Happy 2014 and welcome back after the holidays! In the last few blog posts, I described the work students did this past fall in the Leaf and Insect Inquiries. For those who missed those posts or would like to read them from beginning to end in order, below are the links . . .
Click on below to view the learning maps:
- The entire Observation Unit Map
- Warm Up: Observational Sketches
- Warm Up: Story Sticks
- Leaf Inquiry
- Insect Inquiry
Click on below to read the about the Art Inquiry Unit:
- Observation Unit, Grades 2, 3, 4
- Update on the Observation Unit
- The Warm Up and Setting Boundaries in Art
- The Leaf Inquiry
- The Insect Inquiry: Introduction
- The Insect Inquiry: More Observational Drawings
- The Insect Inquiry: Analyze & Synthesize by Creating a Work of Art!
- The Insect Inquiry Poster: Process for Artist Researchers
- The Insect Inquiry: Oil Pastel Drawings
Art and Thinking . . .
On the Art Inquiry Unit Map, you may have noticed little grey boxes to the sides of the nodes labeled levels 1 - 6 and near the bottom right a key called Thinking Levels 1 - 6 . . . these thinking levels are derived from Bloom's Taxonomy--specifically the Bloom's Taxonomy Chart of Useful Action Verbs. I use these action verbs to ensure that I am giving students opportunities in art class to practice all kinds of thinking: my goal is for them to not only grow in their technical art skills but also in their thinking. I am especially interested in level 5, Synthesis, because that is where students do the kind of thinking that results in original and expressive art.
I think it would be useful at this point, in order to illustrate what I mean by synthesis thinking to compare some works of art by students.
In the group of art works below, I drew a very simple outline for a tree (specifically a chinaberry tree) on the board and directed students to draw a garden with the tree and children playing, to which they later added a watercolor wash. I thought the results were very lovely. But, these trees don't tell me much about the students. I can see that the students are proficient at copying my tree shape onto their paper and that they can apply a simple watercolor wash. All the trees look very similar, there are few details and little originality or expression.
In the next group of art below, I started students off with a Y tree. The Y is a frame or an entry point into the art making process. The frame or entry point was to show the students how to make a branching structure using Ys on the board and to ask them to use their imaginations to fill in the rest. By the time students worked on this project, they had practiced how to use their own thinking in the art making process through the warm up and other projects. Looking at some of the action words in Level 5 Synthesis in the chart above: change, combine, find an unusual way, design, create . . . there is little evidence of these actions in the trees above . . . but in the Y trees below, I see students using their own ideas to change, combine, find a new way . . . each drawing is very unique and original. I can see in the art that students are using deeper and more complex thinking--specifically, they are going beyond Know, Comprehend and Apply in Bloom's Taxonomy and entering into Synthesis thinking.
In order to grow in their ability to create original and expressive works of art, students need to practice technical art skills and thinking skills . . . my experience is that deep and complex thinking goes hand-in-hand with creativity and that it is impossible to create original works of art without it. Creativity is a process and artists connect to all the thinking shown in the Bloom's chart . . . but, as an art teacher, I can't help but be especially interested in helping students grow in synthesis thinking because that is where a drawing or painting transforms into a work of art.
Bloom's Taxonomy also helps to explain why, although lovely, the first group of chinaberry trees are the beginning step in the development of these student artists. And this is where I get to the work of the Observation Unit this fall and the three inquiries . . . my question for myself as teacher was: what if I could really get at the process of creativity (or as it might be called in other content areas, the research process) and teach students the authentic process artists use to get better at creating original and expressive art. The process where artists build their own bank of imagery to draw on so that they can become independent of the teacher's modeling. It seems so obvious that writers, for instance, need a rich vocabulary in order to write--artists are the same--they need a rich vocabulary of images. And the more imagery students have, the more material they can draw on to do synthesis thinking--students will have sufficient 'stuff' to combine or change or use in a new way. Furthermore, hopefully students will also understand that imagery doesn't all have to be stored inside their head--that there is a world of things to draw all around them.