Art Talk: Connecting Students Discussions During Art To Assessment Objectives

Art Talk: Connecting Students Discussions During Art To Assessment Objectives

Close your eyes and picture children engaged in activity in an early childhood classroom. What do you see? Chances are one of the things that most people would visualize is young children engaged in an art activity. We may picture young children painting with paint brushes or maybe even their fingers. We may picture young children using markers or crayons to draw a card for their mom, or their favorite superhero, or a flower they saw on the way to school, or the subway train they ride in each day, or many other things that capture the imagination of young children. To many adults this can seem like a frivolous activity; a form of busywork to keep children occupied. [1] Even parents who love their children dearly, may have a hard time feigning enthusiasm for the 500th picture of a flower their child has drawn and may throw away said picture when their child is not looking. [2]

Most of us in the early education field guided in philosophy by organizations like The National Association For The Education of Young Children (NAEYC) see the value of this type of free art activity.  In addition, we are not too focused on the actual product of a child’s art, but the process that was taken to get there. (Bongiorno, 2014). Recently while working in my Pre-K classroom, I became interested in what children talked about during art activities which is something NAEYC does not discuss much when referring to “the process” of art.

I work in my school’s early bird program. This is a time before 8am where a few parents pay a little extra in tuition in order drop off their children before the school has officially opened. Children from different classrooms are all in the same room and only given a few options about things they can do in order to make the transition to go into their respective classrooms easier. The options are  breakfast and an art activity (usually free painting or free coloring on white pieces of paper; though I will admit to occasionally allowing children to color in printed out pages when those are specifically requested) . While sitting with and observing the children during these art activities, I became fascinated by their discussions which often demonstrated high level of discourse and vocabulary. This led me to conduct more formal observations of what the children were talking about during art.  Initially, my question and goal around these observations was to find out what the children were talking about and to break down what they were discussing into smaller categories. But then, my focus of how I would categorize the children’s “art talk” and my central question about their talk shifted over the course of collecting my data. I began to see my work not as collecting data to satisfy a personal curiosity, but as a way to justify the free flowing process based art activities that most in the early childhood field would argue are valuable for young children. In current times, what is considered important in learning is often what can be assessed and quantified; this often means we have to advocate for the value of art activities since their academic value is not as obvious or as easily measurable to policy makers. (McArdle, Boldt, & Knight). If time to do free art is not looked at as valuable in early childhood education, it may be pushed back aside the way recess, art, and other electives are in elementary school in favor of more formal academic learning and testing.

While academic standards and guidelines can at times be frustrating to teachers especially those of us that value things like giving children the freedom to paint whatever they may like, those same guidelines can be possibly used to justify those very same free act activities. Teachers can look at the guidelines and standards they are given and then create playful activities that fit those guidelines or they can do playful activities and then figure out how those activities meet various standards and guidelines (Mardell, 2016). In this paper, I will do the latter. It might be more obvious, how art might connect to fine motor development guidelines, but I intend to show that art can facilitate discussions which help children learn and meet the academic objectives for Pre-K students. First, I will give a brief review of some of the literature related to children’s talk during art activities. I will then give  examples from a small subset of my data [3] of children’s talk during art and connect that talk to objectives in the Teaching Strategies Gold [4] (Heroman, Burts, Berke, Bickart, & Tabors, 2010) assessment system which is used by my school and is recommended as a curriculum/assessment system by The Department of Early Education and Care.

Literature Review

            The talk children engage in while constructing art has not been studied extensively as much as other aspects of children’s art work. That being said, there is some research and literature to draw upon to help give context to my research. One of the ways children may engage in art talk is via  formal dictation. This usually occurs upon prompting by a teacher or other adult asking the children to describe what is in the picture (Lindfors, 2008). However, it is not just teachers request for dictation that inspires children to engage in narrative description of their art. Young children often seem to talk to themselves describing what they are doing while making marks on a page and will sometimes expand this monologue into a dialogue with teachers, caregivers, and any other nearby audiences (Zurmuehlen & Kantner, 1995). Others point to having children engaging in art in small groups to facilitate discussion as a pedagogical strategy; the small groups allow children to verbalize and communicate ideas which helps language development (Newton, 1995). Yale Child Study Center researcher Erika Christakis points to playful learning and art that does not revolve on cutesy crafts to bring home to parents but with a more free play ethos to facilitate discussion among children; “When kids are speaking to one another and listening to one another, they're learning self-regulation, they're learning vocabulary, they're learning to think out loud. And these are highly cognitive skills. But we've bought into this dichotomy again. I would say "complex skills" versus "superficial" or "one-dimensional skills (Turner, 2016).”

While many books, articles, and studies, touched upon the idea of language and talk during art activities, few studied mirrored my own research looking at what children were actually talking about in the classroom. One notable exception was conducted by Christine Thompson and Sandra Bales. There study looked at 4 different preschool and kindergarten art classes and described the nature of the talk of children who partook in art activities voluntarily. They recorded children’s talk during the art and categorized it. In their findings they noted “the children addressed issues of imagery and process. They contributed ideas and information, suggestions and support, as they responded to the work of those around them. They formed communities within each class, stable ateliers devoted to common interests or transitory subcultures grounded (Thompson & Bales, 1991).

Data Summery and Analysis

All the art talk data was collected between 7:15am-8:15am on the Wednesday mornings between October 26th 2016 and November 30th  2016. The students observed varied in age between ages 3 and 5 years old. On average there were between 5-10 students in the classroom with 1-2 teachers (one being myself). Most of the children during this time of day were not in their actual classroom but a combined classroom until other teachers and students arrived. All the children were fluent in English, but there were bilingual children in the data; 2 boys were Arabic speakers, a girl who was a Mandarin Chinese speaker, and another girl who was a Norwegian speaker. Students did not arrived at the same time with some students being in the room for a full hour while others arrived to be in the room for only 15 minutes. The students only had the option of either eating breakfast, doing free art (coloring or painting on white pieces of paper depending on the day), or one other activity which was usually either blocks or cars/ramps. For the coding of their talk into objectives met, I will only connect the objectives when they are explicitly met via the talk during the activity and not the activity itself.

Art Talk Transcript Data Set 1: (5 children are at the art table using markers and various shape stencils. There are 4 boys and one girl. The children are all either 4 or 5 years old)

JA: “Alex look at this trap I made!” (points at picture)

A: “That’s cool man”

JA: “I am going to make X marks the spot”

JK: “No that’s not an X; an X looks like this (begins to write)

JA: “Yeah I know, but I am making something else; I am making a cross”

EK: “An X is like this” (draws an X)

JA: ‘Yeah I know, I am making a cross”

A: “An X begins my name; did you know that guys”

JA: Yeah

A: “I cut out a star X. See?” (holds cut out star he had just traced and cut out)

JA: “Alex, if your name started with an X it would be Ha Ha Axie”

A: “Axie, Maxi, Paxi”

JA: “Waxi”

A: “Look at my star! (holds up star) It has a thing on it look”

JK: “ Mouth and eyes; it has mouth and eyes”

A: ‘Yup”

Teaching Strategies Gold Objectives Met  

Objective 9: Uses language to express thoughts and needs 

a.Uses an expanding expressive vocabulary 

b.Speaks clearly 

c.Uses conventional grammar 

d.Tells about another time or place 

Objective 10: Uses appropriate conversational and other communication skills 

a.Engages in conversations 

b.Uses social rules of language 

 

Objective 12: Remembers and connects experiences 

     a.Recognizes and recalls 

     b.Makes connections 

Objective 15: Demonstrates phonological awareness 

a.Notices and discriminates rhyme 

b.Notices and discriminates alliteration 

c.Notices and discriminates smaller and smaller units of sound 

 

Art Talk Data Set 2 (there are 3 children at the art table with various paints and paint cups. 2 boys are bilingual Arabic speakers and age 4 and a girl who is a native English speaker age 3)

M. “ Its green… We made a lot of green. We made a different color. Look! (holds paint cup up)

(other child looks at cup)

We mixed the green into the white

Mishal, come and see this color. Look at this. Look at this. Its green and this is green too but a new green”

MA: whoa

(child walks away)

M : (mixes blue and white) “Look we made new blue, we made new blue “

E. “now put green”

M: “no it’s finished”

Teaching Strategies Gold Objectives Met

Objective 9: Uses language to express thoughts and needs 

a.Uses an expanding expressive vocabulary 

b.Speaks clearly 

c.Uses conventional grammar 

 

Objective 13: Uses classification skills 

 

Art Talk Data Set 3 (4 children are at the art table. 3 boys and 1 girl. All children are either older 4 year olds or younger 5 year olds; to give extra context to the conversation, the 2 boys (A) and (J) who are talking the most have both recently seen the original Ghostbusters movie and that is part of the backdrop of what they are drawing and discussing. At the activity they have markers and white paper)  

A. (holds up picture) “This is my trap, we are going to trap you guys for real”

J: “we are not kidding guys”

A “ yup its true”

M “ I know you guys are joking”

A “ Jackson you be Rey and I be Eagon”

J. “yeah”

M: “you are not trapping us”

A: “ yes we are, we are going to trap you in here outside, for sure”

M” that’s not true, alex stop saying that! I don’t like that”

B “ you can’t trap me”

A “ Its not real, its pretend, I am making up a joke

J “ if you don’t come near us you wont get trapped, we are going to trap everyone else “

B.” get Thomas, you are going to trap Thomas right?

A: Yeah we are going to trap Thomas and Isaac”

 Teaching Strategies Gold Objectives Met

Objective 9: Uses language to express thoughts and needs 

a.Uses an expanding expressive vocabulary 

b.Speaks clearly 

c.Uses conventional grammar 

d.Tells about another time or place 

Objective 10: Uses appropriate conversational and other communication skills 

a.Engages in conversations 

b.Uses social rules of language 

Objective 14: Uses symbols and images to represent something not present 

a.Thinks symbolically 

b.Engages in sociodramatic play 

 

Art Talk Data Set 4  (3 children are at the art table using markers to color; there are 2 boys and 1 girl all ages of 4 and 5. There are all native English speakers)

A: “ I need some papeeeeeeer, I need some papeeeeer” (said in sing song voice and then picks up paper) “ I need a markeeeeer I need a markeeeerr” (also said in sing song voice)

J: (laughs listening to his friend)

A ( I got geen, I got geen (holds green marker) I got it geen cause I am silly”

J (laughs)

M : (laughs)

J: “ Can I have the geen marker after you”

A “ sure”

M” Can I have the “geen marker after you Jackson”

Teaching Strategies Gold Objectives Met

Objective 9: Uses language to express thoughts and needs 

a.Uses an expanding expressive vocabulary 

b.Speaks clearly 

c.Uses conventional grammar 

d.Tells about another time or place 

Objective 10: Uses appropriate conversational and other communication skills 

a. Engages in conversations 

b.Uses social rules of language 

Objective 15: Demonstrates phonological awareness 

a.Notices and discriminates rhyme 

c.Notices and discriminates smaller and smaller units of sound 

 

 

Conclusions

            It was an interesting experience recording, reflecting on, and categorizing children’s talk during art activities. Coding the talk for how the art talk met objectives in the Teaching Strategies Gold curriculum and assessment system allowed me to see how these conversations have value that can be tied to curriculum and assessment which are deemed quality for the state. This made me feel more confident in my ability to advocate to parents, policy makers, and the general public on how the aforementioned free style art which can appear frivolous is academically important. However, I acknowledge that my single study is not enough to prove this. Thus, I was heartened that the most similar study to mine by Thomson and Bales which was conducted 25 years ago found similar discourse patterns to what I observed. Children in their study and my study discussed their process of making art, what they were making, and created subcultures  based around comment interests. (For instance discussing drawing traps to trap ghosts in based around the movie Ghostbusters) While this is again is not 100 percent proof that children engage in complex social and linguistic discourse during art, the fact that 2 similar studies done so far similar discourse patterns lends credence to the idea that this is a topic that should be studied more and one that can possibly used to justify why these type of art experiences are important.

            Going forward, I hope to conduct similar future studies with different classes and possible code the art talk using different ways. The Indicators of Playful Learning we have used throughout our Pedagogy of Play Course and The Massachusetts Standards for Preschool and Kindergarten, Social and Emotional Learning, and Approaches to Play and Learning are both potential frameworks that I could use to code future art talk transcripts.

 

 

References

 

Bongiorno, L. (2014). How Process Art Experiences Support Preschoolers (3 ed., Vol. 7): Teaching Young Children Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/article/process-art-experiences

Heroman, C., Burts, D., Berke, K.-l., Bickart, T., & Tabors, P. (2010). Teaching stratagies gold: objectives for development & learning, birth through third grade. Washington DC: Teaching Strategies Inc.

Lindfors, J. (2008). Children's Language: Connecting Reading , Writing, and Talk. New York: Teachers

College Press.

Mardell, B. (2016, November 29). [Play and Academic Standards].

McArdle, F., Boldt, G. M., & Knight, L. Young children, pedagogy and the arts : ways of seeing.

Newton, C. (1995). Language and Learning About Art. Virginia: The National Art Education Associatio.

Thompson, C., & Bales, S. (1991). Michael Doesn't Like My Dinosaurs: Conversations In A Preschool Art Class (Vol. 33, pp. 43-55). Studies In Art Education

Turner, C. (2016). What Kids Need From Grown-Ups (But Aren't Getting).   Retrieved December 15, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/02/09/465557430/what-kids-need-from-grown-ups-but-arent-getting

Zurmuehlen, M., & Kantner, L. (1995). The Narrative Quality of Young Children's Art. Virginia: The National Art Education Association.

 

 

Appendix

Teaching Strategies Gold Objectives

Objective 9: Uses language to express thoughts and needs 

a.Uses an expanding expressive vocabulary 

b.Speaks clearly 

c.Uses conventional grammar 

d.Tells about another time or place 

Objective 10: Uses appropriate conversational and other communication skills 

a.Engages in conversations 

b.Uses social rules of language 

  Objective 11: Demonstrates positive approaches to learning 

a.Attends and engages 

b.Persists 

c.Solves problems 

d.Shows curiosity and motivation 

e.Shows flexibility and inventiveness in thinking 

 

  Objective 12: Remembers and connects experiences 

a.Recognizes and recalls 

b.Makes connections 

 

  Objective 13: Uses classification skills 

  Objective 14: Uses symbols and images to represent something not present 

a.Thinks symbolically 

b.Engages in sociodramatic play 

 

    Objective 12: Remembers and connects experiences 

     a.Recognizes and recalls 

     b.Makes connections 

Objective 15: Demonstrates phonological awareness 

a.Notices and discriminates rhyme 

b.Notices and discriminates alliteration 

c.Notices and discriminates smaller and smaller units of sound 

 


[1] An example of this viewpoint of young children’s art is on popular website Pinterest listing dozens of art projects under the banner of Preschool Busywork https://www.pinterest.com/sassygirl29/preschool-busy-work/

 

[2] This blog post is typical of many on the internet of parents discussing if and when to throw away their children’s art http://blog.sfgate.com/sfmoms/2011/01/28/confession-i-throw-away-my-kids-artwork-a-lot-of-it/

 

[3] For this project, I collected about 30 minutes of video of children’s talk during art activities. For brevitiy and due to the time constrains of the assignment, I watched these videos and transcribed only small portions that were exemplars of how art talk can be tied to curriculum.

[4] The appendix of this paper includes Teaching Strategies Gold Assessment Objectives

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