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>>An artist’s sketchbook is a bound book with blank pages that artists use to keep visual records of observations, plans for future art projects, ideas and themes with which they are interested, and verbal, often personal, reflections. Artists may incorporate some or all of these uses into their personal sketchbooks in order to best suit their needs as an artist. (see links to artists' sketchbooks here!)

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BUT… Sketchbooks aren’t just for artists! Many people keep “idea journals” where they jot down thoughts, sketch ideas, or write to occupy their time. Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison both kept books where they designed, sketched, wrote, and played with their ideas! You can find lists online of other people who have kept journals, diaries, or sketchbooks here and here!
graydashed.jpgwellthatscool.jpgI argue that students can be taught to perform creatively. There are a number of educational theories of creativity that Runco (2007) shares that can be used to help teach students to be creative and make creative products. These theories support the incorporation of sketchbooks to help develop student’s creative thought processes.

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“In fact, educators need to do at least three things if they wish to support creativity in their students (Runco 1991b): 1) Provide opportunities for children to practice creative thinking. 2) Value and appreciate those efforts. 3) Model creative behaviors themselves.” (Runco, 2007, p. 179)
To meet the first requirement set forth by Runco, the teacher must first incorporate a creative outlet into the curriculum. Since the focus of this wiki is on the art classroom, the sketchbook would be an effective way to allow students the freedom to individually create and explore. Anderson & Milbrandt (2005) describe a student’s research sketchbook to be used as a place “to consider one or more issues, forms, or ideas through critical, historical, and aesthetic inquiry; visual examination and notetaking; personal reflection; and creative visual expression” (p. 173). Creative visual expression is listed as one of the main pillars and functions of a sketchbook. This would suggest that students could be taught to use their sketchbooks creatively.

To meet the second requirement set forth by Runco, the teacher must place value on creative efforts. Creativity is already an important part of the art education curriculum and has been since the Lowenfeld era (don’t forget to check out the link to a brief history of art education), so incorporating another tool for creative development would support the goal of the current art education movement. Using sketchbooks to develop creativity also places value on creativity by having students record and keep their ideas in a bound, “sacred book.” The teacher can add more value to this autobiographical artifact by teaching students how to make their own sketchbooks. Although grading assignments adds value by assigning worth to a project, I would suggest that teachers not grade sketchbooks as an effort to make them more valuable. Students will be adding their personal ideas and feelings into these books and should not feel pressured by grades to change what they put in. A sketchbook is really for the student’s own artistic development, so teachers should not grade a student’s personal thought processes which may inhibit creative growth. Beattie (1997) instructs: “Not every journal entry needs to be read or assessed. Specify with students what entries will be read and noted by the evaluator. About once a month, the teacher and student should confer about the journal, discussing the quality and progression of the student’s work” (p. 23). I like the idea of encouraging a dialogue about the student’s work as a means for assessment to help build the classroom “family” and community. Runco (2007) agrees that grades should not be a central emphasis for fostering creativity: “Educators also should avoid emphasizing grades, gold stars, incentives, and other extrinsic motivation” (p. 191). “Unconditional positive regard, given by teachers, parents, and friends, will likely contribute to creative expression” (p. 189). Teachers should be sure to encourage students and praise their successes and creative achievements for more successful future results.

A few sources of art education literature dealing with sketchbook use (this body of literature is surprisingly small but slowly growing) tout the importance of teachers modeling sketchbook use in order to get more successful results from their students (Brisco, 2007; Ernst, 1997, 1999). Ernst (1999) says, “I share my own sketch journal to inform them how I use words and pictures in my daily experience to build community and make learning personal” (p. 38). This goes along with Runco’s third requirement to encourage creativity in the classroom of modeling creative behaviors. It is important for teachers to show students how they use their sketchbooks as artists, teachers, and researchers in order to inspire their students to create process journals of their own that help them reflect and develop their ideas and creativity. It is necessary for teacher to model creativity: “Many students will simply imitate the teacher, which means that teachers should think divergently, solve problems in an original fashion, display flexibility, all with an appropriate amount of discretion” (Runco, 2007, p.189). An excellent example of this is shown below in an interview with Sara Scott where she talks about working in her visual journal alongside her students to set an example of the creative process and build a "family" in the classroom as the students and teacher work together in their visual journals.

Another way that you can model creative behaviors is by showing exemplar artists’ sketchbooks and work by contemporary artists.

Great sources for looking at contemporary art include:
http://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/
http://www.thedailytelecraft.com/
http://www.pbs.org/art21/
http://www.woostercollective.com/
http://www.booooooom.com/


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“One factor is verbal, one nonverbal. This is important because some students may be more comfortable with one or the other. In addition, for many students nonverbal tasks are less familiar and thus less likely to elicit rote associates and creative ideas. If this is true, nonverbal, visual, and figural assignments would be best for exercising creative thinking.” (Runco, 2007, p. 183)
Nonverbal, visual, and figural assignments are all incorporated into sketchbook use. Grauer (1999) defines a visual journal (sketchbook) as “a type of journal, the content showing visual and verbal thinking in a variety of forms: drawings, sketches, collages, photographs, graphics and personally meaningful symbols. Words invariably become an important part of the visual journal, as they describe and support depictions, become graphic devices and aid speculation on personal themes and metaphors” (p. 22). I find the interaction between text and drawings to be one of the most significant contributing factors to creative development. Transferring a visual thought into writing works two different parts of the brain, helping students consider a problem from multiple perspectives.

As Runco observed, the less-familiar task of drawing or visually representing ideas may challenge some students who are unfamiliar with drawing and encourage creative problem solving. Krieger (2002) reflects on sketching to encourage traits of creative thought processes: “Regular sketching becomes an integral part of aesthetic sensibility fostering divergent thinking, originality, and introspection—important traits to artists” (p.1). An important part of using sketchbooks to encourage creativity is making them a routine. Students should feel comfortable using them and working through their ideas both visually and verbally on a daily basis to foster creativity. Later in this wiki, I will share art teachers’ experiences and suggestions for using sketchbooks in the art curriculum.

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Learning Theory
Fading technique- start with more familiar tasks and then fade to more complex, open-ended, and divergent tasks
When introducing a class to sketchbooks for the first time, the teacher should introduce assignments with more strict guidelines and suggest more familiar materials. These guidelines will help direct students’ thinking processes and control the outcomes, while the familiar materials will help students feel more comfortable using their journals. There is an excellent example of using the fading technique with sketchbooks at the bottom of this wiki in an interview with Sara Scott. She began with strict assignments where students were required to respond to a prompt using an assigned material. Throughout the semester, she released control and allowed her students to experiment more and deviate from the assignment. In our conversation, she noted that this was how she could track her students’ creative progression throughout the semester by monitoring their independence.

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Implicit Theories
“Held by teachers” (Runco, 2007, p.183)- If you explicitly state that you expect students to be creative, you will have more creative results.
Recently, I saw a teacher model implicit theory in one of my high school observations. After presenting the new project to the class, she wrote in bold letters at the end of her PowerPoint presentation to “Be Creative”. She emphasized that she did not want the first idea that came to students’ heads. She wanted to see their planning process go from research, to initial sketches, to a fully realized idea that developed through this process. I noticed that the students came upon more unique, well thought out, and creative solutions to illustrating their ideas beyond immediate imagery. When encouraging students to use sketchbooks, the teacher will see more creative responses if they remind students to “Be Creative” in their drawings and written reflections.


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Interviews with two high school art teachers about using sketchbooks in their classroom:

Interview with Rebecca Williams:
How did you use sketchbooks in your classroom?
My students were given an open-ended prompt once a week to create a sketchbook journal assignment around. The prompts could be a single word (loss) or idea (a song that has impacted your life).

Were sketchbooks a requirement in your classroom?
These assignments were required and had to be done outside of class.

Do you think that your students developed creatively by using sketchbooks in your classroom?
Absolutely.

If so, how?
Below is an excerpt from by applied project:

As the first six weeks unfolded, I quickly discovered that my students had difficulty working with my open-ended ideas. Students either told me that they did not know what to do, or they explored the prompts in a trite way. I assumed the prompts were general concepts that every high school student should be able to relate to on a personal level. It was my hope that these prompts could lead them to creating meaningful works of art that would engage both them and the viewer critically. For instance, when asked to create art about a song that has either impacted or can define their life I would get music notes, or when asked to create art about loss I would get tears, and, most cliché of all, when asked to create art about love I would get a heart on a page. The students that were actually doing the assignment were barely scratching the surface of these big ideas.

A heart on a page was not acceptable in my art room and it would not prove to be adequate in our progressive society either. Therefore, I set out to teach my students how to think creatively and critically. To do this, I broke down the process that I went through when creating so that they could use it as a guide. I had my students begin by brainstorming at least ten ideas that the prompt inspired. Then they would narrow their lists down to one to three ideas they were interested in developing visually. Next they were required to create at least three visual and verbal thumbnail sketches that they would base on the ideas they selected in the previous step. The students then discussed their ideas with each other in small groups and selected their strongest design to continue with for the final piece. We ended the process by having one-on-one student-teacher discussions about the development and success of their completed art works. In the beginning, this process was overwhelming for the students; but as time went on they became more comfortable with working through the steps, and no longer needed me to require them to follow my process.

The students’ progress was not easy or quick, but I was able to make an impact on the way they approached problems. Overall I did it through continual practice, but I also introduced a variety of thinking tools like the need to think of multiple ways to solve a problem or how discussing problems with others may spark insight that you would have never discovered on your own. By the end of the year, my students were able to develop art making problems in a much more sophisticated way, and I began to see them using their new thinking skills in other areas of their life. Their thinking and creating became a much more meaningful and active part of who they were.

Did you grade or assess your students’ sketchbooks in any way?
Yes they did receive a grade based on a rubric.

Did you work in a sketchbook alongside your students? If so, why or what effect did this have?
No, but in hindsight I wish I would have.

Can you briefly describe at least one assignment or guideline that you had for your students?
see above

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Interview with Sara Scott:
How did you use sketchbooks in your classroom?
Every Friday, I gave students a specific prompt and materials. Students would take the prompt and material to respond and experiment in their visual journals.

Were sketchbooks a requirement in your classroom?
Yes

Do you think that your students developed creatively by using sketchbooks in your classroom?
Yes

If so, how?
I observed their process to see how they developed. I started with strict assignments to get them used to working in the medium and then I took away some of the constraints and allowed students to find their own solutions with more freedom. My students were still required to meet the requirements of the assignment, but the task became more problem-based.

Did you grade or assess your students’ sketchbooks in any way?
I gave the students credit for working the whole class period on Friday. They were given a week to finish the assignment, and the following Friday I checked to see if they added to their journals for more points.

Did you work in a sketchbook alongside your students? If so, why or what effect did this have?
Yes. I think that watching someone else go through the process is helpful. Working alongside my students created a community. They saw my desire to work in my visual journals which made them more interested in journaling. Working on our journals at the same time built a family.

Can you briefly describe at least one assignment or guideline that you had for your students?
Students had to find a random object that could be attached to their sketchbook the week before the assignment. They were required to bring the object in to class and create a narrative about where the object came from and who lost it. Then, they had to relate the object to their own life through that narrative and talk about the significance of that object.


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I was very impressed and excited after interviewing these exemplar art teachers that they were already modeling a creative use of sketchbooks in their classrooms! Rebecca and Sara both mention slowly weaning their students off of the structured prompts to give the students more freedom as the semester progressed. This is directly related to the fading technique in learning theory used to develop creativity. Rebecca discussed having one-on-one discussions with her students about their responses and sketchbooks, similar to the recommendations by Beattie (1997).

Problem-finding was an emergent theme from conducting these interviews. Both Rebecca and Sara discussed the importance of problem-finding and problem-solving as strategies to develop creativity through sketchbook use. Runco (2007) explains that problem-finding is just as important as problem solving for developing creativity. Open-ended assignments allow students to develop the problem for themselves and work through the process of discovering their own solution.

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Many artists use sketchbooks to help them work through the creative process using methods similar to the ones I have presented in this wiki. Look at artists’ websites who share their sketchbooks to gain a better understanding of how they use their sketchbooks to record the world around them and develop their creative process.

The techniques presented in this wiki can be applied to other fields outside of art and art education. There are a number of studies that explore using reflective visual and verbal journals to help students reflect throughout the learning process. Reflecting throughout the learning process allows students to develop their metacognitive processes, which are often related to creativity.

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Other Resources:
Check out this research study:
Parker (2005) uses many creativity theorists to support the use of sketchbooks in her GCSE class: Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, B. F. Skinner’s idea of liberation, and Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of the environmental impact and family circumstances. You can read the entire awesome article online. <http://ehis.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=65028319-cc0c-4596-ab19-c36d64f9df7f%40sessionmgr11&vid=3&hid=3>

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Click here for a brief history of creativity in Art Education!
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Look inside MY sketchbook!

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