Creativity

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to Can and Should Creativity Be Assessed– Creativity in Crisis- Ep. 1. This is a 4 part series with Yong Zhao and Ron Beghetto, features different guests each week with a new focus. This week’s episode, featured James C. Kaufman and Bill Lucas as they discussed– can and should creativity be assessed? This episode inspired me to share my thinking around creativity and assessment.

I guess the best place to begin, is to state some of my beliefs. I believe that all children are born with some degree of creativity. I believe that from the moment a child is born, they are looking to make connections, create meaning and are in constant pursuit of problems to solve and questions to ask (non-verbal and verbal).  I also believe that schools tend to marginalize the creative dispositions of children, in favor of the 3 “C’s” compliance, conformity and convenience. Throughout the course of their formal schooling, a child’s creative muscles slowly atrophy over time– wilting away in a system that favors competition, data and individualism.

Creativity in education has always been a sort of enigma to teachers and administrators. Often times, teachers love convenient creativity. This is creativity that is valued on project posters, choir concerts, arts classes, boxes on rubrics confusingly marked, “creativity.” Situations where creativity is very clear and highly controlled.

One of the problems with assessing creativity, is how do we deal with moments of “inconvenient creativity?” These are the moments when creative dispositions reflect non-compliant, non-conformist behavior and an overall desire to challenge the status quo.  These are the moments that can’t quite be assessed, but can be cultivated. This is how a creative mind exercises its abilities and challenges the conformist environment in which it appears. Creativity is much more than a product or artifact. It is a way of being, a way of experiencing the world. Inconvenient creativity is messy, serendipitous, and elusive, which makes it even harder to assess, but no less important. In order for creative minds to grow, they need opportunities to explore and experiment. For many, this is not always neatly captured in a project, poster or other typical creative output.  I have shared the concept of inconvenient creativity more in-depth in various presentations and workshops, but it is a blog post for another day….

As we set sail this fall into a sea of uncertainty and ambiguity, the most valuable disposition we will all need, to navigate these uncharted waters, is a creative one. Creative minds make connections, ask questions and challenge the status quo. This is a time to amplify the creative minds in our schools and communities. It is a time to add courses that promote creative thinking, not reduce them. This is a time that we, as educators, should begin to curate learning experiences that grow the creative minds of all our students and faculty, and in all disciplines as well.

So let me return to the inspiration for this post. Can and should we assess creativity? Can we assess creativity? I do believe you can assess anything and creativity is no different. Should we assess creativity? Yes, but not the children.

I think that creative minds thrive under the right conditions. In my own class, I have completely altered my approach to teaching and learning over the past several years. In the past, I taught creativity through the lessons and projects I assigned. What I found, was a lack of creativity and a pervasive sameness, and conformity that was the antithesis of what creativity might look, sound and feel like. It was pre-packaged, refrigerator artwork and Pinterest knockoffs. They were all with the same color, same look and same process. After much soul searching, researching and reflecting, I changed my approach. I decided not to teach creativity, but to create the conditions for creativity. I did this in many different ways, too much to get into here. However, when I created the conditions for creative minds to grow, I did not see the sameness or conformity I was used to seeing. I saw the beauty of minds blossoming, identities being shaped and formed, interests being explored and questions being pursued. I soon relaized, it was incumbent upon me to create the conditions to, at the very least, maintain the creative dispositions of my students, but it was my great hope and intense desire to stretch and grow these creative capacities to even greater heights than they came in with.

So, if we believe that all children are born creative, then why is it so many adults declare they are “not creative?” I think we are approaching assessment and creativity from the wrong direction. I believe we should assess educators and administrators ability to create the conditions for creative minds to thrive. Children are able to exhibit creative solutions, questions and connections, when nurtured in an environment that promotes creative dispositions.  Teachers are able to exhibit creative solutions, questions and connections when administrators create the conditions for teachers creative dispositions as well. Our focus, with regards to creativity development, should be on the administration creating the conditions for teachers to feel comfortable taking risks, challenging the status quo, asking questions and playing with ideas and concepts through experimentation and exploration. Teachers should be creating these same conditions for students in their classrooms as well. We should empower students to make connections between disparate ideas, pursue relevant and meaningful interests and questions and exhibit the creative thinking process through exhibitions of learning. We should all be creating the conditions for wonder, imagination and discovery.

I believe that assessing children’s creativity is the wrong approach. If we want true systemic change, we need to focus our attention on the adults, not the children.  We need to create learning environments that foster the types of thinking we want to grow in our students. Without a doubt, creative thinking is one of the most essential dispositions needed, in a world with a surplus of problems to be explored.

So, how do we create the conditions for creative minds to grow and thrive?

Stay tuned:)

Remote Wonderings

During this remote learning experience, I am going to post some Remote Wonderings from the field. Each entry represents thoughts, feelings, ideas and/or questions inspired by the transition to online education. 

Remote Wonderings– Relationships

2020 will forever be known as the year of the global pandemic. It has been catastrophic on many fronts. Many lives have been lost, jobs have been lost, ways of living have been lost. Our education system came to a grinding halt, seemingly overnight and now educators, students, families and our communities are all disoriented. We have been forced to slow down and look around.  We don’t recognize the place we are in. Our familiarity is gone, and our anxiety has caught up to us. What do we do? How do we move forward? What happens tomorrow? Where do I need to go? What if…? All the these questions have raced through my mind many times each day.  As an educator, I am wondering how my students are doing? When will I see them again? What will school look like in the fall? 

One common refrain I have heard throughout this altered education reality we are in, is how essential it is to maintain contact and connection with students. When we are in school buildings, we are able to make those connections, read the body language, share our supplies, say “hi” when we see someone passing in the hallways. Now, this has all changed. Relationships are being tested, connections are being challenged, and opportunities diminishing. Like my colleagues across the country and world who are wrestling with these new challenges and obstacles, I want to turn my attention back to being in the actual school buildings.

We will get through this and we will be back in school one day. What can we learn from this pandemic, that we can harness and bring back into the buildings we will teach in one day soon, to strengthen our school relationships?   

Relationships are the driving force behind education. Having trusting relationships with faculty, students and parents is essential to the learning process. When we have solid, trusting, safe relationships, we are able to take risks, speak out, express ideas, develop our creativity and so much more. While I understand this is not a new concept, and teachers have been establishing relationships with students in their classrooms for a very long time, I want to turn our attention to the ways we build whole school, community relationships with the entire learning ecosystem. I am going to outline a few spaces where we might be able to focus our attention on building relationships in our school buildings.  We must make sure that relationship building isn’t something confined to the first few weeks of school, or focused on only within the classroom walls and only with the small group of students we are responsible for on a daily basis.

What about the spaces in our school buildings where relationships can be strengthened or broken that are outside of our student’s classroom? How do these spaces impact relationships?  When we get back to school, what if we reimagined the spaces and experiences that are not given as much thought or attention as say academic content or the individual classroom culture we all try and establish? What if we prioritized relationships above all else in all areas of our buildings? Here are a few areas where we might turn our attention and begin creating a school-wide culture of deep and meaningful relationships.

Recess– In most schools, recess is organized by grade level. It is one of the only times students get to interact with other students from different classes. What if, instead of organizing recess around grade levels, we organized them around families. A family might be composed of one class from all grade levels, that has recess together (and could do many other things in school together as well).  So we might have 1st graders on the playground with 5th graders, 4th graders with kindergartners and so on.  Imagine how beneficial it would be to have 1st graders learning from fifth graders, or to have 4th graders exercising empathy towards 2nd graders. Life is not organized by age, so neither should recess. I often hear kids say they can’t play with someone because they are in a younger grade or vice-versa. This is a learned response.  If recess was mixed from the start, students would become accustomed to playing and interacting with multi-aged children. This approach would require proper conversations and preparation prior to its roll out.  Talking with students about disagreements, sharing space, looking out for others, and so much more, would need to be discussed to ensure understanding and buy in from both students and faculty.  Transitions such as this, would fall flat if we just release students, with no conversation or forum to discuss the change.  The pandemic has forced a global reset, and has inspired us to slow down. Schools might capitalize on this. If we slow down to have a conversation with our students about changes and transitions, if we understand their perspective and are open to rethinking our own, we might begin to grow an open-minded community of learners, willing to take risks and try new things. It is something we would need to revisit consistently. We can’t have one conversation and done. We need to come back many times, to gain insight, thoughts, and feelings that begin to sprout from this new change. Perhaps a protocol could be developed by students to deal with instances that arise on the playground, so students are viewed as problem solvers, not rule reporters. Recess teachers would be from different grade levels as well, also contributing to a more familial approach to recess.

In addition to rethinking how grade levels can be split for recess, another refresh might be what students have to play with.  While most schools have playgrounds and traditional sporting equipment, what about those students who don’t like these two options?  How do students exercise their creativity and imagination at recess?  This is where loose parts come in.  Loose parts are random, safe objects and other loose parts that students can build and construct with.  I believe one of the main reasons students climb up the slides, are because they are seeking something new.  Kids like to challenge the status quo and a slide that is only for going down on, eventually gets old.  Much to teachers chagrin, I believe kids should be allowed to run up the slide! Students want the opportunity to create play, not just consume it.  Imagine if we had a bin of dress up clothes, or art supplies out on recess?  What not have plastic barrels, flexible piping, cones, or loose netting to create new opportunities for play? Simple materials where kids can manipulate them to facilitate new experiences each day, and ones that can inspire new ideas everyday they go to recess. This is where the benefits of having multi-aged students on the playground comes in. Having older students help younger ones construct play forts, or having the younger students inspire the older ones to wonder and be more playful, can be such a powerful opportunity for all parties. What if we had more opportunities for students to interact with different students during the school day? Recess marks the first space where this can be done. With intention, purpose and support, playgrounds can be amazing spaces to nurture and grow empathy, wonder, exercise creativity and build strong school-community relationships.

Lunch– Building off of the family idea mentioned above, lunch could be a family style experience as well. Now, in the post pandemic world, perhaps serving family style might not be the best approach and some of these ideas may be tabled at this time.  But, eventually when we go back to eating in a cafeteria, there are some steps we can take to create a more familial experience.  Having students sit with multi-aged students, is such a great chance for students to mentor and model for other students. The biggest transition here, is actually on the part of the teacher. What if we, as teachers, sit with students and have a family meal together? We can begin this approach by talking about what it means to have conversations with each other and what this looks and sounds like. We can model the types of behaviors and dispositions we want from our students. Engaging with students in a way that demonstrates kindness and compassion, can make the lunch room a space for meaning making, connection and relationship strengthening, not just packing in food as fast as possible to get out to recess. What if there were more options for spaces to eat as well?  Perhaps some students dread the loud, packed cafeteria and long for the weekends when they can eat at home with a small, quieter crowd.  Why not offer more intimate dining options for students? Maybe once or twice a week, satellite cafes could open for students that wanted a calmer, quieter respite from the larger cafeteria?  What about weekly student performances during lunch as well? These would represent opportunities for students to showcase talents, passions and curiosities in a community forum. The cafeteria is ripe with possibilities for fostering relationship building. We just need to take the first step and rethink what is possible.

Hallways– How might we view the hallways as spaces for relationship building? Most schools have hallway displays of class projects and student research. What if the spaces in the hallways were more interactive? What if each classroom had an interactive creation station-a space where students curated learning experiences for the passerby? Each might contain simple materials and concepts that students may be exploring in class, but redesigned in a way that could teach other students who walk by their room, providing spaces for students to sit down with other students, and explore and create together.

Imagine if once a month or so, classrooms held a learning hop. Similar to an art gallery hop, where patrons visit different galleries in one night and see new exhibitions of work, visit with the artists and enjoy refreshments while making new connections with other visitors. In a school setting, maybe this is an opportunity to have a few classes open their doors and show some of the amazing things they are learning. Inviting the school to wander the hallways (or streets), peruse the neighborhoods (or grade levels) and pop into a few learning galleries (or classrooms) to engage with the learners and partake in some learning challenges curated by the students themselves. The idea is that students from all grade levels and classes, would be forming new relationships with other learners, seeing the thinking and making of other students in the school.  The learning hop is a chance for the students to lead and share their journey with others outside of their own classroom space.

Another opportunity that comes from making the hallways interactive spaces for learning and relationship building, is student-led noticing strolls. Students would walk the walls of the school building and see what they can learn independently through reading, reflecting and interacting with artifacts on exhibit. If a student is having a challenging time in the classroom, they could take a noticing stroll to get out and take a break, while also seeing the curiosity of their classmates. They could gather some recording materials (paper, pencil, camera, device, etc.) and see what learning is going on outside of their own classroom. The student could come back and share what they found and who some of the learners are that inspired them as they walked the hallways. The follow up could be a meeting, interview or impromptu learning partnership with some of those students in other classes that might develop into something deeper. Just from taking a noticing stroll to see the learning happening in the school and the learners behind the work, could build new relationships based on curiosity and interests, regardless of age, grade level or gender.  

Classrooms– What about classroom locations? Could that have an impact on community relationships? I think so. I want to focus on elementary classrooms for this section, since that is what I am most familiar with. Typically, elementary school classrooms, if two story, are set up with primary classes on the first floor and secondary classrooms on the second floor. Then, within this set up, the classrooms are usually situated by grade level. All third grade in one cluster, fifth in another cluster and so on. Why though, is this the typical set up? Is it most convenient for adults? Is it shaped by adults perceptions of students? “Well, it’s just easier to walk next door to ask a grade level question,” or “little ones can’t go up and down the stairs during the day.” Sometimes we need to switch our mentality from “yes, but…” to more of a, “yes, and…” If we do this, we find new possibilities we missed in the past. Students of different ages being neighbors, opens the door to new possibilities for collaboration, mentorship and leadership. There is a greater chance of students being exposed to diversity of thinking and learning. Students can be inspired by those in the room next to them. It is an opportunity for students to make connections to content and students that might previously have been missed. If we keep segregating students based on age and grade level, the school building continues to be a space where relationships are valued based primarily on these two factors. We know students need to move around more in our schools. Thinking beyond “buddy classes” to family gatherings and celebrations to unite the school across all grade levels, can help build and sustain a strong sense of belonging and contribute to the lasting relationships amongst the entire school community.     

These are just a few of the ways we might shift the focus from schools focused on content, compliance and conformity, to schools focused on relationships and dispositions. 

Next time…. I want to wonder about what it might look like to develop dispositions over test takers. 

That’s it?

This year, the students have engaged in various activities along the way to dig deeper with their ideas and learn about some of the tools and materials we have in the art room.  Each art class brings new challenges, problems and questions.  It is always exciting to see where their creative minds take them.  They are currently finishing their artworks and are writing short artist statements to explain their thinking as well. 

One of the important things to keep in mind when looking at your child’s artwork, especially at the beginning of the year, is what it actually represents.  A brilliant colleague stated that an artwork, is much like a souvenir from a great trip.  I love this metaphor.  Your child’s artwork is a small representation of a much larger, learning journey.  Complete with highs and lows, success and failure, “ah-ha’s” and “uh-oh’s,” each and every step of the journey is an essential part of the learning process.  The finished artwork represents an idea that was created by the child, but it also represents a learning process that is not always visible to those who only get to see the finished product.  A child’s artwork is a meaningful souvenir that represents learning, reflecting and growing.    

At the beginning of the year, many of the students are eager to get the tools out and use as many materials as possible.  It takes some time slowing down to think carefully about the intent and purpose of an idea.  It can be hard, to spend time thinking about ideas when you are surrounded by so many inspiring tools and materials.  Some students spend several classes experimenting with tools and materials that lead to new ideas and new challenges.  Ideas can change and grow with each new class, which is a great exercise in fluent and flexible thinking, as well as a great introduction to the process of iteration (think quantity of ideas, leads to quality).    

Once the students have spent time thinking through some ideas, they present their idea to me before they begin.  This short conference, is a great way for me to touch base with the students and learn about their idea, thinking and direction for creating and making.  If a student is struggling to find an idea, I will spend some time chatting with him/her and helping them get to a place where they can make some decisions and build their creative confidence along the way.   I often tell students I won’t give them an idea, but I will help them discover one on their own.   Some students do struggle, and that is important too.  Creative ideas are hard to think of.  It takes time to develop an idea that is original and unique.  I often talk to the students about where good ideas come from, and how the key is quantity over quality in the beginning.  Going with your first choice is usually the easiest, but not always the most creative.  Some students announce that they already have their idea, before I even finish explaining the project!  They are so enamored by the tools and materials, they just want the go ahead to dig in.  The act of slowing down and thinking deeper is a challenge, but an essential one.    

A goal I am working on this year is to slow down more and let students really think deeper about the purpose and intent of their art making.  We do this in a variety of ways such as; thinking routines, creativity challenges, and other idea generation techniques.  As the year goes on, the students will be more comfortable with the tools and materials in the room, as well as the independent flow of the work space.  Once they build a comfort level with the tools and materials, they can begin to think deeper and make meaningful connections between their lives and their art making ideas.    

Which leads me to the title of this post, That’s it!?  When a child brings home an art project, it may take many forms.  For some, the project arrives home in a Uhaul, while others it can fit neatly into their pocket.  It is important to note that the size of a project does not dictate the effort, thought, or creativity.  Each child takes a different approach to their creating and interprets the art challenge in many different ways.  This open-ended approach really helps build creative confidence, stretches creative minds and promotes independent thinkers in the process.  When a child brings home a work of art, asking deeper questions may help elicit a thoughtful conversation about artistic intent and purpose as well.  Please check my website and twitter feed for routine explanations of projects that may help provide a context for the artwork.  Some questions that might help; Tell me about what you created?  Why did you choose those materials?  How did you symbolize ideas in your artwork?  How is this artwork connected to you?  Did you change your mind along the way?  Why? Did you experiment with tools and materials along the way?  These are just a few questions that might spark a conversation and help uncover the intent and purpose of the creation.  All students complete artist statements as well.  These short statements are a brief glimpse into the thought process of these inspiring artists.    

The art projects take several weeks to complete.  Time is spent in many different ways.  Some classes are used for idea generation, some are used for inspiring students to dig deeper, and some are spent celebrating the project itself.  Each aspect of a project is vital to the creative process.  When your child brings home an artwork, please remember it is a souvenir of a larger journey of creative expression, critical thinking and personal connection.  Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments.  I am always happy to talk creativity!  Thank you for supporting the arts and creative minds of all our children.            

Ditch the Buzzwords… Please! (and I’m guilty too)

As an avid reader of education books, articles, blogs, etc., my senses are always on high alert for meaningless buzzwords that dot the ever-expanding educational landscape.  I have come to loathe words and phrases such as; 21st century skills, college and career ready, rigor and many others that attempt to reform education with edu-talk as opposed to reforming education with actual practice.  In my mind, educational adjectives should withstand the test of time, apply to all content areas and be easily understood by those who live in the education world and those outside of it.

Recently, I was reading about how we need to ensure our content and curriculum is more rigorous.   Have you ever looked up the definition of rigor?  It is neither inspiring, nor relevant to education.  It is such a cold word.  Rigor is exactly what is wrong with the American education system.  Simply  using esoteric words to give the appearance of hard work, is the exact same game of school most kids play across the country and throughout our schools everyday.  A classic case of talking the talk, but no walking the walk to back it up.

Imagine if… instead of the word rigor, we found other inspiring, yet approachable educational mantras.  I would like for my content and curriculum simply to be, personally relevant, interesting and meaningful.  If I can ensure my content and curriculum adhere to these three simple words, I know that my students will produce rigor, as opposed to consume it.

Why is it important to have a curriculum and content that is personally relevant, interesting and meaningful?  If a student finds the content personally relevant, interesting and meaningful, I know that I will not need to do anything to ensure they are embarking on a rigorous journey.  Simply empowering the student to have choice and ownership of his/her learning will lead them down a path that inspires the very thing teachers work so hard to instill… motivation.   Motivation to learn is intrinsic.  All we can do as teachers, is provide an environment that encourages creativity, values non-conformity and appreciates individual interests and passions.

Relevant, interesting and meaningful are absent from most schools across the country.  Of course standardized testing, teacher accountability, politics, etc., are often cited as the roadblocks to real reform.  However, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t just use these three words as the foundation for our educational system.  Our educational system doesn’t need to be more rigorous.  It needs to be more relevant, more interesting and more meaningful.  We need to start with the child, instead of starting with the content and curriculum.

In the end, I would like my students to lead instead of follow.  I would like my students to create their learning, instead of consume it.  I would like my students to challenge themselves, instead of waiting for me to challenge them.  I would like my students to create knowledge, instead of borrow it.  I would like my students to achieve greatness, instead of read about it.  Lastly, I would like my students to see school as a place where it all begins, instead of where it all ends.

 

 

A Mission Question…

I am reading the book A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger right now.  It is a really good book.  Mr. Berger lays a solid foundation for the importance of questioning as it relates to learning, creativity and innovation.  One part (of many) that really made me think, was when he wrote about moving away from mission statements and more towards mission questions.  This makes a great deal of sense.  He writes how you really don’t want a statement that makes it sound like you have already achieved something and are simply resting on your past history, nor does a mission statement make it sound like you are constantly working to stay atop the field you are in.  He believes that a mission question for a business (or in my case a school or district), promotes a desire to constantly adapt, be flexible and open to fresh ideas, all while still driving home the laser-like focus your business or school is all about.

So… this of course got me wondering about what a mission question might look like for my classroom and district.  A few I thought of were;

District:

How might we prepare our students to be future-ready?

What if our focus is on thinking and not content?

Where is the space for wonder, curiosity and imagination?

What does it mean to be future-ready in this district?

Do the teaching and learning inside school mirror the teaching and learning outside of school?

Is the teaching and learning inside of school relevant outside of school?

Hmmmm…. Something I will keep thinking about:)

Art Studio:

Does the art studio develop creativity or hinder it?

Is the learning in the art studio relevant outside of the art studio?

What does it mean to be future-ready in this art studio?

Where is student voice, choice and ownership in the learning?

How do students express their own voice and style, and explore both internal and external influences as it relates to their world?

More to think about…

It really does make sense to think about a mission question as opposed to a mission statement.  The mission statement seems to emit a sense of stagnation to me.  A mission question, seems to empower from both inside and out, of an organization.

We want students and teachers to question more, but so much of our educational culture is still geared towards answers and products.  How can we shift from a culture of answers, to one of questions?  How can districts encourage questioning?

IMG_1253   A metaphor I often think of, being in the arts and all, is that of a broadway performance.  I feel like teachers are the stars and the audience is the students, parents and community.  Each and every night, I think most teachers approach the performance as the final act.  Only perfection will do.  No shouting out, “line please?”  No running through rehearsals dressed in sweats.  The venue is pitch black, to make sure only the final product is viewed and nothing behind the scenes is visible.  No understudies standing on stage learning from their mentors.  None of this.  It must all be perfect!  No room for questions, mistakes, or failures.

However… What if… teaching was viewed as a dress rehearsal every day.  The house lights were up to show the process.  The actors could shout for help whenever they needed.  Everyone could question parts of the performance in order to create a more meaningful show in the long run.  Behind the scenes action could be more transparent.  What if teachers viewed everyday as a dress rehearsal and approached each day as a chance to get better, ask questions, take risks and in the end, make someone’s day a little brighter:)

What if….

Secondary Ed. and Creativity 

I was at a district meeting tonight and we had a discussion about secondary Ed. and the structure of teaching and learning at these levels. In a dream world, here is a rough idea of my 2 cents on this 

If I could design the secondary experience of my dreams, it would be something more like this. 3 courses. The Social Experience, the Political Experience and the Environmental Experience. These are broadly defined as social experiences, meaning interactions with peers, family, media, everyday interactions. The political experience, being defined as rules and laws, not just state and local, but home, work, school rules. The written and unwritten rules. This would deal with power, use, abuse, development, and other issues related to power. The main focus of this strand would be the democratic process. Student voice, choice and ownership would be a strong component as well. The environmental experience would be defined as factors relating to outside environment, personal environment (school, home, bedroom etc.), internal and external environments.   All of these courses are broad in scope and sequence to allow for divergent thinking,  multiple entry points and creativity development. I feel these three factors drive our world today.  They are connected, overlap and stand on their own. 

In a typical day a student would take all 3 of these courses, facilitated by a team of academic specialists trained in traditional disciplines such as math, science, art, etc. The students would then bring their strengths, passions and interests as they investigate a life-centered issue of their choice that they would investigate and explore over the course of a semester or longer. Students would investigate issues, topics, etc. while the teacher would facilitate, inspire, ignite. If a student needs to learn spreadsheets because it relates to their focus, then they would absolutely learn that from a math specialist. The difference here is that the intent of learning this skill is intrinsically motivated and applied to a specific project, as opposed to learning it in isolation such as a traditional math class, with no opportunity to apply the learning.  

The role of failure would be built in since the students would be exploring issues of their choice. Failure would be a part of the process and seen as purposeful and meaningful since they are working towards a self-selected learning goal. Failure happens all the time when students are engaged in something they love to do outside of school, and they figure out a solution (kids rarely, if ever read directions… they play with it and learn along the way). When it is a task that is learned in isolation, in a specific class (especially if the student is not motivated by the content or approach), the desire to persevere diminishes.  

Steven Johnson wrote a great book about Where Great Ideas Come From. In it, he talks about the role of coffee houses during the Enlightenment period. The purpose of these coffee houses was for brilliant, diverse minds to come together and let “hunches collide.” There is great value in getting a room full of diverse thinkers together to discuss problems. In a secondary environment such as this, the “coffee houses” would be the courses outlined above.  
I think the purpose of a school designed this way, (I have many more thoughts on this, but for another time:) is to create an environment that honors all voices, talents, passions, etc. As it stands, the artist mind walks into the “math” class and has checked out before sitting down. The mathematical mind, sees little value in sharing ideas with the “free-thinking artist.” But if you create a class called, The Social Experience, all learners come in feeling confident in their abilities to contribute. The artist sits next to the scientist and the learning potential has exponentially increased. If we want to get students to focus on thinking, learning, creating, etc., we need to take the labels off of learning. I always tell my students when I am trying to get them to dig deeper with their artistic intent and their ideas, “Don’t steal the viewers thinking.” I say this when the kids are creating art that is more literal than symbolic. Aren’t we stealing students thinking when they walk in and the course is labeled “math,” or “Science?” Right or wrong, don’t some students tune out or assume a stereotypical role that accompanies that specific discipline? It is more than just the label. We need to get all students to the thinking table, bringing with them their strengths, weaknesses, talents, interests and passions, excited to learn and confident to contribute. I am not sure we have that in education yet, we are getting there though:)  
Learning specific content is important, I agree, the purpose of this redesign is to make the learning meaningful, relevant and all-inclusive. I wonder about all the amazing thinking, creating, ideas, and intellectual potential we are missing because we don’t let kids use their strengths in disciplines outside of the areas they were developed in and/or valued? 

What do you think?

How will you encourage creativity?

So my passion for creativity extends beyond the classroom, to my non-school life as well. What I have learned over the years is that when children are born, they are innately curious and creative. We have heard scholars, etc. talk about this before. The conversation then turns to schools and why are they, “killing creativity.”  Is it because traditional educational settings require compliance and conformity?   Is it because it is easier to educate in the Industrial Age than the conceptual age?  Is it because creativity can’t have a number stamped on it.  Well, probably yes to all 3 and many more thing too.  The most important aspect of creativity that is missed in schools and homes today is encouragement. How do we encourage creativity?  One would think that is easy. Offer praise for the rainbow painting. Hang up the family portrait.  Frame the water-color horse. But, what happens when creativity isn’t so easy to encourage?

Case in point.IMG_0684  My daughter is a creative girl. She does the typical creative “things.”  She paints, draws, creates in a typical manner. That is her practicing and developing her creative capacity as a thinker. But how does she apply it?  Well, first we have to get at the root of creativity. It is elaboration, originality, flexible thinking, and fluency of ideas (Torrence) and much more. Creating a painting is about finding a path, it is about expressing a thought, persevering through moments of failure. It is elaborating on an idea or image they saw earlier, to create an original idea. It is exhibiting fluency of ideas by trying many different ideas until arriving at the one that sparks the imagination.  All of these amazing thinking routines are a part of the art making process. Now, back to my question, “how does she apply creativity (elaboration, flexible thinking, fluency of ideas, originality, etc.) as a thinker?

Every evening I always ask her to clean her room. It looks like a tornado rolled through there all the time. Almost every time I glance in her room, I see her dancing in front of the mirror “cleaning” away:)  One night, I went up and she had cleaned up her entire room. Everything was gone. I then walked around her bed…  only to see a little box that read, “Lost and Found.”  I took a moment and realised this was a moment where I would either encourage or discourage her creative capacity as a thinker.  I could have quickly dismissed this box and told her to take everything out and place it where it goes and expressed my disappointment while doing so.  Or… (What I did), praise her for coming up with a solution that worked.  A closer look at this example reveals the key components of creative thinking that she was developing while painting, drawing, creating and now applying to a given situation.  She elaborated on a familiar idea she sees in her school everyday.  She took the idea from school and put her own twist on it by bringing it into her bedroom.  She exhibited fluency of ideas, because of the countless times she tried to clean her room and just not finding a way that worked for her (many times we focus on our own desires and outcomes and ignore that of the child).  She also exhibited flexibility of ideas because she was able to see the box in her room, which was a small decorative doll house she had made, and turned it into a lost and found box.  So, this one little act was how my daughter applied her creative thinking.  My response to this situation could either encourage her creativity or discourage it.  Artists always push the boundaries.  That is a good thing.  That is how we progress as a society.  Conformity is the antithesis to creativity, yet it is the desired mode of educational practice in schools today.  It is easy when all students conform and are compliant.  But is that what we want?  Of course I am not advocating for unsafe behaviors, but rather a school where curiosity and creativity are expected and encouraged and not marginalized.  A classroom where students are encouraged to take the path less traveled.  Letting go of adult expectations and yielding to child inspirations.

Another shortIMG_1160 story.  Same daughter was outside playing in a creek in our backyard.  I was off doing yard work.  My daughter yells over to me to come see what she created (see left).  When I get over to see her, she shows me a carved gourd with eyes, nose and mouth.  When I ask her how she created such a wonderful sculpture, she shows me the tools.  A plastic knife, piece of glass (found in the creek) and pruning shears from the garage.  After counting all her fingers and happy they were all there, I realized again I was at a defining moment to either encourage or discourage her creative thinking.  She used the tools she had available to create her sculpture.  She used her flexible thinking to see the carving tools not for what they were, but what they could be.  She was able to creatively solve the problem set before her, using her creative thinking skills.  I chose to praise her ability to use the tools around her to create such an interesting sculpture.

Everyday, we will be tested by students and children to see if we will encourage or discourage their creative dispositions.  It is our duty to encourage creative thinking, boundary pushing and box breaking to prepare future generations to think the unthinkable, imagine the unimaginable and question the unquestionable!

Leadership Academy reflection

IMG_0042Each summer the school district I work in hosts a summer leadership academy. The goal of this academy is to promote best practice from within, by empowering our outstanding teachers to provide innovative professional development in a variety of disciplines on a variety of topics. The purpose of this post is to highlight some of the important lessons I learned from attending this year’s inspiring academy.
​The academy began with a riveting keynote from Dr. Michelle Borba, a renowned educator and motivational speaker. A few of the key points that resonated with me were the idea of teaching the whole child (heart) and not just his or her head. As an art teacher, I often focus on the heart of the child. Artmaking is about the heart of the artist. I agree with Dr. Borba, in such a high stakes testing environment, educators and administrators often ignore or worse, cut back on time in the arts. We constantly hear that our students need to be more creative, yet most people in positions of authority do not know how to teach creativity, let alone provide an environment for creativity to flourish. The art room is a place where students are free to express themselves, learn how to communicate, take risks, learn from failure and work through ambiguity. The art room provides an environment in which students can combine learning focused toward both the head and heart to make sense of the world around them.
​Dr. Borba spoke about the increase in anxiety and stress among students today. Students have created a brick wall barrier to learning for “fear of being wrong.” Often unwilling to take risks, these students are uncomfortable with ambiguity and freeze up when presented with open-ended problems. They are anxious about tests, class rank, grade point averages and things that are of little significance in the job world they will hopefully be a part of. They are stressed about family, friends, relationships and things that are not addressed in school, yet have a monumental impact on learning. The art room provides a space to work through these issues. The art room can provide a space for creative problem-solving. It is a place where students are required to engage in the creative process where formative assessment is built in. Failing is a part of the process and not the end product. In the art room, students can work through relationship issues by expressing suppressed feelings that otherwise might never surface. It is a space where the students can work through open-ended problems that promote divergent thinking, as opposed to the convergent thinking that most other disciplines require.
​I appreciate Dr. Borba’s focus on the whole child. She also spoke about the need for empathy, compassion and respect. These “soft skills” are essential to success in life. Today, bullying is prevalent in all areas of schooling. I feel it is because many students don’t know how to be empathetic, compassionate or respectful. Many students have not been taught how to exhibit these three characteristics. If we spent as much time teaching about empathy, as we do math, I think our educational system would make big strides in all areas. The ripple effect of learning about empathy, compassion and respect would resonate in all areas of school and life outside of school as well.
​Dr. Borba spoke about the lack of hope our students have today. They are constantly bombarded by “doom and gloom.” Everywhere they look they see, hear, and feel hopelessness. This portion of the keynote was particularly compelling for me. Both as an educator, to make sure I am providing my students with glimmers of hope, and perhaps more importantly it resonated with me as a parent. I realized how much my own children have been exposed to the sadness and despair of our world. She made the point that we should be talking about the good, the amazing, and the beauty of life with our students and children. Teach them there is hope, happiness and beauty in the world.
As a result of Dr Borba’s speech, I adjusted our nightly routine for my 5 and 6 year olds. Now, every night before bed I ask my children four questions. “What was the best thing that happened today?” I ask this to get them to reflect on the good parts of today. I want them to go to sleep remembering the fun they had. “What is something you are looking forward to tomorrow?” I ask them this to get them excited about a new day. Each day brings new adventures and I want them to start out excited about what is to come. “What is something in the future you are looking forward to?” I ask them this question to help them understand there is always something out there to work towards and look forward to. The excitement and anticipation of something coming up is just as fun as the actual event. Lastly, “What makes you super happy right now?” I ask them this final question to take a look within and think about what truly makes them happy right now in the moment. Honoring the fact that this will change by the minute and that is ok. I ask these questions every night with the understanding that the answers will change as each day goes by. I will see my children grow with each answer they give and watch how the world around them changes too. I ask these questions to get them to focus on the hope, happiness, and excitement of life.
​Dr. Borba spoke about how the research is showing that these children represent the first generation showing signs of stress and anxiety at such a young age. The world is tough for our children today. Testing has overtaken our schools. The news is riddled with negativity. Many of our children come from re-defined homes and families. All of these and many other factors have had an impact on the children of this generation.
I think as educators, we need to focus on the whole child, mind and heart, by considering the arts as important as math and science. I think we need to teach “soft skills” such as respect, empathy and compassion as essential skills. Lastly, I think we need to teach our children in our homes and the students in our schools, that there is hope in this world.

A day (year) in the art room…

IMG_0961.JPGI am constantly working on setting up a routine to meet the needs of my students, administrators and district.  I feel like every year I get a little closer to figuring things out.  Here is the way my room will run this year (stay tuned as it will probably change next year:).

Open the school year with opening routines and explaining the room.  The room is set up with several different centers.  (If people are interested I can post pictures of my room).  I have a fiber & craft center, drawing center, paint center, printmaking center, collage center, paper center, 3-D/sculpture center, resource center(area with reference books) and digital center with iPads and laptops.  Within each center are various tools and materials for the students to access.  For the most part, I do not pull items and set them on the table for the students to use.  I treat the room like an art studio.  Students get the tools and materials they need to express their ideas (more on this later).

I open the year with a creativity challenge.  I talk to the students about how creativity is a skill that can be learned and developed with practice.  “Practice” comes in the form of open-ended questions allowing for divergent thinking.  I have conducted many different creativity challenges (I can discuss these in a later post if anyone is interested) as quick 1 class activities where I introduce the challenge, conduct it and reflect on it after with the class.  I will conduct these creativity challenges throughout the year as a fun break from the routine and a great way to develop creativity.

Before we begin a project, I have the students practice certain skills and learn vocabulary through small center rotations.  I might have the younger students practice line, value, texture by practicing these skills using different tools and materials and rotate through 3 separate areas, each area with a different focus.  I may have the older students practice juxtaposition, creating the illogical and interaction of text and image (Olivia Gude’s Postmodern principles).  This day serves as a way to practice new skills and build a “toolbox” of creative approaches to use in their art projects.

The next step is to introduce the project.  Each grade level has a different grade level focus that guides instruction throughout the year.  This introduction usually features picture books ( another possible post. I have built a great collection of picture books over the years), contemporary artists, artifacts from visual culture, movies, etc. We discuss the connection between the artists/designers and the grade level focus.  The project challenge is guided by an essential question.  Once we discuss the essential question, the students are asked to brainstorm (the act of brainstorming takes many different forms.  i.e. questionnaire, brainstorming, word association, etc.) ideas related to the essential question.  Once they have their idea, they then run the idea by me to make sure they can articulate the connection between their idea and the essential question.  Once they are ready to begin, they choose the tools, materials and skills they need, to best execute their idea.  They may choose to use the skills they practiced at the beginning of the lesson, or not.

Occasionally, we will stop a project in the middle to have the students share out their creative process.  This mid-point share out session, enables the students to make adjustments as needed before they are finished.  If we don’t do this in the middle, then we do a share out session at the end.

The last step is to share out the projects.  We do this in a variety of ways.  We may share out the projects in small groups and the students will create short skits to explain their ideas and connections to classmates artwork and ideas. We have also had silent museums, where the students arrange their artworks on the tables for their classmates to see. The class then wanders around with post-it notes and is asked to focus on certain aspects of the artwork and leave a post-it note comment, question, or connection.  For example, I may ask the students to select and artwork they have a personal connection to and explain why.  They may write down the most creative use of a material and why.  I may have them write down something they want to learn to do/try in their own artwork, etc..  I can write a more detailed explanation of this, or any of the above mentioned parts if you like just leave a note in the comments.

Other side notes… Each grade level completes usually 3 projects a year.  The first project is the Creative Conceptual project.  This project focuses on the student as an artist, expressing their ideas, thoughts, wonderings, and imagination about the world they live in.  The next project is the Collaborative Design project.  This project usually features a collaborative effort to solve a design problem.  This helps the students learn to collaborate, while working through the art and design process.  The last project is the Independent  project.  For this project, the students are creating their own lesson and asked to write up a short lesson plan for me to approve. The purpose of this is to empower the students to take an active role in their learning.  The students are able to use the tools, materials, and skills they have learned throughout the year and apply them to a project they design.  Each grade level follows these 3 project outlines.  The grade level focus, falls into each one of these 3 projects.

Another side note… I exhibit all projects in the commons area of our school from day 1.  The purpose of this is to show the students, staff and community how important the creative process is.  I choose to show the project evolve over time and exhibit the growth, change and development over time.  I will display finished products as well, but I will accompany these artworks with a process board that shows images, quotes from students and project explanations throughout the entire process to show viewers that art is a creative thinking process, not just a finished product.

Please leave comments if there is anything specific you would like me to explain further.  I would like this blog to be driven by the readers and what you all want more of.  So just let me know!  I will keep posting a broad range of topics until I get a request to dig deeper into a specific area.  I am still new to the blogging process and I want to make sure this blog is useful to you the reader.

Some of the topics I could expand on…

Pictures books in the art room, creativity challenges, classroom set-up, lesson plans, contemporary artists, post modern art education, art advocacy links, student work samples, display boards of art and design process, share-out ideas, administrator buy-in, these are a few of the topics I am interested in and could explain further.  Just leave me a comment on what you would like to hear more about.  I may not be able to provide all of the answers, but I may be able to provide some insightful questions.