Tomie dePaola has always been one of my favorite authors, children’s author or otherwise. Whenever I am at a book sale or store, I always dig around to see if I can find one of his books. So thrilled when I recently discovered a new-to-me title at a library book sale, The Art Lesson.
What I thought would be my usual enjoyment of a new Tomie dePaola book took a different turn when I got to the part where Tomie’s new art teacher tells him he not only can’t draw what he wants, only copy, but that reason he can’t do that is because it wouldn’t be fair for him to do something different from the other students. Everyone must use the same crayons. Everyone has to copy the same turkey. The only time available for Tomie to do his own drawing is given “if there is time” after the copying.
As I read the words of the teachers in The Art Lesson, I wondered how many future Tomie dePaolas we have squashed in the name of “fair.” I wonder how many future artists gave up because they had to copy the turkey and the mom and dad Pilgrims before they could create art, and then only if there was time left over. It leaves me grateful, once again, for the gift of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), with the daily challenge to knock down the sides of the box, to have pencils and paper and a 64-crayon box of colors always on hand, to remember to value the extension and the “beyond” as equal to the core material, to hear and incorporate student voice and feedback into my practice.
Every new group of students is a chance to start over, to start fresh, to try again. This year, as we approach the mid-way mark on Quarter One, I am amazed at the quantity of work and the variety of choices I see in completed homework. I honestly believe it has a lot to do with how much my colleague, Irene Witt, and I have “opened up” homework. It’s a lot of work some days to find extensions and to create a list of relevant vocabulary for a Frayer Model, along with linking the Eureka lessons and releasing the ASSISTments assignments, but I think it is paying off in increased engagement.
The same is true in class. As we have incorporated more and more of the “By the End of Class” model, I am always waiting for students to push back, to demand that we grab them by the noses and give them step-by-step instructions about what to do each day. It hasn’t happened yet. On the contrary, on every feedback request like a survey or a wrapper, students consistently comment favorably on how much they enjoy being in charge of their own learning. In class, while there is no overtly entertaining video or catchy activity going on, students are consistently deeply engaged with the content, rotating through small groups and conversations with the teacher and peers.
There is always more to do, I know. But reading The Art Lesson also reminded me about how far we have come….