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.