Last week, I posted a picture of my "Artists Go Beyond What Is Easy. . .Expected. . .Ordinary," which is essentially a "No-No" board similar to one many other art-teacher-bloggers have been posting in recent months. I was extremely impressed to see Phyl from There's A Dragon in My Art Room respond to the "No-No" posters. I like that she took the time (and courage) to voice her concerns about the limitations a "N0-No" poster may present in the art classroom. Additionally, I liked her observations that sometimes birds do look like "V's" etc. etc. If you haven't already read her response, I deeply encourage you to do so! She has some great thoughts!
What startled me, was some of the comments the post received. A few of the responses stated things as: "don't pollute the art room", "don't censor kids art", "This is an idea from someone with completely NO imagination" and "it's lazy teaching."
Honestly, I am really hoping the people who posted the above comments simply don't fully understand the usefulness of a "No-No" board. I am going to spend this post discussing why "No" can help us all to grow. . . Even creatively.
I teach Pk-3 (3 year old students) through 12th grade. I see students from PK-3 through 5th grade twice a week for 30 minutes. I see students in 6th grade twice a week for 45 minutes. I see students in 7th and 8th grade for 1 semester, and in that semester I see them every other day for 50 minutes. Once in high school, students can opt to take art as a year-long course (the school offers Art I through AP Art) and if they take art they take it everyday for 50 minutes. This is my 6th year teaching and I have experience in at-risk public schools, Christian private schools, and non-religious private schools. I say all this simply to say, I have some level of experience with various age groups and backgrounds.
Earlier this week, I was teaching my PK-3 students. The regular classroom teaching stays with me during this class to help in "crowd control." The students had been given a brown marker and were encouraged to make different types of lines on brown paper to simulate wood grain (they were making paper baskets to hold their stamped apples). One student (who is very well behaved) -I'll call him Timmy- kept pushing the marker down and watching the ink flood out into a dot. I noticed this, and allowed him to do it. He is 3 years old, and he is experiencing his materials. I have no issue with that, and I want him to have the time to creatively play with his materials. The regular classroom teacher noticed it and immediately reprimanded the student and said: "This is the third time I've asked you to do what you were told in art today. If you do it again, you will be in trouble." I pulled the teacher aside and explained why it was okay for him to use his markers in this manner and she defended her stance saying: "He was able to repeat back the directions to me, and he is ignoring what he is supposed to be doing." I countered by calmly explaining, that art is a place were he should feel okay to explore, and that I am fine with him doing just that. And, I asked her to stop restricting him. The regular classroom teacher is concerned because her job is to teach these wee 3 year olds how to be in school, and part of that entails listening to the teacher. But, my job is to allow them room to explore.
So, telling a student who is 3 years old "No" just because he is playing with a new material would be wrong. It doesn't help him to grow at all; it only limits him. But, I am sure we can agree that telling him "No" if he put the marker in his mouth would be okay, as that is a safety issue. Had the student put the marker in his mouth, saying "No" would help him to grow by teaching him how to safely use art materials.
The "No-No" board works in a similar manner: The "No" rules should be those that help a student to grow. And, there should be some limitations for the usage of a "No-No" rule. Here are my limitations:
1. Students should be old enough that they already have pre-existing schemas for drawing basic items, and the "No-No" board is helping them to expand past the schemas. Old enough for me is 2nd grade. . .It could be different for you.
2. "No-No" boards shouldn't be used in special education classrooms wherein a wide variety of abilities are present. You'd hate to give rules to someone who hasn't had any exploration, right?
3. "No-No" boards should have fudge-room. Can a student defend why s/he made the choice? Can the student give an example wherein a "No" should be a "Yes?" There are tons of examples. For instance, a lot of Mexican art uses sunshines with smiles that are great!
4. Each "No-No" should be verbalized and reinforced by the teacher in a positive way. For instance, instead of telling a student: "No, you shouldn't put a sunshine in the corner!" You might say: "Hmm, is there another way to show the sunshine? Do all pictures have to have a sunshine in them for the viewer to know it is daytime?"
5. I would encourage you to rename your "No-No" board, so you can swing it into a more positive place!
If a "No-No" board is used in conjunction with the above limitations, then it actually uses "No" to help a student grow. A student is encouraged to expand their existing visual knowledge base, and forced to creatively expand their typical drawing style. And, a student is encouraged to think about what they know of art to defend a choice. That isn't lazy teaching, that is awesome teaching. A teacher is helping students to grow and s/he is reinforcing this knowledge in a written manner, aurally, and visually!
One of the comment posts from Phyl's posting said: "What if Picasso had a 'No-No' board in his life." Well, in a way, Picasso did. . .Just like a lot of artists do. Picasso limited himself in new and different ways to create new and different artwork. As artists, we all give ourselves voluntary restrictions in the hopes of growth.
Truthfully, "No-No" boards are helpful as all-get-out, and while people comment they've never heard of this practice, this is untrue. We all create "limitations" for our students in the form of "expectations." We assess student artwork, we give students steps to follow, we give them criteria etc. etc. In doing this, we are often telling our student's "no." This voicing of a "no" however, is carefully balanced within a structure that (I hope) allows as much creativity as possible. The "No-No" board is another method of reinforcing this structure.
So, I counter, that when used correctly, positively, and with respect to the ages, a "No-No" board can actually help students to grow creatively.
What do you think?