If You're Not Prepared to be Wrong....

A very eloquent and wise man, Sir Kenneth Robinson, once said, "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original".

Not only do I feel this statement is very much true - but it happened in my classes the other day.  I was working with my 2nd and 3rd graders on their piece of artwork for Young Masters.  I always do projects that are high success, but also highly original - I decided that 2nd and 3rd graders would be doing zentangles this year.  I know all my students can create with lines and shapes, but this would be one of the first times I would not be allowing pencil first - but straight to Sharpie.

To get my students creativity warmed up for this project I showed them part of a zentangle video on youtube.  I asked them questions like, "What are they drawing?" -- I would get a laundry list of answers like: scales, hills, bumps..... I then would ask the question again.  The students seemed confused.  I would wait a few seconds and there was always one kid that would see through the design and realize they are actually drawing curved lines which then remind us of things like hills, scales, bumps... 

So we go on with the video and notice they use squares, circles, dots, straight lines, coloring in spaces and leaving other spaces open.  We discuss pattern and rhythm in each section.  I then asked the students if they know how to draw straight lines, curved lines, squares, circles -- etc.  They agree they know how and are starting to get real excited.

I then explain that they will be doing a warm up zentangle on a post-it.  They will be doing it with a Sharpie and any 'mistakes' they make will need to be problem solved and pulled into their design.  

This is where it got interesting.  

At one of my school the kids were excited and ready for the challenge.  In fact I had to wait multiple times for them to stop talking so I could finish my instructions - they were so excited they couldn't wait to share their ideas!  They were jumping at the bit to skip pencil and use sharpie straight away!

So then at the end of the week I went to my other school and these kids panicked.  Full out, panicked.  They were almost arguing with me to use pencils or to get an extra paper incase they messed up.  I spent far more time with these kids building up their confidence and convincing them they would be fine.  The post it note was just practice and it was okay if they didn't like it in the end.

Whats the difference between the schools?  Socioeconomic? Atmosphere? Personal relationships?

There are many small differences between the schools - but they are mostly the same.  My kids at the school that panicked are often better at following rules and expectations, but their socioeconomic status is similar to the other school, and most of the kids, at both schools, I have had 2 or 3 years -- so our relationship is pretty strong.  I personally believe that the reason I had students in one school panic and the others not is due to the fact that non-panic school is a school of the arts.

My school that is a school of the arts is NOT a fine arts school.  We are not a school that trains kids in the arts - we have no band or dance troupe.  Instead we infuse arts into the whole educational system.  Students transfer and connect ideas between classes - they learn about texture and patterns - they are asked to compare relationships, look for symbols...etc across disciplines.  These students also have dance and drama in addition to their 'normal' special schedule.  

Kids that come to the school for the arts are continuously asked to take chances, take risks, throw out an idea, perform in a small skit, join in conversation, think about something from a different point of view, problem solve and critically think about questions.  Students at this school are prepared to be wrong, to make mistakes.  Students at this school are encouraged to take a chance, and are supported through their thinking/exploration.  While music and art provide this -- dance and drama really help to drive these concepts and ideas home.  Asking kindergarteners to act out simple fairy tales, teaching 3rd graders to do improv -- it not only enforces their reading/writing skills -- but teaches them to 'prepare to be wrong'.  In dance they are asked to come up with movements that inspire or represent a concept/word/idea.  Students at this school are asked to explore answers instead of giving the correct one.

Now, lets take a moment and realize that my other elementary school is VERY supportive of their students.  Students feel safe and get a an amazing education there.  Students are very thoughtful and take learning risks there as well -- but in a different fashion.  

I truly believe that both my schools offer an exceptional education to students and the point of this post is not to give more props to one over the other, but to try and understand why two similar groups of kids would respond so differently to the same project.

Back to the project.  As the students were doing their warm up post-its.  I had them work silently for 5 minutes.  I wanted the to really concentrate on their visual thinking and felt talking would be too distracting.

After the 5 minutes was up - I let them share their ideas from their tables, then bring them to me.  I put them on the board and we quickly discussed that when they were working on their 'final' paper that if they needed some inspiration that they could come look at their class's thinking for ideas.  

It is important to note that after the warm up both schools were ready and raring to go, and that their warm up thinking/solutions were very comparable.  The warm up provided my traditional elementary school students with the chance to be wrong and when they worked through those mistakes without an eraser or a new paper - they had the confidence to be original, just like my school of the arts kids.

So in the end both sets of students had the same outcome - but that initial jump into a project was so very different.  As much as working at two buildings can be frustrating - moments like these, I find fascinating.  


Katie Morris said...

That is really interesting, and I bet that your reasoning is correct!

Lisa Foley said...

First of all I love your posts and follow your blog. I couldn't agree more about teaching in an arts magnet school which I did in Virginia and kid's were better and less fearful at solving problems. I now teach in Vermont and the difference is startling.

Katy Boelter-Dimock said...

I have the same experience too. I teach at two wonderful, successful schools. One is a private school and one is a public school in a wealthy suburb. Very similar populations in many ways. One school infuses the arts into every curriculum area. One school supports the arts but the arts are more segmented. Both sets of students are engaged, capable, great. The "arts" school students are always ready to experiment, and would rather do their own thing than my idea, often. The supportive school students look at me blankly sometimes when I say, "experiment!"