SPEAKING of Art, LISTENING to What Teachers Are Saying

By Cotner, Teresa L. | Art Education, March 2011 | Go to article overview

SPEAKING of Art, LISTENING to What Teachers Are Saying


Cotner, Teresa L., Art Education


In addition to examples of art and the art students make, art classrooms are imbued with words- both written and spoken- about art What teachers say to students about art during art lessons is likely to influence the understandings students come to throughout their artmaking activities (Cotner, 2001, 2003, 2009, 2010). Choosing our words - even in the moment, as we are speaking - involves creative, aesthetic, curricular, and pedagogical considerations. In order to learn from our own classroom discourse or that of other teachers, we can start by considering that spoken language is always simultaneously propositional and social (Cazden, 2001).

When engaged in spoken discourse, wè exchange information. This is the propositional function. With the same words we also build and maintain relationships between interlocutors. This is the social function. In other words, when we speak, we simultaneously share information and clarify the nature of the relationship between speakers. In the classroom, the information is usually directly related to the curriculum and the relationship is usually that which is traditionally accepted for teachers and students. In this article, I explore social and propositional functions of four art teachers' classroom discourse that took place during an artmaking activity.

A significant part of any teachers job is to organize and facilitate educative experiences for students, and this creative, interpersonal undertaking depends heavily on what is said throughout the experiences. Communication between art teachers and students may be particularly original and creative work due to the innovative and creative nature of art. Like making art, participating in classroom discourse about art requires participants to choose and arrange words that fulfill curricular and social requirements. Much can be learned by increasing attention to this discourse. In a recent study involving future art teachers during the process of student teaching, "both the student teachers and the in-service teachers found that collecting, transcribing, and recalling the children's dialogues opened new learning possibilities for themselves and the children alike" (Traft', 2006, p. 3). Building on this idea, I will examine art teachers* classroom discourse, teacher art talk, and suggest that teachers can improve their teaching skills by examining their own art talk and that of other art teachers. In other words, students are not the Only ones who can learn from listening to what teachers say.

The four teachers who shared their classrooms- and their teacher art talk - with me came to their elementary classrooms with different kinds and degrees of preparation for teaching art. One was a student teacher; one, an artistin-residence; one, a volunteer parent; and one, a credentialed art specialist. The variety among these teachers provides a broad range of examples of what we might hear art teachers say and what we can learn from examining this creative and spontaneous component of teaching called "teacher art talk."

I will focus on what appear to be salient aspects of the propositional and social functions in the examples of teacher art talk. One excerpt of teacher art talk from each educator is examined. Each was chosen because it exemplifies the talk ofthat individual teacher, based on one 55-minute class observed. Each excerpt is from talk that took place during an introduction to a new art project or new part of an art project Each represents approximately 5 minutes of class time and was transcribed from audiotapes and field notes. Each excerpt will be examined with attention to its propositional and social functions. The teachers did not analyze their own or each other's classroom art discourse; however, this would be a fruitful endeavor for future studies.

Five salient features of artmaking experiences provide a structure within which to discuss the propositional function: considering components and composition (critique), materials and process (artmaking), intra-art contextualization (juxtaposing art with other art), extra-art contextualization (juxtaposing art with non-arts, e. …

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