Everyone can learn. Everyone has an artist within. Everyone has something to say.
If we accept those statements as truths, then the challenge is getting our students to believe it. Then, structuring learning so each child finds her/his inner artist and personal message. If we are treating our students like the artists they are, shouldn’t we try to provide as authentic an artistic experience as possible? That leads me to facilitating creative process in the classroom.
Just recently, I did some research about the making of the stage musical West Side Story. The collaborators shelved the original project of a Jewish girl and and an Italian Catholic boy for six years. When they met again to discuss the project, they were inspired by reports of street riots by Chicano Americans in Los Angeles. The result was a groundbreaking piece of musical theatre, and a production that became an American classic.
As I read about the process of making West Side Story, I was reminded of other great pieces of art shelved for one reason or another. But, has since been revisited and completed to the satisfaction of the creators. I remembered being so struck by an interview I watched of Frank McCourt, author Angela’s Ashes. The memoir was a powerful piece of writing and fascinating to me it had taken him years to find its voice – that of himself as a boy.
Putting This Into Practice In The Classroom
I recognize that the reality of the world is that most of us have to meet deadlines, even artists. I also realize that the reality of the classroom is that units need to be concluded so projects need to be finished and that the end of the school year generally means one group of children advances to the next grade level and the teacher greets a new group of children in the fall.
Even given those realities, shouldn’t our students know that professional artists sometimes work this way? I say, “Yes!” I think it is good for students to know that if something isn’t working it can be put aside to be looked at again and even something you think is finished can be revisited if you feel so compelled, that you are a different person than you were when you started so the work will be different. Not necessarily better, just different.
Although the realities of the classroom may make it difficult to facilitate such an open-ended process, what can be done in the classroom is revisiting work with a new eye. In teaching writing with my students, I used to have them go back over an old piece of writing once they acquired a new writing skill to see if they could apply the new skill to the old work. As students learn or refine skills in their study of an art form, old works can be reviewed with a new awareness.
Perhaps during this last quarter or trimester you can invite students to choose one piece from the year they would like to work on and allow them to decide how they would like to change it and why. They can see their own learning in their revised piece, they can acknowledge that they engaged in a creative process that professional artists use and they may find they have something new to say or that they found a way to make their message that much more clear.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.