Opening cupboards, opening minds

Starting the second year in your new school is like touring an old neighborhood you used to live in – ah yes, here is where I get these items, this is where I found comfort, this is where we had fun etc. Or the opposite feelings too; like my feelings about these grey cupboards. Ah grey cupboards, my old friends – so many secrets, so many hidden treasures, so difficult to access!

IMG_3700In my pursuit of open-ended-what-on-earth-is-this-going-to-look-like-units (I am sure there is a fancier name for this). I did not know what materials my students needed, they didn’t know either. As the briefs opened up, students designed individual, very different and very exciting plans for their artworks. This started happening:

“Ms Anna do you have?” – Ah, maybe… let me check, I have this size and this size… not big enough huh? Let me check this cupboard…

“Ms Anna where is?” – I think its on the left top shelf under the… no the other side, no the other way, actually its in the other cupboard, wait a moment I’ll come and look…

Multiply these questions by about 160 students – arghhhhhh! These cupboards were hindering the creative process.

Students need free access to materials, they need to touch and feel the properties of the materials and their possibilities, they need to mix and match, test and make mistakes, create the unknown… the materials themselves are invitations to play (by the way, Early Years teachers, you know more than all of us!) and experiment. Enter in our “stations”.

These have only been up and running for four weeks now and I have already seen a dramatic increase in ownership, the art sketchbook as a tool to document process, sharing of ideas amongst students (I’m learning new ones too!), curiosity and delight. I love watching students dart across the room mixing and matching materials. Painters are blending wet materials in ways they never had before, constructors are working with three dimensional materials in a new ways I have not seen either. Flip it around, those students who cannot let go of their love of markers are freely exploring other materials with a low-stakes, see what happens environment. My students are artists and they are working the art studio like an artist does. They come in and pick up right off where they left and its so rewarding to watch! For all parties involved, even my wonderful assistant said “Ms Anna I was a bit worried about putting all these materials out, I thought they would go to crazy but its really nice”.

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Yes you can or Let’s try

A Culture of Permission in the Art Class

Yesterday I was invited to join a podcast conversation centered around “A Culture of Permission” in our schools with Sam Sherratt, Frank Hua and Cathy Brown. Inspired by Sam’s post on Inquiry and a Culture of Permission.

Still reflecting on some of the snippets from yesterday reinforces my pursuit of student driven projects in the art room – where everyone involved are left smiling, fulfilled, proud and really feeling like an artist. With years 10 years of art teaching under my belt, 4 years of fine arts training and years and years of creating art – I do not assume to know what will or will not work for a student. Sometimes, I have a pretty fair inclination that what they want to do may not work. A recent example being, this idea a student wanted to try was definitely a book carved out with a laser cutter – the first reaction in my mind was oh dear this is not going to work, it will not have the effect he is after. But… what will he learn if I say “No, you can’t do that”? That his ideas are silly? That he’s not skillful enough? That he’s dreaming and he should aim lower next time? ARGH! Awful! So, instead I said “Sure, let’s give it a try!”. From the sidelines I encouraged gentle slices, slowly and carefully through the book pages. After giving it a good go this student turned to me and said “Actually, I think I’d like to look for a new idea because it’s not going to work”, very neutrally I said “OK, no problem I said, maybe that was made with a laser cutter?”, “Oh yea, probably” he said. What came after was the golden moment, he happily grabbed a couple of art books flicked through them with a much more critical eye and now his new idea is rocking! And maybe what is even more important is he knows his choices/ideas and creativity are valued. As he heads up to the MYP next year I know he is in a good position as he has figured out how to develop ideas, test materials, reflect and regenerate ideas. I am not sure this could have happened if I had just said “No, you can’t do that, it’s not possible”.