#powerpose is the new #selfie


We are living with the most documented generation ever.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and more keep track of everything from our meetings to our vacations, our pets to our dinner.  Is there a place for powerful portraits of people anymore?  Or are selfies now considered art?  In an age where “let me take a selfie” and “#shamelessselfie” are common phrases on the Internet and social media, are portraits and powerful candids obsolete?


As I led a group of nearly a dozen middle-schoolers through an after-school photography club, I gleaned some insight into these questions.  My number one goal for my first-ever photography club was that it be student-driven.  I told students that I wouldn’t give them assignments, or require them to take pictures of certain things.  Mostly, I wanted to guide them through an experience that would expose them to the traditional art of photography, while also letting them guide the club through their own middle school lens.


The first day, I created a diagram of all of the buttons on the camera, and numbers on the screen, and how to adjust for light on a manual setting.  The auto setting was off-limits.  They wanted to take pictures of their food, their friends, and most of all, themselves.  I was not, I repeat not, going to teach a class on selfies.  No no, I was much too much of an educated artist to allow that, and I owed it to the photo club to teach them about history, controversy, and the difference between what we see and what really is.


I showed them portraits taken by well known and little-known photographers, and suggested that they practice taking candid and posed portraits of their families and friend groups.  I quickly learned that this was not the best way to promote curiosity and persistence in photography.  I realized that the students were telling me that doing, going, seeing, and experiencing was how they wanted to learn.  So I learned with them.   We went to the p-patch down the street to capture flowers with the macro setting, created a photo studio in the classroom for some posed portraits of each other, and even walked to Starbucks one day to practice wide-angle shots…and get extra venti mocha frappuccinos… the first of the summer!


In the room next door to Photography Club is Drama Club.  Donte, the 7th and 8th grade Social Studies teacher, introduced me to Power Poses this fall, as I lent my photo skills to drama club rehearsals as they practiced getting into character.  We would put on Eye of the Tiger, get in a circle around the room, and jump into a character of power once in front of the camera.  Power poses, however, were not limited to the drama club.  Parents, teachers, the 6th graders for their Many Cultures One World project, the entire 7th grade for their film fest credits, and now Teaching Artists, have experienced the magic of the power pose.


All these selfies- in Power Pose form- taught me that a selfie is not as narcissistic as older generations might think.  We all love to feel powerful, and a selfie is just that: a power pose.  It’s a statement.  It’s empowerment.  It’s self-acceptance.  (What if everyone in the world refused to take pictures of themselves because they thought they were too ugly?  Now that would be a project for the teaching artists out there!)



As reflect on my year at Orca, I think about all that I have learned about teaching, learning styles, empowerment, flexibility, patience, empathy, self care, and creativity, I will remember power poses.  I will remember students jumping at the chance to use the big DSLR camera.  I will remember my photographs of students included in the MLK day slideshow.  I will remember starting a photo club.  I will remember my photo club students’ final slideshows that included flowers, friends, and frappuccinos!  I will remember how I was encouraged to contribute my creative gifts and talents to an inclusive community of educators that embodies a culture of creativity and empowerment.

By: Liz Farmer, CSI Artist in Service


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Song Writing and the Creative Process

One of the biggest perks of my job as a teaching artist at Orca is that I can practice being a teacher with the support and resources of several other educators at my side. I get to receive feedback, try new approaches and strategies, and assess how I am doing professionally on a daily basis.

Each day during first period, this dynamic works in my favor during the song writing class that I co-teach with the AWESOME sixth-grade teachers, Jeff and Tanisha.  In the classroom, I get to work through my own creative and professional process alongside those of my students and colleagues.

Our classroom culture aims to create an open and authentic space to write about what interests you. A typical day in song writing (if there is such a thing) might include any of the following: dance warm ups to Justin Timberlake songs, a get–to-know-you game based on Musical Chairs, a presentation on recording via Garage Band, a game of The Human Knot, a visit from fellow CSI teaching artist and song writing guru, Amy, and sustained time to work on writing lyrics.

While teaching artists consider myriad aspects of creativity and education, for now I want to focus on critique, feedback loops, and assessment because there is an element of each in the others. Critique is essential for any artist to hear new perspectives on their work and have the opportunity to engage in something they hadn’t considered. Feedback loops are the result of critiques. For example, “my classmates said the piece wasn’t relateable, so I will tone down the echo effect that makes my lyrics incomprehensible.” Assessment is trickier to define. Arts Corps’ definition is to “make student learning visible and give young artists reflective time.”  In no way is assessment a grade or judgement of a final product.  It is a chance for students to decide how their skills, understanding, behavior, and attitude have changed over the course of the class or project.  In a nutshell, feedback from others and the willingness to receive and create multiple iterations from that feedback is critical to how they will assess their own learning.

For the most recent project, we decided to try a new method of peer evaluation and feedback: post-its.  Since I am from Minneapolis, I decided it was good to keep my fellow Minnesotans employed by requiring each of our 20 students to give feedback to each of the 10 partner groups, including themselves, on post-its.  (I’ll leave the math to you.) After each song, we took a few minutes to write what we heard that we liked, and how we thought they could improve for the next project. This was the result:

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Suggestions, critique, feedback, and compliments were stuck to each laptop so that we all had the chance to receive feedback. For self assessment, we asked students to write (again on post-its. You’re welcome, 3M.) responses to the prompts, “one thing that was awesome about the way I worked was…” and “one thing I would change about the way I worked was…”  Their thoughtfulness was impressive:  “I helped pick out tracks. I would want to give more ideas.” And, “I tried new things and pushed myself to step out of my comfort zone.  I would change how I worked by pushing myself a little further to sing maybe.”

At a time of transition in my life, my Uncle Dave told me to, “Measure your success in ways that are meaningful to you, not what others might think.”  I have it written on a (virtual) post-it on my laptop screen as reminder to myself of what is important as I experience new identities in various stages of young adulthood. As a rookie artist and educator, evidence of my learning is visible in how I encourage students to be honest and vulnerable, create stories from potentially nebulous ideas, risk putting them on display for peers, and stand tall in their own definitions of success— and to do the same things myself.

-Liz Farmer
AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence
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What place does audio production have in the classroom?

Sound is all around you. It manifests in music and alongside visual media; in espresso machines and drops of coffee filling your mug, in freeway traffic, in dog whistles, shouting bats, and cell phone transmissions – it exists as vibrations in the air even when we believe it to be silent.

Upon waking every morning, we are bombarded with sensory information but are not often taught how to wield the power of our senses to create new understandings of the world. This is the culture that audio production fosters.

Audio production includes your favorite CDs and vinyl records. It includes video game sound effects and everything you hear in movies. It is at the heart of live concerts and podcasts and broadcasts and the reason you can hear sound coming out of speakers. Audio production is the process of capturing sound and reproducing it back to an audience – or perhaps to document and archive to retrieve in the future.

In my personal process of integrating arts into the classroom at Madrona K-8, I have been striving to give audio production equal weight as an art form and as a tool for students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in an unconventional way. To demonstrate this, I recorded and edited my own podcast to represent my own understanding of the unit topic: Poverty.

I worked with a fellow AmeriCorps member at Arts Corps to record one of their spoken word pieces that deals with privilege and opportunity, and then included an interview portion where they talked about the meaning and intention behind their piece. Not only did I end up with a great podcast example, but I managed to show multiple levels of art – not just the artistry of the podcast itself being put together, but the art in crafting words to create meaning and the power this has in a recorded medium.

For the poverty unit, my fellow teaching artist and I collaborated on a rubric to include the choice between a visual project, an audio project, or another mixed media project. Many students took to the idea of using audio recorders to perform a rap, song, or commentary that showed their understanding and interpretation of the poverty unit theme.

There is a certain fearlessness that young people possess when it comes to giving them choices. Too often, the school system institutes rote procedures that allow little room for creative exploration and personal expression. One project really struck me as an example of what we may have never learned about two students’ unique expressive ability had we not given them this creative choice in the classroom.

Poverty project – rap

Audio production teaches young people how they can use their voice as a mechanism to express ideas, how to practice and plan for the moment of recording, and eventually transcend the fleetingness of time by contributing their voice to recorded history.

In the end, it can just be a playful process where students have a means to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in an unconventional way that now has a chance to be shared and celebrated.

AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence


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Each Day Is An Iteration

One of my favorite things about working with students is when my magical arts educator eyes can see the gears in their brains linking and turning. Since working at Orca, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about learning styles, what an interactive and dynamic classroom looks, sounds, and feels like, and how to ask students the right questions to most enrich their learning process.

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The seventh graders at Orca have been learning about storytelling as it relates to Native Americans- both by them and about them. Keeping both storytelling and learning processes in mind, I helped develop a Native American Unit Project. Seeing it come alive through students’ imaginations has been a rewarding process for me. As a graphic design major in college, I learned the importance of creating several drafts, going through critique, and reworking my ideas accordingly. Since working with Nate Herth and Donte Felder, I have learned a great deal about the importance of a similar idea in education: “iterations” in the learning process. Each Tuesday and Thursday is a chance for me to see students struggle and start over, create and make mistakes, imagine and build. I see the gears of creativity churning, connecting, and pushing each other forward.

I am often asked how art teaches critical thinking, risk taking, or persistence. Perhaps persistence is the most obvious: one must play scales in all keys to master the jazz number, sketch in numerous notebooks to see doodles transform into drawings, or start daily free writing for years before a poetry slam or open mic.

Critical Thinking and Risk Taking are harder to explain. My seventh graders, however, have shown me myriad examples:

photo 2One girl wrote a song in English and Lushootseed, (yes, spent time learning the Salish language!) and had the courage to get up in front of 25 of her peers and sing it. During the “critique” time, one of her peers told her directly, “I thought you were brave to get up there to sing, and you did something no one else did.” Performance and presentation aside, each and every seventh grader took a risk the moment they started brainstorming for the project. They risked letting their brain go to new places; some risked collaborating with their classmates, they risked putting their ideas- a piece of themselves- on paper, fabric, cardboard, and film, visible to all.

Critical Thinking takes place in the creative process when students decide what could have happened if Christopher Columbus hadn’t robbed Native Americans of their resources. I recently told my students that I didn’t understand until college that “critical thinking” means considering the information you are given and automatically asking “why?” or questioning certain language that may subliminally elicit certain thoughts. I remember being in 5th grade and wondering, “does critical thinking just mean to think harder?  Does that mean criticize what they are telling me? But, I’m not supposed to go against what adults say!”  A visual and photo 3writing project that tells a well-known story from a different perspective – and imagines what could have been- is a perfect example ofcritical thinking through art.

I am so proud of the seventh graders for their persistence, hard work, and professionalism during the Native American stories unit. As the school year progresses and I continue to work with the middle-schoolers at Orca, I will see them as inspiration to imagine and build the kind of relationships that foster inquisitive conversations, risk my teacher ego by asking courageous questions, and persist through criticism to make opportunities for creative learning.

Each day is an iteration.

By: Elizabeth Farmer

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