Developing Creativity: Give Them Agency

What if a classroom looked more like an artist’s studio?

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about student agency related to creativity in the classroom. Too often art supplies get shut away in a cupboard, or worse yet, rolled down to the storage room, only to be dragged out for art lessons.

This year, I’m trying something new to me: I moved art supplies out of the cupboard and onto the counter where they are accessible to kids as they need them. In our classroom set up we talked in depth about how to use materials responsibly and, in turn, they are given freedom to use them as they see fit. This means not only are they encouraged to create during art period, but they are also encouraged to use art to express understanding in other curricular areas.

Our classroom art cart includes:

  • A variety of paint brushes
  • Water colour paint
  • Tempra paint
  • Glue
  • Tape (masking tape, painter’s tape, clear tape)
  • Pencil crayons
  • Water colour pencils
  • Art pencils of variable softness
  • Mark makers (including bamboo skewers, straws, pipe cleaners, used-up ballpoint pens, q-tips)
  • Markers (Sharpies, Crayolas, Mr. Sketch)
  • Pastels
  • Pre-cut artist trading cards in a variety of paper textures (water colour paper, bristol board, construction paper)
  • Print making supplies (foam blocks, ink)
  • Texture plates and stencils
  • Our “maker space” includes a variety of materials (bits of paper, cardboard, yarn, etc.)
  • Table supplies include scissors, pencils, glue and erasers

I collected supplies over the years, holding on to bits and bobs forever (teachers are the worst hoarders, aren’t we?)

In preparation for art making, we spend time analyzing art work, being clear that it’s good to critique artist, style, and piece of work. In analyzing work, we have discussed line and colour theory and students picked out shade and tint as being something they wanted to work with.

Inevitably, almost, some students don’t use supplies properly, not out of malicious intent, but because of inexperience with the supplies (there is a technique to using a paint brush…) Students have been good about giving each other constructive feedback about art work how to use and care for supplies. I have been stunned by their willingness to make multiple drafts of work and take risks with technique and colour. We watched Austin’s butterfly, a video about using feedback in building excellence in student and the Class Dojo videos about Growth Mindset. Students have been thrilled to look at the results of their drafts.

We spent a lot of time setting up students to use their visual journals as their own. I often demonstrate something and ask that they try it but then they are free to make creative decisions about their own work.

All feedback is made in pencil or on sticky notes so that students are free to move or erase as needed. I have noticed that many students want a “perfect” draft without teacher marks on it and I respect that.

The sign for me that they take ownership is the number of them that ask to take their work home to work on it or share with parents.

If it matters that there is colour then it matters that there is artistic decision making.

 

 

Story, a powerful teacher

I’m not sure what to call what I’m attempting… maybe “author study plus” where the “plus” means more authors and more subject areas? The following is a list of the books I plan to read aloud with my Grade 3s this year as we work to find our place and tell its story. It is far from exhaustive and the work of planning is in another document. It’s a bit hard to say at the beginning where exactly our work will end up because there is always an element student questioning to drive the learning, but in planning for inquiry, there is a great deal of laying ground work for student and teacher understanding. I am using the Designing Worthwhile Work template available through the Galileo Network and would be happy to share or collaborate if you leave a comment or message me.

I started planning after having read a couple of foundational books. Foundational in that they influenced my thinking around what I understand to be true. This summer, I am participating in a Twitter slow chat surrounding the calls for Truth and Reconciliation by reading “In This Together; Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation” and discussing using the #2k16reads hashtag. The book and the conversation have pushed my thinking in a new direction and there were several “aha” moments.

I don’t claim to have the answers but I am willing to demonstrate that I am a learner, too. I begin with this:

North is not always up.

  

Richard Louv‘s Last Child in the Woods introduced me to the idea of “affinity for place”, which fits with the concept of situated cognition, in which what we know is directly related to where and how we know. I’m going to come back to this idea when I discuss Bouchard’s If You’re Not From the Prairie (Si tu n’es pas de la prairie).

The slow chat question asked was: In what ways do the TRC’s Calls to Action provide a roadmap for teaching and learning? How will you bring the discussion of #2k16reads into the classroom?

It took a really long time to come up with an answer. For me, the first step is creating empathy, which often starts in books. Bibliotherapy is a powerful tool in helping students to understand the perspective of others. I have deliberately chosen books written by First Nations and Métis authors because I want the perspective to be honest and authentic and I think the reading of these books will take the whole year. I deliberately chose bilingual titles because I want student thinking to happen in both languages. Many of the books I chose are also written in a First Nations Language.

What is the role of language in shaping our identity?

What does language have to do with “quality of life”?

I discovered David Bouchard by accident. Wandering through the library, the book Long Powwow Nights was on the top of a shelf and, knowing the question I was working on, I picked it up to read later. Later, it took my breath away. Literally. Which lead me to explore Bouchard’s other work. This reminded me of the importance of letting a question sit, sometimes for an uncomfortably long time. Answers come sometimes by accident.

An author study of David Bouchard plus others will lead into the work we will do for the year related to Canada’s 150th. Students will find their connection to these stories and my hope is that it will give them an entry point for telling their story and the story of their connection to this land and all of its people.

The first book, Voices From the Wild might be the most accessible of the ones I chose in that the subject matter, animals, is familiar to primary students, so I think this is where the work will begin. Inquiry, art and writing in French and English, and I see it continuing culminating in a year-end project that will include an interactive book and art project.

The Secret of Your Name begins with a message that it should be read without interruption an preferably in a natural place. Students will explore the power of a name.

 

Our author study will be a bilingual exploration of literature related to place. The beauty of these books is in the way they evoke emotion related to place. Visual journaling and the use of all of our senses to experience place will be a tool in our exploration.

The following books still need some planning on my part:

How do you create identity? What is the role of recreation in quality of life? How is this story the same as/ different from Carrier’s Le chandail de hockey?
  
  

What is the purpose of school? Who are teachers?
  

Where did your place get its name?

  
Long Powwow Nights by David Bouchard and Pam Aleekuk will provoke students to make connections (text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world). Because it’s written as a poem, the meaning of it is not necessarily accessible on first reading and it will take a couple of reads with lots of patience to make inferences and connections. In addition, “See, Think, Wonder” would be a powerful inquiry approach to this book as the art and story are beautiful and complex. For me, Long Powwow Nights was the most beautiful of the books I read and one that literally took my breath away, but it might be one of the most difficult books at the same time because I think it requires a deep understanding of what it means to inhabit one’s culture.

 

The books by Tomson Highway contain beautiful art and tell the story of a family caring for one another and living their lives connected to their environment. I hope they will lead to a discussion about how environment contributes to our quality of life.


Shin-shi’s Canoe and Shi-shi-etko by Kim LaFave explore residential schools in a way that’s accessible for young learners without being too frightening or overwhelming. I think they will lend themselves well to a conversation about home and education and what contributes to a good quality of life when paired with the documentary film Sur le chemin de l’école.




  

Tant que couleront les rivières (As Long as the Rivers Flow) by Larry Loyie is a touching true story about a young boy in the forties sent to residential school.

   

 Wilfred Burton, an educator I met while working in Regina, Saskatchewan, wrote these stories that explore the Métis perspective and introduce the importance of dance and music as a part of identity.

A beautiful picture book that explores the what and how of peace, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, will hopefully inspire a conversation about how we are better together.

How will we integrate technology?

I think that digital tools need to follow the learning. As I start to plan, I see the following being useful with lots of leeway for additions and subtractions. We will use:

  1. Digital portfolios
  2. Podcasting
  3. Augmented reality
  4. QR codes
  5. Books, ebooks, audio books

I don’t know if I’ve done justice to my thought process here and there is still so much planning to do. This is just an overview as I start to plan and far from being a complete unit plan but it’s a starting point for me. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about this work; my intention is not to provoke a political conversation but to evoke empathy for myself and my students. There is enormous power in experiencing the story of others and in finding your connection to those stories.

Kandinsky: Artist Study

  
Sometimes you run across a book that could easily be extended a million ways but there just isn’t enough time to take it as far as you’d like. This post is a fairly quick share because this lesson is already getting cold in our memories of Grade Three.

  
We used this template to observe Kandinsky’s work and then students were each asked to create their own work of art that represented a feeling and included math.

We read The Noisy Paintbox on the recommendation of a friend and colleague @fiteach. The students really enjoyed the juicy vocabulary and were drawn in to the specific vocabulary used to describe sound. The book includes a short biography of Wassily Kandinsky and they were delighted to learn that he had synesthesia, where senses cross and Kandinsky heard colours.

We extended it to include colour poetry. The book Green by Laura Vaucon Seeger was good inspiration for using specific vocabulary to describe colour. Students are working hard to include all their senses in writing to evoke an emotion in their reader. 

I’d like to note how proud I am that my students know the difference between fiction and non-fiction and they readily discussed how Kandinky’s Noisy Paintbox, historical fiction, married elements of both.