60 To Zero In Five Seconds Flat

As I know I mentioned before, I was fortunate to spend a week in the Project Zero Classroom program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education this summer studying the big ideas of prominent figures in education. One of the big ideas I encountered is Making Thinking Visible, introduced by Ron Ritchart and David Perkins. Of the Six Key Principles they identified, this one stands out for me:

  • Fostering thinking requires making thinking visible. Thinking happens mostly in our heads, invisible to others and even to ourselves. Effective thinkers make their thinking visible, meaning they externalize their thoughts through speaking, writing, drawing, or some other method. They can then direct and improve those thoughts. Visible Thinking also emphasizes documenting thinking for later reflection.

Throughout the week at Project Zero Classroom, my classmates and I were encouraged to use inquiry to define our purpose for participation in the program. My purpose took shape pretty quickly thanks to the workshops on Thinking Routines and Artful Thinking I attended. I soon realized that I haven’t been providing enough reflective processes for my students to align the projects they do with the concepts they are learning. We need space between instruction and performance to integrate fully with our learning. I knew right away that I wanted to slow things down and make room in my curriculum for making thinking visible. That is when I decided my classroom goal for 2015/2016 goal would be Slowing Down The Learning.

My purpose
My purpose for participating in Project Zero Classroom

Something else on my mind during Project Zero classroom was the idea of process vs. product. This is not a new idea at all to me and I wish I could say that I have remained steadfast over the years. However, it can be difficult to focus on process when so many art educators share lessons and projects via Twitter and Pinterest. Like birds attracted to bright, shiny objects, these clever projects and their products can become our focus rather than the intrinsic lessons within the process of  art making.

Artistic Moments by 5/6 Art Club investigating the creative process
Artistic Moments by 5/6 Art Club investigating the creative process

This train of thought led quickly to Studio Thinking and the Eight Studio Habits of Mind developed by Lois Hetland and the co-authors of Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of a Visual Art Education. Also not new to me, re-examining this text in conjunction with Making Thinking Visible has created a new focus for objectives in my art curriculum. Along with addressing the Massachusetts Frameworks and the National Arts Standards, we are also following the Studio Habits of Mind.

The more I thought about how to engage my students in making thinking visible and focusing on the Studio Habits of Mind, I realized they would require sketchbooks or something to record their thinking in as well as time set aside to develop their thoughts. My students have always been asked to bring sketchbooks to class so that part would be easy. Here is an example of one of my student’s traditional sketchbooks from a few years ago:

To follow my goal of Slowing Down The Learning, I knew the sketchbooks had to be handmade. I also wanted them to be stored in the classroom so they wouldn’t be forgotten at home or in lockers. I ordered large paper (23 x 35) which we would fold for the pages. I knew I had a reserve of large thick papers, donated by a friend who worked in printing, that I could cut up for the covers. Knowledge and memories from my own twenty years in the printing industry surfaced as I watched my students make their books. for most of them, this was the first time they had made a book from scratch. I am excited to see what ideas for format they will come up with when they make another book for the next term.

IMG_7285 IMG_7283 IMG_0073

Once the large paper was folded and the covers stapled on, the students trimmed the folds using scissors. This adds a handmade quality to the books. At the start of the next class, I showed them this video, which shows the automated book making process:

Once the books were finished, it was was time to think about covers. In planning this project, I knew this first round of books would be uniform, so I wanted the cover to be open to creativity and artist voice, yet with 250 books to manage, the materials choices would be somewhat limited. We went with collage using magazines (or whatever students brought to school), colored pencils, and construction paper crayons. The last step would be Mod Podge to add the gloss sheen and make the covers more durable. In future classes, metallic Sharpies will be available for final embellishment. On starting the collages, I was happy to open the glue sponges and see they are still holding up three years after they were made. This post describes how to make glue sponges.

Click on the photo to see how to make glue sponges

Oh, what a glorious mess we made in finding “good” magazine pictures!

IMG_7488 IMG_7487

Students used the cutting technique of silhouetting to make images appear as part of other images. Themes began to emerge very quickly:

Cats theme
Cats theme
Art is fun
Sports theme
Dogs theme

The final step was to add Mod Podge for a glossy, durable cover:

Mod Podge station
Mod Podge station
Finished cover
Mod Podge gloss

After just three classes, the books were finished. Students have used them every class since to respond to Creativity Sparks as they enter the classroom. Soon they will use them to map and record the Design Process and as Learning Logs, which will contribute to Making Thinking Visible in the art room.

Technology is fully integrated in our art curriculum. We are a 1:1 iPad school and as such I am so fortunate to be using Google Classroom as a learning management system for my nine classes. I truly love it. We save a lot of time and and it is a huge asset to organization. We use technology for many things including drawing, painting, “sculpture” and design for 3D printing. Sometimes, using technology in the classroom can quickly take over and become the objective, when it is actually an agent for learning. It is easy to be swept up in the quick pace and immediacy of technology and forget to slow down and provide adequate reflection time for the learning to take hold. In my opinion, when we use technology well, it becomes just another tool in our giant magic bag of tricks and strategies for teaching and learning.

I walk by this rack of sketchbooks several times a day. As I do I am filled with pride that my students and I are working hard at Slowing Down The Learning with sketchbooks and Making Thinking Visible. Let me reverse a common car phrase and tell you we are happy to be going from 60 to zero in five seconds flat!

Rack of Sketchbooks
Rack of Sketchbooks


  1. Great topic! I started slowing down as well as using journals with my 1st graders this year and was thrilled to read your post and get more ideas. I am curious about Creativity Sparks and Learning Logs, and will search on your sight to see if these are applicable to 1st grade. Thanks for the inspiration and quality art education blog. Steph Brooks @HipWaldorf

    • Great to hear from you! It seems adding time for reflection is not easy, which is why we have to focus purposely on doing so. Creativity Sparks are quick drawings or writing (less than 10 minutes) that get the kids thinking as they enter the room. Learning logs will be used for students to reflect on the various stages of a unit or project. So far, so good – we’re really enjoying having the sketchbooks handy!I wish you well with yours!

  2. […] Last summer I was thrilled to spend a week in the Project Zero Classroom program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education studying big ideas by prominent figures in education that I admire. Naturally, I brought this experience into the classroom with a renewed commitment to project based learning and a generous amount of technology integration. Our focus this year has been on the process of art making, which we began with handmade sketchbooks. I wrote about this in detail on my blog in October 2015. You can read it at this link: https://monalisaliveshere.me/2015/10/14/60-to-zero-in-five-seconds-flat/ […]

  3. […] Last but not least of the semester start activities is the creation of sketchbooks. As of the end of the day yesterday, every student has created a sketchbook. They will be using them every day for at least five minutes responding to creativity sparks, quick write prompts, as learning logs, or plan books for projects. Please read about the importance of using sketchbooks in the art room in this post. […]

Leave a Reply