5th Grade Students Perceptions of An Improvisation-Based Ceramics Lesson.
This study investigates 5th grade students’ responses and reactions to a ceramics lesson that includes a large amount of choice in creation of the students’ finished products. Using improvisational techniques to allow for maximum freedom, students develop their own idea of what to create as opposed to creating something chosen by the instructor. This creates an opportunity for students to explore their own ideas using their imagination or creative thinking unlike in other types of classroom settings where there is a fixed outcome. Included in this paper is the information found on why arts education is important to the growth of a student as well as how improvisational teaching fosters creative thinking.
For my master’s research project, I am going to be exploring the idea of using improvisational based feedback and lessons to see how it affects the classroom in a sense of student engagement, creative thinking, and the student’s perceptions to this style of teaching. In my experiences in art classes from actually being a student in them, to being a professional intern, I have noticed a trend in the art classroom. From what I have seen, students do not enjoy projects that are mundane and are the “follow my directions” type of projects. I never liked them in school and now that I am student teaching, I can see that a lot of students do not like them. The students are disengaged in the projects, only doing the bare minimum of what is needed to complete the assignment and have no real interest in creating the piece. If they do ever complete it, they compare it to whatever they were trying to copy that was done professionally and think theirs is not good enough. This leads them to always think that their art is not good because it does not look like an exact replica of some famous painting they were supposed to copy. When this happens over and over again, it wears away at students’ confidence in the art room and eventually turns into a dislike of the entire subject. Seeing this first hand in art classrooms made me wonder what could help fix this issue.
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During this study I would like to see how cutting back on the guidelines given to the students for art projects will affect the way the students complete a project. I will focus mostly on how students use their own imagination and creativity to create a project. Another thing I will be observing in the classroom is the students’ overall morale for their projects. Now that they are the ones in control of their own project, will they start being more engaged to make sure it turns out how they want it to as oppose to how the teacher wants it? Giving students more control opens up an endless list of possible outcomes, including them deciding how their project is going to turnout and a variety of end products being developed. I want to examine if students will be more driven to finish a project that they thought of using their own imagination.
The attention placed on art education is dwindling in today’s schooling systems due to extremely large stakes that have been placed on the standardized testing of core subjects (Roege & Kim, 2013). Research has shown art education is a very important factor in cognitive growth, especially in the forms of creativity and imagination (Roege & Kim, 2013). Those authors also delve into the fact that Art education is also shown to help students develop skills that would help in an entrepreneurial environment, also helps practice creativity which is a large plus for many companies looking for creative individuals to help with innovation.
There is little research showing art teachers that have also been experimenting in improvisational pedagogy in the art room, an exception is Stephen Moore. In his New York Elementary School art classroom, he does not grade the work itself but grades if the student tried on the piece or not, his logic is “kids cannot really fail art” (Graham & Moore 2018). In his classroom he does not assign projects for the students to complete but merely gives an initial idea that serves as a jumping off point for the students to take control and make what they want to make. For this to work right he also needs to allow them to use whatever materials or supplies they can to let their creative minds begin to imagine the end results. It is impossible to create a strict regimen for an art classroom because the students are coming from all different backgrounds and cultures and have different inspirations for creating art (Garoian, 2014).
Review of Literature
For my master’s research project, I am exploring the idea of using improvisation in the art classroom to help cultivate creativity in the students and increase student engagement in projects. With so much focus placed on core subjects in schools they are leaving little room for expressing creativity during the school day. Even in the art room there are guidelines for every project and students have to follow those guidelines or else they lose points (Counsel & Wright 2018). This type of art education is everything that art is not. Art is not about following the rules to make the same thing as the person next to you, it is about using your own ideas and concepts to create a one of a kind pieces of art that is an expression of who you are (Baker 2013). I am going to explore how the use of improvisational techniques affects students’ overall creativity and engagement in the classroom. This review of literature focuses on the importance of art education, the use of improvisation in art education, and conclude with a discussion on the impact of improvisation on student learning and development.
Importance of Art Education
The importance placed on art education is on the decline in today’s schooling systems due to standardized testing (Roege & Kim, 2013). The No Child Left Behind act that was put into place in 2002 has created extreme focus on standardized testing of math, science, language arts, and social studies this means more emphasis is put on the core subjects leaving less attention for the non-core subjects (Counsel & Wright 2018). They also stated that even years after the law was enacted there are no real changes to be shown in students’ test results or success. Even though research shows art education promotes cognitive function which helps cause improvements academically in other subjects (Roege & Kim, 2013). Roege also goes into the fact that Art education is shown to help students develop skills like creative thinking that would help in an entrepreneurial environment. Art education helps practice creativity which is a large plus for many companies looking for creative individuals to help with innovation. Not providing an outlet for students to develop these types of skills does them a huge disservice in the job market of today. The only thing schools are producing under this education system is factory workers like it was designed to do back when factories were the only jobs around. Now that those jobs are gone, we need to create an education system that helps feed the jobs of today not create employees for yesterday’s jobs.
Roege and Kim (2013) also state that art has been used since ancient times to help people with psychological and physical wellbeing. This is the use of art as therapy. People that undergo art therapy show signs of higher cognitive abilities, problem solving abilities, ability to interpret things in different ways, higher self-determination, as well as fewer signs of depression and helplessness (Roege & Kim, 2013). This is the reasoning behind art therapy for people with mental or emotional issues, it creates an outlet for people to express themselves visually.
Improvisation in Art Education
Improvisation in art education consists of giving very little guidelines in the beginning of projects. Starting off with just a general idea or starting point (Graham & Moore 2018). After that whatever they say goes during the conception and creation process. By doing this we are increasing the student’s influence in the piece drastically compared to projects where we just tell the class what to make (Graham & Moore 2018). This way there is a greater diversity in the finished pieces since every individual has added their own ideas onto the original idea.
There are teachers that are all for the use of improvisation in their classrooms Stephen Moore (Graham & Moore 2018) is one of them. Moore uses improvisational based curriculum in his New York classroom and teaches over 500 students. His idea behind art class is that “kids cannot fail art” (Graham & Moore 2018) because there is no grading in his class. He only has one rule and that is to “be kind to each other” (Graham & Moore 2018). He gives the students plenty of options for materials and lets them create what they want to make, based on the original idea presented to them. He has an endless supply of random materials that students are allowed to use in their work “More materials equal more opportunities for ideas” (Graham & Moore 2018).
Garoian (2014) also talks about how it is impossible to create a strict regimen for an art classroom based on the fact that students come from all different backgrounds and cultures. He discusses how he creates a calendar for his class and by the end of the first week it is un usable because you cannot have all of these students tied to an agenda. There is too much influencing factors to suppress it all into a schedule of uniform projects (Garoian 2014). His lesson plans end up being launch sites for the ideas the student bring to the projects and they take the reins after hearing what the project is about (Garoian 2014). They can then use all of their different influences to create a piece that is a projection of themselves, not just expressionless drawings that they had to follow directions to make (Garoian 2014).
Improvisation has been studied and used by a lot of teachers (Sowden, Clements, Redlich, & Lewis 2015). Their study found that improvisation had a positive effect on divergent thinking and creativity. They also discovered that the divergent thinking was not limited to the subject that the improvisational technique was used in. So according to them, divergent thinking that is enhanced in art class can affect the student ability to do divergent thinking in other subjects as well.
According to my research that I have conducted I have found that Art education is a contributor to children’s cognitive development (Roege & Kim, 2013). Research shows a strong correlation between children having art in their curriculum and having good grades in other classes (Roege & Kim, 2013). The type of learning done in the art room helps children in the other subjects as well.
I believe that teaching with improvisation-based pedagogy I will be able to have students more engaged in the class because they will be the ones deciding what they make and thinking more. Rather than just following orders to paint the same thing as the teacher. This way the students will have just as much say in the final product as the teacher, creating a balanced classroom environment. Now the students can pick what they want to do and be in charge of their creation. This will help with the engagement in the classroom a well. If they can pick what they want to make, they will probably be more set on working on it and finishing it. They are not engaged when they are told what to make but if they are in charge they can decide, and it will be their idea they are working on. Giving them more feeling of self-worth and drive to complete the idea.
For this master’s research project, I used action research as a methodology “Action research is a process in which participants examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully, using the techniques of research. It is based on the following assumptions.” (Ferrance, 2000). I used three methods of data collection: Observations of students during the exploration days using video recordings to fill out a graph of student engagement, exit slips asking about their thoughts on the lesson, and a rubric to analyze the final piece created at the end of the unit. I collected data from the students for the duration of the unit and then synthesize the data into my findings. The school I am conducting the research at is a rural Appalachian community. There is a high rate of poverty at the school, with a large number of students on reduced lunch. For most of the students the only exposure to art they get is for 45 minutes a week in my class. There are 106 students in the study, and all of them are in the 5th grade. My lessons in this ceramic’s unit consisted of 3 experimental workdays where students we able to explore the medium and get a feeling for how it works. Each day I would introduce a new technique and they would be able to practice using it that day or focus on making something else. Then after the exploration days they had the confidence and the knowledge to create their final piece using the techniques they learned in the previous classes.
First, I filmed each lesson and used the recordings as the basis for observing student engagement and interactions. I wrote down observations such as student engagement, their degree of focus during work days, and their amount of progress from lesson to lesson using a student engagement chart (Appendix C). For each of these sections I figured out the percentage of students who scored a 4 or 5 on the chart in each section during the first film. Next, I compared it to the percentage of students who scores 4 and 5 in recordings from later lessons. I used these numbers to compare the student’s actions from the first lesson to how they acted later on in the unit.
My second form of data collection consisted of exit slips that the students completed after the completion of the unit (Appendix A). I supplied three questions that they answered: “Do you enjoy art class in general?”, “What did you think of this project?”, “Would you enjoy more projects with this amount of freedom?”. These questions were intended to get an idea about how much they enjoyed this type of improvisational unit. I used the answers to these questions to alter upcoming projects to be more like what the students want. I kept all of the exit slips from the study and compared them to each other at the end of the study to see what the general consensus on the unit was. I grouped the answers of the questions into yes and no groups and found out the percentages of students who said for “yes” and the percentage of students that said “no”.
The third kind of data collection was the evaluation of their final piece at the end of the unit. I used a rubric (Appendix B) that I developed to assess their final creation on a variety of things including overall effort in the creation of the piece, creativity in the idea behind their piece, their overall craftsmanship, and how much they like their own piece. Once the students completed their final piece, they turned it in, and I used this rubric to give them their final grade and feedback.
As for the observation of the students during the lessons the students overall body language scored really high, 75% percent of students scored a 5 on the observation chart, it increased to 86% in later lessons. The confidence section is where they scored relatively low at first with 48% scoring a 5, as the lessons progressed, and they became more comfortable with the material the confidence percentage went from 48% up to 62% in later lessons. Giving them time for practice was a key component of the students gaining confidence in working with the material.
According to the data that I collected on the student’s perceptions of the improvisational lesson were really high. The percentage of students who enjoyed the improvisational ceramics lesson was 90.5% as opposed to the 5.6% of student who did not enjoy the lesson. When asked if they would like to have more lessons like the ceramics one, 81.9% of them answered yes with only 7.5% answering no. Some of the reason’s students gave for the “no” answer was about the messiness of the material. For example, one student wrote, “I did not like clay getting under their nails.” Another shared, “I do not like getting my hands dirty.” Some of the reasonings behind the “yes” answers were about being able to use their hands to construct a 3d object rather than a 2d object.
As for the data that was gathered from the assessment of their final projects the results showed majority of students scored 3s and 4s on all the sections with only a few of them scoring 1s and 2s. Overall 87% of students scored high enough on the rubric to receive an A for the project, with 7% scoring the equivalent to a B. In the effort section 73% of students scored a 4, 22% scoring a 3. In the creativity section 49% scored a 4 with 45% scoring a 3. In craftsmanship 69% scored 4 with 25% scoring a 3. In the ownership section 80% scored a 4 with 9% scoring a 3. These numbers show a large majority of the students scoring on the higher side of the rubric. The variety of pieces that were created was astounding, from video game characters to creatures straight from their imagination. They really put a lot into the ideas for their pieces and I couldn’t be happier with the results (Figures 1&2).
Figure 1. Class 1 student-developed ceramics products using an improvisation-based lesson
Figure 2. Class 2 student-developed ceramics products using an improvisation-based lesson
The data gathered through the observation of the student’s overall body language shows high scores, they were all eager to begin working with clay. The confidence section is where they scored lower than expected but as the lessons progressed and they became more comfortable with the material they seemed to get more confident using it. I think that the implementation of exploratory days using the material before being assessed greatly helped the students gain confidence as well as develop better ideas for their final projects. The students really got involved with making different objects and trying new things which really helped them come up with great ideas for the final pieces. The student’s overall perceptions of this project and the level of freedom given to them turned out to be very high. They really enjoyed being able to come up with the idea from scratch and learn how to make it through practice. I achieved similar results to Moore in his New York classroom using these techniques. Giving them more options increases their overall engagement because it is their idea and not an assignment. You can tell from the data gained from the assessment of the project, where a large number of students received A’s. Usually the scores vary a lot more on regimented art projects because the students are not very interested in the idea. When opening up opportunities for more choices you get a variety of finished pieces based on the fact that all of the students have different influences for creating art in the first place.
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I think that this form of teaching could be highly beneficial in an art room based on the data I have collected while implementing such strategies. For this lesson I limited the material being used to make the pieces but, in the future, I will most likely open up the decision on mediums used in the creation of the piece to the students. Giving them another level of freedom in choosing how their project turns out. If they want to do 2-dimensional work they can do that, if they want to use 3-dimentions they can do that too. I feel as though the more freedom you give them during the conception of the idea for the piece or project it will increase the quality and variety of the results you will get out of them. By opening up the floor for other ideas you eliminate the phenomenon of every student making the same thing the same way and get into more personalized art.
Overall my findings show that students who are given the opportunity to create what they want in the art room are more engaged in the project because they are the ones making the decisions. It is their piece of art that they are making because they want to, it is not an assignment that was given by the teacher that they have to do. They have invested their ideas into the creation of the piece, so they know what it is supposed to look like. Since the student came up with the idea and envisioned it, they will be more dedicated to seeing it through to completion the way they pictured it in their head. My recommendations for other art instructors are to open up the floor for the students to be the ones coming up with the idea for the project and they will be more driven to finish the work and make it how they want it. Which results in a larger variety of art being created and a lot more personalized to each student. Making the art room what it is supposed to be, a place where students can come and explore new things and ideas without having to worry about failing or getting a bad grade.
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