Monthly Archives: January 2012

Art is an amazing communications tool

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You cannot not communicate. If this was an English class, the double negative would stand out a bit. But in a Speech Communication class, it is an important concept. Everything we do communicates. What you say, how you say it, what you wear. Even if you stand not moving with your arms folded and don’t say a thing. You are communicating.

I tell my students this becomes important when they go to a job interview. In the book “What the Dog Saw” by Malcolm Gladwell, an example he uses applies this concept to job interviews. A study where a group of individuals watched a short video clip of a job interview. We are talking about a very short clip. The interviewee coming in and shaking hands. Just a few seconds. When comparing the choices on who should be hired, the actual interviewers in comparison with the individuals who watched just a few seconds of the interview, the results of who should get the job was pretty much the same. In those few brief seconds, much was communicated. You cannot not communicate. Just saying your name and giving a handshake sends volumes of communication.

I liken this to what happens in our writing and art contests. So often, we are sent poetry or art where the presentation of the material is lacking. A piece of art where the concept is good, but it lacks the professionalism that separates quality art. Simple things like the paper that is used, messiness with the medium or clean lines. I mean, no matter how good the art is, when it is presented on three holed lined paper with smudges of color like something was spilled on the edges, something is lacking. You cannot not communicate. The presentation sends a message. The student did not take a national contest seriously.

In all our interactions, be aware of the messages you send. Look at the total message as you are always communicating something and we are often not aware of the message we are sending.

On an end note, enjoy the small pleasures of life. I just put my 12 year old daughter, who is in a wheelchair, to bed for the night. Her feet felt like they were frozen. But take a soft cloth bag filled with beans, 3 minutes in the microwave, and a foot warmer is a small pleasure that makes her comfortable. There are so many things that we miss when we rush through life. The smile on her face. My heart took a picture. Her smile communicated volumes.

Help your students challenge themselves

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In my last blog, I talked about the challenge of “Doing Hard Things.” I have found in being a parent and a teacher, that when a student pushes themselves a bit farther, the result is a greater pride in their work. As teachers, it is often tough to balance between trying something too hard that leaves the student frustrated, and something challenging that leaves the student with a sense of pride. We don’t start with formal portraits or sonnets. We follow the guideline from the movie “What About Bob.” We take baby steps. Build on small successes, but keep moving forward.

However, if you don’t challenge your students, they often don’t take pride in the project. Each year my children compete in the National History Fair. In viewing the competition, the students who stand a little taller by their displays are the ones that have a sense of personal pride. These students were not minimalists, These students pushed themselves a bit. I am the director of Speech and Debate at Utah State. We compete in a conference against 25 other colleges and universities. We are a state school. Our competition is often the larger and more prestigious Pac 10 Schools or the small private liberal arts schools. However, my students have taken the  conference for eight straight years. Are my students any different than our competition?

In reality, their ACT scores are probably lower than those of our competition. The difference is what I expect of my teams. I expect excellence and they rise to the occasion. Whether we win or lose, my expectation is that each student do their best. When I teach the same contest to my middle scholl debate teams, the result of teaching hard things?

We have taken the Utah State Championship two out of three years. So often, we have packets of poems or selections of art, where I know that the teacher did not attempt to “Do Hard Things.” The teacher did what was easy and comfortable. I challenge you to work with your students and push them just a bit farther that they thought they could achieve. You would be surprised by what they can do. Create projects that they can look back and say “It was hard. But I did it!”. Those moments often transcend the classroom and create successes that are carried throughout life. Have an awesome day.

Sometimes the greatest gift is believing in someone

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For Christmas, I gave my daughter the book “Do Hard Things:  A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations” (http://www.therebelution.com/book).  She shared with me the book’s philosophy that often society does not expect much from our youth and that in response, youth often meet that lowered expectation.  I thought of the thousands of teachers that we work with each year with our writing and art contests.

Many times I will receive a packet of poems or view images of art that have been submitted by a teacher and my first thoughts are “Get a new teacher.”  When an entire class of high school students enter poems equivalent to “a cat sat on a bat” or enter art with crayons on lined paper, I know that it is not the students who are failing, but the teacher.  Raise the bar and students rise to meet the expectation.  When we expect little, we receive little.

My students go to a charter school that has a curriculum that is always one grade above the norm.  In 1st grade they are taught 2nd grade math and writing and this continues like this to 8th grade.  At first my reaction was that will just frustrate the student.  But I found that when expectations rise, the quality of the student rises to the expectation.  I have taught at the university level for 30 years.  During that time I have taught the same classes at the high school and middle school level.   When I say the same classes, I really mean the exact same content.  For both my university students and my 7th/ 8th grade students, I teach them difficult concepts, and in both classes they master them.
My challenge to parents and teachers is to higher your expectations.  The youth of today are capable of great achievements.  The book “Do Hard Things” is written by two teenagers.  These are kids who want the challenge.  In working with your students or even your own children, raise the bar, create a challenge and you may find it more rewarding for them and you when they “Do Hard Things”.

Take a look at the work of the young artists of tomorrow

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We have had the comment that our winners are too good and that there is no way a student could do art that is that good. We disagree. Yes, the winners are good. That is why they are winners. Their work is far above their grade level. When you have thousands of entries, then the “Mozart of Art” (a child prodigy) is often among the entries. For each winner, before giving the awards, we verify with his or her art teacher and parent or guardian. This year we had a kindergartner who was a top ten winner, that could have been entered in a high school contest.  I called her teacher and spoke to her, and yes, this student is a child prodigy.  Take a look at our winners right here:  http://www.celebratingart.com/about-us.php