Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Seattle Part 2: Play, Creativity

I just saw that I started writing a summary of some of the talks that stood out to me from the Seattle NAEA Convention way back in March but for some reason never posted it. Better late than never I guess. There were lots of other talks that I wanted to touch on so perhaps when I get some time I'll go back and add them.


The following are some of the highlights / takeaways from noteworthy presentations at the 2011 NAEA National Convention in Seattle. Creativity and play were consistent themes that I noticed in several of this year's presentations. Along those lines, quite a few talks dealt with the restrictions we place on student work. After attending these past two conventions, I've found that I've expanded my thinking on what subject matter / ideas students are "allowed" to work with. When I first started teaching, I was inclined to have them stay away from controversial subject matter or outlandish ideas. More and more often, though, I've found myself asking why not. And so I've tried to let students pursue many of those ideas to see where it takes them. That being said, I'm probably still somewhere in the middle - not quite going so far as some of the presenters (who suggest total freedom and discuss art as a healthy way of dealing with difficult topics such as violence, sexuality, etc.)

Creating Early Childhood Environments to Support Creativity & Imagination - This was a panel of presentations but Pat Tarr gave a particularly great talk on how to promote student exploration, inquiry, creativity, etc. She suggests organizing a large variety of different materials to create a rich environment that promotes discovery, interaction, multi-sensory experiences, kinesthetic experiences, exploration, wonder, inquiry... and to provide opportunities for students to really engage in the exploration of materials. She describes the teacher's role in modeling a sense of wonder, taking an open ended approach, a sense of what if?, and ability to carefully listen to students. All too often, too many restrictions are placed on students' creativity and with this talk, she encourages teachers to "say yes."

This panel made many connections with the TAB approach, which, coincidentally is what I went to see next.

Play and Collaboration in the Choice Based Studio - Kathy Douglas
Teaching Artistic Behaviors (TAB)

I found Kathy's talk at last year's convention to be very compelling and so I checked in once again. She didn't disappoint.

For those that don't know, the basic concept of TAB is to encourage a student directed art room where students are truly intrinsically motivated and use a wide range of materials (of their choice) to complete projects (also of their choice). TAB teachers set up stations around the room and introduce (open) them by going through various techniques, proper care of materials, relevant ideas, etc. Instructions / inspiration are also posted and supplied for each center.

List of "centers"  - chalkboard, puppet, architecture / construction / blocks, sculpture, drawing, photography, paint, fibers.

A nice quote: "children discover their gifts... we don't tell them... all we have to do is notice it and applaud it." This is really meaningful as I think a big part of the reason I ended up developing my creative talents and pursuing the arts was because I had this kind of support - someone to recognize and applaud. I try to do this as much as I can in my own practice as I think it can be extremely important for young people.

She also makes a point that not all work should be intended for exhibition. Much of the work is an experimentation and aesthetically, not that pleasing. She has students self assess the quality of their work and choose what they would like to exhibit. She always has them write artist statements to accompany their work. Assessing students, one of the things she looks for is if students are applying what they've learned to new situations (which they are constantly).

All together, she makes a compelling case for having less structure and more opportunities for students to take a central role in directing their own learning, and to really explore the materials. Giving (early childhood) students opportunities to play seemed to be one of the underlying themes of many workshops in this convention. The presenters made the case that this is important in developing creative thinking, developing social abilities, language, etc.

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