Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cultivating Creativity

Image from A Combo Platter of TAB & DBAE SchoolArts Magazine, August/September 2006
The theme for this year's MAEA Annual Fall Conference is "Cultivating Creative Passion."

The topic of creativity is something that Visual Arts educators deal with on a daily basis. As we make Art and teach our students skills, it is hard not to tackle questions about what creativity is and how it could be applied to teaching.

In Adam VonHouten's blog, he brings up the struggle that many Art teachers face when it comes to teaching. At what point does the teacher give the power and control to the students to be the artists? Instead of modeling each assignment with predictable outcomes, he advocates for student choice and room for exploration with each new endeavor.

The method of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (also known as TAB or Choice-Based Art Education) treats students as artists and give them the freedom of choice when creating work. Instead of the teacher as the model and students repeating what the teacher is proposing, students make their own decisions and explore materials and ideas in their own way.

For some of us (myself included) this concept of a Choice-Based classroom is appealing, but also comes with some concerns. How do we measure success? How do we align a "Choice" curriculum to National and State standards? How do we maintain control when students are all doing such different things? How do we get them away from doing the cliche? How do we know they are learning?

A possible solution to this dilemma is an artful combination of student choice and teacher direction in the lessons that you already teach. Stephanie Corder addresses this in a 2006 article from SchoolArts Magazine. She contends that teachers still need to teach students concepts surrounding Art History, materials, methods, criticism, and design, but students also need the freedom and choice to explore and create using ideas and methods that interest them. Whether it is selecting the material, or subject, or having complete control over the content, students need to feel invested in what they are making in order for it to be meaningful.

When giving students choice, the conversation changes. Students' attitudes change about what their role is in the class. They can no longer say they hate an assignment when they are the ones who have chosen the subject or material or both. They made the choice of what to do and as a result, they must take ownership of the decision and become an active stakeholder in the classroom. As the teacher, you still foster an environment of learning by showing students methods of working or artists of interest, but you allow them to explore and create in their own way.

Instead of relying on students regurgitating information, Visual Arts teachers get to be the ones that ask students to problem solve, take risks, and pursue their interests while making something new. Our classrooms can offer a chance to be different, engaging, and inclusive. In a time of memorizing facts and standardized testing, we are the ones who get to be creative!

So, the challenge is this - take one assignment and turn up the choice, giving your students creative ownership. Whether it is the material or the subject matter, give your students the opportunity to be creative and cultivate their passions.


  1. Thanks for the article! Here are some recent links to add to the mix:





    Kathy Douglas Massachusetts TAB

  2. What a great article Janine! Thanks for sharing! This article really related to me. I have inculded choices in many students' projects already, but would like to inculded more because it is so empowering just like you described so well! Students take ownership and it is based on what they want to learn!