Drawing, Memory and Learning

I just read this article in the Huffington Post about remembering by drawing and instantly thought about how this applies to #SPELTAC.  I think at a young age, students are often encouraged to draw their thoughts and use illustrations to assist in language acquisition, but often that gets forgotten as they grow and our academic, linguistic demands change.  Or sometimes we get discouraged by our artistic abilities and shy away from drawing because of our lack of confidence.  However, as emphasized in the article,

The method works whether or not you are particularly gifted in the drawing department. Even if your drawings are barely legible to the outside world, to the inner workings of your memory, you’re basically Albrecht Dürer.

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So I am doing a little self experiment.  I take Khmer classes and often find that vocabulary lingers in my brain momentarily and then leaves as I make room for more.  Maybe I should also be drawing to learn and remember words in a new language.  How can I (and students) create drawn vocabulary visuals around my room to do the same?  Excited to build a more visual vocabulary in the art room as the year progresses.

Nurturing a Creative and Confident Mind

I teach art, so naturally, students are innovative and creative in my classroom, right?  Not necessarily.  I find that, just as with language, the students at ISPP, are quite diverse in their creative confidence.  Part of my job is to make sure that, at the very least, every student finds a way to connect or relate to art in a way that they see its value in their lives.  I don’t expect the next Picasso to emerge from my classroom, but I do expect each and every student to leave feeling competent and proud in their ability to be creative and express themselves.  Bottom line: art is communication, so how am I nurturing creative minds and language?

Here are a few strategies that have helped me in developing a common “creative language”, confidence and a sense of belonging in the art room.  I think they apply to students in any classroom at any age.

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  • Giving students the chance to reflect on positive and negative experiences.  Last year, I began using simple +/- charts and mind maps with students at the end of class.  I asked them to reflect on what went well and what didn’t that day.  What they liked and what they would change.  We revisited those lists the following class by thinking, “How can we turn the -‘s into +’s today?” I found this a great way to develop a growth mindset and put responsibility on students to find solutions for turning negative experiences to positive ones.

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  • Kath Murdoch’s reflection cards.  During ISPP’s Professional Development last school year, Kath Murdoch gifted us with a wealth of resources and strategies.  One that I am finding especially helpful for art class are her reflection sentence starters.  (Thanks to Bridget Brian and Leigh Pritchard for recording the actual sentences Kath used at PD and sharing with me.)  When there are 5 minutes at the end of a lesson, I scatter the sentence cards in the middle of our circle and students pair/share their reflections.  I find that even the least verbal students will choose simple sentence cards (“I feel…”) and just make a face if they don’t have the words.  I also find that most of the students end up choosing more than one sentence to share with a partner and also want to share with the entire class.  I tried this with Grade 2 classes recently after a nature walk/draw and was impressed by what I learned about the day’s lesson from their short, verbal reflections!
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  • Growth mindset quotes.  I have recently been more in tune to students in art class commenting, “I’m no good at drawing/art/insert art skill here.”  And it gets under my skin!  So I am currently in the process of rolling out a “quote board” of Fixed and Growth Mindset quotes from the art room.  I’m hoping that as we “catch” one another making fixed mindset comments, we can record them and work together to transform them into growth mindset comments.  Making it an explicit part of our class should help make students more aware of when others are in a fixed mindset and have direct quotes to help them work towards a growth mindset.

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  • Checking In With Yourself.  Another Kath Murdoch brainchild from our PD.  I’ve created several posters around the art room asking students to “check in” with themselves and others while in the art room.  Simply having the opportunity to say where your mind is can help us to understand why others might be acting, thinking or creating in a certain way during class.  Many students have begun using the posters independently to self-reflect on their state of mind before, after or during class.  I’ve found that this also gives students a chance to share what is going on outside of the art room and reflect on how it might affect their thoughts and actions during the 45 minutes a week I see them.

What do you do to boost student confidence and mindfulness in your classroom?

We Do Not Live in Bubbles

Learning is social.  Art is social.  It’s all connected.  The more I teach it, the more I know it because I see it every day.  A student has no inspiration.  He peeks over the shoulder of a peer, catches a glimpse of an awesome robot drawing and BAM!, no more creative block.  He’s off, inventing his own robot, adding superpowers, creating a sidekick…it’s hard to get him to stop at the end of class.  The exchange is done without speaking, or much interacting at all.  A look, some thought, a spark, and they’re off.

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I used to have a bit of an internal conflict about these types of situations.  Is it original?  Is the student developing their own voice if they’re always “copying” ideas from others?  How do I approach two students bickering about someone “copying” their work?  But then I looked to the greater world of learning and living.  What is original anyway?  Does it even matter?  We live in a world that is more connected and overlapping than ever.  Images are appropriated to send a message, beats and lyrics are sampled into something new, the spouse of a Presidential candidate “borrows” part of her speech from the First Lady of the United States.  What does it all mean?

As I listened to George Siemens’ talk about networking through blogs, I started to make my own connections.  He explains how one blog inspires and ignites thought from another blogger, who then adds to the conversation, and so on and so on.  So that in the end, ALL of our ideas are influencing the others and growing together into a giant tumbleweed of collective understanding.  Art is like that too.  Artists see and are inspired by past artists, movements, their current visual culture, surrounding environment, and so much more.  When they create, even with imagination, that imagination is a product of their extensions of the known world.  So is there really such a thing as an “original” piece?  How can you prove it?  Does it even matter?

While I am finding these great connections between connectivism and art, what does it tell me about language in my classroom?  I’m not quite sure of the answer right now.  I’ve found that language is less of an obstacle in the art room, as visuals and demonstrations can be utilized to learn skills, but conceptually, how can I capitalize on the social and visual nature of my classroom to help my ELL’s to get more out of each unit?  How can I help them to express their questions and understandings better?