Learning and Letting Go of Perfection

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks getting started in sketching. I did a bit of sketching and learned a bit about myself…mainly that I need to ignore my streak of perfectionism. It’s a lesson that I need reminding of every once in a while.

The first thing I did was go out for dinner with Martha (my stepmother and the artist that I mentioned in my last post) to get an idea of where to start learning. She explained that when drawing, I need to see things as they are and not draw what I know or think I know. She demonstrated what she meant by sketching the empty table next to us while explaining every step. It was a little square table but she said that I couldn’t just draw it as square with 90° angles and a leg in the middle. I had to look at it and draw the angles that I saw. Then she did this step by step and by the time she was done, I understood what she meant. There were no 90° angles in what I was seeing; they were only in my head. Later, I found Matt Fussell’s article, How to Draw – In a Nutshell, where he expands on this and states that “drawing is at least 50% observation.” Since then, I’ve been trying to spend some time every day looking at what’s in front of me as it actually appears, not as I think it should look.

After eating supper, Martha and I both got out our tablets and started finding websites I could use to help me learn to draw: www.lynda.com through the Regina Public Library, www.craftsy.com, Betty Edward’s website http://drawright.com/ and various YouTube videos. It was handy having an expert help me sort through what might be of use to me and what I don’t need at the moment and can learn about later, like shading.

Then it was time to get materials so I could start actually drawing. I started off by going online to check out what kind of sketching materials I should get. I read a few articles and got lost in the myriad of stuff. I found myself wanting to get the perfect tools to start off my journey, as if that would help me become perfect at drawing. Or maybe it was just procrastinating to put off the time that I would actually have to start drawing…and making mistakes. I find that hard to do. Oh, I know that people learn from mistakes and I work very hard to instill a culture of learning from mistakes in my classroom. After all, if you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t learning anything new. But it’s so hard to let go of aiming for perfection! Then I came across Karen Mead’s comments on this in her blog, Tiny Buddha, and I’ve decided that I need to aim for “the joy of just okay.” I love the freedom of that idea!

In the end, I took my stepmother’s advice and went to a store with limited art supplies for a sketchbook and plain HB pencils.

Even then, I got sidetracked by a sketching set but I managed to resist. I came home with just a basic sketching book and a set of HB pencils.

             

And it’s a good thing I got a set because it turned out I didn’t have a pencil sharpener in my home anymore! I hadn’t realized how little I use pencils now.

My copy on the left and the original on the right.

Then it was time to start drawing. Martha had given me a couple of drawing tasks from the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. They’re meant to get you using the visual, perceptual part of your brain instead of the verbal, analytical part. The first one is drawing Picasso’s Portrait of Igor Stravinsky. However, you aren’t supposed to copy the picture as you would normally look at it. The task is to turn the picture upside down and draw it as shapes and lines in spatial relation to each other, not thinking about hands or face or tie or chair.

 

Original on the left and my copy on the right.

The instructions say that it should take 40 minutes to an hour. It took me just under an hour and I was exhausted by the time I was done. Several times I just wanted to give up. Thinking about it later, I realized those were the times that I was thinking about the object I was drawing rather than the lines and shapes and that I was also thinking about how what I was drawing didn’t look the way it should. Looking at the picture after I was done, I could see that reflected back at me. When I was drawing the head, I was thinking about the lines and shapes and the spacing between them but when I was drawing the hands, I kept thinking that they didn’t look like hands rather than focusing on the lines and curves. And the head looks better than the hands. Interesting.

It was a good start but then I got sidetracked by life (and that mild but persistent perfectionist/defeatist streak) and only read and watched videos about drawing without actually doing any drawing. I’m about to try the second activity that Martha gave me and then move on to the items I found online. I’ve also decided to take the advice that I regularly give to my students – do a little bit every day, even 5 minutes. To that end I’m going to draw something every day with an average time limit of 5-15 minutes and share it with my students the next day. I’m hoping that this will help keep me motivated and on track. Wish me luck!!

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Sharing student work publicly

Since I work with adult newcomers to Canada who have a high beginner/low intermediate level of English, my first thoughts when considering students sharing their work with the world were that it would be a great way for them to prepare for using social media in their everyday lives in Canada and to express themselves in English. We live in a world where social media is used everywhere – businesses, community organizations, schools, friends, family, and on and on. Knowing how to use social media appropriately is becoming more and more essential and requires different types of skills than writing a letter or an essay. Of course, there’s still the requirement of putting together sentences and vocabulary to get your meaning across, but how you write a tweet is significantly different from writing an essay and it requires practice to become good at it. Using social media in the classroom would help my students learn how to communicate in different formats and to recognize different kinds of social media symbols as well as increase their ability to function in this new home of theirs. All really useful to them.

However, I’m also concerned about backlash and bullying online. Some of my students come to my class after only being in Canada for 2 weeks, so they have very little idea about the culture/norms and sometimes say things that might offend people, for instance, asking how old someone is or stating that a woman must be married and have children to make their lives complete or things that are racist or homophobic. In the classroom, they might offend me occasionally but these are a teachable moments and involve (mostly) calm and rational conversation. Online, though… I’m concerned about the vitriol that might come their way if they offend people…and then there are the people who don’t need a reason to be offended and the racists (sometimes one and the same). Some of my students are already traumatized from their experiences before they arrived here, so I’m concerned about placing them in a situation that could lead to further trauma.

And this makes me think about the fact that some of my students are here due to persecution and war in their home countries and being active on social media could lead to further problems for them and their family or friends who are not in the relative safety of a country like Canada. Some students in our program have concerns about just recording themselves in a roleplay, for instance, making a doctor’s appointment over the phone…and by recording I mean just audio recording. How can I possibly ask someone with these kinds of fears to go onto social media? Obviously, I can’t. And then what are the logistics of using social media with some of the students in the class and not others?

I think it could be done, but I would need to be flexible about it. For instance, I could show them this blog post and ask them for their thoughts. They could then respond to my post on paper and those that wanted to could actually post what they wrote during computer lab. We could also practice writing tweets with the option to create a Twitter account and actually post the tweet. I’d need to become more familiar with the various sites before trying this out in class but it’s a possibility. Anyone have any other ideas about how I could incorporate social media into my lessons without forcing everyone to use it?

Sketching

My plan when I signed up for this course was to apply what I was learning about technology in my classroom, so my first thought about the major digital project was to use social media in the classroom as a way for my students to learn English and, for some, to become more computer-literate. Not only would we all learn something potentially useful to our lives, but my students and I would have the opportunity to collaborate with and teach each other in the learning process. Since many of my students come from countries where classes are almost exclusively instructor-focused, this would give them a chance to experience working with their instructor as a learner like themselves rather than as expert who knows all of the information and imparts it to them.

However, when I spoke with my students about using social media, I discovered that while they all have Facebook accounts, none of them were interested in using Twitter or blogs. There were a variety of reasons given but the most common ones were that they felt it would be too difficult at their current English level (high beginner) and they didn’t feel that it was immediately relevant to their lives.

Having determined that social media wasn’t the way to go, I considered starting to incorporate LearnIT2Teach/EduLINC into my classroom. This is a website funded by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that teachers can use to work with their students at different levels of the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB). It’s based on Moodle and can be used in the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program for face-to-face, blended, and online classes. My school has one blended class and is moving towards adding more of them at different levels. While my class isn’t going to one of those, it would be useful for me to know how it works and helpful for my students to be exposed to it so that they can make a more informed choice about whether a blended class is a good option for them or not at higher levels. When I checked further into this, I decided to put it off until January because there are four stages to implementing EduLINC into a classroom and each stage has time limits and restrictions on how much instructors can control. The first couple of stages are fairly restrictive, so I wasn’t sure that I would be able to fulfill the requirements of this assignment.

So, I decided to move on to Option B and learn something new. After brainstorming, I came up with three options: photography, singing, and sketching. They’re all things that I’ve thought of doing since I was a teenager and I even started learning each of them at some point, sometimes more than once, but never stuck with it. I debated about which one to choose and decided that sketching would be the best one at this time. I often get a cough over the winter months, which would hamper my ability to sing, and I don’t really like the idea of spending lots of time outside in chilly weather learning to take photos of nature but sketching – that I could do anywhere. File:Sketch-book.jpgPlus, I could use it in my classroom. I often use images on the internet to show my students what something is but it’s annoying when I need to do it for very simple things that would take 10 or 20 seconds to draw on the board.

I did a quick Google search for websites on learning to draw the basics and there were 42.5 million results, so there are lots of resources available. The difficulty there will be in sorting through them and finding the most relevant ones. Last night, I mentioned this project to some friends and they suggested Craftsy and Picassohead, so I checked them out. Craftsy offers a variety of online lessons and while Picassohead won’t teach me how to draw, it was fun to create a sketch of a head in Picasso’s style using a digital art tool.

Then I called my stepmother, Martha Cole, who is a professional artist, and told her about my idea. She was thrilled and said she’d be happy to give me some guidance. When I reminded her that it wouldn’t be like traditional lessons because I needed to use online sources and wanted to use various types of technology to gather information and instruction, she responded enthusiastically that we could do some of it over Skype and Facebook (if I would just get an account) and that she’d like to follow my blog. She’s excited about expanding her technological knowledge, too.

I’m not sure exactly what path my learning project will take me on, but I plan to spend some time every day learning and practicing. By the end of the semester, I would like to be able to draw some simple items easily and incorporate that skill into my lessons. I’m looking forward to it!

Social Media?

My first blog post ever!! This class is going to be a lot of firsts for me. It’s not that I never use technology but there’s so much out there that I find it somewhat overwhelming. Actually, make that quite overwhelming.

When people tell me about technology and apps that they love, I tend to tune them out unless it’s something that I can see myself using regularly (or I’m forced to use for some reason).

So, if it’s an app for reading books or listening to audio books, I’m there! Websites with interesting information to read, love them! Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming sites are cool, too.

Social media, though…not so much.

I’ve got a telephone, email, text messaging, and Skype. What do I need social media apps for? I don’t even have Facebook let alone a blog or Twitter.

But it’s time to pull my head out of the sand and take a peek at what’s going on with social media. So, I’m taking a deep breath and plunging in. Here’s to a new adventure and growth!