Creativity thrives even in remote learning

Creativity thrives even in remote learning
Posted on 11/09/2020
Just like other classrooms throughout the district, the art rooms at Tahoma High School sit empty on most days, except for the teachers. But on one recent afternoon, the roll-up doors stood open, and students trickled past to drop off their ceramics artwork for firing in the kiln. Wearing masks and following distancing protocols, teachers exclaimed over the pieces, and students described parts of their process or what they loved about the finished piece.

“What I love about teaching art, is seeing their faces light up with pride, excitement and self-confidence within themselves, from what they have learned and created in their art classes,” teacher Kara Oxner said. “Students not only walk away with actual products that they have created, but they also discover great things about themselves through their various problem-solving skills, challenges, planning, execution, presentation, persistence and time management skills. They are discovering that they can accomplish great things, and you can see the pride they have with that success!”

Remote learning has certainly presented challenges for art classes, just as for every other subject and grade across the system. Despite that, Tahoma High School’s art teachers and students are finding success. Earlier this fall, the art teachers offered a special supply pick-up for their students, with items that vary by class. Ceramics students, for example, received a 25-pound block of clay, special tools to carve and shape with, and a canvas mat to work on.

“We are coming together as a community to offer authentic experiences, and finding ways to create highly engaging lessons to empower student learning. As a result, we are seeing some great success in the art programs, through the visual evidence,” Oxner said. “Kids have been expressing in their artist statements at the end of each lesson -- how their art classes are the best part of the day and they are creating some really amazing pieces that they are proud of. I recently heard that there is a group of students who have a special ceramics chat group to show and talk about their work with each other. I thought that was the coolest thing ever!”

Fellow art teacher Jennifer McCoy, who is also the head of the Visual Arts Department, said “My students are rocking this fall. Last spring was just emergency learning. This fall is full blown school, and they are rising to the challenges and doing a great job.”

McCoy said her students are eager and ready to learn. “Students are like sponges. They soak in all you can provide them. Art is a release of stress and anxiety for most students. It helps balance the day.”

As a teacher, she said the biggest challenge has been not seeing her students’ faces. She said she wishes more students would keep their cameras on so that she can teach to them as people rather than boxes filled with names.

Sophomore Taylor Dideon, who is in Oxner’s ceramics class, said that before the year started, the idea of remote learning art was worrisome. “To be honest, I was actually quite nervous to create art with clay because I am a horrible drawer and I was afraid that making a creation out of clay would be much harder. But, actually, it's really easy and really fun to work with. My confidence has definitely improved because my creations are turning out really good and close to what I drew and designed. So art this quarter has been really fun and awesome to prove to myself I can create something out of clay and have it turn out well.”

And, Dideon pointed out, the remote learning aspect -- and different types of access to teacher help -- can in certain circumstances help the student in the long run. “Remote learning really falls on the kids and I don't think it's bad at all because it's teaching the kids how to problem solve. It's teaching the kids how to make things work and how to get creative, and that's what art is all about: Being creative and figuring out how you're going to make your design work. The teacher can help you and show you how they would create a design but, at the same time, you have to figure out how you're going to make something work.”

When wifi issues caused Dideon to miss a few pieces of instruction, she said she was able to attend Power Hour to get help from Oxner. “Ceramics at home may seem like ‘How is that going to work!?’ It actually is quite easy and quite a lot of fun!”

She said that her favorite project so far has been a ceramics piece with an owl made to look as though it’s coming out of the frame, using the techniques of high relief and bas relief.

Art teacher Amy Goldberg said most of her students have risen to the situation. “This is difficult for them. I'm proud of their efforts. This fall, the quality of work/engagement has increased a lot compared to last spring,” Goldberg said. “As students and teachers are getting comfortable with the format and learning how to connect with each other, things seem to be improving. Students are required to really dig in and look at their own learning. It's great to see this happening.”

Like McCoy, Goldberg said the hardest thing is not being physically in the classroom with her students. “I look forward to getting back into the classroom and moving around my space,” she said.

The best part of remote learning is everything that the students are learning, Goldberg added. “What excites me the most is that students are seeing what is possible and what they are capable of accomplishing.”
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