“Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Sir Ken Robinson
I was a general classroom teacher for 15 years before specialising. Yet I can honestly say I never taught any of my students to read in all that time.
There simply aren’t enough hours in a teaching year for merely teaching skills to mastery. Students need miles upon miles of mileage to truly master reading. And by that I don’t mean decoding text. I mean reading for meaning.
Instead what I aimed to do was inspire. Inspire a love for words, phrases, unpacking an author’s point of view and predicting a reader’s inference.
By unlocking the code of reading for meaning, students’ thirst for adventure, for knowledge, for losing themselves in imaginary worlds, drives them to pursue reading independently. To seek out genres that they personally find engaging and fulfilling. The growth in my students reading levels across the learning year, was staggering.
Six years ago, I specialised in teaching visual art and digital media across kindergarten to Year 6 (ages 4-11). Again, I applied the same methods. As a specialist you may see every student in the school but for very little time. Personally, I may see a student for 18 periods a year. Hardly enough time to scratch the surface of all the possible skills that live within these subject.
So I modelled my approach on the way that I used to teach reading.
My aim is to awaken a love for creating.
I see my role as establishing the context and providing the support for students, that inspires them along the path of personal exploration/s and to build their confidence for self expression and communication through a visual medium.
Once they experience that intrinsic satisfaction unique to a creative experience, they are hooked.
For me the true test of whether this method works is not the work produced in class, often skill based explorations due to minimal time and curriculum goals. It’s the independent self directed work that students take on beyond the art room - the creativity they apply to classroom work or home based pursuits. It’s the parent who tells me about how their child won’t let them go past a stationery or art supply store without buying something or asking for solutions to store the growing piles of artwork at home. It’s the child that is conceiving, prototyping, creating and making solutions to everyday problems. It’s the child that sees such problems as opportunities to be innovative.
Visual Art is not a stand alone subject, only to be taught in specialist art lessons. It is a transdisciplinary way of thinking that can positively influence all aspects of our students’ lives. Visual Art is not about making pretty pictures to hang in the school corridors. Far more important and useful is the thinking that come before the product.
A final product has one use but the soft skills developed during the creative process are what makes Visual Art an essential area of learning for students.
Art with Mea
IG: timea_oneteachersjourney, artwithmea
Recently I read a post on a Facebook group that stopped my scrolling thumb in its tracks. And the responses that followed from other teachers concerned me even more.
The post slammed the timeless imagery in children’s artworks, calling these elements trite and cliche. Then asked for support from the Facebook community to agree - and many did, further adding their own particular frustrations to the list.
So what was this teacher referring to and what was the glaring 'hole' in her point of view?
When you think of children’s art, what are the images that spring immediately to mind? I’ll bet these include rainbows, hearts, corner suns, ’tadpole’ people, perhaps a unicorn. Teachers expressed frustration at seeing these childhood elements in their student’s work, year in and year out.
Delving a little deeper, one could see that the writer of the post was experiencing frustration, trying to board the ‘differentiation movement’ bus, exploring teaching methodologies based in *TAB principals and recently offering more choice based centres to her students. She was disappointed when the independent work produced did not approximate the standards that she was used to achieving with teacher directed projects.
The ‘hole’ here is a clear understanding of **adult vs child aesthetics. There is a vast chasm between what adults would judge as aesthetically pleasing, and that which children do. Eyes of teachers and parents have also been fooled for decades by the adult designed, reproduction art factory that has been passing as art education for several decades now.
Art is about communication.
Your ideas, thoughts, feelings, what you value and how you wish to impact others.
Everything that an artist does, references something about them. Hearts, corner suns, rainbows, unicorns, a line of blue painted across the top of the page for sky and those strange looking eyes with two light spots are all part of developmental phases that young artists go through.
The reason teachers see these elements on repeat is because - hello - we teach the same age groups year in and year out. We need to allow young artists to go through these developmental phases , just as we did at that age, and support them to move on, as and when they are ready to do so.
The next time a student paints the blue sky stripe, step outside with them and ask them what they see when they look at the sky colour, where does it start and stop, does it touch the buildings or grass, then compare it to their own work and make adjustments that they (not you) noticed / learned.
When they draw a corner sun, respond positively - they noticed there is a sun in the sky and they are trying to communicate that their picture is about daytime. Perhaps run a workshop on the many ways artists show suns in their work, or the positions within your picture where the sun can be located, based on the time of the day. Take students outside with view finders so they can see that the sun is usually too high in the sky to be included in the frame of their picture.
Allow children to learn through discovery.
While we as teachers may see these elements on repeat, year in and year out, for each young artist these representations and explorations in self-expression, are new.
Don’t rush children through their childhood to meet adult aesthetic expectations sooner than they need to.
Instead, appreciate that they are expressing joy and understanding of the world around them through these elements, and look for opportunities to inspire individual growth.
Art with Mea
IG: timea_oneteachersjourney, artwithmea
Artwork created by 5 & 6 year olds in my art room
*TAB website https://teachingforartisticbehavior.org/index.html
**child v. adult aesthetics in visual art
In visual arts education, educators can sometimes place more importance on art media and technique, with teachers consequently limiting and hindering a child’s creativity processes with adult-imposed goals or agendas (Plows, 2014; Vecchi, 2010; McWilliams, Brailsford Vaughns, O’Hara, Novotny & Kyle, 2014).
Parent, educator or school-based achievement learning agendas in the arts must be discouraged.
Jenson, K. (2018). Early childhood: Learning through visual art. He Kupu, 5 (3), 75-82. Available at https://www.hekupu.ac.nz/article/early-childhood-learning-through-visual-art
Art Lesson Link - exploring suns
Click the button below to be taken to our lesson plan SUMMER SPARKLE. One of the developments that it promotes is to celebrate those corner suns and modify them through the lens of an artist. These examples were created by 6 year olds in my art room.
Thoughts on Teaching
Stuck for ideas? Grab a cup of tea, put your feet up and settle in to read my teaching blog focused on all matters in teaching and Visual Art.