Thursday, September 11, 2014

Making Is Thinking

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” John Dewey

Today I attended a summit on the state of the arts in Vermont. The event, Envisioning Arts Education in Vermont, was hosted by Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier and organized by the Vermont Arts Council.

Photo via
The goal of the day was to discuss ways to bring the arts to the forefront of education K-12. This was a meeting that included many stakeholders, including teachers, legislators, administrators, the Vermont Secretary of Education, members of the business and non-profit communities, and funders. I won't delve here into the nitty-gritty of the work we were doing around standards, funding, and inclusion, and instead will tell you the part that, arguably, relates most directly to what I do each day with students in the classroom.

You see, there is so much we already know. We know that the arts promote the 21st century skills we need students to have.  These skills include critical thinking, working as a team, creative problem solving, analysis, planning, and experimentation. We know that the arts improve test scores.  This has been shown through studies again and again since the 1980's.

Secretary Rebecca Holcombe
Much more of interest to me is the briefly touched upon point that the arts can be used to build resilience, now called "grit" in at-risk youth.  This got me really thinking, and here is what the day really made me reflect upon: that students need and deserve a safe place where risk-taking and failure is encouraged.

"Grit" is a newish trendy word in education, popularized by the TED talk of Angela Lee Duckworth.  Frankly, I am glad it is getting attention. What I think grit looks like, really, is the ability for a child to say to themselves that risk-taking is okay, failure is fantastic, and the resulting knowledge gained will be more fully learned through work that is real.

Art puts in a child's hands the entire responsibility for doing, and therefore the responsibility, facilitated by the teacher, to learn, reflect, and distill new understandings.

As I talked about in this blog post from June, frustration, confusion, experimentation, and inquiry are welcomed in my room with open arms, because they are the best avenue to lead to both resilience and true understanding of content. Nothing makes you understand electricity like struggling to light up that LED and then finally succeeding, and nothing gets you to understand the process of making paper like forgetting to insert the screen and having your pulp fall into the water, only to have to begin again.

So come on in to my art room friends. Please, take some risks when I give you something to do, make some mistakes, and learn something new.

1 comment:

  1. Joanna, this is truly an inspirational, passionate and gorgeously written piece. You are such an amazing, dedicated educator, and a beautiful writer. The students and staff of RES are very fortunate to have you on their team.