Research Summary for Personal Context
The foundation of this practice is the belief in the student as artist, which places primary control and decision making in the hands of the student rather than the teacher. Choice-based art education offers students real control (Cotter, 2002). Instead of producing "school art," this practice solicits the student's authentic art and recognizes that students' lives and play are important and rich sources of subject matter (Effland, 1976; Smith, 1995; London, 1989, 1999; Szekely, 1988). Students determine relevant content and are free to address issues that break the mold of a one-size-fits-all lesson (Douglas, 2001). Students alone decide what holds potential for personal exploration and specialization (Douglas, 2001; Szekely, 1988, 2002; Coles, 1992; Burton, 2000; Sullivan, 1993).
The open-ended nature of the choice-based classroom offers the student a fresh confidence in approaching art. London (1989) writes, "Once we create imagery that honestly represents how life feels from the inside, there is a deep sense of personal empowerment and a new degree of private certainty." Opportunities for scribbling and play are provided in the choice-based art classroom. This is not only a necessary component of art making, but part of human learning for beginners (Gardner, 1982; Szekely, 1989; Thompson, 1995).
When students' lives are considered important and appropriate material for art making, the variety of backgrounds and interests allow multicultural and visual culture references to emerge in the work. (Eisner, 2001; Quick-to-See Smith, 1995; London, 1989) Such recognition of students' lives promotes the kind of social interaction fundamental to the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1962). The community of learners contributes to the formation of knowledge; according to constructivist theory, all knowledge is built on prior knowledge and no knowledge is independent of the meaning ascribed to it by the learner or community of learners (Vygotsky, 1978; Kohn, 1993; Kamii, 1991; Parnell, 1996).
For optimal learning the student must be involved in choosing the nature and content of their learning path (Dewey, 1938; Rogers, 1977; Bandura, 1982; Cobb, 1989). Students who have control over subject matter, materials, and approach are more responsible for their learning (Cotter, 2002; Flowerday, 2000; Burton, 1991; Thompson, 1995; Andrews, 2001). Students who are given choices take more risks and take on larger challenges than standard curricula might suggest (Hart, 1983; Kovalic, 1994). Students who believe in their own work are motivated and engaged (LaChapelle, 1991; Emery, 1989; Flowerday, 2000). Bandura's (1982) theory of social learning and self-efficacy notes that one's sense of self influences one's choices, effort, and persistence.
Students are intrinsically motivated when allowed to direct their own learning experience and when they feel their efforts are worthwhile (DeCharms, 1968; Bandura, 1982; Glasser, 1990; Csikzentmihalyi & Nakamura, 1989; Deci & Ryan, 1992). Working at appropriate levels of challenge incites intrinsic rewards through achievement (Vygotsky, 1978; Kohn, 1993). The brain has its own reward system for achievement. Biological and chemical mechanisms in the brain trigger the feelings of well-being and elation that accompany true accomplishment (Nakamura, 1993).
Constructivist theory states that new knowledge is constructed on the foundation of previous knowledge for the purpose of understanding (Vygotsky, 1968; 1972). Brain research suggests relevancy increases neural communication, strengthening the brain (Jensen, 1998). The brain elicits patterns to make a meaningful context (Kovalik, 1994; Bruce & Green, 1990). Research tells us we all have natural, pattern-seeking behavior, which some suggest is innate (Frantz, 1961). By practicing art, the human brain rewires itself to make stronger connections, engaging multiple intelligences (Kolb & Whishaw, 1990).
Emotions are a critical source of information for learning (LeDoux, 1993, 1994, 1996; Hooper & Teresi, 1986; Hobson, 1994). In Teaching With The Brain in Mind (1998), Jensen links current brain research and learning theory to the subject of meaning. Learner relevancy engages the emotions and triggers chemical mechanisms that signal the brain to retain important information (Hooper & Teresi, 1986). Emotions engage meaning and predict future learning because they involve our goals, beliefs, biases, and expectancies (Cytowic, 1993; Le Doux 1996).
Emotions stimulate body awareness, creativity, and a sense of self (Williams, 1977). Emotions drive attention, create meaning, and have their own memory pathways (Damasio, 1994; LeDoux, 1994). The artistic process engages many faculties but most significantly emotions and decision making. Artists frequently use feelings to determine what to do next. Emotions can help inform quality, value-based decisions and recall memories (Christianson, 1992). Our ability to discriminate is not solely cognitive. It involves calling on emotions that are processed unconsciously (Cytowic, 1993; LeDoux, 1996). The systems of emotion and cognition are virtually inseparable (Hobson, 1994; LeDoux 1996).
Teachers help children clarify their own values by helping them to make choices from alternatives and to consider the consequences of those choices (Raths, 1966). Constance Kamii (1991) writes, "We cannot expect children to accept ready-made values and truths all the way through school, and then suddenly make choices in adulthood. Likewise, we cannot expect them to be manipulated with reward and punishment in school, and to have the courage of a Martin Luther King in adulthood." We deprive students of meaningfulness if we ignore the emotional components of what we teach (Caine & Caine, 1994). Brain-compatible teaching should inform effective art teaching (Sullivan, 1989). In the choice-based art classroom, meaning ultimately can create student understanding (Eisner, 2001; Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Sullivan, 1993).
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