Contemporary Art Start
Emphasizing verbal development, creative thinking capacity, group discussion skills, and Common Core connections, Contemporary Art Start (CAS) connects 3rd-12th grade classrooms across Los Angeles County with the diversity and power of contemporary art. Serving approximately 110 teachers and 4.000 students each year, CAS combines professional development, classroom curriculum, multiple museum visits for students, and family involvement into a long-term and sustainable program that supports both teacher and student development.
Please note that registration for the 2013-14 school year is now closed. Click here to receive the 2014-15 application (available in February, 2014).
Contemporary Art Start now offers two tracks of specialized programming. Visit the links below for an overview of each track:
Track 1: 3rd-12th Grade Generalist, Academic & Studio Art Classrooms
Description, requirements, workshop dates & application
Track 2: Middle & High School Visual Art Integration Pilot
Description, requirements, workshop dates & application
- $110 per teacher
- transportation for fall museum visit; MOCA pays for spring transportation
- up to 45 hours of dynamic professional development featuring inquiry-based instruction coaching and classroom curriculum training; 2 LAUSD salary
- points available for new Track 1 teachers and all Track 2 teachers
- printed and digital classroom curriculum
- two museum visits for students, facilitated by MOCA staff
- transportation for second museum visit
- one-year MOCA membership for participating teachers and principals
- unlimited-use museum family passes for students
- school-wide professional development workshops upon request
Contemporary art is the product and reflection of the culture in which the artist lives. As defined by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), it is the period of art that focuses on work created from 1945 to the present. Contemporary Art Start (CAS) was created by MOCA in the belief that educational programs in the visual arts for students ultimately produce thoughtful citizens with a lifelong interest and involvement in the arts. Studying, viewing, and experiencing the art of our time encourages self-awareness, active discourse, and new insights and perspectives for students. The visual arts provide unique ways of knowing oneself, while increased perception and understanding sensitize students to the world. Opportunities for heightened perception and understanding of art also provide students a stimulus for creative expression and out-of-the-box problem solving.
Contemporary Art Start addresses both the intentions of MOCA and specific guidelines set forth in California state and Common Core standards. CAS program goals for students are to increase their abilities in the following skill areas:
- Verbal & Written Language
- Personal Agency--articulating ideas with confidence and conviction
- Artistic & Cultural Literacy--learning art-specific vocabulary, expanding definitions of art, and forming personal connections with works of art
- Critical Thinking & Reflection--observing, inferring, using evidence, and considering multiple perspectives
- Transfer--applying CAS-based language and thinking skills to other areas
- Social Capital--listening, contributing to group discussions, and participating in general
- Continued engagement with MOCA via their family museum pass and free studio art workshops at MOCA
CAS program goals for teachers are to develop their abilities in the following areas:
- Effective implementation of CAS Methods & Resources
- Authentic Art Integration that Supports the Common Core Standards
- Reflection & Connection within a Community of Learners
- Artistic & Cultural Literacy
- Art Education Advocacy
Contemporary Art Start is an art education program designed to introduce elementary and secondary-level teachers and students to the form, content, and concepts of contemporary art. The components of the program include professional development for teachers, the Contemporary Art Start Curriculum Guide, museum visits, and family involvement.
1. Professional Development
The classroom teacher is the keystone of CAS. Therefore, the program begins with an intensive summer institute in which participants work with museum staff, artist-educators, and art historians. Teachers explore and practice leading inquiry-based discussions; they also participate in firsthand studio art experiences, gallery workshops, and lectures at MOCA. With the help of veteran CAS teachers, they study the curriculum and plan for its implementation in their classrooms. The initial institute is followed by two subsequent workshops developed around the specific MOCA exhibitions that students will be visiting during the school year. The workshops also allow time for teachers to share ideas. Throughout the process, MOCA staff assess teachers’ progress and refine the objectives set forth in the program. For specifics on workshops, credit opportunities, and teacher benefits, click here.
2. The CAS Curriculum Guide
The CAS Curriculum Guide has been designed to provide a core of general art knowledge upon which to base the specific exploration of contemporary art. It can be used effectively by students and teachers with little or no previous experience in the arts as well as by those with a broader range of knowledge.
The CAS Curriculum Guide is divided into three sections: introductory lessons that establish the basic vocabulary of art while modeling the inquiry method; lessons that address specific media such as painting, photography, and sculpture; and themed lessons that allow students to explore concepts such as reality and fantasy or the intersection of technology and art. Each lesson includes images that illustrate the major theme or concept being addressed. Some of the artists chosen for the lessons are represented in MOCA’s permanent collection. Other artists were selected to help represent the broad spectrum of ideas, concerns, and cultures that contribute to the richness and diversity of contemporary art. Special emphasis has been placed on the inclusion of women, African-American, Asian, and Latino artists. The CAS Curriculum Guide is intended to provide a context for the study of contemporary art and the exhibitions MOCA presents, rather than being a guide to any specific exhibition at MOCA.
3. Museum Visits
One of the most memorable and powerful experiences for students studying art is the moment of encounter with the “real thing,” the painting, sculpture, or object that was formerly known only as a two-dimensional image in books or on websites. Rooted before a wall-sized painting, pausing to appreciate a sculpture from various points of view, students have personal, sensory experiences that complete their classroom discussions and motivate them to learn more.
Student visits to MOCA are, therefore, a fully integrated component of the CAS program. All classes participating in CAS take two excursions to MOCA during the school year. MOCA gallery educators conduct participatory tours of the exhibitions using a variety of techniques to help students experience the art. Activities such as discussion, creative writing, sketching, and the use of visual props allow students with a wide range of prior knowledge about art, language proficiency, and expressive skills to participate fully in museum visits. For more specifics on CAS museum visits, click here.
4. Family Involvement
Students receive complimentary MOCA passes allowing them to return to the museum with their families to attend special events and to revisit current exhibitions free of charge. This provides an opportunity for students to share their knowledge with parents and siblings while the whole family acquires the “museum habit.” Family workshops led by artists and MOCA staff are also offered throughout the year to provide a setting for parent-child dialogues about contemporary art. For more information on student passes and family worksohps, click here.
Research about the brain and learning indicates that children learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process. By talking, puzzling, manipulating objects and materials, building models, posing their own questions, and debating ideas, they construct meaning by combining their own ideas with information and experiences gleaned from the world around them. Learning cannot be delivered to students. Rather, through their own efforts and interaction with peers and knowledgeable adults, they build concepts and gain understanding.
Contemporary Art Start incorporates this constructivist approach to learning by providing ample opportunities for students to view, experience, and wonder about works of art. It uses questions, activities, and experiments that evoke a personal response from students. This deliberate involvement of students in the intellectual, emotional, and physical aspects of contemporary art is known as the participatory approach.
The participatory approach refers to a method of teaching in which the adults (teachers, gallery educators, mentors) and the students are mutually engaged in the exploration of art. They act together as learners. Participatory learning takes the form of a dialogue; the teacher's role becomes one of facilitator.
The word “inquiry” says it all. It’s about motion—searching, seeking, eliciting, and scrutinizing. Inquiry is an interactive way to pursue learning with your students. It’s the opposite of the monologues used in a didactic approach, where the teacher delivers large shipments of information to students who are apparently “learning.” In fact, many students gaze in the approximate direction of the speaker and silently refuse delivery. Occasionally the teacher breaks the monotony by firing a low-level question over their heads, more as a check for consciousness than comprehension. Who was the first president of the United States? How many inches in a yard? Which is bigger—a molecule or an atom? Who fought in the War of 1812?
Inquiry-based teaching uses questions, too, but they’re open-ended. Since the purpose is to elicit students’ thoughts, and then help them examine their thinking, there’s no one right answer. The answers to inquiry questions are knowable because they are rooted in students' experience and developmental stage.
Words like “think,” “would,” “could,” or “might” embedded in a question indicate inquiry in progress. They signal that there are many ways to answer the question, and typically the answers themselves stimulate more questions. So instead of the tidy game of ping-pong that occurs with didactic teaching, inquiry stimulates talking, puzzling, risk-taking, and debating. Students may feel confused, frustrated, tense, puzzled, affronted, shocked, determined, and often triumphantly surprised at their own accomplishments.
The goal of inquiry is to reveal to students what they already know by asking questions that encourage them to root around in their heads and come up with details, examples, evidence, ideas, theories, and speculations. The result is that kids get smarter through their own efforts and those of their peers. They construct meaning by interacting with others, rather than waiting passively for another delivery of information.
The beauty and challenge of inquiry-based teaching is its unpredictability. It’s “live learning” for both students and teacher. Instead of asking a battery of close-ended questions and receiving predictable answers (boring for everybody), the teacher asks a question, collects and facilitates responses, and builds from there. Ultimately, the meat of inquiry-based discussion emerges in the process of facilitation—it comes from students’ interpretations, which you can ask them to talk about further. As students become more accustomed to inquiry-based teaching and to listening to one another, comments begin to build on one another and acquire a life of their own.
Though conversational in tone, well-facilitated inquiry is a carefully structured approach to learning. Contemporary Art Start (CAS) supports instructors' ability to facilitate discussions through professional development and the CAS Curriculum Guide. Teachers enrolled in CAS start with the basics of a specific inquiry-based teaching method called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a well-researched and thorough means of studying the complexities and subtlties of teaching by way of listening, responding, and facilitating discussion. The CAS Curriculum Guide provides additional, artwork-related questions that can be used straight "out of the box," but which work ideally when blended with facilitation techniques practiced at the CAS Summer Institute, and which are outlined below.
There are key moves for successful teaching with inquiry. Master these and you’re on your way to creating a fitness center for youthful minds.
Provide time for silent looking
Get kids in the habit of looking for a minute before immediately talking.
Let’s take a moment to silently look at this artwork before we start discussing it.
Model careful looking by doing so yourself—this also gives you a chance to re-engage with the work along with your students.
Ask clear questions, one at a time
Try starting with the core initiating question used in Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a teaching method that informs CAS professional development and teaching:
What’s going on here?
This is a great opening question that encourages divergent responses. This question works best with narrative images, which is not always the case with contemporary art. The CAS Curriculum Guide provides more directed questions and related information that may help launch certain discussions. For example:
- How would you describe this painting?
- How is a sculpture different from a painting?
- What do you think may have motivated the artist to create this sculpture?
What story do you think the artist might be trying to tell?
Provide time for thinking
Careful thinking takes time. Silence can be a little unnerving at first, but trust that kids are using this time to think, especially after they get used to this teaching method.
Validate each comment
Knowing that you’re being listened to goes a long way. And not just for kids—assurance that we have been truly listened to is food for the brain and soul.
"Catch the ball"
Start your validation with an acknowledgement that you heard the comment. For example:
OK, got it.
Catch each comment the same way (at first)
People are sensitive creatures. When you “catch the ball” of every comment, try to do so evenly. It may not seem like a big deal to say “great, good thinking” to one student, “OK” to another, and to nod in response to another, but it makes a difference. It’s subtle, but felt. It may feel repetitive on your end to say the same thing each time, but don't worry, it doesn’t come across that way. Kids learn that every comment will be considered equally and that it’s not about pursuing gold stars.
Paraphrasing does multiple things. It:
- shows that you’re not just hearing comments but listening and thinking about them yourself.
- provides an opportunity to model vocabulary or sentence structure that helps get to the heart of a student’s intended meaning.
- helps students hear themselves by having their ideas reflected back to them.
- helps other students hear what each student is saying.
- builds thinking time into the discussion—students are slowed down enough to really hear what someone said and thus be more inclined to build on others' comments.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you're not sure what someone means:
...did I get that right?
This gives students an opportunity to clarify their meaning while pushing their verbal skills. It also helps convey that you really want to know what they’re thinking.
Follow-up on questions
Some comments can’t be probed deeper, for example, “I see blue circles” (though it can be paraphrased as, for example, "So, you're noticing some colored shapes." ). But the comment, "They look like bubbles floating in the air," can be unraveled to reveal the thinking behind it. After validating the comment with a paraphrase, here's a good follow-up question:
What did you see that made you say that? (a key VTS question)
This question in particular keeps students grounded in the concrete evidence available to them all. It also keeps them looking at the work, helping students learn that the longer they look, the more they will find.
This is where questions in the CAS Curriculum Guide leave off, because we can’t anticipate all the great things your students are going to say. But your follow-up questions to interpretive comments are what really get discussion going. Again, they show you’re listening carefully. Upon hearing your follow-up question directed to a student, others may realize they also have a response. At that point, an individual’s comment becomes the group’s topic of discussion. And then you're cooking.
Collect more than one response
Students will soon realize that when it comes to art (and many, many things) there isn’t a single answer to be had. And that’s a good thing.
What more can we find?
Another key VTS question. This one encourages students to keep looking because of the implication that there is indeed more to be found. It also provides an opportunity for new idea threads to be initiated.
Insert relevant information at carefully chosen points
Because this kind of teaching and learning emphasizes looking, thinking, verbalizing, and making connections, you may find the richness of students’ observations and interpretations to be all the “information” you need for rich discussions. Contemporary art can pose challenges to this, though; sometimes contextual information that can't be seen is important to understanding the nature of an artwork. For example, the way something is made or a key artistic precedent may be integral to its meaning. Seeing sculptural or time-based artworks in the form of two-dimensional reproductions also limits what can be gleaned just by looking. The CAS Curriculum Guide provides useful information on artists, methods, or interdisciplinary connections that can help out in these situations. The section “Exploring Further” included in each unit provides links to more information that you may want to pursue with your students. Students can also do these explorations on their own.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that didactic information can play a limiting role if it is presented too early in the discussion, or if it doesn’t relate to a discussion thread already brought up by students.
Because they happen in "real time" and require thinking on your toes, the best way to master these facilitation techniques is to do so in a community of peers where you can try, reflect, and experience. For training in these techniques, sign up for Contemporary Art Start or arrange for a training at your school.
The National Standards for Arts Education are remarkable for their vivid imagery, passionate language, and dire predictions for societies who ignore the arts. Take a look for yourself.
“The arts have been a part of us from the very beginning. Since nomadic peoples first sang and danced for their ancestry, since hunters first painted their quarry on the walls of caves, since parents first acted out the stories of heroes for their children, the arts have described, defined, and deepened human experience. All peoples, everywhere, have an abiding need for meaning—to connect time and space, experience and event, body and spirit, intellect and emotion. People create art to make these connections, to express the otherwise inexpressible. A society and people without the arts are unimaginable, as breathing would be without air. Such a society and people could not long survive.”
The benefits of having the arts in your curriculum are so numerous that it boggles the mind to see how thoroughly they’ve been eradicated from many school systems. Consider these ten excellent reasons, developed by Victoria Stevens, Ph.D., for embedding the visual arts into your day. 1
- Provide a universal language that transcends race, culture, and time
- Allow students a way to give form to feelings, enabling those feelings to be communicated, which in turn leads to self-discovery and a sense of agency
- Promote the formation of nonverbal or verbal constructs that facilitate the handling of complex problems that do not have clear answers
- Activate multiple intelligences to help students learn in different ways
- Encourage persistence, resilience, focus, self-discipline, and the ability to tolerate frustration in the solving of a particular artistic problem
- Encourage the ability to work with ambiguity, view mistakes as opportunities to learn, and understand that there are multiple opinions and views on the same object, person, or experience
- Foster verbal and spatial creativity, enabling flexibility in thinking and the recognition of a whole and therefore also the parts of a problem within a given context
- Foster the ability to select important data out of masses of information, to synthesize it, and use it in a quickly changing environment
- Expand capacity for imaginative “play” with ideas and possibilities
- Bring a sense of adventure, spontaneity, and joy to learning in your class
1. Victoria Sevens, “Schooling the unconscious imagination: Psychoanalytical and neurobiological theories of child development, aesthetics and education” (lecture, James Grotstein Annual Conference, Los Angeles, CA, May 2002).
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Contemporary Art Start is generously supported by Anonymous, OneWest Bank, Wells Fargo, The MOCA Projects Council, The Capital Group Companies, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, The Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, and Edison International.