For longer than I can remember, writing the first paragraph to any academic assignment has been tedious for me. Making it even worse was watching others effortlessly craft perfect drafts in no time, while I knew that I would still be sitting in front of my computer, hands resting on my keyboard, staring at the few sentences I was able to pull from my mind.
What is wrong with me? I hate to write. I’m so bad at it. Why does it take me so long? I’m just not word smart.
Those kinds of thoughts looped through my mind every time I sat down to type a paper. Luckily, I have found a silver lining in writing. Telling stories, sharing my experiences to help others, and writing about topics that fuel my passions – the words seem to flow through my fingers with a lot more ease. During my latest degree, my writing became stronger, my confidence in my writing skills increased, and I had a revelation that changed my perception of writing. I simply need time to think, and that is part of my writing process.
Thankfully, the loop of self-talk has changed from negativity to that of something kinder and more logical. I am a thinker. I am a creative thinker. I am a reflective thinker. I need time to process my thoughts so that I can intentionally and effectively communicate my ideas. It’s okay to sit and think.
Have you ever been in a classroom and observed a learner staring out into space, seemingly disengaged from the task at hand? This situation frequently happens in my classroom, but I know from my own experience as an artist, that the creative process takes time. I also can tell from experience how to differentiate between ideation and disengagement. Trust me, in the years I have stood up in front of countless adolescent teenagers, I have witnessed first hand the results of an apathetic audience or the sound of crickets.
Ideation takes time. That timeline depends solely on the person during the ideation stage of the creative process. However, in the traditional public education system, creativity may be rushed, misidentified for off task behavior, or altogether stifled. Over the years as an art educator, the time my artists have had in the school day to create artwork has ranged from 45 minutes once every six days in elementary to 45 minutes daily for a year at the secondary level. In my current position as an elementary art teacher, I have 45 minutes once every 6 days to teach a lesson, pass out or gather materials, create artwork, clean up, share, and transition into the next class. That list does not include hand sanitizing, redirecting off task behavior, the awesome stories the artists want to share when they see me, time for hugs, accidental paint spills, de-escalating heated conversations, meeting the needs of learners with special education modifications, and the list goes on.
As a Choice-Based art teacher whose philosophy aligns with Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), it is critical to structure the class to provide artists the time and space to engage in every step of the creative process. For some artists, the creative process may be quick, but for others, it may require more than that 45-minute class time to even come up with an idea. Are all of those artists actively engaged in the creative process? Yes! How do we know? As we position ourselves to support artists’ autonomy, we must take actionable steps to make the creative thinking process visible. In doing so, we can recognize when our support, guidance, or expertise are needed and when we are able to give space for more independence.
3 Strategies for Success to Support Ideation:
Model Creative Thinking Strategies
Teachers are excellent performers. Not only do we arrive to the classroom as subject matter experts, but also we are equipped with the tools to perform on a miniature stage. Fisher, Frey, and Lapp call educators to action providing a framework to make the thinking process visible. This framework allows educators to follow a list of bullet points in order to prepare a script for modeling the thinking process. With script in hand or mind, instructional materials displayed, the performance engages learners through a multitude of learning styles. If you would like to learn more about the framework to make thinking visible in your classroom, follow this link.
Cultivate a Culture of Trust
In order for our learners to come up with their own ideas, they must first believe in themselves. With that comes trust. We are all born with an innate sense of creativity. When we are children, our minds are bursting with imagination. As we grow older, our trust and beliefs that we are innately creative begins decreasing. Individuals begin grouping themselves or others into categories of being creative or not at all.
What if we all believed that we are creative? I believe that we are all creative; we have the skills to create and think of original ideas. I also believe that the education system too frequently controls what we do, when we do, where we do, how we do, and why we do. As a result, we become attuned like robots to respond to prescribed learning experiences instead of being the curious explorers we all have the potential to be.
How can we change the future of thinking from being controlled thinkers to being creative thinkers? Cultivate a culture of trust. Use your language aloud, “I trust your ideas” or “Let’s take time to brainstorm ideas, so that you can develop your starting point” or “Tell me about the inspiration for your ideas.” Celebrate and validate learners’ ideas. Make time to share and explain through a show-and-tell, bulletin board display, interview, artist (or creator) statement, or whatever works for you and your learners.
Make Time for Ideation During Class Time
If all of this is going to work, it takes time. Overtly teaching, modeling, demonstrating, re-teaching, revising, etc. – how learners generate ideas takes time. Give your learners time to ideate applying creative thinking skills you directly teach or allow them time to organically find inspiration. Ideation is a crucial stage in the creative process and must be valued. Reserve judgment, practice inquiry, and celebrate the process.
One of the biggest takeaways I’ve experienced from implementing a learner-centered approach to education is how empowering learners is like a domino effect. By making a safe space for them to create and learn with more autonomy, we teach skills that can transfer to life’s journey. We prepare youth with tools for their future selves. The younger we start this powerful path, the better off we will all be.
How can you cultivate independent thinking in your teaching? What are you already practicing now that you would like to share with our followers? If you have tips to share, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.