The idea of deliberately structuring tasks in certain ways so that they cause creativity has made me consider more carefully the kinds of constraints I place on students. I have spent the past few weeks reading, discussing and experimenting with constraints, creativity and problem-solving. What I have come to realize is that for teachers to successfully transition to effective inquiry-based, student-centered classrooms, a deeper understanding of the function and role of constraints is needed.
It’s important to know:
1. Constraints are important for new ideas to emerge. Patricia D. Stokes work in creativity shows that when there are no constraints, we tend to default to conventional thinking and solutions that are already known.
2. Stokes also reveals that there are only 2 kinds of constraints. The first are ones that define a domain. They involve mastery and require conformity. The second are “novel” constraints which allow a domain to expand and are how new ideas are generated.
3. For creative thinking to happen in classrooms, educators must think carefully about the purpose of the learning and what kind of constraints are needed at that moment.
These thoughts were at the forefront as I designed our art lesson. We began learning about value by viewing The Virtual Instructor. Students then had to create a 7 step value line.
Next, I deliberately structured a lesson with carefully considered constraints so that students would have to become creative problem solvers to complete the task.
1 white paint
1 black paint
1 sheet of paper
Constraints: Transition from white to black.
Make the transitions subtle.
The main colour must appear in the middle.
I liked this approach for many reasons. Many students don’t like art as a subject because their work never turns out according to the model. By approaching the task as a problem to be solved rather than a work of art to be created, students took on a problem-solving stance.
Before moving to work stations, we took time to consider the Achievement Chart which we had begun using last week. It was a quick discussion, prompted by my questions. “In this activity, what is Knowledge and Understanding? What will the problem-solving look like? How will we know that you’ve communicated appropriately? What should we see? and so on.
Then students began. Their approach to this art lesson was certainly different from lessons where they are shown how to do something and then try to replicate the model. The level of focus and discussion as well as the careful experimentation, showed they were in a problem-solving stance.
We used the product to develop skills in peer feedback. James suggested that the works remain anonymous so that students would not be influenced by knowing who had created the works.
As a class we discussed one of the first attempts at painting a value chart to identify success criteria.
Next students undertook a gallery walk to see what stood out for them once they had the opportunity to see all the paintings.
Finally, students were given an organizer structured on the Achievement Chart for recording their feedback.
Finally, I asked them to consider the challenge of assigning marks. Assigning a mark is not easy and often takes away from a student’s sense of achievement. Most of our work this year has been assessed through descriptive feedback. Being required to put a mark on the work made many students uncomfortable.
In perusing the feedback, I noticed that some students were very specific and others wrote vague statements such as, “I could tell you understood what you were doing”. When we met at the end of the day, I placed several statements on chart paper so we could discuss useful feedback. We had an open and honest conversation. I asked if they had ever received feedback from teachers that wasn’t particularly useful. All hands were raised. We explored thoughts and feelings about feedback and why it is so hard to ask teachers to be more explicit. Power relationships, personalities and the challenges of communicating effectively came into the discussion. I knew it was time to bring out The Empathy Toy. The game requires blind-folded players to complete a building task while the rest of the class watches silently. It is frustrating and challenging and requires players to communicate clearly in order to meet with success. The bell rang before we had time to debrief, but tomorrow we will explore what leads to good communication.
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Knowledge Building: Ontario Continues to Move Forward in Education