Friday, September 24, 2010

When "No" Helps You Grow

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?


  1. I totally understand the frustration of suns in the corner, stick figures, etc. The way I get around it is having tons of visual examples. As an artists I cannot just draw things off the top of my head. I need to draw from life or find images. So I have tons of images available for my students. Saying No to the kids that I teach would probably shut them down because many have low self esteem and issues outside of school. Actually, in todays world the majority of kids have issues outside of school. I think it would be interesting if to replace the No's with Yes's and see if the kids notice and how they respond.

  2. As I keep looking at the comments on Phyl's post I am struck by another thought I wish I had added to my post: There seems to be a feeling of wrong/right with regards to the "No-No" board. I think Mr. E (who uses a "No-No" board) and myself both demonstrate that we aren't using the board to harm creativity, or because we are lazy. There is room for MANY answers. . .And, I think we should spend time encouraging one another and offering varying viewpoints rather than stating what is "Wrong" or a "No-No" for you etc. etc. Obviously, this system works for me and Mr. E. I am a loving art teacher, and am well known in my school for being a voice of open-ness, welcoming viewpoints, and cultural differences. So, as I value everyone's opinion, I would also like to ask that you respect that those of us who use "No-No" boards and are taking the time to blog about art teaching, are probably apt enough to use the boards in a manner that stimulates -rather than detracts from- creativity.

  3. My gosh, I opened a can of worms. Thanks for responding so kindly. As I tried to get across in a comment on my post, I do NOT think you, or Mr. E, or many others who use the no-no are bad art teachers, or less creative, etc. As a matter of fact, your blogs are two of my faves to read daily. That's why I am so curious about the origin of the idea - both you and Mr. E are from southern states, so I wondered if this is an idea that is offered in educational training in the south, that hasn't filtered north. I have been teaching for (yikes) 34 years, so I've seen a lot. I've taught high school, K-12, and now K-6, and yet reading blogs was my first time seeing the No-No. Hence my curiousity.

    Anyhow, here's what I do: when a student puts a sun in the corner, I may direct them to the window to look and see if the sun is in the corner of the sky. I also may do this when a child draws a stripe of blue on the top of the paper for sky. We look out the windows and note that the sky bumps into the horizon. But note that I have said I MAY do this. I make that decision on an individual basis, according to what I think the child is ready to grasp. I try not to make the child uncomfortable. If he insists that the sun belongs in the corner, then it stays there.

    Now, regarding the marker story you shared - I do have a different opinion, but I should first note that I do NOT teach the pre-K kids, so maybe I'd feel different about them. With all my kids, I make a big deal about respect in my art room - respect for peers, teachers, classroom, and materials.

    Respect for materials is big. The kids learn that parents pay taxes to help buy the school nice materials, and that if they are wasting or damaging these materials they are wasting something paid for by their own parents! We learn that "markers have feelings too" and that, since I would get a headache if pounded on the head, so does Mr. Marker. He doesn't like getting his brains squashed. Plus, I note that pushing down hard or pounding on the point ruins the point, meaning someone else gets a marker that won't draw a thin line. It is not acceptable to damage materials that are shared by others. That doesn't show respect to materials OR to peers. So whenever students are introduced to a material, we talk about how to treat it with respect, so it will also treat them with respect in return by helping them make magical artwork. This way our brushes last longer, the tables aren't scribbled on, etc. The kids get used to this, so by the time they are 6th graders, and are using a utility knife or a hot glue gun, or some other potentially dangerous item, there is rarely an problem with material handling because they know my expectations for respecting materials. They know art is a messy place, and spills and messes are OK. But they also know they are responsible for cleaning up, to show respect for the room.

    Sorry for this long response. Hope I haven't bored you, Amy!

  4. There is a speech bubble on one of your posters.

  5. i know this is an old post but i have to say i agree with you-- if and when i teach the Big Kids again (grade 2+) i will def put up a no/no board. I believe it's our job to push the kids out of their comfort zone/expand past their schemas. and yes, if a child can articulate/challenge/explain it, they should be encouraged to go for it!! great post and great discussion here.