Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Uh, That's Not What I Planned for You to Do"

Today I read a great post on Imagination Soup about convergent vs. divergent thinking. (Imagination Soup has a couple of posts about this. Check them out...after you leave here of course!) That post coupled with Teacher Tom's post about art exploration made me ponder on my insistence on open-ended activities throughout my classroom.

Open-ended? Those are activities that allow kids to decide when an activity is over. And how the activity should be done. I often provide activities with some idea in mind of what the kids can do. But then they can always adjust and change it with their own ideas. They turn counting activities into a construction project. Or use chairs to create a car. Or turn an art exploration into a sorting activity. Or create a two-story house in an unusual way. And that's okay.

This week I put out the stamp pads and some foam stamps. I didn't have a particular idea in mind, just allow them to explore the bird and flower stamps. (And leaves and hearts.) We also put out a pencil so kids could write names on their pictures when they were complete. (That way, it's easier to make sure that everyone gets his own work in the easiest way possible.)

Kids worked in their own ways. They printed their names on their stamped pictures.

"It's a pattern."

I heard my favorite words. "Mr. Scott, look. I colored in the space." T had used the pencil to color in the white space on his stamped leaf. I marveled at his divergent thinking and he went back to the table.

A few minutes later, I visited the table again. C was using the pencil to draw details in the picture he created with stamps.

"Two birds in trees. One bird on the ground."

T was just sitting there, watching. Not unhappy or anything. Just sitting. I found this behavior unusual. Then an idea hit me.

"Are you waiting for the pencil?" I asked. He nodded. "I can get you another pencil," I said.

He took it happily and began to fill in all the white spaces in his stamped images.

I found this intriguing. In fact, I even thought (to myself): "That's not what I planned for you to do with those pencils. Isn't that so cool?" I never even thought about using the pencils to add to the stamped pictures. But they did.

So often I've seen teachers who have a preconceived idea about how something should be done. And they "strongly encourage" kids to do it the teacher's way. That really grates on me.

Open-ended activities and a "yes" attitude can lead kids to think in lots of different ways—divergent thinking. After all, there's more than one way to use a pencil with your stamped picture.


  1. I love this post! I get giddy when our 2's and 3's take something and add their own spin on it. I sit back and watch and marvel. It creates such a wonderful learning opportunity. Thanks, Scott!

    1. Isn't it fun to see how their minds work? I'm always saying to myself, "I would never think of that!"

  2. My toddlers never cease to surprise with the ways they use materials. Thinks I would never think of and we give them the space to try out their ideas. I feel that they learn so much more when they try out their own ideas rather than repeat something I think they should do. And it usually gives me new ideas to boot!

  3. I read that article on Imagination Soup too. It's so cool to see the theory behind the article played out in someone's classroom.