Becky's Blog

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

This is me in a wonderful little restaraunt in Mexico. Cheers!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Big Catfish
By Becky Culley

We were all gathered at my aunt and uncle’s house, which was one of my favorite places to go. My aunt was a pack rat, the house bursting to the seams, comfortably stuffed with old books, games and toys. It seemed to me that something interesting and exciting always happened, and this time turned out to be no exception.
We had decided on the spur of the moment to visit, and Mom had not taken the time to pack and prepare as much food as she usually did. After all, there were seven of us including my parents, and my aunt and uncle could certainly not feed that many extra people at a moment’s notice. Then, some other cousins and families popped in, so the question came as to what to prepare for dinner. It was a large bustling crowd, and growing hungry.
Daddy and Uncle Bob were picked to go to town, and they took me, about age seven and my little brother, one year younger. As we bumped along on the six mile journey to town, I noticed with childlike interest all of the flooded cotton fields from the recent rains. Daddy and Uncle Bob were discussing the recent floods also, when all of a sudden the car came to a screeching halt, Daddy jumped out, and without explanation took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pant legs, and took off, admonishing my brother and me to stay in the car and not follow. We waited anxiously, as he took off across the field, in the direction of where I could now see something floundering in the muddy water, splashing muddy water onto the cotton plants, barely gaining their foothold in the wet spring soil.
I was excited and frightened. What was going on? Where was he going? Soon, he came back, triumphant, holding a huge catfish in his bloodied hands, the victor in the battle of man and fish. Uncle Bob found some rope in the car and made a stringer. Off Daddy went again, at times going out of site, but always when he came into view, he held up the stringer with even more fish. I was so tickled, bouncing and giffling with childish pleasure. Imagine! I really wanted to run out there, but Uncle Bob made me stay, disappointed but yet a little grateful for the safety.
When he finally decided that he had caught all of the fish that had washed into the field by the flood, and gotten trapped, Daddy came back to the car, tired, muddy and somewhat bloody from the catfish fins that had caught him. After all, this was really not a job to be done bare handed, but that is exactly what he did.
The adults decided not to go on into town, but to get back and clean the fish, and for Daddy to get cleaned up. He really was a mess, but all of us were excited about the fish and the way he caught them. What a hero! We would have a great fish fry! I could almost taste the fish, battered in cornmeal, deep fried, and served with onions, pinto beans and hush puppies. My mouth watered at the vision.
My mother was not quite as excited as we were. Well, she was, but hers was a different kind of excitement. We had been gone so long that she had started to fume and worry, and then when Daddy got out of the car all muddy, with blood on his hands and arms, and his pants rolled up, she just went hysterical. What was wrong with that woman anyway, I wondered? Couldn’t she see how really neat that was? And, if she would just quit screeching for a few minutes, we could tell the exciting story and show her the big stringer of fish that were in the trunk.
We did eventually get to that, and the whole family was excited. We had not gotten to town for supplies, but we certainly did have plenty of catfish for everyone. Dad skinned and cleaned the fish, my mother and my aunts fried them up with hush puppies and found some canned goods to add to the table. Meanwhile, brother and I regaled the cousins with the exciting tale of the big catfish and how we had helped Daddy catch them.

Becky Culley

Blue Bonnet Writing ProjectSummer

2006 Literature Review From the perspective of a teacher in an economically disadvantaged elementary school, art seems to serve two purposes. In the minds of the children, it is like a second recess, a chance to play and visit with friends. In the minds of the teachers, it is a break from the children and 45 minutes in which to try and catch up on the pile of work that they can never quite see around. In the mind of this art teacher, it should and can be much more. Art should be a catalyst for further learning, both about the world around us and about ourselves. My question is how to make that happen.

The goal of my inquiry is to help students relate to art through writing as an integral part of their daily lives and education. A secondary goal is to improve self esteem and student academic performance. Although never having had serious discipline problems in my classes, I do feel at times that that teachers are so busy just trying to keep a lid on the emotional baggage that students bring into my class, that both the ability to teach, and their ability to learn are compromised. So, one definite goal of this research is to discover ways to tap into that well of anger and frustration, and give students an outlet of self expression and discovery through making writing/art connection. Having stated those goals, my problem is to determine the viability and the processes involved. Is there evidence to suggest that improving student involvement in the arts through effective questioning and writing will produce the desired effects?

I realize from previous attempts at discussion and critique of art work, that I need to learn questioning techniques that will foster higher level thinking skills and engage the students in deeper levels of thinking about art work, both that of professional artists, and of their own. In so doing, I hope to help students make personal connections to the art, their own stories, and their academic lives.

In looking at the questioning process, I considered The Application of Question-Answer Relationship to Pictures. (Cortese, 2003). Through the time honored technique of questioning, Cortese utilizes pictures to develop deeper level thinking. In questioning her students about pictures she has divided the questions into "Right There" "Artist and You" "On my own" and "Putting it all together." Right there question ask students to state what is right there in the picture. According to Cortese, her rationale to developing the P-QAR variation was partly motivated by literature on visual literacy, which was loosely defined as way in which individuals make meaning from the visual stimuli in their environment. Playing on that concept, my purpose would be to adapt the P-QAR techniques to help students develop oral and written stories based on artwork from famous artists they are exposed to in class, and from artwork they create from their own experiences. Research shows that developing and scaffolding deeper layers of questioning, students learn thinking and reasoning skills (Pogrow, 2005). These skills are necessary for personal and academic growth. Further investigations of questioning techniques directly related to artwork to led me to work being done by Cynthia Davidson at Stony Brook University beginning writing class. In Using Art to Create Summary Response (Davidson , 2004) the author explains her successes with linking art and writing, and how she uses a questionnaire based loosely on the P-QAR outline In continuing my quest to learn more about effective questioning techniques which can be used to initiate personal art/writing connections from my students, I visited Stanley Pogrow's research on HOTS (Pogrow, 2005). The most interesting and compelling part of his research to me is the assertion that Title 1 students, of which my school qualifies, often have academic trouble after the third grade due to the fact that they have not learned the basic skills relevant to understanding.

Christine Chin, (Chin, 2004)in her article on how to best apply questioning techniques in science, proposes a teacher should first familiarize herself with the level of thinking different types of thinking produces, and then identify the level and type of thinking skills you want your students to produce. Students should also be able to defend their responses and give reasons why they gave particular responses. These techniques fit into not only the HOTS questioning style, but the famous Blooms taxonomy.

In attempting to look at what others are doing and have done with linking the art/writing process to pull out the personal creativity of students, I was intrigued by the theatre/writing projects done by Amanda Lichenstein and Germania Solorzano (Lichtenstein & Solorzano, 2003), working with low income fifth and eight graders. They came from similar backgrounds as my students and appeared to be having the same type of disinterest, disconnection and writers block that I have encountered in my own class. Although not working directly with artwork, they were using theatre games, improv, deep breathing, and other theatre techniques to attempt to connect to the students and illicit deep, imaginative writing. What they discovered worked, was having the students imagine and pretend sculpt an object, and then describe this object to the class. This exercise and these imaginary objects became so real, that students could visualize and see the objects and the story behind the objects in their minds eye. The words flowed at that point.

Karen Raney (Raney, 1999) Brian Merrill (Merrill, 2003) discuss images with text to produce personal work evokes emotional responses and increases self esteem, as well as the ability to organize thinking processes and engage in higher levels of thought. In a study attempting to use drawings and paintings to allow students to represent their literacy knowledge, ( Kendrick & McKay, 2002) discovered that students not only bring a wide variety of experience and perspectives to the class room, but they have distinct interpretations of what represents literacy. In their particular study, they encountered a student whose interpretations of literacy and his personal narratives conflicted with school policy on writing about anything violent. This to him, included hunting trips with his father and grandfather and the ban on this type of subject matter inhibited his artistic and written expression. Having often encountered and discouraged violent drawings in my class, and also having the restraint of school and district policy against depiction of violent images, I realize that I need to reexamine and clarify that policy on my campus and for my class if I wish to make an impact in connecting students to their ever day lives through art and writing. The fact is that in many cases violence, neglect and apathy is a reality in the lives of some of these students. They need to be able to express this in their art and writing if I am to be successful in helping them to make art/writing connections.

In their article Creative Arts: Strengthening Academics and Building Community with Students At-Risk, (Boldt & Brooks, 2006) report that using nontraditional instructional methods including art and theatre with at risk children improves their chance of academic success. In working with at risk students in their charter school, they found that creativity in the classroom was the key to keeping students involved, nurturing social skills, improving attendance and problem solving skills. Richard Siegesmund (Siegesmund, 2002), states that art is not an impractical "break" from serious learning: it's an essential part of that learning. One of the most serious practitioners of art writing integration at this moment is Beth Olshansky who has developed a curriculum entitled picture writing, which she details in her article When Students Become Author Illustrators (Olshansky, 1994). Leslie Brown, (Brown 1993) a follower of Olshansky's art/writing integration curriculum reports her success on using story collages to motivate reluctant writers.


Having decided on goals and possible avenues to redirect my teaching, I will focus my study group on one fourth grade class, since writing is such a strong target for fourth grade. I will conduct an attitude survey with these students at the beginning of the year, and will also do a beginning writing lesson on an art piece, giving little or no instruction to the writers except to write what they think about the artwork. The survey and writing samples will be filed. In addition, I will note at the beginning of the year the number of distractions caused by each student during a class period. At the end of the six week grading period I will compare the writing samples based upon an initial rubric to the other fourth grade classes. In addition, I will compare the number of students in my focus group who initiate distractions, with the number in the non-participating groups. This data, along with a learning log that I will keep daily, should provide enough information to determine if the change in my teaching and questioning style is impacting student learning and behavior.

References Boldt, R. W., & Brooks, C. (2006). Creative arts: Strengthening academics and building community with students at-risk.

Reclaiming Children & Youth, 14(4), 223-227. Brown, L. (1993).

Story collages. Learning, November/December, 22-24. Chin, C. (2004).

Questioning students in ways that encourage thinking. Teaching Science, (Summer), 16-21. Davidson, C. (November 11, 2004).

Using art to create Summary/Response. Retrieved June 26, 2006 from

Kendrick ,Maureen: McKay, Roberta. (2002). Uncovering literacy narratives through children's drawings. Canadian Journal of Education, 27(1), 45-60.

Lichtenstein Amanda, Solorzano Germania. (2003). Message in an imaginary bottle: A glimpse of a magical teaching moment at crown.

Teaching Artist Journal, 1(4), 203-208. Merrill, B. (2003).

Unlocking the imagination. School Arts, (January), 54. Olshansky, B. (1994).

School Arts, March, 14. Pogrow, S. (2005). HOTS revisited: A thinking developent approach to reducing the learning gap after grade 3.

 Phi Delta Kappan, (September), 64-75. Raney, K. (1999).

Visual literacy and the art curriculum. Journal of Art & Design Education, 18(1) Siegesmund, R. (2002).

Bringing accountability to elementary art. Kappa Delta Pi Record, (Fall), 24.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Welcome to my blog. I'm not sure exactly what all I'm going to do here, but I am very excited about making it, and inviting my friends from the Bluebonnet writing project.