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.

 

 

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!