Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Creativity in Crisis: What I Learned

I took a three credit hour class called "Creativity in Crisis" (based on the book by Sir Ken Robinson) and I found it very refreshing to have an art focused class with primarily art teachers in it. I got a lot out of this class and am posting a few things I learned, as well as my action plan for the year based on that knowledge.
Ken Robinson lists these nine principles under three categories: a) personal (a creative leader should “facilitate the creative abilities of every member of the organization”; b) group (“the second role of a great leader is to form and facilitate dynamic creative teams”; c) culture (the third role is to “promote a general culture of innovation”). I don’t disagree with the categories, but there seems like there is a lot of overlap. For example, creative spaces could be personal, and creative potential facilitation should be part of the culture of an organization or classroom if you want to foster innovation.  One of the most important things Ken Robinson wrote in the book was at the start of this chapter: “Creating a culture of innovation will only work if the initiative is led from the top of the organization” (p.119). This is so true! I will discuss the principles using either the classroom context (for grades 3-4-5 Art) or the personal context depending on which one I feel I can realistically implement.
Principle 1: Everyone has creative potential. I could not be an art teacher if I did not believe this. There are myriad ways to nurture individual creative potential, and the first one is to build an environment of trust and openness. I feel like my students are so locked-down in their classrooms, and I give them the chance to make choices: they choose their seats; they can choose the subject matter, sometimes even the media for a certain project (with a tight budget, there are constraints there). I also believe that nurturing creative potential means empowering my students. To that end, I encourage students to bring items or reference from home to add to their artwork. Another idea that I have been flirting with is to let students design their own projects more often. Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) somewhat addresses some of the classroom management that would be involved; it would be a daunting management issue for 660 students. I already have a TAB center for computer arts, one for research, and one for A.T.C.’s (Artists’ Trading Cards).  I am thinking about trying to add more TAB options (i.e. more discovery learning) to replace one or two projects a year, per grade level.

Principle 2: Innovation is the child of imagination. Basically, I take this to mean that you need to foster imagination in the classroom as a stepping- stone to innovation. Most certainly, the current educational climate does not foster imagination for teachers or most students in core subjects (standards, testing, rankings and high-stakes evaluations are key culprits here). Imagination is such a fragile thing. I wrote about it in assignment 8, particularly how I think students start to abandon their imaginative ways as a way to fit in and seem older. The art classroom should be a refuge for the imagination. I think that having students step outside of their comfort zone on projects is part of the equation, and also letting them play/experiment with the media. One of the things that I need to do less of is having examples. Some students need them, in fact, their I.E.P. might mandate something like “chunked examples”, but that does not mean I have to have them out all the time. Use of stories is another great way to spark imagination, as is unusual juxtapositions (like making a garment from duct tape, although that is so common now). I also like to use visualization techniques with my students. One I have tried is “A Beautiful Thought”, where students meditate on something that makes them happy before we start making art. I think I could do something more with this, with funny/creative prompts to spark their imaginations.
Principle 3: We can all learn to be more creative. I am going to address this personally, because you have to lead by example on this. Most students expect that I am the last word on what is creative or how to be creative. Many teachers on my staff have pretty much said as much to me (e.g. “You are the creative person”). I am pretty good at knowing when my creative low is fast approaching, and this past year was about as low creatively as I have ever gotten. Just saying you are going to make more art, or experiment more just does not cut it. I like to share with my students how I am challenging myself creatively (e.g. the second year of my “365 Challenge”- http://lgirbino.wordpress.com), and I know that I will be sharing things that I am learning from this class. For me, the hardest part is saying “No” to stuff, but I made a real commitment to myself creatively when I dug deep on things that just killed me last year. Things I cannot control: health issues or my teaching schedule. Things I can control: backing off from extra commitments that have nothing to do with art, teaching art, being a mother, being a wife, or pursuing creative challenges. Learning to be more creative is not linear, and you have to be willing to embrace that.

Principle 4: Creativity thrives on diversity. I take this to mean a diversity of experiences as well as a diversity of people. In the art classroom, that involves changing things around: different projects each year, different instructional methods, and different modalities of learning (e.g. kinesthetic, auditory, spatial, experiential, experimental). I talked about “design thinking” in the last assignment, and that interdisciplinary method of approaching ideation/prototype/revise/repeat is perfect for the art classroom! Students who see themselves as perfect little artists sometimes crowd out the disenfranchised students, but design thinking in the classroom is collaborative, freewheeling, and puts every student in a position to attack more complex problems. I also would like to add more students as co-teachers on certain projects. It is very powerful to have students peer coach. One lesson I am going to try is designing Minecraft “skins” in Photoshop (as a TAB center). I know that there will be a lot of Minecraft experts in every class.  
Principle 5: Creativity loves collaboration. I feel like I covered some collaborative classroom strategies I could implement in the “diversity” piece (above). I am going to outline ideas about professional creative growth via collaboration. I almost feel like professional growth is creative growth for me. I love collaborating with teachers, but push for that creative angle. So, instead of just having students design characters for an online program, I try to have both classes meet together and brainstorm (even though that means giving up my lunch and staying after school). I try to let other classroom teachers put out their vision, then I get the chance to add the creative “wow” factor.  Collaborating in this way challenges me, and when I am challenged to try new things, I usually am my most creative. Students get a real kick out of knowing certain teachers are working together.
I do have a very cool example of a classroom collaboration that my Art Club does, and it arose out of an international collaboration of art teachers, “Rotoball”- http://carrotrevolution.blogspot.com/2014/02/rotoball-2014.html).
Each student works in a team to create stop-motion sequences depicting a ball moving across the screen. My students choose what they want to do, and we have Rotoscoped, done clay animations, paper puppet animations, and even a sand animation (yeah, that one was not great, but it looked cool). Then, these fifteen-second animations are uploaded from all over the world and compiled into one movie. It is incredible!
My most recent collaborative class project, just completed this summer, was a triptych clay tile mural on the theme of “community”. I wrote a grant to partially cover the supplies, and all of my fourth graders made clay relief tiles. I have never done a tile mural of more than thirty clay tiles. This mural was two hundred and ten tiles! I would like to try for more community/classroom partnerships as an additional way to enhance collaboration.

Principle 6: Creativity takes time. Once again, if you read the projects I described in principle five, they took most of the school year. Creativity takes time because it is messy, and you are going to make mistakes, and finally, the most exciting creative growth experiences evolve as the result of building relationships. It takes time to build relationships with students. It takes even more time to build relationships with other teachers (especially if you do not have common planning time and almost never see each other). Things cannot be forced. Strategies to support creativity in terms of time: a) be patient; b) forgive yourself if things don’t work out and move on; c) think “big picture”; d) be flexible.
Principle 7: Creative cultures are supple. I am going to go with “supple” as meaning “readily adaptable or responsive to new situations” (Merriam-Webster dictionary online). I cannot really say that most educational institutions are supple, so I am going to go into how to make an art classroom more “supple”. For one thing, you have to be willing to bag a project if it is not going anywhere. Conversely, letting things play out longer than anticipated is warranted if students are really into it. Scheduling is always a challenge with holidays, field trips, testing weeks, calamity days. A good teacher just has to adapt by adjusting the lesson (e.g. level of completion, depth of investigation). Ken Robinson talks about how CEOs changed their leadership roles to be suppler, which involved delegation and collaboration (Pixar, IDEO, Google) (p.239). I have started to delegate more tasks in my classroom, using a game-ification format. I need to embed that into more of the classroom culture.
Principle 8: Creative cultures are inquiring. As a teacher, you need to be more inquisitive about your pedagogy and your classroom methods if you want to grow professionally. There is significant support for that premise institutionally. How can a teacher promote a more inquiring classroom culture, though? You need to be respectful of differences: differences of opinion, differences in approaching a project, personality differences. Students will not be comfortable asking questions and making deep inquiries into the subject matter if they feel uncomfortable. I think that out of all the principles, this is the one that I could be more explicit about with my students. I need to tell them, right out front, that we will be embracing trial and error.  The European trust manager tried to balance directness and openness with listening and considering other viewpoints (p.241). I need to be more of a listener with my students (it can be exasperating at times), as well as help them consider other viewpoints.
Principle 9: Creative cultures need creative spaces. Okay, the art room is the best room in my school in my opinion! I have pictures everywhere, a mobile that hangs from the ceiling even though the fire marshal gives me the stink eye every year, an art reference library, computer table, and a “bin case” full of supplies for free draws. I have great art that students give me hanging by my desk. I wish I could paint the walls or ceiling tiles, or haul in a comfy chair for a quiet reading corner (all forbidden). As the year progresses, every surface and shelf will be bulging with creative projects. My tables and desk are arranged according to feng shui principles. Then, you go down the hall. Classrooms are decorated sometimes, but mostly for “Word Walls” and instructional posters, the desks are in arrays. I think the most creative school spaces are in Montessori schools. Those environments exhibit some of the following characteristics: a) an arrangement that facilitates movement and activity; b) beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment; c) construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs (source: http://wonderfullybalanced.com/?p=1641). I have seen gorgeous pictures of Montessori classrooms with tons of windows, arrangements of unusual and compelling materials for students to investigate. Those classrooms look so different from even the nicest public school buildings. In some ways, a Montessori classroom looks like a very expansive art room! http://www.public-montessori.org/sites/default/files/sd-classroon.jpg

Creative spaces are eclectic and reflect the people or person working in them. They should be colorful and light filled. There is a reason the school tours always stop in my art room---it looks fun!
    Action Plan for ways to personalize learning for my students:
1) Makers Lab: This is an idea that has a lot of traction nationally and our district initiated one at the high school level. In some ways it is like shop class on steroids. A great resource is here- http://makerspace.com
    Our high school Makers Lab is primarily a computer center with connections to community think tanks. Students used to do it during their free time, but now the district has allowed them to get credit for their work with a credit flexibility program. They designed “The Minecraft Experience” for the upper elementary students, do robotics, and are also doing multiple student-driven research projects. In my upper elementary school, I proposed turning our science lab (we used to have a full time science teacher but the position was cut due to budget constraints and our lab is underutilized) into a Makers Lab, but the idea was turned down. Now, I am thinking of ways to turning a corner of my (already cramped) art room into a Makers space. In some ways, all the clubs I run do some sort of “making” (Broadcast Studio, Art Club, Newspaper Club blog). The first step would be connecting with the local engineering company that donated a huge amount of funds to my art program last year. I think they would be very interested in supporting a few more things. Plus, I think the PTO would be helpful. I would need Legos, balsa wood, wood glue, hammers, nails, scrap lumber, a task light, safety goggles, and tinkering cast-offs (e.g. small wheels, nuts/bolts, rubber bands, etc.). I have a planning period at the end of the day, and I could see the Makers Lab as something that could be utilized during that time. Ideally, a parent volunteer or high school student could run it.

2) Game-ification: I read this amazing book last year, The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon (http://www.amazon.com/The-Multiplayer-Classroom-Designing-Coursework/dp/1435458443). The idea is that you structure your learning experiences as a game. John Hunter’s “World Peace Game” is a perfect example of that. Lee Sheldon’s experience is as a Hollywood producer and game designer, so the book explains how to “level” classroom experiences like a video game. He is now a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has some very original ideas on grading, too, such as everyone starts out with a zero and has to work to level up. Obviously, a lot of this would be hard to implement at the elementary level, but I did “game-ify” my class tasks last year and that worked out really well. This year, I want to try “game-ifying” at least one project. An example for a regular classroom: “Gamification projects offer the opportunity to experiment with rules, emotions, and social roles. Read an optional library book on the topic being taught in class? Receive “Reading” points. Get perfect attendance and complete all homework assignments on time for a month? Earn an “On Target“ badge. Get assigned as a “Lead Detective” role in science class? Work hard to ask the best questions. When playing by these rules, students develop new frameworks for understanding their school-based activities. As suggested by Leblanc (2006), this can motivate students to participate more deeply and even to change their self-concept as learners.” (cite: http://www.gamifyingeducation.org/files/Lee-Hammer-AEQ-2011.pdf).
     I think the easiest way to get my students started is with creating an “experience points” system for drawing. I envision a game board they could move across with tokens as they level through drawing tasks. As I am writing this, I am getting so excited that I know what I will be working on when this class is over! The ideal situation is turning the whole curriculum into a meta-game run by the students, but just like John Hunter, I better start small and let things evolve organically.
 3) TAB Centers: Teaching for Artistic Behaviors is a pedagogical movement that truly uses personalized learning as the students have choices about what they would be doing and when. I am not fully onboard with this concept for a variety of reasons including budget, hitting the standards, and my belief that some students would really dislike the concept. Still, I have created some TAB centers in my art room (computer, research/reading, and A.T.C.’s) that have been well received. Also, I think that there would be a negative perception of the art program, in general, if everything was just centers that students rotated through. The best way to personalize the learning without driving myself crazy trying to keep track of who is doing what and when (220 students per grade level with three grades to teach and grade) would be to offer a TAB option to my students to replace a project they do not like (“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”, John Lydgate). Actually, I found a great resource from AOE entitled, “Yes, You Can Write a Tab Lesson Plan”- http://www.theartofed.com/2014/07/16/yes-you-can-write-a-tab-lesson-plan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yes-you-can-write-a-tab-lesson-plan&mc_cid=91b7f5ae7e&mc_eid=8e882b9c10). I think that “collage” would be a great TAB center that would be easy to implement using TAB principles as a student-selected project substitute. I love Pinterest for finding meta-collections of resources, and a really nice one on TAB is http://www.pinterest.com/boltpost/teaching-for-artistic-behavior-tab/). A collage center could even be “gamed” with students building up experience points if they hit the center more than once, which would also solve the “I’m done, what do I do now?” problem. I would not have a budget problem since collage uses up the scraps of everything I always have after my regular projects. I need to start on the TAB resources now, getting the project requirements in a format I could laminate and ready to introduce. I found a “Wow” or “not Wow” resource I like a lot for this, which gives the students non-judgmental requirements that could fit most self-directed projects they might explore.  

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