- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

NORWALK, Conn. (AP) - More than a dozen Brien McMahon High School art students sat at large black tables drawing figures, coloring with wooden pencils and jotting down notes, all into thick white-paged journals.

Some filled entire pages with large, vibrant sketches. Others illustrated only small sections of the page, focusing in on detail.

To Ashley Calderon, a freshman at Brien McMahon High School, the journal served as a road map to her creative process: an outlet for her rough drafts that she could slowly improve over time.

“I usually just put my drafts in the journal,” Calderon, 13, said. “I basically just think and draw it out and see if it looks nice.”

The idea for the so-called “visual journaling” came from the students’ teacher Sarah Ritz Swain, after a trip to Greece this past summer paid for by the Fund for Teachers, a national organization that supports educators’ efforts to develop skills, knowledge and confidence to increase student achievement.

For just over a week at the end of June and into early July, Swain participated in a creativity workshop on the island of Crete.

Swain found herself in the old harbor of Chania surrounded by ancient venetian structures.

“I chose to attend the workshop in Greece because it was going to have the most influence on me geographically,” Swain said. “Sometimes I’m most inspired when I’m in nature. And I knew that Crete would do that for me.”

For several hours each day, Swain along with over a dozen other workshop participants would fill a large, plain room inside of the host hotel. They would do exercises such as yoga to stimulate creativity. They would also write stories based off of objects found while exploring the nearby city, create paintings and sketch out drawings.

After the first day though, Swain said she realized the workshop was aimed more at sparking creativity rather than how to teach it.

“This just wasn’t working for me,” Swain said. “My problem wasn’t coming up with creative ideas, but to discover how I could teach this overwhelming sense of creativity to my students.”

Swain raised her concern to the workshop leader, who told her to change the way she approached the workshop.

“When I wrote things, rather than share what I wrote I would share how I went about writing it,” she said.

So, for example, while the class wrote plays, Swain chose to focus on the process she would use to do so rather than just on the play itself.

To create the dialogue for the play, she developed several characters and “resumes” for each of the characters to better define their traits and how they would speak.

“At the end I realized I came up with a process for creatively writing a play,” she said.

Swain then translated that method of working with creativity into the classroom at Brien McMahon.

Through money from Fund For Teachers she was able to buy each of her students a visual journal, where students would plan their art work, take notes on ideas, make sketches and more.

Julita Przybylska, a 17-year-old senior in one of Swain’s classes, wants to study architecture. She uses visual journaling to help her develop her designs.

“I think it helps me come up with better ideas,” Przybylska said. “Instead of just starting on a project with the first thing that comes to my mind, I am able to plan out my ideas.”

Swain said that is the idea.

“Creativity is not some big overwhelming thing,” she said. “It is a process. It’s not a genius moment.”

Overall, Swain said the workshop helped her to become a better teacher of art.

“From the workshop, I realized I was already a leader of creativity and I just needed someone to show me that I could be.”

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Information from: The Hour, https://www.thehour.com


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