I sat at my breakfast table, sipping coffee and watching the snowfall. I’ve always assumed that snow falls, but this time I realized that, instead of a straight drop, the flakes dance their way down doing a sort of bourrée. I focused my attention on a single snowflake from the thousands that were swirling before me. I watched it drift down, float back up a few inches, cut to the right, spiral into a vortex, and finally disappear on to a blanket of white.
It’s a curious experience to observe a single flake. Watching the blowing mass can have a disquieting effect, whereas following a single flake of snow is an enchanting experience; joyful, and revelatory. This observation brought to mind the ways children create. Together, children seem to move as a swarm. Many times adults fret that they might collide or blow off course if we do not constantly intervene and shepherd them along. In my fourth-grade classroom, I have witnessed the myriad ways children whirl, pivot, and spin their creativity. One minute they are engrossed in a solitary artistic exploration and the next minute they are excitedly sharing their creation with a group of friends.
In the 1979 book, Children in Time and Space, Gehrke writes in the chapter, “Rituals of the Hidden Curriculum,” how schooling is made up of traditional practices that are “imbued with a certain sacred air” but discourage “spontaneity and creativity” . Friere takes this point a step further with his banking concept of education. This concept features “knowledge (as) a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing” a process which “negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry” and will “minimize or annul the students’ creative power” .
Yet anecdotal evidence has shown that “the arts are associated with enhanced student motivation and achievement in non-art domains” . Furthermore, the literature suggests that the arts have a role in the “construction and development of knowledge” and may be used by children to “represent increasingly complex ideas” . The arts provide “knowledge of the world” , and “creat(e) visual imagery of different kinds (that) can have significant cognitive benefit” . Student empowerment is a key to establishing a learning environment that supports arts-based inquiries  and for the past few years I have been striving to create a democratic classroom wherein my students are allowed agency in their learning. I am especially interested in ways elementary classroom teachers could “support the students as they create artwork”  and facilitate students’ self-initiated, creative explorations .
A student, whose name begins with a W, created a personal logo using Cheerios during math class. Snack time usually coincides with math and in this instance, Cheerios cereal provided a convenient expressive/graphic material.
For my contributions to ALT/space I would like to posit, reflect on, and respond to the question, “In what types of creative endeavors will fourth graders take part when allowed agency in the elementary classroom?” This past school year, for example, the artistic exploits of my students proved that even the most mundane materials such as pushpins and Cheerios could be used to create compelling artworks. Since September, my students’ self-initiated creativity has produced a number of unorthodox works from wrapping items in masking tape creating thickly cocooned enclosures to hurling paint-filled paper pods onto rolls of stretch paper. The self-directed creativity of students provides opportunities for teachers to learn from their students’ authentic art-making  and during this past school year, I have learned much.
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