So, I’ve been thinking about what is in my closet. My school closet-not my clothes closet. There are clearly too many shoes in the one, and a lot of work from previous students in the other.
I rearranged my classroom, again, just a minor change this time. That means that I have a spare small book-case that I planned to put in my supply closet to try to help manage the mayhem in there. I know there is at least one teacher at my school whose closet looks like a little office; a student can actually work in there. This is in my closet. So, to get the bookcase in, I had to take a lot of stuff out first. Post clean-out it is looking mighty fine. Anyway, the point is I got to look at a bunch of old work and it got me thinking about what I do now and what I did then. This is my seventh year at this school and in this grade, which honestly I cannot believe. At my old school in Chicago I never taught in the same grade more than 2 years in a row. My principal moved people all the time.
When I started pulling things out of the closet, I found some old assignments that I want to remember. I also found some old assignments that I would like to forget. It’s not that they were bad; they weren’t. They just didn’t need some of the coloring and artsy bits to them. Before anyone gets upset here, let me say that I LOVE art. I used to teach art in an after school program; in my fantasy life (the one where I have green eyes and go to yoga classes regularly) I am a sculptor. At my old school I used to give art time as a reward for my class because they had, if everything went perfectly, 1 brief art class a week. Now, however, I teach at a school with a great art program. The projects they do and skills they learn add to the curriculum. I don’t have to make up for anything.
So when I look back at some of the webs that students did that they colored and decorated, I wonder what I was thinking about when I asked them to do that. It was certainly not necessary. For some, it did add to the final ideas, but mostly it was decoration, pure and simple. I had a few students, girls, that first year who loved to color and draw on their webs and they looked so nice that I think I just added decoration as part of the assignment. It should have been optional if it had to be done by hand. It must have been SO tedious for some students. And, for what end?
Well, they did look great in the hallway!
In the years since, I have been moving more and more away from craft projects that I can’t justify educationally. I still love art when it is art. I just don’t think that having fifth graders make a paper puppets of book characters, for example, is good use of language arts time. Now, if we are making a scale drawing of the classroom or some historical structure that’s different. There’s a lot going on: fractions, measuring, researching, etc. I know that a lot of those crafty projects are stereotypically “girl” projects. I teach in a co-ed school with lots of artistic students. And, in non-art classes I think it is up to me to encourage, insist on, facilitate, and model creativity in the broadest of terms. So, while traditional art and craft are part of that, so are inspiration webs, glogs, skits, blog writing, and on and on. As a teacher of all the students in my room, it’s up to me to make sure everyone has a way to access creativity, not just the colorers. So, there are crafty options, but there are also creative, non-crafty options, which means that not all of them make for exciting bulletin boards.
Mostly, I think that’s progress.