Prepared for April 3, 2006 - © Marvin Bartel
If these responses miss the question, please feel free to send a follow-up question for clarification. Contact me here
It was a pleasure to see all the creative work at the College for Creative Studies and to meet with you on April 3 and 4. Since there was not enough time to cover all your good questions, I am sending along a copy of a few thoughts in response to your good questioins. Please excuse my typos (feel free to send me corrections), and send me your ideas and questions about teaching.
Self-motivation vs. Teacher-motivation
Children's creative endeavors should be self-initiated, but can and how would you spur these endeavors without taking away their self-initiation? --Jillian, Mukhiseenah, and Lesley
This is an excellent question because it highlights a very common misunderstanding about education. Last week I visited an exhibition of Joseph Albers paintings in London the Tate Modern. Albers was an art teacher at the Bauhaus in prewar Germany and eventually ended up teaching color theory and painting at Yale. He is best known for his minimalist color studies of the square within a square. Many art schools still use his books on color theory.
On the wall of the exhibition, Albers is quoted:
“The school should nurture the individual possibly without disturbing personal development.”
“School should allow a lot to be learned, that is to say that it should teach little.”
“Learning is better than teaching because it is more intense: the more is being taught, the less can be learned.”
“In the end all education is self education.”
“All knowledge, theoretical or practical is deadwood when it does not result in a positive attitude proved by action.”
So, if he believed these truths, why was he being paid as a teacher at Yale? Why should we have schools?
For most students, self-education does not potentiate without a teacher. The good teacher or parent is a director of self-educational management. Teachers who teach students to think creatively to form habits of thinking and construct knowledge for themselves are not instructing in the traditional sense of relaying established truths of experts. They are managing a learning environment that fosters the imagination and scenario forming methods that can self-test many choices. They will often ask, “How many ways do you want to try this before you decide the best way to do it? They will purposely allow harmless mistakes to happen because the immense self-instructional benefits of mistakes. These self-educational managers will constantly ask for comparisons and choices.
We spur creative endeavors by the thinking habits we reward and penalize. Do we clarify that we expect student choice and student initiated projects? Are we teaching our students the methods of formulating and developing new ideas? Do we teach them how to use the thinking and the experimental methods that we know are used by the top artists when selecting their themes, subjects, and topics? Do we teach them how to use the thinking and experimental methods used by the top artists to figure out how to materialize their ideas into visual objects with feeling and meaning? This is not showing them the works, but it is explaining artistic thinking and experimental processes used. For them to see what the artist came up with, we can take some time to study the famous exemplars after the students complete their own thinking, creative work, and critiques.
Are we guilty of accepting or even encouraging clichés or even stereotypes? How much do we reward and affirm experimentation or do we simply give answers when we are asked for advice? Do we construct our tests to expect creative and innovative responses?
Why Teach with Questions
In your article "Encouraging Creative Thinking with Awareness Questions," what would you say are the pros and cons of using this strategy? --Wladimir K
To give expert answers is the fastest way to create dependency and train citizens for totalitarian regimes, fascist governments, theocracies, and dictatorships. It trains us to depend on experts to think for us. When we teach with questions, we encourage multiple correct answers, we encourage tolerance for a variety of approaches, we learn the richness of diversity, we teach self-reliance, and we support and help students move through their mistakes without solving their problems for them.
Showing Examples and Demos
In your essay about creativity crushers you state that you do not believe in showing examples or doing demonstrations. I work in a classroom of children who deal with many learning, emotional, and visual disabilities. I find that if I do not show some sort of example or demonstrate some basic techniques, they will not connect to the idea of the lesson. They will repeatedly ask what I mean and do not except the freedom to do whatever they think is the right answer. They may even become frustrated or confused and therefore become turned off. What is your opinion on this situation or do you have any suggestions? --Anne R.
The Match – how to make the easy stuff harder and hard stuff easier & Special Needs
Do you specifically try to gauge the "level" of a class to tailor your lessons to their abilities? If so, how so? --Mario C
How do you know when you're pushing your students enough? --Mario C
I have not noticed much accommodation for special needs students. How do you accommodate your lessons for them? Do have any essays regarding this? --Anne R.
This is not easy because so many ability levels are placed together in the same classroom. In my opinion, there might be several approaches. Every person can be helped to practice some kind of simple skill. Then, using that new skill, they can create something familiar from their own experience, observation, or imagination.
If we understand the developmental stages, we often find that when we approach each student according to their developmental stage, they are more apt to respond creatively because the difficulty level is more appropriate. Our motivational questions need to correspond to their developmental level. We know quite well how to motivate creativity in a first grader without showing examples. If a student is nine, but operating at a mental age of six, we can often jumpstart the mind by using some of the same approaches that jumpstart a mind at age six.
Some of this is task dependent. We need to find authentic ways for children of every developmental level to get a learning toehold and start to climb out of their hole. To show them the answers in order for them to appear to be accomplishing something similar to other children risks increasing what some would call “learned helplessness” because it continues their dependence on somebody else’s answer.
For example, children with disabilities can often do blind contour drawing if it approached in a very deliberate and simple step-by-step manner. I start by going over to the thing, animal or person being observed and tracing my finger on along the edge of it, moving the speed of an ant. Then the child may be asked to do the same tactile action. Next we move back and we I draw it in the air, and they do the same. Finally, with a blinder on the pencil, I ask them to do it on the paper as practice. Using a blinder helper on their pencils trains the mind to see the edges of the thing being observed instead of constantly looking down at the paper. Sometimes they are allowed to look under the paper when starting a new line. Sometimes I think it works best if they are encouraged to simply draw a jumble of practice lines until they get used to drawing each line, but not worry about making a whole shape. Once they feel confident with each line, they will not hesitate to attempt the whole shape.
Children that have never made a realistic drawing are often surprised at themselves. I have seen first and second graders playing school and by showing their friends how the use the blinder for drawing practice.
TUTORS AND PEER TEACHING Some teachers are able to use more advanced students as tutors for the slower students. This may take some tutoring of the tutoring. They need to learn how to use questions rather than show. In many cases it is a matter of repeating the question in another way or a matter of several experiments. This takes more time than the teacher has, but advanced students may be willing to do it. If they do, they will learn many valuable things themselves. In my teaching, I constantly looked for ways to use peer teaching for every possible routine teaching task in order free my time for the most difficult and challenging encounters. I recall one student evaluation that said, “I really learned a lot this term from Tom, but nearly nothing from Marvin.” I loved this evaluation because it matched my intentions.
As a student teacher, I worked with Harry Nelson in drawing and painting and with Fabian Wolfe in jewelry and crafts classes at Topeka High School in Topeka, KS. They were both highly successful experienced art teachers. Mr. Nelson started every lesson by showing a series of successful examples of what he wanted done. Mrs. Wolfe started every lesson by having the student make a large number of small sketches of ideas for what they were going to make. When I started teaching, I simply copied both of them. It probably took me 15 years, with the help of graduate study of creativity research before I could begin to comprehend and understand my own teaching and what I was doing to the minds of my students.
I have always been very ambivalent about working on my own work in the classroom. I often talk about how I think while I work. I think there should be an exhibition of the teacher’s best work in the school on periodic basis to show that the teacher is an active artist. The teacher should explain her or his thinking processes used to create the work on exhibition in the school.
Near the end of every semester, I have generally brought my students to my house and studio. There we discuss similar topics and they see an artist's home and how art impacts the artist's home.
I sometimes work on something in the classroom. Clay is my primary area, so I have sometimes had something going on that required a skill level that was far beyond what any student was capable of doing. I wanted them to see me struggling to accomplish something that was beyond easy for me.
What are the things that differentiate a good and not so good art teacher? --Nicole P
To me, good art teachers are those who inspire students to be creative and think critically about art and any other question. They share the secrets of how art skills are learned and how to become more creative, how artists think, how the imagination works, and how good choices are made in the absence of rules.
How do you teach a student to be more open minded and creative if they are not an imaginative person to begin with? –Micki D
How can we as teachers begin to change the thinking habits of our students? –Micki D
These are important questions. This page has some ideas on how to teach the generation of ideas for art. You will recognize methods that some your own art teachers may be using.
Some students would be perfectly content to have us give them coloring books or paint by number canvases rather than blank paper or canvases. They may come from family traditions that use very use very rigid rules rather than choices. Their parents may tell them to never question or doubt authority. This may extend to their politics, their religion, their feelings about other races/nationalities, and so on. They may feel insecure about anything new or different. Studies show that many working class families teach their children to be suspicious of educated people. Many working class parents feel that homework is wrong. They do their work at work, not at home. These children never see their parents bring work home in a briefcase or a laptop computer. Studies of the culture of poverty show us that poverty is largely based on closed-minded imitative patterns and attitudes that are passed from parents to their children.
It is not only a problem for working class and the poverty class. One of the most closed-minded college students I ever had was the daughter of physician. She was extremely offended when I was not willing to demonstrate a simple process or show her example of what she should do. She was an elementary education major who was required to take an elementary art methods class. Her own elementary art experiences had been based on following the steps of the projects in order to achieve a given end product. Her family had enjoyed doing “art” projects together that always “succeeded” because they followed patterns. One of reasons she hated my way of teaching was because she really hated to make mistakes. She said, “I am an A student. I do not make mistakes.” Even though I had told the class that their artwork would all receive an A so long as they completed it and her grade was based on other learning, she still felt very threatened by having to work from her own observations, experiences, and imagination.
I discussed this with my son, David. He is a molecular biologist on the MIT faculty. He supervises a group of post-doctoral scientists and graduate students who work in his lab looking for ways to explain the way our cells operate. He says that researchers in his laboratory come to him with questions and expect him to give them an expert answer. He feels that it is more important for them to look at the options and be able to think of many ways to proceed. He often takes their question and makes into several additional questions and asks them to develop theories. He says that some of them become annoyed with him.
All their science education has been based on convergent thinking. At every turn, they followed the advice of an expert, but now suddenly they have come to cutting edge of the scientific world and there are no more solid answers. They are at MIT—this is now the place that is writing patents on life itself, and these folks are not prepared to suddenly change back to a thinking style that they abandoned in first grade. All through school they were taught strict lab procedures and were very good at acquiring facts. They failed to learn the ability to question every assumption. They have lost the ability to do divergent thinking. They have lost their imaginations. Many come as the top student from a country where they are exclusively trained by drill and rote. Even their elementary art classes had them follow the teacher’s example exactly.
There are very few five year olds that are already unimaginative, although it does happen. At five we expect to make many mistakes. At five we stumble. We fall down. We skin our knees, but we jump back up. Gradually, we learn to be more careful.
Once we loose the freedom to imagine—to ask, WHAT IT IF I DO THIS, OR THAT—that is the day we become slaves and subjects. True citizens of any community are those who can imagine many alternate scenarios to their current life and the current world. What if we teach them by using open questions? What if we teach them by asking them to make choices? What if we coach them into setting up comparison scenarios?
Student response to being taught creativity
What positive and/or negative feedback did you get from students who were encouraged to think creatively? --Wladimir K
I already told you about the doctor’s daughter that got really mad at me. I had another student who was also an elementary education major who found my methods very confusing. I believe his father was pastor. About mid-term, we happened to walking across campus together one day and he said, “Marvin, I think I am starting to figure out what you want us to do. You want us to think for ourselves.” I nearly fell down and skinned my knee.
I cannot simply give art materials to students and tell them to do whatever they feel like doing. That is the fastest way to loss your teaching job. When I teach art, my assignments have a whole bunch of limits and requirements. However, they always require that the key aspect of the work to be individually developed by the individual student. The assignment often includes an elaborate set of procedures or instructions that outlines a process to use to develop the individual creative and imaginative idea to go along with strictly defined project. Everybody has an immediate place to start, but no two people are ever allowed to end up at the same place. (search Google for personal clay box bartel, for an example lesson)
For me, the best way to avoid the negative feedback for teaching imaginative thinking is for me to be very proactive in providing a lot of strong skill training, lots of sensory stimulation, lots of visual information from real life, lots of technical information, and a lot of highly structured task requirements. I think we need a very strong curriculum that includes a lot of knowledge about art and a lot of very good skill and practice routines.
I always give tests in art classes because some students have great respect for anything that can be tested—but here is the kicker. You can test creativity with tests if you want to. Generally, I have depended on the studio work for the creativity and major portion of the grade in my art studio classes, but students needed to study the informational knowledge content of the course in order to do well in the tests. As we move through a course I tend to turn more and more of the assignment writing over to the students themselves. Advanced students often do all their own assignment planning.
As for feedback on learning to use their imaginations, I often hear from students years later. Many are not artists, but they are still thinking about the way they learned to trust their own ideas and imaginations. In nearly ever course I spend some time explaining the traits of highly creative people, how they think, and so on.
I still need to write this essay.
Scientific method and divergent thinking
Can you elaborate on how the use of the scientific method plays a part in creating divergent thinking? --Wladimir K
In art, we can ask students to invent experiments to help them make choices instead of giving them suggestions when they ask advice about their artwork in process. This is the scientific method. When we place some green next to another color and compare it with placing blue next to the same color, we are being scientific in order to make a better choice.
It may not seem obvious to say science and divergent thinking are similar, but this is only because scientific thinking is seldom taught in science classes. Science teachers may not realize how to teach the thinking methods of a Nobel Laureate scientist. Teachers present science as a bunch of information and conclusions derived from experts. This is not learning scientific thought processes, it is the opposite of scientific thinking. Even laboratory “experiments” have a preconceived outcome. They do not teach science, they only teach you how to follow directions. If you get an original result, it just means you failed.
In science, the practitioner is a detective trying to solve an unsolved mystery. Einstein said that the imagination is far more important than intelligence. Imagination provides the questions. How does a sunflower know to turn its head to the east in the morning and to west later in the day? Okay, the experts know some of the mechanisms involved. We can observe cells elongating to turn the leaves and flowers toward light, but how does the plant send these messages from its own leaf cells to its stem cells? When seeds sprout, why do the roots go down and the leaves come up?
This website exemplifies science instruction. It has a common hands-on science activity that confirms prior known facts about the way plants grow. Like many art lessons, it is fun, feels like learning (it is learning), but does not ask for any new questions. It is not actually science--it is about science. Many art lessons are about art--they are not art.
If a science lesson taught children to ask new questions, it would certainly never start by telling students the known facts before they do the experiment that answers the question. Good thinking could be encouraged by not giving the answers in advance. Once they experimentally discover the known facts the students should also be encouraged to earn extra credit for being able to pose new questions that do not have known answers.
When I was younger, I enjoyed inventing many things. Of course I often discovered that somebody else had already invented it--still, I learned how to invent. In my artwork it also seemed like everything had already been done by other artists. It was discouraging, but it was still good fun and I learned to think about cause and effect. At one point I was sure I had invented a new package fold to provide new way to close a cereal box, but a patent search proved it was already invented. After the 1970's energy crisis I invented an energy efficient pottery kiln and patented it. It had not yet been invented. The kiln is fully described in the Sept., 1990 issue of Ceramics Monthly. Experienced kiln builders told me it would not work. My kiln has been functioning fine since 1975.
I never had an art teacher prior to college, but my high school metal shop teacher, Bill Smith, trusted us and coached us to invent our own projects. We each build major pieces one-of-a-kind functional of farm machinery in grades 9, 10, and 11.
Science Example: What if children plant radish seeds in different positions to see which direction the roots grow. We do not tell them what to expect, but they have to make three a guesses as to what might happen. They then find that the roots always will grow down, but they do not know why. What might a new question be? At this point, you (the children) should write new questions and guess the possible answers to the questions (maybe because the roots respond to gravity, maybe they grow away from the light, or maybe there is another reason). (see end of this paper to see two new radish seed questions 1) See if they can design a new experiment to figure out why the roots in the first experiment went down.
A divergent thinking scientist develops or stumbles on a new theory, guess, or hunch, and then has to find out by experimentation whether or not her theory or guess is likely to be true or false. Unless you are good at divergent thinking, you are not apt to think of any new questions, theories, or educated guesses as to why something in science works the way it does. Traditional teaching in science often fails to teach much about divergent thinking. Art classes, on the other hand, can be rooted in the practice of divergent thinking because creativity is central to the artistic process.
If an art teacher or a science teacher can encourage students to probe into their own experiences and even their own mental abyss (emptiness), looking for questions, and looking for ways to test answers to these questions; this art, science, or social science teacher is encouraging creativity, risk taking, divergent thinking, and the scientific method. This is the way artists and scientists solve mysteries and uncover the unknown truths of our universe.
Our own children David, Bonnie, and Beth had average art teachers in school. At home they were always provided with many art materials for drawing, painting, and clay work; but were never given coloring books, patterns, or art examples. We often visited art museums. When very young, they were encouraged to color within their own lines--never those of an adult. None of them became visual artists as a career, but they are outstandingly creative in their own fields. They see new possibilites and scenarios. They publish numerous findings. Beth Bartel earns her living as a writer. David and Bonnie Bartel are both scientists at top uniuversities where they are solve the mysteries of life, making many new discoveries in molecular biology. They love having art in their homes and work places.
Art as Therapy
How important do you consider using art as a therapeutic tool within the classroom to be? How can a teacher create lesson plans to effectively integrate this into daily activity? --Leigh Ann
I think nearly every good art lesson can be therapeutic. If the essence of the work comes from the child’s observations, experiences, and imagination, it is bound to express inner feelings. During my senior year in college I had a full-time job as an orderly on the maximum-security floor of a mental hospital. In that position I sometimes got to accompany patients to their art session. There they did the same kind of things done in art classes.
Then after college during my fourth and fifth year of teaching, I was employed half time in a small college and half time as the director of arts and crafts at a community mental health center. I had just completed my masters in art education. I found that many of the best practices that worked in the classroom worked very well in the mental health setting as well. I did what I could to encourage every patient to express their feelings in their paintings and draw from their observations, experiences, and imaginations. I was never the primary therapist for any patient. I always encouraged patients to share their artwork with their talk therapists.
There are times when a child may express something very disturbing in their artwork. The art teacher may be in a position to notice issues sooner because of the personal nature of artwork. My recommendation to apprentice teachers is to always involve the school counselor when this happens. Unless we are also fully trained in art therapy, we should not take the primary responsibility for a child's therapy.
Healthy children also need art therapy. It is definitely our role to provide healthy outlets for healthy children.
No Child Left Behind??
What are your opinions about the NCLB act? Where do you believe public education is heading in response? --Leigh Ann
While I believe that is important to evaluate learning, I am troubled by wrong-minded assessment that undermines creative teaching and learning. I wish I could change one word. Instead of saying No Child Left Behind, it should say No Mind Left Behind. Teaching should be growing minds, not merely filling them, and not geared toward knowledge acquisition. When children know how to think, they create knowledge.
Instead of testing only what is known, we need to use tools to assess both convergent and divergent thinking. You all sent me questions with many correct answers. What if the NCLB assessment tools could do more than score one correct answer? What if some items were scored on the basis of how many viable answers were offered? What if some items gave more credit for the most innovative viable answers given? What if some items required the students to ask the relevant questions rather than answer the questions? What if some items asked for the opposite of the correct answer? What if some items could be answered with a drawing or a verse of poetry? Education needs to develop minds not answering machines. How would this influence the way we teach? Try for a moment to imagine what teachers in this country would be doing this summer if they had to raise their student’s scores in creativity next year. I suspect they would either be job hunting or rethinking the way they teach and rewriting lesson plans.
Google can answer virtually any knowledge question on today’s tests with a million or more sources in less than a half second. If I am a student, why should I learn answers for narrow minded tests if I can simply ask Google? What does an educated person need? Is it knowledge or a mind that knows how to think? Do we need to learn answers or how to ask questions?
QUANTITY AND QUALITY
I suppose propagation is anything that increases the amount of something, and cultivation is any thing that nurtures it, making it better. In most courses, we try to cover too many things and we do not teach quality. We need to teach less and strive for more depth, more quality. Students have the rest of their lives to learn, so if school teaches them to strive for quality, they will continue to strive for quality. Too often art teachers feel they have to continually bring new and different lessons, when they should repeat lessons until the students learn the virtues and satisfaction of mastery.
ART AND ELITISM
How do you bring expertise to the idea of artistic schooling being an elitist society? Is it still art? --William M
Every specialty is elitist to some extent, but that does not negate their value to society as a whole. I know some philosophers and ethicists that come across as elitists. I wish we had more of them that were also artists, so we could benefit more from how they think. Scientists are certainly among the elite. I believe every child should have the potential to rise to the top any elitist heap they want to work for whether it be playing hockey, playing a cello, or being a brain surgeon. Some will exploit art as a commodity for its status value and its persuasive powers for the wrong causes, but in the end, if everybody is visually literate and has learned to think, it self-corrects. If art is taught well, it nourishes our ability to think strait, practice tolerance, because it searches for truth and beauty. I believe are brains are hardwired to make us all artistic and that every child deserves the same opportunity to express themselves artistically. Everybody is born with instincts to be artistic and to respond to art.
Combining Teaching with Being an Artist
How can an educator remain an artist? --Leigh Ann
With much difficulty, but it has to happen. Every individual has to find what works. Being an artist does make me an art teacher, but if I am an art teacher, I believe I am a better art teacher if I am also an artist. In my own case, when I was teaching in public schools and had a family, I could only produce my own artwork during summer.
Being an artist has been important in at least two ways. It inspires my students and it informs my teaching theory.
Do you ever work on art in the presence of your students?
Do you think a teacher should work on art while their students work? -- Cynthia H
To inspire my students, I have made it a practice to exhibit my work in professional venues where my students will become aware of it. Near the end of every semester my classes have always met at least once at my own home and studio.
By way of informing my theory, my art making practice allows me to practice thinking through my own approached to developing and perfecting original and innovative ideas. I can then share these methods in assignments, in classroom reminders, and in recommended reading.
Sharing Learning Theory with Students
In your bird ritual lesson plan why do you teach to all the multiple intelligences (except musical) but do not educate the children about what the multiple intelligences are or how they are using them? --Lindsey S, Lisa S, Manal K
You make an excellent point. I agree that we should share whatever understanding of how we learn, what inspires us, and how our multiple intelligences are developed. I have rewritten many of my web pages to incorporate new insights and I thank you for calling it my attention. When I invented this activity, my primary inspiration came from research that showed the benefits of multi-sensory motivation. Anything we can do to add touch, taste, smell, and sound to a lesson is apt to increase the expressive quality of the work.
Crisis of Confidence
At what age group do you think a student's self-criticism starts to impair their creative abilities? --Jillian, Mukhiseenah, and Lesley
I see it at nearly every age, but it gets really universal by grade three. I was once working with a three-year-old who refused to draw. She was verbally very advanced for her age, and obviously quite smart. (tell spinning story). Most of the time this becomes serious by about the third grade when children become aware of all the mistakes in their drawings. Some call it the ‘crisis of confidence’ in art education. I believe we could avoid much of this if we were smarter about teaching the methods of learning to draw from observation drawing at a younger age. Kids are not taught how important it is to look at things carefully in order to learn to draw them. If we taught reading and writing like we teach drawing, only 10 percent of the population would learn to read. Everybody else would suffer from a crisis of confidence in reading. No teacher ever tells a student, “Oh, that’s okay, I can’t read either.” We do hear this about drawing.
In London last week, I was fortunate to see a special exhibition of original drawings from the hand of Michelangelo, 1475 – 1564. Often there was a photograph of the painting or sculpture that Michelangelo subsequently created using the ideas he developed with drawing. Much of the wall space was given to text that helped me understand the need for each of his drawings. Soon after entering, an explanation on the wall said, “Drawing was an essential tool for Michelangelo to explore his ideas . . . his creativity was stimulated by the process of drawing—the flow of ideas quickening as he realized them on paper.”
--from the British Museum wall, March, 2006
I am sure that learning to draw at a young age enhances our brain’s ability to think visually. It is likely that using the brain during the formative years to draw is apt to nurture the visualization powers of the brain. Visual thinking helps us remember better and better memory allows us to hold more ideas in our minds simultaneously, which is essential for divergent thinking and creative problem solving. Visual thinking it helps us think through imaginary scenarios easier, it certainly helps to make all kinds of plans.
1- Radish questions:
To test the questions: Do radish roots grow away from the light? Do radish roots grow away toward gravity? What if we first ask the students to think of ways to do the experiment. See what they propose. Try it. If nothing is learned, ask for another idea. This is what scientists have to do.
POSSIBLE IDEAS THEY MAY SUGGEST:
To test the question:
Could you send seeds on an orbital space flight to see which way the roots would grow?
Could you plant the seeds in the center of a transparent sphere that is rotated at a certain speed (a quarter turn every two days) to see if the roots could be enticed to grow in a circular pattern around the seed? What would these experiments say about the reason roots grow in a particular direction?
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