School Name: North-Grand High School
Teacher Name: Kathryn Jung
Teaching Artist Name: Marc Fischer
Big Idea: Collaborating and Communicating Ideas through Publications
Inquiry: How can students collaborate in order to communicate effectively with a wider audience?
1. Planning: What interests and curiosities were brought to the planning by each of you?
We had a bunch of dedicated students who were interested in pursuing their own ideas and individualities last year. Each student worked independently and worked on what they wanted. However, I was hoping we could push the students’ thinking a bit more this year. Either to work more collaboratively, more thematically, or by challenging their idea of what they think they’re interested in. This year, I was hoping to inspire students to work and discover beyond their comfort zone, as opposed to within it. This could be achieved by different prompts and activities, as well as feedback that goes beyond, “that’s awesome!”
Teaching Artist response:
Last year the publications that students made were more individualistic and less collaborative than our work in previous years. We introduced the idea of collaborating at the beginning and have tried to make that a focus of the work this year. We had a number of field trip ideas last year that we lacked the time or resources to pursue. I wanted the students to come away with a greater curiosity about the larger city beyond their neighborhoods with the hope that experience seeing new things might positively impact their work and understanding of what it can mean to be an artist in a larger social context.
2. The Project: Tell the story of your project. What happened in the classroom?
This year the main participants have been a group of four students (two of whom are sisters) that are all friends and like working together. We introduced the idea of collaborating at the beginning. Last year the students produced the minimum amount of content needed to create a booklet. This year we wanted to see the students produce more material so that they could explore the group editing process that can come with collaboration. The result has been a process that involves more group discussion, more pages that have been rejected than retained, and a somewhat more enthusiastic team effort.
Furthermore, the processes of decision-making for an exhibit for public sharing has been more in-depth this year. Students have been working together to make decisions about fonts, colors, and text for their booklet, which they have discovered is perhaps more difficult than it may seem. Similarly, the group has been discussing ways they would like to display and share their processes for the Hairpin exhibit. Another difficult decision-making process, the group has had to negotiate different opinions and truly practice collaboration. The students are practicing balancing expressing their individuality and own opinions, while working within the confines of the group dynamic and the budget (as well as realistic options).
Most recently we took the students on a field trip to Menards. The store is just several blocks from school but two of the four students had never been there before. They wound up spending over 90 minutes reviewing materials together and exploring different possibilities for their work. Here they were able to have an important and typical creative experience of figuring out how to work with limitations, listen to each other’s opinions, and scale their project appropriately in light of a tight budget. After 90 minutes we were unable to commit to any firm choices, and will take a second trip to solidify their ideas.
3. How did you check in throughout the project to plan and adjust plans as the project unfolded?
Marc and Katy worked with the group each day to discuss the process and the progress. As a group, we have changed our mind about different aspects of the project, including cover artwork, chosen pages, the cover text, the structure for the exhibit, the material for the structure of the exhibit, the lighting for the exhibit, the user interactive aspect/s of the exhibit, etc. Some changes were made by the students in response to feedback during a sharing session with another SCALE class, as well as from feedback provided by other teachers and teaching artists during a CAPE PD that the students did not attend. The students are learning to listen to and consider outside criticism of their work as well as to take suggestions made by others seriously.
4. What are the conflicts, contradictions or challenges of your teacher/artist collaboration?
Something challenging about working as a team is the time spent thinking about the project when we are apart. Sometimes we will come back together and have to discuss a change of plans, or a new idea. However, this is also a positive because the students get to see real-life collaboration as we discuss new ideas and work out schedules.
Teaching Artist response:
Coming primarily from a college teaching background, there are so many restrictions and hurdles that come with working in a Chicago Public School and dealing with further limits set by parents. Katy has a precise understanding of these issues, which I appreciate and respect, and I follow her lead here, always. It is sometimes hard not to feel disappointed that we can’t just hop on a bus or walk down the street without completing numerous forms and acquiring all of the proper permissions. I wish that we had work spaces available to us that felt less like school.
5. What are you learning as a result of collaborating with one another in terms of teaching and art making?
I am learning that more than 1 opinion can vastly elongate the decision-making process. Navigating different voices and ideas to make a cohesive group or product is difficult. Even asking students to express ideas can be challenging, especially when trying to get them out of “school mode” and have them feel comfortable appropriately sharing their ideas. Sometimes I feel like the students are timid and afraid of sharing what they really want and think, for fear of either being rejected by their peers, or even by Marc or I. When pushed (nicely), the students share their ideas, but I’d like to have students start to initiate collaboration and opinion-sharing on their own.
Teaching Artist response:
I always want to include all voices in any group decision process but when student attendance is uneven, it can be hard to move forward. When some of the students have more time and others have less availability, it can be hard to keep the energy flowing and the project moving forward. I am learning that many students do not have the kind of free time for creative exploration that I had in high school, after school. A number of our students from previous years are now consumed by other obligations like part-time jobs that fill most of their after school time.
6. How has the community-focused component of the project contributed to or challenged your teacher/artist collaboration?
We have wanted to have students explore the city outside their direct neighborhood. Since our students walk to and from school (or take one bus), they have not had a chance to see not only what the city has to offer them, but what they can offer the city. Many of the students have been able to have different experiences, even if it is as seemingly mundane as Menards. So, in terms of having students explore the city, I think our project is a success thus far.
An area to improve upon or explore further would be engagement with the outside community. The students have yet to share their ideas more widely. I would like to see students practice on working with the community as well, not just within it.
Teaching Artist response:
We desperately want our students to be engaged with the city they live in. Two students have parents who are against their children riding public transit which has made it very hard for us to do everything we’d like to do as a group. So far they can only attend field trips when a bus has been rented, which is cost prohibitive. Teen Night at the National Mexican Museum of Fine Art was an opportunity for all of our students to experience something special in the city together.
We have also visited the Humboldt Park Public Library Branch’s YouMedia Center (sadly there are no photos from this trip) and the Garfield Park Conservatory. These were great outings, but only two of the students could attend. A more recent trip to Menards was far more successful because it could include all four of the core students. Watching all of them use Menards as a space for idea development and creative problem solving was an unexpected highlight of our work so far this year.
After the excitement of the exhibit at the Hairpin Art Center, momentum slowed down considerably. Some sessions were spent drawing but in a way that did not lead to any new projects. Jessica has a sketchbook filled with art but she insists that none of the drawings are things she would want to publish. We spent some classes working in the library or computer lab, playing with creating digital collages and digital drawings. This seemed fun for the students, but the images took a long time to create and there was not enough sustained effort to produce an entire publication or much in the way of finished work.
On April 6th we visited C2E2 at McCormick Center and all four core students were able to attend, which two of them did in costume.
In late April we took a field trip with another SCALE group to Wicker Park where we visited Quimby’s Books – a store that sells a ton of ‘zines. Jessica and Maria attended this trip and brought copies of their first ‘zine “From Nightmares to Dreams”. Quimby’s accepted five copies of it on consignment and this seemed to increase the students’ interest in making more publications. They loved the store, and wanted to spend more time there.
We did go back to Quimby’s towards the end of the year, in order to check-in on “From Nightmares to Dreams,” as well as to bring copies of our second and third publications of the year. We are looking forward to going back in the fall and seeing if any of the publications were sold.
Many sessions, the only attendees were Jessica and Maria – two sisters who have a great relationship but also a lot of individual self-doubt and hesitation. Jessica is the more artistic of the two. Maria both encourages her and playfully gives her criticism, while insisting that she herself can’t draw, can’t write, and can’t do anything – which is clearly untrue!
Ultimately, after considering many ideas, Maria decided to make a ‘zine about the various street art and advertising stickers that she photographs on her phone around Logan Square where she and her sister live. A lot of the photos were low resolution or blurry so she had to make multiple attempts to collect enough documentation for a 24 page ‘zine. We designed this together with Maria researching fonts she liked and overseeing the layout. She also wrote a text for the back cover and we printed and assembled about 100 copies.
Jessica also came up with her own idea for a ‘zine: the musical Hamilton. She loves to write and draw about Hamilton and was able to create enough content for her own booklet (perhaps as a first installment in a series?). We assembled 130 copies of her ‘zine.
Finally, Marc listed Jessica’s booklet for sale through http://www.halfletterpress.com so it can be ordered there. He’s also mailing out some copies for free to people who order from Half Letter Press and giving copies to friends who will be interested in the content.