Art I students had to have shelves AND 3D aspects in their box. Although, in the end, I had 6th graders who made boxes on par with the advanced level classes. 

Inspiring, yes? Do you remember your art teacher in elementary, middle, or high school? A college professor, perhaps? If so, what made that person memorable to you? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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