By Rayne Carlile, 1st Grade Teacher, Cedar Fork Elementary
I’m a first grade teacher at Cedar Fork Elementary in Wake County. I enjoy creativity, but I also like order and control—I am a teacher, after all. So can creativity and order coexist in the classroom? From my forays into arts integration lesson planning, I’ve found the answer is yes, they can coexist—at least sometimes.
At the suggestion (coercing) of my sister, I attended a United Arts Council Arts Integration Workshop held at the N.C. Museum of Art in December. At that Saturday morning workshop, we made environmentally-focused collages related to curriculum material, including weather. I made a wind-themed collage.
In the Classroom
We were not studying weather in my classroom, but we were beginning our unit on habitats and organisms. I decided to incorporate the collage piece into my unit. Then I shared the lesson with the whole first grade team with the confidence that the workshop had addressed the specific learning standards and skills we were incorporating.
For our habitat unit we had made an aquarium with plants, snails, pill bugs etc. As a culminating activity, I asked the students to recreate the underwater habitat through collage.
So this is what we did. We used a lot of leftover art supplies. We bought nothing new. Children brought in extra feathers and tissue paper from home. The art teacher shared construction paper and glue. And my favorite addition—we received discontinued wallpaper samples—multi-colored, patterned, purple. It was wonderful.
And what was I nervous about? I thought the classroom might erupt in chaos. I thought the amount of unrestricted movement around the room to gather supplies would prove too much. I imagined teachers peaking in from other rooms to make sure I was OK. Students fighting over a coveted piece of wallpaper. I was nervous about the same things many other teachers would be concerned about when trying a new, more free form activity in the classroom.
But...none of those scenarios happened.
The most remarkable thing was how well mannered and polite the children were throughout the process. They shared supplies generously and the mood was eerily calm. Genuinely engaged in a creative process, they could not and would not be easily distracted.
Final Product vs. Process
The process is clearly important in the creative process. But the final products were so adorable and made with such care, it’d be impossible not to love them too. Abstract in every way, the students could tell you exactly what every feather and piece of tissue paper represented on their creations.
I learned a lot from the arts integration workshop, and even more from integrating art into a real lesson in my classroom.
The student takeaway is the real glory in this experiment. Students had the chance to be genuinely creative—a piece that is missing in so much classroom instruction these days.
So yes, order and creativity can coexist, and it did in the ways I had hoped it would. But I also found that letting go of order is really the best test in any classroom. And, letting go can be the best way for students to experiment in the chaos that is true creativity.
If you’re a teacher in Wake County, I hope you’ll join me at the United Arts Council Arts Integration Institute this summer for a chance to immerse ourselves in the chaos of art. A chance to recharge. And a chance to be inspired so we can keep inspiring our students next year!
Have a story to share about Arts Integration in your classroom? We'd love to hear from you.