THE DESK PROJECT
Vera Ryersbach and Frank Spina
Studentsshoutedoutacross alsoreviewedtheelementsandprin- theclassroomastheywere ciplesofdesignasanotherwayto alaRothko.Secondrow:alaDavis, transportedintotheworld analyzeartwork. alaVasserely,alaKandinsky. ofart:“CallmeVassily!” Eachstudentthendrewor
Left to right: a la Miró, a la O’Keeffe,
announcedKatrina.Otherschimed paintedasketchdemonstratinghis ofhisartistwhilepaintingthedesk.
inafterher. “IamJoan Miro!”“Call orherunderstandingofeitherthe Othersdescribedindetailhowthey
me Piet!” artist’sstyle,subjectmatter,orsto- tailoredtheimagestoreflecttheir
Itallbeganinmygradesfiveand rytellingqualities. Studentswere ownlives.
sixartroom when Isuggestedcollab- encouragedtocreateoriginal works
oratingwiththeclassroomteacher, ofartratherthancopytheirchosen MeetingIndividualNeeds
FrankSpina,aroundthelatestdis- artists. Studentswithattentionproblems
trictinitiative:nonfictionwriting. Asstudentscompletedtheir orwhowereeasilyfrustrateddem-
Initially,Isubmittedalistofartists sketch, andtheyweregivenanold onstratedthat, whenprovidedwith
toFrank, who woodendesk authentictasks, theycouldworkin
createdadigi- Paintingonoldwooden topaintin depthforextendedperiodsoftime,
talpresenta- classroomdesksafterresearchingthestyleof revisitandredoareasthatdidn’t
tionasan theartandartistmadethisan theartist. meettheirpersonalexpectations,
introduction Thisprocess andproceedwithapositiveattitude,
forhisstu- intenseandexcitingexperience. requiredprior demonstratingprideintheirartistry
dents.From knowledge, andaninternalsenseofhighexpec-
thesevisualimages, studentschose synthesisofinformationinorderto tations.
anartisttoresearchviatheInter- makeartisticdecisions,andimagi- Whenstudentscompletedtheir
net,books,andprimarysources. nation. biographies,theyincorporated
biographicalsketches. PaintingtheDesks Oncethedeskpaintingswerecom-
Asaclass, studentsused Phil- Thefirstgrouppaintedfortwohours pleted, studentsinterviewedeach
lip Yenawineand Allison Housen’s anddidnotwanttostopforlunch. otherabouttheprocesstheyhadjust
Visual ThinkingStrategies, a Theyaskedtobecalledbytheirart- completedandsharedtheirreflec-
learner-centeredmethodtoexamine ists’namesratherthantheirown tions. Boththebiographiesandthe
andfindmeaninginvisualart, to namesandaddedtheirowninterest- interviewsbecamethecoreofan
artistsstudentschosetostudy. They denttalkedabouthisartinthevoice Continuedonpage XX.
SchoolArts March 2008 41
A local gallery offered exhibition
space and an art opening was held.
Despite bad weather, families seldom seen inside the school building
attended this off-campus art opening along with grandparents and siblings. Local school board members
The Desk Project took place over
a three-month period. The various
aspects of the work—research, writing, painting, and a written reflection, along with the grand finale
of an art opening—kept students
engaged over this extended period of
Student work exceeded our
expectations. Students took great
pride in their work, asking for feedback, giving each other ideas, and
reveling in each others’ work. To
this day they not only remember
information about their artists,
but also the feeling of working
diligently, and the satisfaction of
doing their best work. The authentic
nature of this project was the basis
of the high level of engagement.
Painting on old wooden classroom
desks after researching the art
and artist made this an intense
and exciting experience. As a final
reward, students were given the
desks to keep!
Vera Ryersbach is an art teacher at Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro, Vermont. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frank Spina is a grade 5 & 6 classroom
teacher at the same school.
Students explore and understand
prospective content for works of art.
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