Friday, September 01, 2006

The teachers role in the creative process.

  My Cat - Student Age 6 Posted by Picasa

Authentic problems are not hard to find if you listen to your students and enter into dialogue with them. Perhaps some favourite dog or cat has died. An older brother or sister is getting married. A new baby has been born. A grandparent is very sick. Dad has bought a new car. A tree has burst into bloom. There has been a flood.

They mightn’t sound like a curriculum but they are things that really matter, they cause anxiety or delight, and need a resolution. This is the reality of the children in your classroom but how often do you see this world celebrated?

For creative teachers this is the essence of powerful language, art, science and ethical issues. They are personal and significant encounters with the real world. They are the ‘real’ curriculum and provide ready made inspiration for children to explore and express their ideas.

It is what follows that is important. To help the students identify their concerns, to expand and elaborate their ideas and to then help them express it in whatever form they choose. This process will involve dialogue between the learner and the teacher leading to student choices about which aspects to focus on and how to express the ideas generated.

For example if it involves the death of a pet then there are feeling to explore. Such a meaningful situation provides an ideal opportunity for a teacher to develop an empathic relationship with the student – and, since it is an event most children will have experienced, the whole class might also become involved.

At this expansion and idea generation stage students explore, read, and discuss the issue.

Following this comes the issue of finding the right form to express their thoughts: they might wish to write thoughts about it, or do some preliminary sketches, perhaps using a photo of their pet as reference. They might reflect on, and share, stories about their pet. All this makes public their concerns and helps then remember and develop the significance of the event.

To make the issue significant we need slow down the process of exploring and expressing so as to assist in the enrichment of whatever is being produced – a report,a piece of language, or art. Important choices will need to be made. The teacher might also introduce adult poems, or writing expressing ideas about a similar event – or show examples of art.

As part of this interaction, or dialogue, students may open up new lines of enquiry but will finally settle on what they are going to explore or create.

Once the best means to express the idea has been settled on all the ideas previously discussed, talked about, or sketched, can be focused on committing the idea chosen to realization.
The role of the teacher now shifts to helping the learner make the transition from idea to reality. Making personal statements in any art form is never easy and some children will need real support. Teachers will have to steer a fine line between eliciting but trying at all times to preserve the child’s natural imagery (or ‘voice’ if it is a poetic statement).

There is always a danger of a premature leap to execution and often the teacher needs to enter into dialogue when students seem to be stuck. Some students may need to be helped to develop the courage to ‘have a go’, to take risks, and to see their ‘mistakes’ as learning opportunities. If advice is given students still need to make the final choices. In the process of creating the teacher might help the child select and organize the imagery chosen or to help the child focus on the most powerful aspect. Teachers might also help students with using the medium chosen. In all cases the teacher needs to present an accepting non judgmental atmosphere if true creativity is to be allowed to flower.

It will possibly take several days to complete a big piece of work, particularly if it goes through a series of creative revisions. Teachers will need to become experts at reviving interest when students’ energies flag – an important lesson to be learned is that quality work is not always easy and often requires effort and persistence. Many children have learnt to quit too early and many teachers have become accomplices in developing this attitude. The reward of completion is yet to come. At some point the work will be seen as done – and at this point many ‘lessons’ will have been internalized for next time!

The hope is that all students will finally be able to present a piece of sustained creative work that will be recognized as in their style.

The culmination of the project may result in a display of a range of creative work in different media and might also include the research involved as well. The finished product has allowed the child to confront and express his or her feelings and to share them with others. This sharing is important and could involve students giving each other critical comment as fellow artists (or writers, or scientists). Evaluation has been implicit through the whole process and important values will have been quietly absorbed by the students. Teachers have also been able to note which children are risk takers, choice makers, sharers, carers, listeners, and those who are willing to discuss personal concerns.

Process and product are equally important. The children are learning important lessons at all stages from, how to focus on ideas, and then to how to present them. They will learn the importance of respecting other people different interpretations. They are also learning that if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing well. When the piece is completed they will have learnt to confront an experience, to reflect on its meaning, and report, or express, what they have learnt to their peers. The teachers’ interaction throughout will develop a model of learning (from idea generation to completion), and also builds up a positive relationship with each individual and, in turn, develop a class culture of mutual respect.

When such powerful work, from such a diverse group of talented students, is displayed on the classroom walls (and reflected in all areas of the learning) there is no doubt that there is real curriculum in action in the classroom.

And any visitor, or parent, will see a creative teacher in action who know how to help students achieve ‘their’ best work


Anonymous said...

In our modern factory schools we have cut students off from the very motivations that make them human - all we are producing are students who work to achieve marks according to pre-set criteria.

No wonder most creative people have found success in spite of schools.

Teachers need to value their students own living sensuous cuture and provide the time to get as much insight as they can from them.

They will need to return to this evolutionary approach when they escape schools.

Anonymous said...

Schools are not about helping kids learn they are about teaching them what the school wants! And it starts early!

Anonymous said...

The idea of hepling students do something meaningful ( in art, science or mathematics etc) is what is missing these days of rushed superficial achievement.

Bruce said...

Students, like the rest of us, are basically interested in who they are and what they might become - and if what they do makes a contribution to the common good.If they are recognised a positive individual they gain the mutual respect of others?

If schools can't help them in this quest they will find satisfaction elewhere.

A lot of schoolwork is irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

This 'real' curriculum is the one children and parents use before they enter schooling- then the experts take over.

SC said...

What an inspiring entry.