Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ten Classroom Creativity Killers - Part 1

Look at that sun! Pow!!  Second Grade art.
I was reading Marvin Bartel's article Ten Classroom Creativity Killers (2001, revised 2012) today and it really got me thinking about how I encourage creativity in my classroom and what else can I do even better.  You can read Mr. Bartel's full article HERE.  Below I have added my own thoughts about his first five points.  (more to come soon)

1. I Kill Creativity when I encourage Renting (borrowing) instead of Owning ideas.

I feel that is TAB to a T!  Don't tell the artists what to make, but let them discover their own art on their own.  When I assign projects I have already come up with an idea and loan that idea to my students.  That really does not encourage intrinsic motivation or personal ownership.  

2. I Kill Creativity when I Assign Grades without providing Informative Feedback.

Grades have been a major dilemma and focus of my professional practice lately and really deserve their own blog post.  For the sake of brevity I will say this:  I hate grades (meaning marks entered into a computer system for report cards) in art education.  How can I honestly, non-subjectively, and quantifiably assess a student's artwork?  I have changed my focus to one-on-one discussions and observations of artistic behaviors to create scores.  Do these, or any, scores have an impact on student learning?  Maybe it can be a tool for discouragement (but who wants that?).  But, a simple "A" or "B" or "F" should be meaningless in the creative, free, safe, and adventitious atmosphere I attempt to create in my classroom.  They all have it in them to be amazing, just in different ways.  Who am I to say that one style of creative expression is more valid than the next?
I almost missed this small (6x3 inch) collage. 

3. I am Killing Creativity if I see a lot of Cliché Symbols instead of Original or Observed Representation of Experience. I am Killing Creativity even more if I criticize it.

I found it interesting that when students are in a choice classroom and do not know what to make (or are being lazy, or just want to play with the supplies) the same imagery appears over and over.  They draw/paint big hearts, stickmen, and rainbows; and use clay to make dice and snowmen without a thought.  Bartel sees this as a catch 22: you don't want to see it, but will crush their sweet little imaginations if you call them out on it.  I am not so gentle.  In my class I have the BORING LIST, a list of things students are not allowed to make in my class.  It includes the top offenders, things not appropriate in school (weapons), and has space for additions as I see new cliches arrise (paper fingers).  Sometimes I will have a student make an image using something from the boring list in a new innovative way (a ninja with a heart on his shirt comes to mind) and I publicly celebrate their pushing the rules.  I explain that artists are born rule breakers, but they have to be able to speak about why they broke the rules, not just because they are there.
Color mixing with crayons, Oh Yeah!

4. I Kill Creativity when I Demonstrate instead of having students Practice.

Don't you think that is hard?  I have so many cool tricks I want to show my students.  I am a reasonably good artist, and, most of the time, students enjoy watching me work.  But there is SO much more learning happening if these techniques and tricks are discovered in the process of art making.  I try to keep my demos to under five minutes every class.  I love, love, love hearing an excited Kindergartener squeal  "Mr. Laughlin!! I just made PINK!!!!"  Rock and roll, little dude, you are  On Fire With Art tm.

5. I Kill Creativity when I Show an Example instead of Defining a Problem.

I have not given this much thought before, but now I see how showing too many examples can really hamper exploration and learning.  Showing examples can intimidate students, set expectations for outcomes, or limit possibilities.  My student teacher asked me once about working on your own artwork while the students worked, and it reminded me of my high school art teacher.  We always wanted to see her artwork, but she refused to let any of us see it.  She said that she did not want students to think that if they made artwork like hers they would get a better grade.  She wanted us to find our own style, our own voice.  I do believe that visual culture and the art world has an enormous impact on artistic growth, but it is better found individually by the students than presented as "good" by the teacher to the whole class.  

Stay tuned for numbers 6 - 10 next time!  

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