It was such a treat to share some of my thoughts about Integrating Creativity into the Art Classroom with the dynamic team at Fueling Creativity. As I expressed in the podcast, teaching for creativity in any classroom is a transformative classroom practice. It has the potential to ignite engagement and foster a collaborative learning community.
As art teachers, it is often assumed that we teach creativity. Unfortunately, this assumption is incorrect. Too many art classes in schools are delivered in a very uncreative way such as using notes, tests, and worksheets despite alternative options for learning and assessment. Too often in these classes, students are instructed on how to make a specific image and then are graded on the success of the skill they demonstrated making the work. Upon hanging the completed work, the teacher might ask students, “Whose work was most successful and why?”
Then the teacher and class discuss the work of the few students who did a “great job,” and the rest are left feeling indifferent, inadequate, and deflated. The focal point becomes the aesthetic success of the object of creation over the experience of the artist or the meaning of the work. Too many students have had limiting experiences in classes like this, myself included. These experiences often lead people to avoid art and to become the ones we hear saying, “I’m not creative” as adults. Considering that creativity is one of the most important 21stcentury skills to have, it seems irresponsible for art classes to discourage people from expressing it.
I believe the most important role of the art teacher is to cultivate creative confidence. In my art teacher training, (training that made little mention of creativity), I was taught to believe that creative confidence would come from the mastery of a technique. We were encouraged to teach technique in much the same way you might learn cursive writing: with exercises. As a result, I created all manner of exercises to support this. Indeed, I did see some students really excel in a media form and the techniques introduced, and they certainly developed more confidence with that specific material. That being said, the confidence did not transfer to the next task unless they were using the same technique and material. I would, therefore, argue that what this student experienced was technical confidence, not creative confidence. The two are different.
Creative confidence is not actually about a finished project. It does not come because you are good at a particular thing, but rather, it comes when curiosity is aroused, and you become deeply engaged with an idea and then enter a process with the goal of creating something you have imagined. You are committed to understanding more, so much so that you are willing to do what it takes to learn what is required to make it happen on your terms. The individual is excited by the challenge itself and the intrinsic value of the work itself. I want my students to feel confident to explore ambiguity and be able to engage fluently in the creative process using materials for many purposes. The aim in the creativity-focused art classroom is to develop in students the confidence to generate an intention and then to be able to systematically, through trial and error, manifest it into existence using the skills they have resourced through their research and practice.
I have come to see the creative art classroom as a laboratory of experimentation and creation. Each of our students will bring a different level of creative confidence to this space based on their past lived experiences. The teacher’s job begins by inviting these individuals to identify themselves collectively as a creative community working in a shared space and to understand that their role in this space is to support learning and creative development in themselves and others. This requires that we coach students on how to communicate in supportive and nurturing ways. The power of supporting the growth of creative confidence is that it is ultimately transferable to many areas of the person’s life. As one embodies their unique ability to create things they imagine, they gain confidence interacting, experimenting, and playing with the world around them, which inevitably contributes to joy and wellbeing. We can create art for many reasons and in many ways.
To help my students develop confidence, the most important thing I do is create a climate that supports risk-taking, making mistakes, and sharing wild and crazy ideas. As such, the first six weeks of any of my classes are spent connecting and tending to our needs in the physical and emotional space of the classroom. We define what a creative space needs to have and then we explore and discuss the resources we have. For example, we critically explore the floor plan and furniture arrangements and then propose changes. We identify and share what each of us needs from the space to be able to feel creative. We create a variety of seating arrangements, some collaborative, others independent. We share in deciding the set-up and organization of materials: where they should go and how to best store them. We determine how to give and receive feedback and when it is appropriate to do so.
To cover the art curriculum components of these activities, we explore drawing floor plans of our spaces, creating vision boards of our ideal creative spaces, and we practice typography, lettering, and visual layouts to create a collaborative poster outlining OUR NEEDS IN the ART CLASSROOM. Hanging in a prominent location, it serves to remind us of our commitment to support each other in the shared space. We refer frequently to this visual as we work in the studio. I can draw attention to it when the class seems to struggle with getting along. I believe it is never a bad thing to learn to share and advocate for your needs as a learner. Indeed, advocating for one’s needs goes a long way to support confidence.
Visualize the Process
Another important thing to do is to make creativity and the creative process a topic worthy of its own investigation. Help students to identify the different components of the creation process and how it works for them. There are many theoretical models of the process to choose from, some better than others. Regardless of the creativity model you choose, what is most important is that each student has a chance to embody this process for themselves and to observe and reflect on how it is working for them.
I have students map out their process experience using symbols and words in a visual model. Students can choose the media form. I’ve had sculptures and digital animations presented. Students share these maps in class with each other: this helps students identify the common experiences they share, despite doing them in different ways. We use our maps over the course of the year to guide our project-based learning approach in the studio.
When we present the work from units of study, students share the entire process of the work from the outset. We rarely look at work separate from process unless it has been deemed by the artist to be resolved and on display. My students can present work that is in any stage of development to get feedback. Letting them share at any point of their process ensures that everyone can present something, and students are never really on the spot because the presentation of their work is authentic. This reinforces the similarities and differences in how we navigate the process and that we all get stuck in places. Making our presenting style more informal has resulted in students no longer worried about having to present resolved work. Finishing and deciding when work is finished can be difficult for some students. Plus, it is always nice to get feedback before the work is complete.
Identify Creative Strengths
Another way you can help support your students in developing creative confidence is to explore the unique characteristics and behaviors that support an individual’s creativity by looking at Torrance’s list of creative skills and creative personality traits. I ask my students to determine which creative characteristics and behaviors feel most natural to them and to reflect on these traits in terms of how they support the student to be creative. We extend this introspection to become a topic of artistic inquiry. In this case, to represent creative traits in the MY CREATIVE PROFILE assignment.
Despite everything we know about creativity and the fact that it has been identified as a top skill to have this century, there is still not enough opportunity being provided for students to practice it. I think we all need to find the time to incorporate it. We can choose to teach deliberately about the creative process, creative characteristics and behaviors, and practice creative thinking skills to support art-making. If we do not modify what and how we teach, we will continue to hold our students back from exploring themselves and the strengths they NATURALLY bring to the table.
In a creative learning environment, there is a place for everyone. We do not need to have the same skills. We do not have to do the same things. What is important is that we learn what our interests, skills and aptitudes are, when we should use them, and when it’s better to have someone else use them. We learn to work in collaborative teams that understand each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Done right, teaching for creativity, in its very essence, becomes a celebration of pluralism and diversity, and that is desperately needed now, more than ever.
Three Key Takeaways:
The Art teacher's job is to grow creative confidence. We can do that by:
- Creating a safe space for exploration.
- Teach the creative process and how it works for each student.
- Explore our unique traits and characteristics.
- When implemented correctly creativity is a celebration of pluralism and diversity in the classroom.
Tamara Doleman is the Head of the Visual Arts Department at an independent school in Ottawa, Canada. A passionate K-12 art educator for close to 20 years, she completed her MSc. in Creative Studies at I.C.S.C. SUNY Buffalo State. Recognized as “Art Teacher of the Year 2018” by the Ontario Art Education Association, Tamara emphasizes creative process, self-expression, and collaboration in her approach to teaching art. She believes that teaching for creativity supports resilience as well as social and emotional learning in schools. She is a practicing art-maker, certified yoga instructor, a loving wife, and a busy mother of two teenage boys. Tamara has published articles, delivered a TEDx talk, run workshops, and contributed to several books on the topic of creativity in schools.