Student Teacher Blog

Kindergarten Critique!

posted on December 7, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog

How can you do critique with kindergartners? Is this even possible? Before trying it myself, I thought it might be! However, with some help with my cooperating teacher, we were able to develop a lesson in which it worked. It was my FAVORITE lesson of my whole elementary student teaching, even though kindergarten was my most challenging age group at the beginning of my experience!

The lesson was a Mondrain + Yayoi Kusama mash-up, in which students learned about lines, colors, and sizes. The kindergartners created Mondrian marker masterpieces with masking tape. Then, on the second day, they added big, medium and small polka dots after looking at the art of Yayoi Kusama. Finally, after they were dry, my cooperating teacher and I pulled off the tape. However, we faced a dilemma: the students had not gotten to see their final products! So, we decided to have a critique day, in which they would get to see their own artwork and give each other feedback as well. This was a several step process.

  1. Students watched a video of other kids critiquing Yayoi Kusama’s work. We then talked about what they liked in the work and what stood out to them from the video.
  2. We looked at two pieces of her art ourselves and discussed them. Some of the questions I asked are the following: What do you see/notice? What do you think it’s about? Why? What interesting lines, shapes, colors do you see? Can you find any interesting pictures or details? How does it make you feel? 
  3. The students went back to their seats and cut out shapes with pictures that said COLOR, SHAPE and LINES. They picked one of the words that described their favorite aspect their piece to place on it.file_004
  4. We then did a gallery walk, in which students walked around and saw each other’s art, and placed the shape for what they liked best on the other students’ art. Each kindergartner got six shapes, so everyone got plenty on their pieces. The teachers also walked around and made sure everyone got some! file_000-2
  5. When they got back to their seats, students got some time to enjoy everyone else’s comments about their art! They were SO happy!!!file_008
  6. Lastly, I had the students think about one thing that they would like to say about their art. I gave them some examples: they could say what was their favorite thing about it, they could talk about how they made it, etc. I held up the piece for the class to see as the student commented on it. They loved this and it was great public speaking experience for them! In the future, I might even use a microphone, or at least a fake one, to make them feel extra-special.

My favorite thing about this lesson is that I think the kindergarteners really felt honored as artists and listened to as people. Not very many people listen to five-year-olds, and it was great to hear their thoughts on the art! I was surprised by how long it held their attention as well. In some ways, they are better at art criticism than adults because they aren’t afraid of looking foolish and don’t second-guess themselves! This lesson was a blast.


A Tanabata-Inspired Exhibition

posted on December 7, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog


To provide more of a multicultural approach to teaching art, the 4th and 5th graders have been learning about the Tanabata festival in Japan. The Tanabata Festival (or “Star Festival”) in Japan is a festival celebrated on July 7th every year. They celebrate the reunion of Hikoboshi and Orihime, a husband and wife that have been separated by the Milky Way Galaxy and are only able to see each once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month, according Japanese legend. The people in Japan celebrate mainly by filling their communities with large, colorful paper crafts and writing wishes on long strips of colorful paper called tanzaku, which they hang on bamboo branches in their homes, classrooms, and outdoors.


All the student work ready for the hallway!

This unit includes a few different components. The largest piece was each student creating their own koi fish paper wind sock that they could hang. Tanabata tradition doesn’t necessarily include creating representations of koi fish specifically for the holiday, but I chose to have the students create these wind socks because it embodied the bright colors, patterns, and movement that many of the Tanabata decorations have. After completing this, students wrote their wishes on paper that I collected in a tree, like the Tanabata trees, to be displayed for the school to see. Time permitting, some classes also created origami shapes that would be created into a large paper chain and most students who finished early worked on Tanabata-themed coloring sheets.


The display in the hallway turned out wonderfully! I originally planned to have almost all finished work hung in the hallway between the walls to create a very unique and colorful display that resembled an authentic Japanese Tanabata display. However, this posed the problem of the hanging wind socks not falling, as the walls in the school do not do well with having things hung from them, and also the issue of the student possibly jumping up and trying to hit the socks while walking through the hallway. So, I decided to pick 4 wind socks from each class and hang them in the display case along with our wishing tree. The students were very excited to see the exhibition and to see their wishes hanging in the tree. It brightened up the space and made it much more lively!


Gel Printing like a Pro!

posted on December 7, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog

Do I dare attempt printmaking? It is a question that haunts elementary teachers everywhere! Printmaking is certainly a difficult feat at any level–the amount of supplies out, the degree of mess possible, and the independence required of the students can be daunting. I say to these teachers–Never fear, printing mats are here!!

I received a tip from the great Jan Wolf that changed the way I do printmaking with elementary schoolers forever! She suggested printing mats. The mats have a designated area (with pictures!) for each item involved in the printing process: brayers, paper, ink, and printing plate. Students work in partners at each mat. This is one version I have used in the past:


This time, I made a revised version for gelli printing using round plates and acrylic paint. It made the process so much simpler!! Here are some details specific to gelli printing:




  1. Gelatin plate: I decided to make my own, and you can too, by simply following one of the many recipes online. The great part about making your own is that, if you add glycerin, they are permanent and you can melt them down and re-set them in molds of various sizes anytime you like!file_002

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Elementary Teachers are Magic

posted on December 7, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog

Elementary teachers are magic. I have always said that, and I stand by it. The vast array of teaching tricks, games, and even ways to get the students’ attention that they have up their sleeves is remarkable! It has been amazing to be in this environment and have the opportunity to learn so much from them.

One of the many skills that I find impressive in the overwhelming majority of elementary teachers is their organizational prowess. My cooperating teacher is definitely skilled in organization, and I have learned so much from her! So, without further ado…here are 5 handy tips that will make your life SO much easier when setting up your classroom (complete with accompanying visuals.)

1. Number (or somehow identify) the seats and keep an accompanying seating chart. This will allow you to quickly learn students’ names, identify them if they do not clean up, and call them by number if necessary. (My cooperating teacher used oil-based Sharpie markers to write the numbers on the tables–which withstand all wiping!)table



seatingchart2. Designate cart(s) with supplies for each class at the ready. Even if you don’t put everything on the cart, you can put a few of each item to remember quickly what you will need for the next period.

cart13. Have shelves for each classes’ work. This is a must for an elementary teacher, as they teach about 500 kids a week at least! I liked my teacher’s addition of creating categories for “in progress” and “finished” as well.


4. Create table boxes stocked with common supplies, so that they do not have to be taken out and put away each time. These can stay on the tables, especially if they have high sides, making it harder for students to play with the items inside. (Scrap paper underneath is nice, too!)

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 5. Have easily accessible shelving outside of the closet for common materials that may be needed (markers, color pencils, glue, etc.) This will allow for easy access–even easier if you keep them organized in containers for each table!


I’m sure this post is simply common sense to most elementary teachers, and possibly other people as well, but for me these small tips were critical. I believe learning them was a big part of the benefit I got from student teaching!

Exhibiting Artwork!

posted on December 7, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog

When I first walked into my elementary placement I noticed how bare all the cinderblock walls were. The art room was nothing like that: so full of life! Later, I realized it was because at the end of the previous year they stripped the walls of all the artwork and adornment. My cooperating teacher is a huge advocate of covering the school in artwork, and within a few weeks the school was looking back to normal! He put up the first display of my class’ kindergarten artwork and he discussed with me the possibilities of exhibition. I took over from there! It was so fun standing in the halls the next day after putting a show up, watching students and teachers admire the work. There were so many proud smiles :)!

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Love, Ms. Stephen!

One and Two Day Lessons

posted on December 6, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog

Most of my projects ended up being units of 3-5 lessons. At the end, I had a few classes who had finished and had a day or two for a new project, or were doing clay and needed a project during the firing period. It was great to talk to my cooperating teacher about tips and ideas of how to do one and two-day lessons that had meaningful content, but could also be taken home the same day they were made. You wouldn’t believe the excitement when you tell children they can take home their artwork that day!

Self portraits and texture rub backgrounds with Kindergarten:

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Fashion and costume design with 2nd grade:

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Me museums (In progress photos) with 3rd grade:

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Love, Ms. Stephen!

Moon Shadows!

posted on December 6, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog



The second and third graders have been working on some moon shadow collages over the past couple weeks. This torn-paper collage project involved silhouettes, positive & negative space, spacial relationships, and literary inspiration.

We started this lesson by reading the book Moon Tiger by Phyllis Root and talking about silhouettes. We discussed what makes a silhouette and where students might see silhouettes in their daily life. I briefly introduced the concepts of positive and negative space, as we would exploring it much more in-depth in the following week. We spent most of our art-making time in this first lesson tearing up our construction paper to form the pieces that will make our collages. The students then received a 9×12″ piece of white construction paper, used a yogurt cup to trace a circle on the paper (for their moon shape), and began gluing the torn paper around the edges of the paper.

We picked up where we left off for the second day of this project. Students began the class with a review and with some more exploration of positive and negative space. We did a few exercises as a class to make sure they understood positive and negative space. The rest of the class was spent developing their collages. The students’ goal was to cover up every bit of white space on the paper except for the moon.

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The last day of our Moon Shadow lesson, most students were closer to moving on to the last step, which was cutting. They could choose to create a moon tiger shape (inspired by the book) or they could choose some spookier fall-themed shapes, such as a pumpkin, bats, a haunted house, or a haunted tree. With Halloween quickly approaching, most students were eager to choose one of the latter. They received a stencil, cut it out, traced the shape onto black construction paper, and cut out their black silhouettes to be glued on their collages.

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The final projects turned out lovely. The students were able to practice tearing, drawing, gluing, tracing, and cutting all within this one project. Many of them were very excited to have something featuring bats or a pumpkin for the season. Some of those who finished earlier than other students liked to get creative and add more silhouette shapes to their collages, which was fun to see. Overall, they did a wonderful job!



Colors with Kindergarten!

posted on December 6, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog


We’ve been having a lot of fun learning about mixing primary colors the past couple weeks in the Kindergarten and 1st grade classes! The first day of teaching this lesson, students learned about the color wheel and got to watch color marbling demonstrations using shaving cream and food coloring – this allowed students to watch as primary colors mix into secondary colors. It was amazing to see their excitement and enthusiasm – I heard to word MAGIC so many times.


The following week, I started the first day of the week with instructing students to create a tissue paper collage (only using paper in primary colors) that they would overlap, allowing the transparency of the tissue paper to mix the colors. To push it even farther, the students would then lightly spray the paper with water to allow the colors to bleed and mix. However, the materials were not quite working the way I had planned on the first day of the lesson. The colors weren’t bleeding the right way, and even with the transparency of the paper, I could tell the students just weren’t quite getting a grasp of the concept. So, by the second class, I had scrapped the first lesson with tissue paper and I had switched to using model magic in primary colors for color mixing!


I started by making a worksheet for the students to function as a chart for them see and remember how colors mix. I realized giving them a reference to remember the color combinations was important, as I would show them how to mix orange only to hear from them later that purple and blue make orange. So, this helps them recall the colors in the form of a math problem. I also revised the worksheet a couple times, after realizing that not all of the kindergarteners have the reading ability to associate the letters B-L-U-E with the actual word and color.

For the activity, the students would take a pea-sized piece of each primary color to mix their secondary colors, mapping them out on this chart.


Overall, the students LOVED this activity and had a lot of fun. I could see that they were really understanding how colors mix and that the concepts were really sticking in their brains. The clay aspect was fun too – I allowed the students to mix any extra clay they had at the end of class into a ball, which made the color brown. Again, it was all magic to them, and the students were amazed.

Participating in Gnome Home

posted on December 6, 2016 in Fall 2016, Student Teacher Blog


Gnome Home is an eco-art event that takes places place at an outdoor location every year. It was conceived by my cooperating teacher as a way to have students immerse themselves in nature. The digital-native generation of children can end up with very few opportunities for enjoying the outdoors, or may not have the inclination to do so. As a result, they can develop an apprehension for playing in the dirt, or considering creative play that does not require tech and gadgets. Gnome Home is a great way of taking students back to a simpler kind of childhood, and it doesn’t hurt that adults get tempted to join in as well! Essentially, students collects sticks, grass, stones, flowers and other naturally found materials to build a small home for any imaginary friends. They are also free to dress up when they attend.


This year’s Gnome Home took place on Belle Isle on September 24. Invitations were sent out to all the parents in the week before. This would be a self-selected event, and students wishing to join in could come to Belle Isle with their parents. My cooperating teacher had a sign-in booth where visiting families could also find a first aid kit (“the Gnome Boo-Boo station”), as well as a pre-made example to get them inspired.

I think this is a great activity that teaches students problem solving, and also gets them more attuned to the ecology of their surroundings. Many “discoveries” were being made at Gnome home: a strange pebble, an interesting feather, snail shells, or a very colorful leaf that the students would excitedly show us or their parents. Though it was only a two hour event, those who were done lingered on to play outside some more.


Though each Gnome Home was small, as they accumulated, they looked very impressive from far. It was also interesting to see how the students used their collected materials to decorate their homes and add furniture, or how they figured out engineering strategies to make sure the homes could stand up. As students from all grade levels came to the event, it was also a good way for them to meet new friends to collaborate with. But perhaps the most heartwarming thing I noticed was the parents’ involvement; a few of them were even enjoying the activity more than their children. One family even came up with a giant Gnome home that you could actually sit inside!

Read more about Gnome Home here.


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