Talk with the Author

Jessie Davis

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22 Comments to Talk with the Author

  1. by Holly Link

    On April 1, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I just received the Teacher College Press Spring 2010 publication and your “Ordinary Gifted Children” title caught my eye. I firmly believe that each child IS gifted. Unfortunately, traditional education only values certain gifts, leaving many gifts undiscovered, underappreciated or refused. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, an art educator and a most recently a corporate training developer/health coach and PhD student in Organizatinal Leadership and Policy Development. In my study of educational reform (or lack thereof) I am struck by how often research is done to confirm existing knowledge rather than explore possibility. Case in point, “giving students a voice” to comment on educational teaching process. While it raises the awareness of teachers as to their pedagogy, it amounts to little more then allowing students to “paint the cell” rather than freeing them from the confines of school the way it’s always been done. It is hard for students to conceptualize any other way of learning, and yet they have all experienced it before they set foot in school. We are born curious, resourceful and creative. Little by little, the way we choose becomes judged, narrowed or thwarted. As a health coach, I work with people who have learned what works for society, not for them. When given a chance to speak the truth and to experiment with options without judgement, their inate creativity sparks and changes their entire system. For my dissertation, I want to reach young children to find out what they know about learning, what they know about school, and what they wish school could be like. I envision three groups of students: preschool, second grade and 4th grade. As an art educator, I saw these levels as radical pivots in my students’ lives (I had the privalege to teach them longitudinally) and was always curious as to what was happening systemically at those points. Ultimately, I want to encourage learning across subject areas from idiosyncratic and intrinsic curiosity and the dynamic process of that learning in both solitude and in group experience. The ultimate question is, how can the institution of academia facilitate rather than squelch such learning, and what type of teacher/administration/other support personnel preparation will enable that facilitation. Many questions, but I can only look at one aspect at a time. I want to authentically listen to authentic children-it is their future, and ours, that is on the line. By the way, I have attended Project Zero, the Learning Differences Conference and New and Aspiring Leaders Conference at Harvard. Great experiences, all. I wish my life circumstances allowed me to enroll in the Doctor of Educational Leadership program, but I have a junior in High School. I look forward to reading your good work! It is sure to become part of what informs my continuing research. Thank you in advance!

  2. by Jessica Davis

    On April 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful reflections on educational reform and children’s voices (or lack thereof) in the broader conversation about what school is and could be. I do hope you find Ordinary Gifted Children of interest and use to your quest. Ann Hoffmann believed (and I hear this in your remarks) that we need to listen carefully to children for if we do, we will find that they will tell us what they need and what we must do. Additionally, as I note also in your comments, Ann Hoffmann believed that if things were not working for a child in a school setting, it was the school and not the child who needed to adjust. Your proposed study asking children what they know about school should be very interesting. I did some research into
    “playing school”-that great venue for pretend play that children do on their own or with others. Interestingly, the classrooms children created in their play were not necessarily like those in the schools they attended. Images of children and teachers perpetuated through media entered into their playful constructions of the scene. Where will children in your study derive the understandings you seek to explore? Should be most interesting. Finally, like you Ann Hoffmann believed all children come to schools bearing gifts and that it is the responsibility of the teacher to recognize and receive. Please let me know your thoughts after you’ve read it. I do thank you for your advance interest and thoughtful commentary. Best.

  3. by Alicia Van Borssum

    On August 13, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Hi Jessica,

    I took a professional development class at the Rochester Museum and Science Center about 15 years ago, and learned about Entry Point Approach. I have adapted it to my work with English language learners, and use it all the time to spark discussion, inquiry, and thorough examination of all sorts of objects, including scientific specimens, paintings, and pieces of music.

    One of my favorite learning experiences with kids was playing the Triumphal March from Verdi’s Aida. After my third grade group listened to it and discussed it through entry point questions, they were really interested in finding out more about the music, and that lead to a fantastic project of reading, writing, puppetry and performance (at a cafe where a soprano performed some excerpts from the opera.) And I had just played the piece one day because I wondered if entry point approach would work as well with music as it does with three-dimensional objects! I have been using my own version of Entry Point, (always with credit to Project MUSE) and teaching it to kids and teachers all over.

    I have just returned from a one-month trip to Ethiopia. I accompanied a group of 12 American teachers who were chosen to benefit from a Fulbright-Hays Group Study Abroad grant. I acted as curriculum specialist, to help the teachers bring what they were learning about Ethiopia back to their students. One thing I taught them in the first few days of our trip was using Entry Point Approach with cultural, scientific, and artistic objects. They loved it and were encouraged to bring back interesting artifacts to share with their students.

    Our group did not disband after the trip. We will be working together–via an online classroom–to pilot and share our lessons and curriculum adaptations with each other. I have a copy of the MUSE book, and I wondered if you could give me permission to scan 6 pages of the report to share with those teachers. I think it would help ground them better in the approach. The scanned pages would be uploaded to K-State Online, to our particular course. They would not be shared in the original form anywhere else.

    Thank you for considering my request, and thanks mostly for your wonderful work. It has made all the difference in the world for my students, for teachers I have worked with, and for me in my teaching career.

    Alicia Van Borssum
    ESOL teacher, Autumn Lane Elementary School
    and doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester, NY

  4. by Julia

    On February 18, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    I came across your book and web site when I searched for the Hoffmann school. My sister was a student at your Mom’s school for 9 years. I remember going to her graduation there and how nice your Mom was. Mrs. Hoffmann saved my sister’s life in a way. You see when she was 5 she went public school kindergarden and lasted about 2 weeks-they told my parents she needed to go to an institution. My sister Jeannie would stand in the corner and not talk. She was probably autistic. My Mom tells me how excited your Mom was when Jeannie did finally talk! At her graduation I can still see your Mom looking at my sister and telling me with tears in her eyes how proud she was of Jeannie and far she had come. Your Mom was special like an Angel-helping the children nobody would back then. Jeannie was born in 1958, myself in 1957. I look forward to reading Ordinary Children. Thank You.

    Julia Webber BS RN CRRN

  5. by Jessica Davis

    On February 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you Julia for this beautiful message and remembrance. I hope you will enjoy the book and would welcome your thoughts on it all. All best to you and your family, Jessica

  6. by Lise

    On June 15, 2011 at 5:11 am

    Hello Jessica –
    I just found out about your book – Why Our Schools Need the Arts – and look forward to reading it. Reading about your background, I felt such a connection. I’m a music educator in Ventura County, California, where there are many Blue Ribbon and Distinguished schools, but no credentialed arts teachers in the elementary schools – at all. I was laid off from my arts grant-paid job when CA’s budget tanked in 2009. I found work a year ago, but it is “part-time” (800 kids per week), paid as a “non-teaching” position, from PFA funds; it’s pitiful compensation for what I do, and for my qualifications. I don’t have a room, either. In our middle and high schools, there are terrific music programs. There is also parent-paid band in 4th & 5th grade.

    I want to raise awareness in our community of what is missing here, by denying kids a highly qualified teacher and a sequential music program, or conversely, trying to build support so that I can be paid enough to continue teaching these kids. The teachers and the children know that what I gave them in the past year was very valuable, and not “business as usual,” such as what they received when taught by others in an unsustainable situation. As you can imagine, it is very tricky to try to point out what is wrong to one’s superiors.

    Do you think our school board members will read your book?
    Do you have any advice for me? Thank you.
    – Lise

  7. by Jessica Davis

    On June 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Lise. Thanks for being in touch. I hope you will enjoy Why Our Schools Need the Arts and that it will be helpful to you in your quest. It is certainly written with the non-arts educator in mind and I do hope your school board members would find it accessible and perhaps/hopefully persuasive. In terms of advice, I think (and describe in the book) that arts education advocates have got to lift the Sequoia that’s been weighing on our shoulders (you know, that belief that “they” don’t appreciate or understand the arts and that “they” are always quick to eliminate them) and to recognize that many if not most of the parents, teachers, and administrators whom we have considered “they” really do appreciate the arts, have a sense of their importance to their children’s education, and feel as we do that the reduction or elimination of the arts in our schools (and wow “no credentialed arts teachers” is really sad) is a great loss and injustice. Just a tweak in our attitude, the realization that we are all on the same side in wanting the best for our children can turn an adversarial rapport into a collaborative and constructive conversation. That funds (albeit inadequate) were found to have you even part-time in this era of cuts and testing indicates that there is support for what you do. I hope my book will be helpful to you in your quest. It has recommendations for action as well as arguments for inclusion that may help you in your appeal to the school board and perhaps even make the book something they would read. That there are terrific music programs for older students reflects an appreciation on which to build. Children come to school making music and the early grades are a time to celebrate and cultivate their natural proclivities. If not only to give students more ways to make sense of and enjoy school and the broader world, then also to ready them for the sequential programs that lie ahead for them in the schools. I wish you great luck in your worthy mission and I thank you for all that you do. Jessica

  8. by DianeMorrison-Robinson

    On July 6, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    I am a teacher and graduate student in education at the University of Prince Edward Island, I stumbled upon you books in the university library and I found them to be extremely relevant and timely to my course work. As an art teacher I sometimes like a voice shouting in the wind to my fellow educators on the importance of art. Thank you for the work you do.

  9. by Jessica Davis

    On July 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I so appreciate your letting me know that my books have been useful to you. I wish you all the best in your studies and with your arts teaching, Diane. Thank YOU for the work you do. Jessica

  10. by Bettina Ingham

    On August 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Dear Jessica:

    I have been working with the Visual Thinking Strategies for the past 6 years in public schools in the Madrid area, Spain. I received basic training, not really knowing what was going to happen in the classrooms. The outcome was and is so extraordinary that I feel each lesson as a gift. So much so, that I felt the urge to continue learning. Among articles and books, I came across your “Why Our Schools Need the Arts”. I must thank you for your work, which is helping me a lot in my teacher training programmes. Now, I have come across Quests, another extraordinary piece of work.
    I have attended Project Zero Classroom Institute at Harvard this summer, and last year was lucky to be able to go to Lemshaga AkademiĀ“s (Sweden) 10th Anniversary Conference on Visible Thinking.
    There is a lot of work to be done here in Spain. I am making a big effort to try to expand Artful and Visible Thinking, not only in schools but in other training environments as well. Not an easy task in such a traditional and closed-minded educational system.
    Do you know of anyone, any school, in Madrid who is currently working with the Arts? I would love to get in touch with them because it is much more fruitful to work as a community.
    Any piece of advice is more than welcome.
    Thank you very much for your work.
    Bettina Ingham

  11. by Jessica Davis

    On August 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Dear Bettina, Thank you so much for being in touch and letting me know my work has been of use to you. The MUSE project (in which the Generic Game (do you have it? I know there is a version in Spanish) loomed large and grew (in conjunction with Gardner’s entry points) into the Quests was exciting work that seems to be being continued in the field. Which is thrilling. I wish I could be more helpful with regard to work in Madrid. Have you tried contacting Veronica Boix-Mansilla at Harvard Project Zero? I know she is engaged with international interests and was instrumental in the development of the Quests in Mexico. I wish you luck with your work even against great odds. I know that the Game and the Quests have appealed even to wary educators-they’re easy, non-threatening, require no knowledge of art, and provide a first hand experience with observation, open-ended inquiry, and making sense. We did a workshop once at the De Cordova Museum in Massachusetts where we “played” with the Quests with non-arts teachers in different domains, using the Quest questions as examples of inquiry from the perspective of different entry points and asked the teachers to develop their own questions in terms of their own subjects, e.g. regarding a particular object like a steel sculpture and with an eye to Science (or Math or English), what might be a good narrative question or aesthetic etc. etc. It was great fun and teachers were “jumping” in with ideas for each other, illustrating for themselves the generative cross-disciplinary possibilities that come from careful viewing of a work of art. Not sure the MUSE Guide is still available, but it gives examples of educators’ different application of the tools in a number of settings and with different learners. As things unfold, if there are questions I might address or if there is any way in which I can be helpful, please let me know. Thanks again for being and touch. Right on. Jessica

  12. by Liz Day

    On September 15, 2012 at 3:18 pm


    I am in the middle of writing up my work for the professional doctorate in systemic practice at the University of Bedfordshire in the UK. I stumbled into Portraiture as the result of a chance remark from a visiting professor, Kevin Barge. It seems to fit very well as I am a painter by training and find myself drawn to metaphors which come from art. I also taught art many years ago at the beginning of my career. My portrait/s are of a group I run for parents of violent and self destructive children. We use ideas developed by Haim Omer in Tel Aviv and drawn from the non-violent resistance political movement (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin) to enable parents to actively resist their children’s attempts to control everything. We published our programme a couple of years ago and are just about to run our eleventh group. We work in the NHS in London and recently won an award for the programme and for its focus on safeguarding children. One of the things that I think is unique is our collaborative stance with parents. We involve parents at all stages of the process; they have helped develop parts of the programme, work alongside us as facilitators and have supervision with us. I am writing portraits of parents, facilitators, a group which is in spanish (I don’t speak spanish so this has been particularly interesting as I can’t focus on the words), and one whole group programme of ten sessions. I have also made a number of abstract paintings (one after each group session) and had an exhibition of these last year which parents were invited to. I was wondering if you know of anyone else who has been producing art work as part of the portraiture method? I have been very inspired by your and Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s writing! Best wishes from London.

  13. by Jessica Davis

    On September 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Hi Liz. I am so glad that portraiture has proved of use and interest to you. Am sure you’ve checked our our “manual” for the methodology :Art and Science of Portraiture which I co-authored with Sara Lawrence Lightfoot and which was published by Jossey-Bass. Your sense of metaphor etc. position you well for the work at hand, but as for the incorporation of actual art making, the methodology may seem constrained. I would recommend to you the work of Professor Rita Irwin at the University of British Columbia. You can see examples of ideas for employing art making itself as a research approach, i.e. to make sense of things at There are articles in the Springer International Handbook of Art Education which address related topics and might suggest to you others in the field that could be of help. That said, I thank you for describing your most interesting and important work and wish you all the best with your doctorate. Jessica

  14. by ian fahrenreich

    On October 13, 2012 at 4:22 am

    Hi. I’m writing my senior thesis on how the arts are important to the mental development of students, and the injustice that is underfunding these classes. I’m basically trying to find the correlation between the lack of arts education and the lack of creativity of the student later in life. My question is, which one of your books would be the most beneficial to read for research?

  15. by Jessica Davis

    On October 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I think you may find what you need in “Why Our Schools Need the Arts.” If you’re focussing on high school aged individuals, you might find “Why Our High Schools Need the Arts” useful because it is filled with first hand accounts from high school teachers and students. Framing Education as Art may have more theoretical background than you need for your paper, though it makes an argument you might support: non arts classes would be more compelling if they embraced some of the tenets of arts learning. You’ve probably had teachers who demonstrate that model and are artful in their practice whatever they teach. Anyways, hope that’s helpful. I wish you luck with your paper. Let me know if I can be of further help. Jessica

  16. by bee ling

    On November 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Dear Jessica
    I am teaching arts in a secondary school in singapore. Your book entitled MUSE Quests was strongly recommended as a very good reference for stimulating questioning and thinking during the arts professional sharing. However, I could not get hold of the book anywhere on earth for they were out of stock everywhere. Can you please advise me where I could order or buy your marvellous book?thanks a lot.

  17. by Mark Gilbert

    On January 27, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Dear Jessica,

    I write in huge appreciation of your book The Art and Science of Portraiture.

    I am an artist from Scotland, who has concentrated most of my professional life on portraiture. For much of the past 12 or so years I have worked in collaboration with clinicians, patients and care givers on two ambitious residency programs and exhibits- Saving Faces and Portraits of Care (

    The BMJ Humanities published a research paper I jointly authored documenting the latter project, which was carried out at The University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, USA.It can be seen at

    I have also sent you a copy, by post, of the book “Here I am and Nowhere Else- Portraits of Care”. This accompanied the resultant exhibition. I hope you may find that also of interest.

    I am now working on a my dissertation for my PhD, exploring the nature, relationship and narratives of patient/sitters who consent to work along with me on these artworks. The previous research has been able to generate extraordinary results, in terms of response to the images and public exhibition. Neither project sought to analyze the nature of the relationship and the process that was developed with me and the participants, that generated these findings. This is what I seek to explore.

    I have extraordinarily only just acquired ‘The Art and Science of Portraiture’, and it has proved to be a kindred spirit to me and invaluable to my ongoing research. It says much about what I have always felt about my collaborations in a clinical setting (and personal practice) and is even more pertinent and precious to me as a researcher.
    It demonstrates all that I have been struggling to describe as to how portraiture can straddle the gap between empiricism and aesthetics. And therefore be a source of learning for medical education, research and clinical interactions. I greatly look forward to reading your other publications relating to the critical role art can play in education

    Thank you hugely, once again,

    Very best wishes

    Mark Gilbert

  18. by Kathie Thurman

    On May 1, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Dear Jessica,
    I work for the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art in Tuscaloosa,Al and we are familiar with The Muse Book and we would like to include the principles of muse quests in our education program. We are,however having difficulty finding a copy of the Muse book for sale could you please let us know where we might find it.

    Thank you,
    Kathie Thurman

  19. by Audrey Isselbacher

    On May 2, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Dear Jessica,

    I just finished “Ordinary Gifted Children.”
    Thank you for writing this beautiful book about your mother and her school.
    It brought back wonderful memories of a magical place filled with unforgettable people.

    Audrey Isselbacher
    Class of 1964

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