Imagination: It’s a Muscle, Too

I know I’ve referenced this gentleman before, but I find that Marvin Bartel (a professor of art in the United States) has quite a lot of excellent ideas for teaching creativity in schools.

Teaching creativity, you say?  Is that even possible, you say?

Why yes!  Yes indeed it is!

Something I noticed when I was in school – especially in art class – was that when teachers were going through their lessons, they often wanted us to be creative, but they never really taught us how to go about it.  I didn’t mind as much, because I am a creative person.  But even I had trouble coming up with things to draw or write or paint, and when confronted with that problem from me and my classmates, teachers would often simply say, “Well…I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

…Which was not as helpful as I would have liked, incidentally.

Until I read Marvin’s article,“The Secrets of Generating Art Ideas: an Inside Out Art Curriculum,” I don’t think I realized that this was actually a problem for a lot of people.  A lot of students have trouble coming up with ideas for art projects and writing.  One of the ways Mr. Bartel suggests teachers combat this is through the use of the Conversation Game.  If you were in my EAES 201 class, you played this game with me, but I just wanted to elaborate on it a little further.

The rules are simple.  You divide your class into groups, and make sure that each member of the group has a piece of paper and a pencil.  Then they go around to every member of the group and ask each other ‘getting to know you’ questions.  Each student writes down each question and their answer to it, but they don’t have to share their answers unless they want to.  After a certain amount of time has passed, the groups stop and tell everyone in the class what their questions were.  For every question they have that no other group has, the students get a point, and the group with the most points wins.

However, this is not a game you play once and then forget about.  This is a game you keep playing and keep playing, and over time the questions will evolve from the level of, “What is your favourite television show?” to  the level of, “If you could choose any superpower, what would it be?” As time goes on, students learn to ask critical, insightful, creative questions, and they can use those questions or their answers as inspiration for writing, for art projects, for drama – essentially any creative exercise.

I like the idea of being able to teach creativity and develop that skill like a muscle, through constant use.  How about you?

Writing in Proliferation

My dad once told me about his favourite high school teacher.  I do not know the man’s name, but I do rather wish I’d had him when I was in high school.  This gentleman was an English teacher, and one of the things he did at the beginning of the year was give every one of his students a notebook and tell them that they had to write at least one page in it every day.  Fiction, poetry, a journal – it didn’t matter what they wrote just as long as they wrote.

My dad told me that sometimes it was physically painful, having to produce that much work so constantly when he wasn’t used to it – but it was the best training he’d ever had as a writer.  It forced him to write even when he wasn’t feeling inspired, or when he wasn’t sure where a story plot was going, or when he wasn’t focused or driven or any other excuse a writer has ever given for not writing.  Today he’s a journalist, the editor of a newspaper, and he writes novels in his spare time.  Unlike me, I have never once known my father to suffer from writer’s block.

I think that’s a wonderful idea – it’s like long-distance running for writers.  But I also think that sometimes it’s important to give students a bit of a leg to stand on instead of just flinging work at them and hoping for the best.  So something I do when I can’t write is look at writing prompts.  There are probably hundreds of sites full of writing prompts, but this one is one of my favourites.  The creator, Meredith Willis, used to teach (and may still teach) writing classes and workshops, and she is the author of several books, as well.  There are over two hundred writing exercises on the site, which she still updates, so there are more than enough of them to present a lot of variety to your students if you choose to use them.

That’s all for now.  So long, and happy writing!

Photograph by Linda Cronin on Flickr.