Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mining Creativity in Our Students

I wrote and shared this post with my colleagues in my University of Florida MAAE program, Contemporary Issues in Art Education course with Dr. Elizabeth Delacruz (@emdela on Twitter) as a response to a prompt. I was provoked, I suppose, to share it here, as we are seeing such a blight of creative teaching and learning in our schools... it does not nor should it be this way...
Imagine a town-meeting about education:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you so much for this opportunity to talk tonight about education.

Let’s reflect on Kindergarten. Think back to that time. Wasn’t it fun at school? The things we saw, we explored, we touched, we mixed, we played. School was cool. We made friends, learned how to treat others well, learned our letters, and numbers, and how to color (in the lines or not) and we were excited about every experience that we could uncover, discover and turn over. Our bodies kept moving too: we were jumping, running, tumbling through new stories, adventures and ideas. We talked about lots of new things: we read stories and drew pictures about what happened in them. We made map books so that our mommies and daddies would know how to find us and our homes. We covered pine cones in peanut butter and seeds so that the birds in our backyards would have plenty to eat too, learning about taking care of the environment in a very hands-on, and sticky way.

What happened to that creative enthusiasm when we turned 9, or 10, or 15? Why are we, as educators, taking the stickiness out of our teaching and our learning? Why are we making paper-pushing our teaching strategy, rather than allowing our students to mine for ideas and find the questions we want them to uncover, just like they did when we were their teachers in Kindergarten. Rationalizing as we do, we determine that the teaching must prepare our students for the tests. What about the teaching of creative learning? That stuff is messy and interconnected--just like Kindergarden! We built towers and roads for our toy cars and discussed pollution, and urban planning (though we didn’t know the name for it then.) We cleaned up our messes to learn responsibility and caring. We washed our hands before having our snacks so that we learned about hygiene and good eating habits. We dug in the sand and made castles, then watched the water travel down, taking parts of the sand with it--that’s erosion, right?

Watching all the wonder of the world on a power-point or a video is not the same. We have to engage our students in the making of messes, in the discovery of new possibilities of ideas, and allow them to make mistakes so that they come up with the solutions. Isn’t that our hope--that our young children will make better decisions than we ever have? Young Adora Svitak, in her TED Talk, shares her vision about what adults can learn from kids: “In many ways, our audacity to imagine helps push the boundaries of possibility” (Svitak, 2010). And isn’t it Sir Ken Robinson who shared how schools are killing creativity? His view is that “creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status” (Robinson, 2006). And yet, how are we nurturing creativity in our schools? How do we ask questions? Or more importantly, how do we provoke our students’ thinking in order for them to find the questions to ask? Do we allow our students to dig in the sand, literally and figuratively, in order to uncover ideas about how things work, interact or connect? What about when things don’t work--like their science experiment or an art project, or their relationships? Do they understand perseverance, tenacity, or grit? How do we teach them that in order to learn more, to test themselves more and to engage with the world more, they need to mine for ideas and develop the skills for digging for alternatives, possibilities, prototypes and solutions? (Gude, 2010; Tharp, 2003; Hetland, Winner, Veenema, Sheridan & Perkins, 2007)

The answers to these questions are not on the power-point presentation, they aren’t in the textbook either, nor are they on that multiple-choice test. We have to engage our students in an exploration of their world and not give them the answers. They need to develop the creative response to the questions they pose, where we act as a guide, so that we ensure that they are learning all that they can possibly learn with no glass ceiling. They must learn to see that there sometimes is not one answer to a question, or that an answer is more gray than black or white (Eisner, 2002), and another reason for more questions.

Isn’t that what education is supposed to be?

Thank you.


Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the creation of mind. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Freedman, K. (2007). Artmaking/Troublemaking: Creativity, policy, and leadership in art education. Studies in Art Education,48(2), 204-217.

Gude, O. (2010). Playing, creativity, possibility. Art Education, 63(2), 31-7.

Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., Sheridan, K., & Perkins, D. (2007). Studio thinking: The Real benefits of visual arts education. Teachers College Press, New York, NY.

Milbrandt, M., & Milbrandt, L. (2011). Creativity: What are we talking about? Art Education, 64(1), 8-13.

Tharp, T. (2003) The creative habit: Learn it and use it for life. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

Zimmerman, E. (2009). Reconceptualizing the role of creativity in art education theory and practice. Studies in Art Education, 50(4), 382-99.

Robinson, K. (2006). Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. [Video on TED Talk Web site]. Retrieved from

Svitak, Adora. (2010). What adults can learn from kids. [Video on TED Talk Web site]. Retrieved from

Author's Note:

Another great resource is the NAEA publication: Learning in a Visual Age

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finding our voices: art and advocacy

Youth Art Month is a fantastic opportunity to get art out in front of the community. It is these stakeholders who make decisions throughout the year for the best for our students. However, it isn't the only time to showcase our students' exceptional work, and thus our art education programs. It is a springboard to creating partnerships for special displays and exhibits. We are fortunate to have established a wonderful rapport with our local hospital. Last spring, we exhibited a huge collection of 4th grade watercolor "Wildflowers" which were invited for an extended stay at Seton. Our newest exhibit, all still-life paintings by our newest artists, our 3rd grade, are up and already getting attention.

The works represent my philosophy of their process--no works are the same. Each artist's voice is clearly apparent, and their individual choices in regards to the still-life view and the painting style are celebrated. The still-life of 3 vases full of flowers was set up on a round wooden table in the middle of the room, with the students' art tables arranged in a circle around it. Students were instructed to sit in one seat and draw the view of the still-life in front of them. However--we added a little pizzazz: imagine the concept of musical chairs... When the music starts, students stand up, and move around. As soon as the music stops they find a seat, and draw the view from there. They aren't supposed to sit in the same seat twice, thus providing them with a collection of views from which to choose for their final piece. The next time they come to art, the display is exactly the same. They are instructed to look through their studies and determine which one they like the best. They will redraw that view with more attention to detail. Some students work faster than others, so the next step would be to provide them with the drawing/painting paper (we used 12" x 18") on which they will draw their still-life again. This time, they draw it bigger: we use the word, magnified.
Students then trace over the pencil lines with permanent ink pens, select the color of tempera for their backgrounds, and start painting. The process took several weeks. After the pieces dried, students did use permanent marker to define the still-life paintings. For many, this was the first painting experience! They were so excited at the variety of styles and color, as well.

Here, we present our Youth Art Month Celebration, brought to you by some of our 3rd graders!