Mindfulness is actually defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment. An artist’ work will benefit from being in the present moment. By being totally focused on what we are doing we can create amazing art. What I am more interested in is, how can we harness the idea of mindfulness in a way that encourages creativity and thinking? Not only that but is exciting (or even acceptable) to students.
How does Mindfulness work in the Art Room? Well if I am continuing on the honesty train, in our current situation, not well. The school based mindfulness is the most stressful time of my day. I spend 5-10 minutes attempting to silence students. By the end I am frazzled and my students are frustrated with me. The routines we have established since 6th grade, are disrupted.This new initiative doesn't fit with my classroom. My students love to create art, they come to my room to build, create and dream. But the school mindfulness time doesn't help this. I should state again, I adore what the school is trying to do. I agree mindfulness will benefit the student. I do truly believe this, but in my space, at this time, it doesn't fit. And I believe there are multiple reasons why.
First, I've noticed when my students do participate their creativity centers seem lower and function less. Ideas seem to struggle out of them. Despite trying extra mindful thinking routines and looking at the artist's habits of mind, I find my students are still taking 3-steps backwards on their idea generation and creative thinking. I felt like I was missing something, so, in an effort to figure out what I am doing wrong, I began listening to the book Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire. As Erica Roberts on The Mindful Word website stated in her review about the chapter on Mindfulness in the book Wired to Create. "It’s explained that certain types of meditation (those that encourage some wandering of the mind, such as the open-monitoring style or relaxed mantra-focused practices like Transcendental Meditation) can aid the creative process, while other types (those that promote focused attention on a particular object or action, such as breathing, only) may actually block the flow of creative ideas." It is the second type that we are using in our school and it is my theory that this mediation style though rarely being used by students may be hindering their growth as creative thinkers. However, I don't want to only blame the mindful meditation that has us emptying our minds. I do believe myself as a teacher is at fault as well. So, it is my goal over the Holiday Break to research and explore more middle school minded transcendental meditation and try out a few on my students.
Secondly, my students are worried about themselves and how they appear in front of their friends. At 13 years old, they are not worried about the benefits of mindfulness. They may state that they understand why it is a benefit but to stand up and actually meditate. But in front of 35 other students, on an art stool, it's not going to happen. I love how it stated in the Art of ED pro series, in the video on Middle School Classroom management "middle school students are only worried about 2 things, US (like their greater group of friends) and THEM (as in themselves)." When they are silent (if they are silent) they are not thinking about emptying their brain but are thinking "Is my friend doing this?" "Are they looking at me?" "If Bella sees me mediating what will she say at lunch?" "Isn't Johnny sooooooo cute?" "Do you think Amelia likes me?" "Do you really think they like my hair?", etc, etc.
So what can we do to help students become more mindful in the art studio?
First, let's teach students how to focus their thoughts.
- Twenty tabs open in your brain happens, but how do we focus on to one thing and follow through on that. We need to be encouraging students to be in the present moment. I love the article on Five Minute Mindfulness on the Art of Ed that talks about using 5 minutes of silent time. My current students are predisposed to dislike the word “mindfulness”, so I will be seeking a different word for this time. Maybe we will call it our Chagall Time or Dali Time since they worked with dreams and thoughts.
- Take a look at Cultures of Thinking and Thinking Routines by Ron Ritchhart. This can be powerful if you can get your whole school involved. One of our elementary’s uses this and it has changed their entire building.
- Go old school and return to the VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) days
- Take some space in class to just observe and see.
- Take your students for a walk around campus and see who can notice the most unusual things.
- Have students keep a visual diary. In the book Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld one of the sub characters is a collector of all kinds of crazy things and these things change as the books she is writing change.
- Take a day each week to review the Artist Habits of Mind.
- Check in with your students and see if they are actually doing these.
- These are included in my rubrics for each project and I ask them about it in their project completion self-assessment survey.
- I give this to the students to keep in their sketchbooks. I also have small individual ones, for each Habit on my wall.
- In the Podcast Everyday Art Room for the Art of Ed, Cassie Stephens discusses having a Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light for the vocal level in the art room. I use a similar system except for Technology. After listening to Cassie Stephens podcast I think I will be creating 3 small canvas' with a paint brush for talking (or maybe lips because middle school students would like that) and a cell phone for technology.
- I found this article Guided Imagery: Use these scripts to help children cope with anxiety and stress from Catherine Gillespie-Lopes on the Mindful Word website incredibly helpful and enlightening.
- The Chopra Center has some helpful resources
I hope this helps you create a space for Mindfulness in your classroom.
There are so many ways that we can grow from being in touch with our own thoughts and ideas. As artists we don't need to clear out the clutter in our brain, we just need to organize it and use it to our benefit.