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.

 

 

Author study: William Joyce

This one got buried in my drafts folder and I’m pulling it out to share since it was such a happy bit of “this never happens” that happened for my students when I stuck my neck out and made a “the worst thing that can happen is he says no” request of a writer I have long admired. 
Our author visit with William Joyce came about quite by accident. I wish I could say I planned it.

As I often do with students, I watched a wordless short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore, as a vocabulary building activity. We shook loose juicy vocabulary in a PWIM-type activity.

The following week I was at a dental appointment and had an extra minute after getting a gleaming smile but before I had to pick up the darling children, so I swung into Chapters where Ollie’s Odyssey jumped off the shelves and into my hands. I read it myself and adored it and decided to share some of it with students as a book sell.

That night I tweeted to William Joyce that I was  loving his book and would he be interested in Skyping with my class. To my enormous surprise, he said yes!

Prepping students for the meeting was a wonderful experience in pushing them to ask more open questions as we sought to ask questions that would make him talk more. “We don’t want him to just answer yes or no! That’s boring!”

Other books we read included:

The Mischevians

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore

Billy’s Booger

The Numberlys

The Guardians of Childhood

Thanks to my amazing team of teachers the Skype chat was an enormous success! Would you believe I had a tooth extracted days before the visit and my face swelled to the size of a pumpkin… so I missed it! But my students were incredibly excited to share when I got back.

This goes to show for me what a powerful experience digital tools can help create for our learners when we bust the “silos” of solo classrooms!

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.

10 Ways to Get Reluctant Writers Writing

 I suspect every writer has had the urge to create something (or an assignment to create something) without really knowing what to create. Part of what we do as classroom teachers is establish safe spaces for students to create and take risks in writing. Here is some of what I tried this year:

Give them an audience

I think students write work of higher quality when they know the final product is not for the teacher’s eyes alone. It’s important to allow students to publish and when and how is an important conversation to have together. In my experience, publishing fewer pieces but working them until they are of higher quality results in work that students are proud of and are most reflective of their ability. Publish on a blog like WordPress or kidblog. For more privacy there is always Googlesites and D2L blogs.

Allow them to work without an audience

As exciting as it can be to publish, I think it’s important to have work that exists for the students alone or for students to share with the teacher alone. In my room this year, we had a system: any piece that was not to be shared got a small note in the corner so I knew it was not for public consumption.

Give choice

It has been a powerful tool to allow students freedom to choose what to write and how to publish. Because I know and students know we are constantly working towards personal goals and “Je peux” statements, there must be a framework for writing before beginning. I used one standard rubric this year to measure all writing so students always knew what the finish line looked like. Some choices, like write a poem, write a travel brochure, write a journal entry from the perspective of the book’s main character were sprinkled with “if you have another idea, please check in with me” and some did propose writing a play to be performed with puppets. I think it was important to point out to students that they hold some creative power in writing and not everyone took me up on the offer of creating their own assignment but enough did to tell me that it’s worth offering to students.

Give a starting point: prompts and model texts

Too much freedom can be overwhelming. Respect student desire to create something but the frustration at not knowing what to create. Provide prompts, sentence frames, model books. Use the class website to provide links like this.

Write every day

Writers write. Simple enough. I used the Daily 5 strategies to help my students become better writers and students were expected to build their writing endurance, starting from only a few minutes of uninterrupted writing and working up to 12-15 minutes of uninterrupted writing time, which is pretty impressive to watch when a group of eight and nine year olds fall into such engaged writing that they don’t want to be stopped. The expectation in my room is clear though… Once we have had time to brainstorm and to talk through ideas, writing time is just that; writers write they don’t visit.

Model writing behaviour: be a writer

Students are inspired by teachers and writers. Be a writer with them! Occasionally, use student writing time to also engage in writing! You won’t likely get that great American novel written but it’s a good excersise use to put ourselves in their shoes; oh, yeah… Where do ideas come from?

Blog? Let kids know! Tweet as a class. Share old notebooks…

Invite an author into the classroom

Share books and ask questions. What are the writer’s habits? Brainstorm a list: what jobs involve writing? Invite some of them to share. While most of us write a fair bit in our work lives most of it does not look like writing narrative fiction. A Skype author visit is an awesome, low-cost way to flatten the classroom. This year I was tremendously lucky to connect with some writers over Twitter who were generous with their time and spoke with my students.

A new notebook

I know teachers who buy hard cover journals for students to give that writing a sense of being special. I know teachers who staple a few sheets of paper together and call in a journal. The book Make Writing has been inspiring for me these days. Sometimes just changing the tools is enough to spark writing.

Conversation before writing is a powerful tool especially in immersion! You might also try online collaboration tools like Padlet or google apps for education.

An old notebook

Sometimes stacks of old notebooks can inspire. I have a habit of keeping old notebooks that get messy as I fill them, sometimes with fiction, sometimes with research and notes for a paper or presentation… Sometimes it takes many notebooks and binders filled to get a single piece to publishable quality. Students need to know that good writing doesn’t happen in the first draft. Or the second or the third sometimes… Good writing takes time and effort.

Plan it/ don’t plan it

Concept maps and story boards can be powerful tools for students to produce organized drafts. Also be willing to let go of planning and write just because it’s fun. Free writing, journals, lists are all ways to throw off the shackles of carefully planned writing.

Paper planners are great. I also like comic life and Inspiration for planning webs. Google draw also does well as a collaborative planning tool.

Generally, when we start a writing project in my classroom there is a rubric. I like to know what I’m expecting from students before they start and I think it’s useful for them to have a target before beginning. That being said, I think there are times when we should let go of the evaluation part of the writing and write to express an idea or an emotion. Sometimes I think the most creative work happens that way.

And a bonus: use technology when it makes sense

Be prepared to allow students who struggle with fine motor skills or non-standard spelling to voice type a first draft and then to heavily edit the second draft. Typing can also be an awesome tool but takes time to build up the fine motor skills to do it proficiently so I think there needs to be some type of typing “homework”.

Tell stories in other ways… Oral story telling is a a fine art, put on a puppet show, make a short film!

Whatever it takes to inspire students to put pencil on paper! I would love to hear your ideas for inspiring writers.

Yes, Actually, We Can; Inquiry in Immersion

I don’t know why the false idea that immersion students can’t engage in inquiry persists and, to be frank, I get frustrated when I hear it. Honestly, guys, it’s filtering through to our students. The impression that second language students are not able to fully express their ideas and to explore deep questions is not true. In my experience it is not true that students need to revert back to their first language to engage in inquiry and many of our immersion students speak a language other than English or French at home, so right off the bat we need to get over the idea that it is even possible for the classroom to revert “back” to students’ first language for inquiry. 

  

So how do we as classroom teachers build the capacity of immersion learners to engage in true inquiry?

  

1. Build vocabulary

We do it when teaching literacy skills and we need to teach the language of inquiry as intentionally as we teach reading and writing. I have found that PWIM (or MIMI in French) is a powerful way to build subject-specific vocabulary. Make the language visible and refer to in often. Require that students use specific vocabulary and don’t accept a generic word where a specific word is needed. Demonstrate for students that language learners and inquirers are intentional seekers of information, including the right word for the situation.

2.Trust that there is translanguaging and interlanguaging

As much as we need to push students to learn new vocabulary we need to be aware that there will be some manner of translanguaging and interlanguaging as students build understanding of the language and of the inquiry topic. There is a fine balance between stopping a student’s rich expression of an inquiry topic to teach to correct grammatical structures. As immersion teachers we are keenly aware of this balance and keep it in mind; when are students translanguaging and when they are just not putting in the effort to use French?

3. Blend language arts with content areas

As immersion teachers, this is second nature. Building language skills goes hand-in-hand with building the skills for inquiry.

4. Engage students in Genius hour

When students have agency in their learning they have a purpose for undertaking the inquiry. Decide ahead of time what the non-negotiables are then allow students choice in their learning.

5. Stay in the second language!

Find resources in the target language and stay in the target language at all times; change your apps to French, change computer settings to French.

6. Be inspired by Vygotsky’s “more knowledgeable other”

Don’t be afraid to use buddies for fear that the buddies learn nothing as the big buddy. They can be modelling, improving language, opening and closing questions. Big buddies should come out of their learning with as much metacognitive growth as the little buddies. What do we know? How do we know that we know?

7. Provide more think time

Slow down. I have been trying to ask all students to reflect before anyone has a chance to share. I find this gives time for everyone to find an answer and for those with a quick answer the time to reflect on it and improve it. I ask students to give me a sign when they are ready to share; sometimes this means put up your hand, sometimes it’s just a nod, sometimes I tell the students I am a very good lip reader (I’d say I’m pretty average, actually 😉 and have them “say” without making a sound.

8. Share! 

The authentic purpose for language is communication! Students MUST share their learning in order to give inquiry and language purpose! Blog, tweet, host a learning fair! Don’t let the best part of the learning stay in the classroom!

I would love to hear how others are supporting additional-language learners. I think ELL teachers and immersion teachers have a lot to teach each other in this area. I’m still looking for good resources, so if you have anything to share please let me know!

A More Beautiful Question

(A follow up post to The Wonder Wall 2.0)

Inquiry is a way of approaching classroom learning not a box to check off in a long list of classroom “to do’s”. I think the quote is mine but I have done so much reading lately that I may well have appropriated it without realizing it. This post is a reflection on my year as we draw to a close, in which we imperfectly inquired and I learned as much as my students, although we learned decidedly different things.

(A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger, P214)

There is a false impression that when teachers engage students in inquiry all we are doing is a free for all, unplanned, lesson. This is not the truth; what I may have written in the day book is short hand for the deep planning we’ve already done. Planning for worthwhile tasks leads to a day book entry that just says “ask questions” but that doesn’t mean that there was not deep, careful planning before undertaking inquiry with students or careful scaffolding of the skills both the teacher and the students need. In inquiry-driven instruction the teacher must “be willing to give up control to allow for more questioning” (Berger, p6)

What if we brainstormed in questions instead of answers?

Berger quotes John Seeley Brown in that “‘what if…’ questions tend to free up the imagination because they allow you to see things other than as they currently are.” The following questioning process by Rothstein and Santana for K-12 classrooms (p65) proposes an interesting process for guiding questions towards those most worthy of spending real time investigating:

I have attempted to use the process with my students together with a guide for asking more interesting questions, which I originally learned of from @frank_ferrante:

Google “question chart” and you’ll find lots of tips on this, where the green questions are level 1, the red level 2, the blue level 3 and the purple level 4 (careful not to equate these with the 1, 2, 3, 4 on CBE’s current report card), but I’m still attempting to track down the original source. (For the record, can we state Pinterest makes it really hard to track down original sources?!)

We have been using the chart to help create questions but I have been finding that questions become a little forced that way as every student aims to ask a million dollar question. A better way to use it might be to ask authentic questions as they occur to students and then to sort them out into where they fall. Berger suggests having students work with their questions to boil them down to what it really being asked. Open the closed questions. Close the open questions. Sort them and group them until students determine what it is that is really worth the effort to pursue.

It has been interesting to watch my students become questioners and to watch them interact with one another’s questions. It has become common for students to state that they “think they know the answer to that question” and to back up how it is that they know it. The metacognitive piece has been an interesting bit to grow with students – and yes, they sure do know the word “metacognitive” and “distributed cognition” – will they remember it in a year’s time? I doubt it. But I hope the habit of questioning and of thinking about thinking sticks with them.

Berger suggests that questioning “why” without “what if” and “how” is just complaining and that to move toward actionable questions and research that questions move to “why, what if, how”. This has been a habit we have tried to develop especially in our science work lately to make for rich “maker challenges” in which students are really thinking about the why of their work.

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.