Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Friday 10.30.09

Creativity in the Classroom

During the past month, I’ve shared my thoughts and some research on the topic of creativity.  Many school districts are incorporating creativity into core values and student goals.  My district has included the 21st century habits of mind in our strategic plan, including creative and critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving, communication, and empathy/cultural awareness/global understanding.  Art teachers may proudly declare “We already do that!” but without articulating how learners develop these skills, the claim is unfounded. 

Jaquith Blog 7 Photo 1_350

Pottery, formed and painted by a kindergarten student, shows original thinking in the choice of surface decorations.

The learning environment is a promising landscape for creative student work when the teacher can:

• Recognize creative work as original and unique
• Value open-ended outcomes
• Facilitate for choices of media and subject matter
• Encourage self-directed learning by teaching strategies for independence
• Embrace emergent curriculum that arises from students’ discoveries
• Shift the locus of control from teacher to learner

Jaquith Blog 7 Photo 2_350

A student pauses to reflect on his drawing, while a classmate works on a different topic, combining drawing with collage.

Learners are more likely to exhibit creative behaviors in the classroom when they can:

• Define problems through inquiry
• Think divergently
• Engage in topics of personal relevance
• Persevere unconditionally when intrinsically motivated
• Take risks and grow from mistakes without fear of consequences
• Collaborate in self-selected groups
• Feel autonomous

Jaquith Blog 7 Photo 3_350

Students form collaborate groups to meet the needs of their work.  This student is one of five working on large-scale dragon drawings, an activity that engaged the group for many weeks.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my observations about creativity with the NAEA membership.  Special appreciation goes to Linda Scott, whose expert stewardship of the NAEA website provides interactive professional learning for art educators.  I look forward to the upcoming Monthly Mentors and encourage you to volunteer soon. 

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Monday 10.26.09

Talent and Creativity

As I watch my students at work, I wonder about similarities and differences among those who demonstrate artistic talent and their peers who exhibit creative thinking.  Some children, through disposition and perseverance, become highly skilled at certain types of visual representation.  For example, I have talented students who can sculpt exquisite wildlife in clay or draw detailed cityscapes in perspective.  (For purposes of comparison, I will use the term “talented” here although, in general, I prefer to identify these students as having exceptional skill ability.)  Creative children are identified as those who are extremely inquisitive about ideas that captivate their attention.  These learners think deeply about the idea, explore it through artmaking and may defer for a time, only to return to the same idea later, with purpose and intent. 

Jaquith Blog 6 Photo 1

Are talented students also creative? Possibly; these categories are not mutually exclusive.  However, I’m not convinced that all talented art students are creative thinkers. Renzulli (2000, p. 97) speaks of “schoolhouse giftedness” as “the abilities people display on IQ and aptitude tests [that] are exactly the kinds of abilities most valued in traditional school learning situations.”  Perhaps there is also an artroom giftedness.  Students with talent will shine when they are assigned an art project that falls within their skill sets.  But there is no guarantee that they will be problem finders, divergent thinkers, collaborators, or risk failure by testing a new art material or technique. 

Jaquith Blog 6 Photo 2

Zimmerman (2009, p. 394) cautions: “In the past, creativity and art talent often were viewed as being synonymous.  Recent studies have demonstrated that traits associated with creativity are not necessarily those associated with art talent.  More research is needed to determine if and how exceptionally creative art students differ from those who are considered talented in art and what implications this may have for art teaching and learning.”  Relevant research about creativity and talent in the school setting will be very useful as our districts direct us to teach 21st century skills, including creative and critical thinking. 

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Renzulli, J.S. (2000). The identification and development of giftedness as a paradigm for school reform. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 9(2), 95-114.
Zimmerman, E. (2009). Reconceptualizing the role of creativity in art education theory and practice.  Studies in Art Education, 50(4), 382-399.

Wednesday 10.21.09

Problem Finding and Solving

In my previous blog entry, I described my mastery objectives for learners: to problem find through inquiry and match ideas with appropriate media for problem solving, or to expand skills through materials exploration.  Last week, I initiated a discussion with fifth grade classes about problem finding and problem solving.  I anticipated that they would be unfamiliar with the phrase problem finding, so I planned to link this higher order skill to our group definition of problem solving.  What I did not anticipate was that students were also unfamiliar with the phrase problem solving.  Upon hearing the word problem, students eagerly described sticky situations that they had encountered while doing their studio work.  Failed attachments, unsolicited paint splatters, and lopsided pottery topped the list of problems to be solved.  Realizing then that we were in uncharted waters, I nudged the conversation toward math.  Students explained how they solve math problems: think about it, test it out, share, revise, practice, solve. This analogy helped to frame our dialogue about problem solving in art class. Later, as students worked in studios, I asked them to think about and discuss their current art problem and how they were solving it at that moment. 


This week, after consulting online colleagues at the Teaching for Artistic Behavior list serv, I came prepared to address misconceptions about problem finding and problem solving.  To dispel negative connotations of the term problem, I wrote on the white board:



WHAT:  Problem finding means searching for a good art idea to work on during art class.
HOW:  Problem solving means discovering how to represent the art idea using art materials.


My students shared how, as artists, they face many difficulties in the process of making art.  To avoid even more confusion over semantics, I suggested that we call these situations artistic challenges.  The phrases problem finding and problem solving will be encouraged frequently to develop familiarity with these and other creativity vocabulary such as collaboration, innovation, engagement, and mindfulness.  Now that my district is beginning to identify and implement 21st century skills; we will be ahead in the art room.

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

Friday 10.16.09

Intrinsic Motivation and Engagement

In my last post, I shared research about positive correlations between intrinsic motivation and creativity.  When identifying intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in the classroom, it helps to think about the locus of control.  If the teacher is directing students’ artwork, the motivators are primarily extrinsic – assigned skills and content, deadlines, and possibly grades. Art assignments where both content and media are tightly prescribed leave little room for creative input by the artist.  Most of the decisions have already been made by the teacher!  Choices enable students to take ownership of their work; more choices provide greater autonomy. Deci and Ryan (1985, p. 238) state that intrinsic motivation engages learners.  Self-directed learners are driven by intrinsic motivation.  They question, intuit, improvise, play, take risks, reflect, revise and defer as needed to meet their own goals.  These kinds of behaviors promote engagement.

How can art teachers provide greater opportunities for intrinsic motivation while still meeting district requirements and standards?  Look at the mastery objectives for the lesson or unit.  These are the learning goals and essential understandings for students (Saphier, Haley-Speca & Gower, 2008).  Activities and art projects are not the objectives; they are the means to reach objectives.  For example, if the mastery objective of a lesson on color theory is to understand how artists can utilize the color wheel, a likely activity is painting.  Students can practice color mixing, contrast color harmonies, and explore saturation.  If they are meeting lesson objectives, the specific subject matter of their painting does not need to be assigned.  By allowing students to choose their own content, they will be intrinsically motivated through personal relevancy. When inquiry into a particular theme is the mastery objective, let students select from varied media to meet this objective. This promotes differentiated learning, as each individual chooses how to best meet the same lesson objectives. 


Sometimes my mastery objective is for learners to acquire a specific skill and I control the work; my students are extrinsically motivated because the activity is required.  For self-directed learning, my overall mastery objectives are for learners to problem find and match their ideas with appropriate media, or to expand skills through materials exploration. The photos show two third grade students in the same class, on the same day.  The boy is cutting out characters that he has drawn and will play with later. The girl is in the beginning stages of a long-term architectural project that she planned over the summer. These examples illustrate short-term and long-term engagement in art activities that are intrinsically motivated.  When students self-direct, they are in control of decisions about their artwork and this autonomy leads to high engagement. 


Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA


-Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior.  New York: Plenum Press.
-Saphier, J., Haley-Speca, M., Gower, R. (2008).  The skillful teacher.  Acton, MA: Research for Better Teaching.  

Tuesday 10.13.09

Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Motivation

A broad discussion about creativity is incomplete without mention of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  Many researchers (Amabile, 1996; Collins & Amabile, 1999; Deci and Ryan, 1985; Nickerson, 1999; Sternberg & Lubart, 1999) note strong correlations between intrinsic motivation and creativity; however, there are varied opinions about the effects of extrinsic motivation on creativity.  Amabile (1996, p. 115) provides the following definitions: “We define as intrinsic any motivation that arises from the individual’s positive reaction to qualities of the task itself: this reaction can be experienced as interest, involvement, curiosity, satisfaction, or positive challenge. We define as extrinsic any motivation that arises from sources outside of the task itself; these sources include expected evaluation, contracted-for-reward, external directives, or any of several similar sources.”

Learners are intrinsically motivated in art class when they work with media that they enjoy, pursue personally relevant ideas, have open-ended outcomes, feel competent, and experience autonomy.  When students are passionate about their work, circumstances are favorable for creativity (Collins & Amabile, 1999, p. 308). 
Jaquith Photo 1 Blog 3 

The artist statement for this self-directed drawing highlights the intrinsic motivators of interest and choice in media:
For my drawing, I was thinking about what I did over the summer.  I went to a lake with my friends and it was a really nice day.  I was thinking about the fall when I was playing with my friend on a trampoline.  Then I thought about baseball and how fun it will be to play again.  I remembered some of the drawings that I did last year and combined them into this picture.

Jaquith Photo 2 Blog 3 

The second photograph, taken by a fourth grade girl, resulted from her desire to manipulate and play with digital editing options.  Learners who are driven by intrinsic motivation are engaged because they want to do the activity and have control over its outcome.  When the activity is teacher-directed, will students respond creatively to extrinsic motivators determined by their teacher?

In my next blog entry, I will discuss how visual art teachers can balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to encourage creative thinking in art class. 

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA


-Amabile, T. M. (1996). Creativity in Context. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
-Collins, M.A. & Amabile, T.M. (1999). Motivation and creativity.  In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of Creativity (pp. 297-312).  NY: Cambridge University Press.
-Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior.  New York: Plenum Press. 
-Nickerson, R.S. (1999). Enhancing creativity.  In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of Creativity (pp. 392-430).  NY: Cambridge University Press.
-Sternberg, R.J. & Lubart, T.I. (1999). The concept of creativity: Prospects and paradigms.  In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of Creativity (pp. 3-15).  NY: Cambridge University Press.

Wednesday 10. 7.09

Definitions of Creativity: Big “C” and little “c”

Consider the following definition of creativity by Csikszentmihalyi (1996): “Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” Creativity by this definition means that a creative contribution must be recognized by members of the field as significant and transformative within the domain. In this view, creativity has major sociocultural implications through interactions between creator, domain and cultural institutions.  Fasco (2006) discusses a creativity continuum extending between two poles: Big C for “extreme forms of originality” and little c for “everyday creativity.”  For Big C creators in the domain of visual art, I think of artists like Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell, Maya Lin, and Cindy Sherman, to name just a few. Their work has changed the direction of visual art, both aesthetically and conceptually. Feldhusen (2006) describes the opposite end of the creativity continuum:  “Wherever there is a need to make, create, imagine, produce, or design anew what did not exist before – to innovate – there is adaptive or creative behavior, sometimes called ‘small c.’” Does student work showing innovation and uniqueness fall toward the little c end of the creativity continuum?

PHOTO 1 Creativity Big C little c

Let’s examine one more definition by my favorite author on the subject, Teresa Amabile:  “A product or response will be judged as creative to the extent that (a) it is both a novel and appropriate, useful, correct or valuable response to the task at hand, and (b) the task is heuristic, rather than algorithmic. By definition, algorithmic tasks have a clearly identified goal, but heuristic tasks might or might not have a clearly identified goal; the important distinction is that, for heuristic tasks, the path to the solution is not completely straightforward.” Creative student work shows original thought and inquiry. It could be an interpretation of an assignment that you have never seen before, discovery of a new technique, or an idea that is fresh. Not everything your students do will be creative; time for skills practice and knowledge acquisition is also important in art education. By providing learners with many opportunities for to explore original ideas and innovation, they will respond, on occasion, with an amazing discovery. When they do, you will be there to acknowledge and celebrate their creative accomplishments.

Diane Jaquith
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA

PHOTO 2 Creativit Big C little c

-Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to the social psychology of creativity. Boulder, CO:    Westview Press, pp. 35-36.
-Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996).  Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention.  NY: Harper Perennial, p. 28. 
-Fasko, D. Jr. (2006). Creative thinking and reasoning.  In Kaufman, J.C. & Baer, J., eds. (2006). Creativity and Reason in Cognitive Development. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 159-176.
-Feldhusen, J. F. (2006).  “The role of the knowledge base in creative thinking.”  In J. C. Kaufman and J. Baer (Eds.), Creativity and Reason in Cognitive Development.  New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 137.

Friday 10. 2.09

Cultivating Creative Thinking

What does it mean to be creative?  At NAEA this past spring, an outstanding Super Session focused on the topic of creativity.  Featured speakers were Arthur Efland, Kerry Freedman, Enid Zimmerman, and Doug Boughton.  

Efland spoke of heightened interest in creativity as a “social and economic necessity” in response to NCLB and entrepreneurial interests.  While describing creative dispositions, Zimmerman noted that talent and creativity are different entities; talented students are more likely to conform than creative students.  She then shared educational interventions to encourage creative thinking for all students.  Freedman spoke of creativity in postmodern education as “a process of learning,” with students needing time for self-study and self-motivation.  For assessment, Boughton recommended that portfolios, or “living documents,” provide evidence of problem finding and solving and risk-taking.  He advised teachers to recognize social contexts when evaluating student work and to remember that they are not “the sole arbiter of quality.”  

My colleague, Nan Hathaway, and I sat captivated in the balcony throughout this session.  Each of these noted art education scholars affirmed our belief in the need for increased creativity in our schools.  To accomplish this, we must understand what our students need from us to become independent risk-takers, problem finders and solvers in school.  We know that they already do this on their own outside of school when they play games, build a fort, pursue a topic of interest, collect nature specimens, and perform their own plays.  Their world is filled with creative moments!  How can we cultivate innate curiosity, open-mindedness, and enthusiasm for learning under the constraints of the school day?  

In this month’s blog, I will share with you some theories of creativity and apply them to observations from my elementary art classroom.  This is a very rich topic and I hope you will join in the dialogue about teaching and learning to expand creativity in our schools.

Diane Jaquith 
Burr Elementary School
Newton, MA