To begin with... Three short stories.
Back in 2008 the first iPads started to come out. I remember it was a big deal when our school got them, as well as iPod touches for some classes. Teachers would enthusiastically book them out and prepare to use them. The first project was usually a photography session, and then... people seemed to get stuck. I recall watching one class go out on a field trip with their parents and to give a great impression bought the iPads. The teacher had worked hard and had made a worksheet... that could be filled out on the ipad, and then printed back in the classroom.
Around the same time I was visiting a school. It was an early childhood classroom, and the room was bright and colourful, with student work adorning the walls and hanging from the ceiling. As every teacher does, I had a little look around, hoping to get inspired, maybe come a way with a good teaching idea or lesson. Instead, I came face to face with a large wall display. Around 20 A3 pieces of paper, stapled neatly in 3 rows of 7 or 8 and on each paper, a large template of a t-shirt with the heading "colour the shirt in with your favourite colour". Each shirt was coloured red or blue or orange, etc (I seem to remember a lot of blue) and each project was done very neatly, not with paint of pastels or crayons, but with standard colouring in pencils. I try not to judge when I walk in to another teachers room, (because NONE of us are perfect) but I do remember thinking that it would have taken the 4-5 year olds in that room a VERY long time to colour those so neatly, and it seemed like a lost opportunity.
Finally. I have two daughters, they are two years a part and both attended the same pre-school. This meant that I got to see their work come home, and could see the differeneces between teachers and curriculums as they progressed. It was funny then, that when my youngest went through, she would bring home nearly identical pictures to her older sister. The same flower picture, the same bus, and the same big brown bear etc. These were all painted with one colour, and done on a large A3 sheet of paper onto a pre-printed template, with an assessment on the back. This assessment explained how the picture tied into the current science or social sciences unit, how their pencil grip was going, and whether they were able to stay in the lines.
I begin today with these stories because I feel that they are all related. I once heard the iPad being described as "the most powerful learning tool in the world, sitting in your hand" and I would have to agree.... well, I agree in someone else's hand. In my hands it's used for spotify, youtube, facebook and 'two dots'... but I am sure in the right hands it is a world of creativity, connectedness and excellence. And that's my point... If you don't understand how to tap in to the capacity of the tool you are using, it becomes a wasted opportunity.
I think the same can be said with art. often we are given tools like paints and pastels and colouring pencils, and told to use art, and because no one has truely mentored or coached us in the ease and power of this tool, we resort to colouring in or copying...
"Draw a character in the story"
"Draw what happened today"
"Colour this bear..."
"Paint this snowman"
I am sure you can imagine variations of these instructions; we've all given them, and to be honest, for pure relaxation, for fun, and to see colours, or even plan a story, this isn't bad. In the same way... It's not bad to use an iPad for games and social media. The problem exists though, when we believe that this is the capacity of art, and that these basic activities provide a base in arts education. To be honest, they simply don't. Sending home copious portfolios of paper with paint smeared on them does nothing more that fill recycling bins (and parents guilt as they sneakily empty the cupboards every spring clean.)
We don't need to make children colour in animals or t-shirts. They don't need to know their favourite colour and fill the wall with it and although drawing an experience is a great inroad to drawing, it also separates the 'cans' from the 'can-nots' pretty quickly.
So now what?
You need a why. I am a big believer in vision, in having a purpose behind what you do. It drives decision making, corrects missteps and helps you make choices that line up your beliefs and your methods.
When you have a vision that drives you forward you no longer become a victim to an over crowded curriculum. You see the power in what you have to cover.
A teacher that has a why, in their use of an iPad, then looks for how it can be used to document, interact with, record and present information and is excited to push it further, they spend countless nights experimenting with apps and tools to push the learning further.
Someone who wants to use colour to empower their students to communicate, ends up with artwork that expresses not only what a bear looks like (all be it a three legged bear that could be a penguin or a sofa) but also red and scribbly bear "because when they roar it is scary like red and the scribbles make me think of shaking"
These are some vision statements that I have. It is good to articulate these and revisit them as you grow in your practice.
"I want my students voice to always be present in their work"
"I want my students to use colour to express meaning rather than look pretty"
"I want to see the experiences and cultures that my students represent, expressed through all of their work"
"I want experimentation and engagement to have more value than accuracy"
"I want my students to feel that they have no limits in what they can create"
Rather than getting concerned with accuracy (don't worry, no college student failed zoology because their kindergarten teacher didn't tell them that the bear is wrong with only 3 legs) and 'favourite things and colours' we could be teaching students to identify how lines and colours, textures and patterns make THEM feel.
So today, spend 5 minutes and write down your Why... If ability and time and resources were not a challenge, WHY would you use art? What could paint and printing and sculpture and weaving and ceramics and face-painting and jewellery making and box modelling and puppet-making and mask-making and installation art and patterns and shapes and colours and tones and textures add to your student leaning? How could it breathe life into literacy and Maths and Science and expression?
Take some time to look at this and do a search in Pinterest, how are others doing what you would like to? what simple changes can you make right now in your programme or practice to bring deeper meaning and variety?
Have a look and hopefully a change :)