Thursday, November 6, 2014

Imagination

This is kind of a strange art lesson sort of post for me, because I unfortunately don't have any specific images related to it.  So I'll have to wing it, by adding random pics of student art.
Two divergent things led me to write this post today.  First of all, in the Facebook Art Teachers group and on the blogs, I often see lots of product-oriented art lessons, including many directed drawing lessons.  I'm not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing; it's just something I noticed, that got me thinking about some of the lessons that were my favorites over the years.  These lessons were often focused on getting my students to explore their imaginations.
 Then, today, another retired teacher friend and I went to the movies to see Before I Go to Sleep, with Nicole Kidman, and Colin Firth.  Without getting into to the movie plot too deeply, let's just say Ms. Kidman plays an amnesiac who wakes each morning with her memory totally erased.  A therapist gives her a camera to record her thoughts and memories each day, to help her attempt to recover memories.  This plays a pivotal part in the movie plot.  When the movie was over, and my friend and I were sitting in the local diner eating a lovely dinner and discussing the film, I said the movie reminded me of a lesson I used to do with my younger students.  Considering the twists of the movie plot, my friend was totally befuddled about how this thriller could possibly remind me of a lighthearted kindergarten art lesson!  But it did.  Here's the lesson, basically:

With my kiddos circled around me, I told them we were taking a trip, using our imaginations.  We closed our eyes, imagining it was bedtime, and we were tucked in with our coziest blanket and favorite stuffed toy under our arm.  And off we went to sleep.  While we were deep asleep, a little alien spacecraft landed outside our window.  Inside, the friendly aliens were discussing the celebration on their home planet, and how they wanted to bring some visitors to enjoy the fun, but would have them home in time for breakfast and school the next day.  They chose us to go to their celebration, and off we flew through the night.  We were given cameras to take pictures of the festivities, and all the creatures/aliens we met, the planet we visited, the space ship we rode in, and more.  We had a wonderful time, and tired, we were returned home, back to our cozy beds and stuffed animals before morning.  When we woke in the morning, we thought we'd had a crazy dream... until we saw the photos we'd taken!!  (This, of course, is the connection to the movie.)

We spent some time sharing what was in our photos before we started our artwork.  What did the aliens look like?  How many arms? Legs? Eyeballs? Ears?...  What color was the sky?  How many suns or moons?  What did the animals look like?  The food?  The space ship?  And so on.  No answer was wrong.  I gave them paper, and crayons or markers or whatever drawing or painting material I selected that year, and their charge was to draw their photos, and then to share the story of their artwork.  Very few rules (for example: no blood, no weapons; these were NICE aliens.)  I absolutely did NOT show them an exemplar.  I wanted the ideas to be THEIRS. 
 Above, a couple of aliens on school pictures; fun lesson idea courtesy of Mr.  E.

Anyhow - the point of my lesson was not to show everyone how to draw an alien.  The point, of course, was to encourage imaginative thinking. I wanted the kids to learn to trust their own ideas.  There were no wrong ideas.  I did, of course, expect them to use their best effort, and I used open-ended questions as I circulated, to encourage them to explore their imagination and develop their ideas. For kids doing simple line drawings, perhaps I would ask "what color skin does your alien have?  what color is the sky?" and so on...  For kids without  much detail, I would ask questions such as "How does your alien move?  (legs and feet? Or does he have fins?  Or wings?  Or wheels?)"  or "Where was the celebration?  What did it look like?  What kid of food did you eat?  Were there any animals or trees or houses? "  and so on...  Or simply "Can you tell me about your picture?"
Do you  have favorite lessons that encourage imaginative thinking?  I'd love your thoughts on this type of lesson! 
For a few other lessons that encourage imagination, check out my 3rd grade painting/collages of the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, or perhaps my Not a Box, Not a CD lessons for lower elementary, or maybe my 2nd graders' 'Texture Fauves'.

8 comments:

  1. Process vs. Product, the everlasting debate. Reading your post today made many a thought come to mind. In my current teaching situation I only see each class once every 8 school days--so virtually once every two weeks. Time is such a constraint for me, because I would love to just talk and explore SO many ideas with the kids, but I realize they do actually need to do some "making." When we do get the chance to just imagine and create it's the best. It's usually one of those things where you need to have the student explain to you their story to actually know what's happening (the creative juices are flowing).
    This is one of those lessons where I gave a little guidance technique-wise, but the ideas were all theirs.

    http://aschukei.blogspot.com/2014/06/surrealism-dreams.html

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I just checked out your blog post and the projects are pretty intriguing! I'll be writing a comment tomorrow, as I'm curious about the portrait process part of the project.

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  2. Thank you for this! I have been thinking the same thing about projects I see in blogland, on Pinterest, etc. Great methods and materials, and craftsmanship, but every kid is making the same. durn. thing. For me, art making should be about invention, and problem-solving, and encouraging many kinds of THINKING. Art makes learning visible.
    Gonna stop before the whole rant comes out! Thanks again.

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    1. Thanks for your reply. You've said it perfectly!!

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  3. Love this lesson! Well actually more importantly I love the freedom of this lesson. I think teaching techniques and skills can happen within a lesson based on a concept (like imagination or exploration). A lesson fails if all of the products are so similar that the audience can not tell which student created it, the students' voice must be evident in their work. It must be our role as art teachers to teach the creative process and out-side-the-box thinking; too many other parts of the students lives are "right/wrong" answer learning.

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    1. My thoughts exactly! I so wish that I took photos of the work created in this and similar lessons, because what I love is that each piece is totally unique. But some days we get so busy that we simply do not have the time to get out the camera. Especially when there are needy kindergartners in the room.

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  4. I love both kinds of lessons and so far so do my kiddos. For guided drawings we work together and I check every few steps to make sure they are on the right track but when the basic drawing is finished they always have the option to go back and change things. Usually they will change shapes and placement but because they drew my version first they keep it big and fill the page better than when I let them have full control. By the end of the year I don't have to guide at all though and they understand to fill the whole page.

    I love the combined results best. Like the time we made collage owls and I showed them the easiest way to make each part but stress that my owl was plain and theirs could be exciting. I ended up with owls that were so creative one was even Bollywood themed and I had no clue that any second graders even knew what that was!

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    1. I definitely can agree with what you've said, Claire. I think it's so important to give kids choices, and the chance to express their individuality. And I love the idea of a Bollywood owl! How adorable!

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