Monday, July 15, 2013

Building Habits of Mind

“We’re real artists.”
The Studio can be many things to many people. For Preschool 2, it became a place to explore and practice painting. We started out with watercolors, which allowed us to practice washing our brushes between colors and mixing colors together in the empty spaces on our palettes. Some children continued with watercolors for many sessions, experimenting with what it looked like to draw with sharpies before adding color. Other children explored acrylic and tempera paints, while still others tried out oil pastels alone and in combination with watercolors.

After so much time to experiment, practice, and refine their skills, these children were coming to understand the principles of these media just as artists do. With this in mind, we, the teachers, decided to offer up a provocation around the idea of taking time on a painting or drawing, the way artists do. In the end, all of the children spent at least two Studio visits working on their piece, and many requested a third time to finish. At the beginning of our second session with our paintings and drawings, we held group critiques. Children had a chance to share what they liked about each other’s paintings, ask questions about them, and provide their peers with suggestions about how to make their paintings even more beautiful (which the artist could choose to incorporate if they wished). Here are a few examples of the final, finished work of the children, alongside the words of their peers from the critique session. 

IAN’S PAINTING: My House and Family with a Rainy Sky
Ariv: I like the house. I like the roof, because it’s a different kind of shape.
R: I like the Christmas tree, even though it is blue, not green.
M: I like the people, because it reminds me of my family.
R: Why did you paint the sun blue?
Ian: Because it’s beautiful and someone can see that.
Ariv: Why is the Christmas tree blue?
Ian: I saw a Christmas tree outside and is blue. I have in my house.
Ariv: He should work on the clouds. [They were just black at the time.]
R: And add some umbrellas for the rain.

GAIA’S PAINTING: A Swirl and a Person
J: I like the snake… it’s like a sleeping snake.
Gaia: It’s not a snake, it’s a road.
Nina: I think I like the girl, because Gaia painted the inside and not the outside.
Katie: I wonder what you will add to your painting now.
Gaia: I will add more colors.
NINA’S PAINTING: Houses and a Castle along a Road with a Story about a Princess who Lived There
Gaia: I like the flowers. I like that she did two of these same.
[B. and J. point to the flowers, too.]
J: I think you could paint that sun.
ARIV’S PAINTING: A Truck, a Rocketship, a Stop Sign
R: I like the stop sign and the yellow in between.
M: I like the green part, because my mom likes green.
R: What is the yellow?
Ariv: That’s to keep the wheels together.
R: Why is it not attached to the truck?
Ariv: It’s magic and the car is using it.
R: Why are there little thingies inside the wheels?
Ariv: Those are telephones.
R: Spikey ones?
Ariv: Those are… they keep strangers from coming in.
Katie: I wonder if you are going to add something new.
R: Like people.
Ariv: No. I might make the hands very long on accident.
R: Just remind yourself you need short hands.

Sometimes, the Studio is about learning a new technique or discovering a new material. Sometimes it is about exploring a particular theme or idea. I also see it as a place for children to expand their ways of thinking about the world and about their place in it. It is a place where we are given uninterrupted time to investigate something very closely, and so it is also a place where we can practice and hone our skills as investigators. To me, this indicates the refining of “habits of mind,” which are defined by Arthur Costa as “a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known… It suggests that as a result of each experience in which these behaviors were employed, the effects of their use are reflected upon, evaluated, modified and carried forth to future applications.”

In the instance of the Preschool Two painting and pastel exploration, we began by building our understanding of the materials themselves – acquiring a set of particular “tools” that could be drawn upon and referenced in future. We then moved towards the practice of planning out our work – thinking about what we wanted to represent before we began and what elements were important to include. We then began to develop an understanding of our artistic creation of an extended, ongoing process that could draw inspiration from all around us. Our paintings were not simply the result of sitting down to paper and paint or pastel, they were the product of hard work, of thought and inquiry, of evaluation and re-evaluation, of our own ideas as well as the ideas of others. Children developed new means of extending their work, and they began to look at it in a more reflective way. If a child reached a point where they felt “done” working, rather than moving their piece straight to the drying rack, they took some time to walk around, looking to the work of their peers and the beauty in their environment for inspiration. During critiques, children listened respectfully to the comments and questions of their peers, and they felt able to incorporate the suggestions they were given as they saw fit. In turn, the children offering their opinions on another’s work seemed to be really thinking about the artwork before them.

“We’re real artists,” B. said during his second session with his painting. I do feel that this process of returning to and re-examining our work with care has helped to foster many of the habits of mind employed by artists, but I also believe that these practices will be useful to the children in many future instances where “the answers are not immediately known.” I believe that one of the miracles of art – in its viewing or its making – is its ability to inspire us to look more carefully and with deeper intention at the world around us, and I felt that these young artists were experiencing this alongside me during our visits together.

What habits of mind do you feel the children were employing through this experience?
What habits of mind do you feel are most helpful or important to you in your life?


Reference: Costa, A. & Kallick, B. Describing 16 Habits of Mind. Retrieved from  

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