5. The Literacy Tapestry: Language Arts (the Warp) and Creativity (the Weft) (2/4) – Best Practices for Education Professionals

54 Best Practices for Education Professionals
attitude (I can’t-it is), or what I learned to call my “gremlin” mind (Carson, 1983). I
remember loving school supplies, including crayons, coloring books, and those plastic
palettes of watercolors, when I was in kindergarten; I also remember at some point
being fussed at about color choice and coloring outside the lines. There was a televi-
sion show on during the late 1950s called “John Gnagy Teaches You to Draw.” Gnagy
also published several learn-to-draw type of books (1950), one of which I still have!
I never missed that black-and-white show and loved drawing. Over the years, I have
purchased drawing supplies, but never really invested much time or energy in draw-
ing. My time and energy were directed to other pursuits: continuing my education,
marriages, raising my child, and moving to different homes numerous times.
I also always loved writing, and had periodic bursts of poetry writing throughout
high school and my 20s and 30s. Sadly, I did not keep any of this early poetry. In the
last few years, I have lled at least four or ve journals with poems, not to mention
scraps of paper and the margins of notebooks. I have gotten wiser, and keep every
poem I write.
In high school, I was introduced to another creative outlet, sewing, as part of a
Home Economics class. Textile arts have remained a constant creative outlet over the
last 37 years. I also added needlework to my textile art repertoire, as well as quilting
and fabric painting.
That brings me to the visual arts, especially drawing and painting. I do not re-
member when I rst became aware of the desire to paint. I had always loved going to
museums and looking at art books. I did have some opportunity to explore the visual
arts when I took an Art Education Materials and Methods class as an undergraduate.
I kept all of those art supplies and moved them from house to house and city to city,
from marriage to divorce, from teaching in elementary schools to teaching at the uni-
versity level. When I accepted my current position, I was delighted to nd that one of
the benets was that I could take a class for free each semester. What a great benet
for someone who loves being in school, as a teacher and as a student! When I became
aware that there was a range of ne arts classes available to me, I was even more
excited. I took several classes, including Drawing I and II, and Painting I and II. I re-
kindled my love of drawing and painting, both of which are great for someone whose
learning preferences are visual and tactile. I have a small art studio at home, and paint
and draw often. Oh, I am still writing poetry and have some ideas for children’s books.
Happily, there is a class that helped me combine my personal interest in arts and crafts
with my professional (teaching) career.
The Language Arts involve six language modes: listening and speaking; reading and
writing; and viewing and representing visually. The classes taught in the M.S.Ed.
Literacy Program at SUNY-Plattsburgh address curriculum and instruction in literacy.
These graduate classes address all aspects of literacy, including reading instruction,
assessment, writing, children’s and young adult literature, literacy coaching, multi-
cultural competencies, research methods in literacy, literacy in global and democratic
societies, and reading in content areas. The classes allow students to obtain a master’s
The Literacy Tapestry: Language Arts (the Warp) and Creativity (the Weft) 55
degree in Literacy and certification as a Literacy Specialist Birth to Grade 6 or Literacy
Specialist Grades 6–12. The classes involve advanced study in curriculum and instruc-
tion in the Language Arts. There are both required classes and five or six electives.
One of the elective classes is EDR564: Creative Responses to Children’s and Young
Adult Literature. Students across several programs can enroll in this class, including
M.S.Ed. Literacy Specialists, M.S.Ed. Special Education, M.S.Ed. Curriculum and In-
struction, and M.S.T. Childhood and Adolescence Education. In addition, undergradu-
ate students who meet certain eligibility requirements can enroll in the class.
Since it is an elective, the course is not taught frequently. In the past 13 years, I
have taught the class ve times, including three times during a summer session. The
following description derives from my teaching of two specic sections. One section
was taught in the Spring semester (16 weeks) of 2007 and one section was taught as
a two-week (ten class periods), four and a half hours per class period, course in the
Summer of 2010.
In the Spring of 2007 I taught EDR564: Creative Responses to Children’s and Young
Adult Literature, for the first time. This class gave me a unique opportunity to combine
many interests: teaching, reading, and a burgeoning passion for art. The class had not
been taught in quite some time, so I was able to be innovative in designing the syl-
labus. My first challenge was to define the parameters of the course. I also wanted
to ensure that I addressed the meta-affective behaviors I hoped the students would
understand and exhibit, including valuing their own unique talents and demonstrating
accurate concepts about and positive responses to creative expression and literature.
Since this was a graduate elective course, I decided to focus on aspects of creative
responses, and even more fundamentally, creativity and how to integrate creativity
with the Language Arts. I felt that if I could help teacher education students recap-
ture their own buried creativity or discover new ways to express their creativity, they
would have a foundation for using creative responses in their own classrooms. I hoped
to help them begin or continue their own creative journeys. My fundamental premise
was that teachers, who are comfortable with their own creativity, will be more willing
to support their students’ creative endeavors. Thus, objectives for this course reected
my intentions. The objectives included a focus on fostering creativity and integrating
creativity with curriculum and instruction in literature study (see Appendix A for the
Master Course Outline that is the basis for syllabus for the course). Literature study
uses quality literature, such as narrative texts and poetry, to integrate all six of the
Language Arts.
During the many semesters I have taught this course, I have used several texts
(see Bibliography/Suggested Readings). Currently, I am using texts by Adams (2001)
and Cornett (2007); I had previously used a text by Lynch and Harris (2001). My
connection with the Adams text is a part of my creative journey. I learned about the
book during my rst semester of university teaching, when I attended a workshop on
teaching offered by one of the faculty members. I loved the book, and still had the
56 Best Practices for Education Professionals
copy I bought as a result of workshop––it was a slightly used rst edition, published in
1976. I remembered that book, and knew it would be perfect for my class. I have used
it every time I have taught the Creative Responses Course. I highly recommend it to
anyone who would like to discover what is preventing your creativity from manifest-
ing and what is preventing you from following your path, your joy, your passion, and
your pleasure. The Adams text provides concise descriptions about creativity blocks
and provides all sorts of blockbusting exercises and activities. According to Adams
(2001), the major categories of creativity blocks, or obstacles are: 1) Perceptual blocks
(perceiving clearly); 2) Emotional blocks (such as fear, inexibility, and judging; 3)
Cultural and environmental blocks (such as taboos, distractions, and resistance to
playfulness); and 4) Intellectual (inefcient skills and strategies) and Expressive (inef-
fective communication with self and others) blocks.
The course consists of the following basic components:
“warm-up” or Bell Ringer 10-minute activities to help the students move into
the creative mode. One such activity involved students drawing complete
pictures based on random shapes that I put on the board or computer screen.
Another activity involved a free-write; students generated a list of words in
response to a word or phrase I gave them.
Brief in-class activities designed to extend and enhance both the creative
process and to generate textual connections: text-to-text; text-to-self; text-to-
world; and text-to-media. Examples of these activities include SCAMPER
(Eberle, 1989), poetry writing, creating pictures based on random geometric
A major project designed to bring aspects of the class together in a cohesive
We engaged in whole class and small group discussions about literature, the stu-
dents’ out-of-class activities and assignments, and the class frequently ended with a
read-aloud of popular children’s books or excepts from young adult literature. More
information about the activities and projects is found in the subsequent paragraphs.
Many of the in-class activities I utilized during the Spring 2007 semester were
derived from the Adams (2001) text. Most activities required few materials and little
time; we could often complete two activities in one class period. I used these activities
in addition to those from other sources as warm-up at the beginning of class and after
break. De Bono (1992b) offers many tools and techniques that can be systematically,
deliberately, and consistently used to foster and nourish creativity. I introduced some
of his tools early in the semester to familiarize highly motivated individuals with his
tools and as “warm-up” exercises. I also spent some time talking about De Bono’s
(1992b) six thinking hats. The six thinking hats are represented by six colors: the white
hat involves data and information; the red hat represents emotions, feelings, intuition,
and hunches; the black hat is the critical judgment hat, representing a type of think-
ing that prevents one from making mistakes, doing silly things, or engaging in illegal
acts; the yellow hat symbolizes the positive view and optimism; the green hat denotes
The Literacy Tapestry: Language Arts (the Warp) and Creativity (the Weft) 57
creative thinking, new ideas, possibilities, and alternatives; and the blue hat signies
process-control, the next step in thinking, summaries, conclusions, and decisions (pp.
77–81). If the synergy of the class seemed muddled or gloomy, I would ask students
to put on their yellow hat, because it represents sunshine, “optimism, and the logical
positive view of things” (p. 79). I also used many other warm-up exercises, such as
“Wacky Wordies” (Fry, Kress, & Fountoukidis, 2000, pp. 409–414). Other sources for
warm-up exercises and activities include Bob Eberle’s SCAMPER technique (1989),
the Creative Whack Pack (von Oech, 1992), and Visual Brainstorms 2 (Gardner, 1997).
The major project during the Spring 2007 class was the “Visual Scheme of My
Creative and Literate Self” (see Appendix B). What is so amazing, gratifying, and
rewarding is the variety of products the students create. In the classes in which I have
used this project, including the EDR564 classes, for a total of approximately 100 stu-
dents, I have never had a “repeat” product. Students have created large mosaics, have
produced one-person plays, and have created sculptures, costumes, and dioramas. Ev-
ery product and every presentation has been unique, original, and moving. Students
have told me that the project is one of the most meaningful assignments they have
ever completed. As with all teaching and learning, the ultimate goal is for the skills,
techniques, and strategies to become an integral part of the learner. I know that has
happened when former students, who currently have their own students, contact me
and tell me how they are applying and adapting what they learned in my class.
Although the course description, objectives, and content remained the same for the
Summer 2010 class, many of the activities and projects were changed to suit the nature
of an intensive two-week class. Rather than the “Visual Scheme of my Creative and
Literate and Creative Self” Project, the students engaged in eight “Artist’s Dates” with
accompanying journal entries, a lesson implementation that combined literature and
creative expression, and a “Create a Book” project. The Artist’s Date idea is based on
the books by Julia Cameron (1992, 1996, and 1999). I explained what the Artist’s Date
involved––setting aside at least an hour per day to engage in creative pursuits, and I
took the students on their rst Artist’s Date on the rst day of class. We visited the on-
campus Rockwell Kent Museum. I was thrilled at the students’ responses to this eld
trip. Many brought sketch pads, drawing pencils, and journals to the rst class and
used those materials during our visit. During each class meeting, we discussed their
previous day’s artist’s dates. Since creativity involves time, I dismissed the class one
hour early each day. Their lessons and books were likewise impressive. One student
who was interested in baking created an illustrated children’s cookbook; one student
wrote and illustrated a book about his son’s interests in nature. One student invited
her father to participate in several of her artist’s dates, and said that he was so touched
about sharing this special time that he cried. She also said that, of all the classes she
had taken in her graduate program, this was the most relaxed that she had ever been.
I encouraged all of the students to pursue publication of their original books. I should
note that this class was open to students in other programs, including non-teacher edu-
cation programs. The synergy produced by the diversity of students in the class was
marvelous. We formed a special bond, and several of the students have told me that
they have continued with their artist’s dates.
58 Best Practices for Education Professionals
I often think is terms of analogies and often use analogies when teaching my class-
es. In addition, I often make connections between my professional pursuits and my
hobbies, the arts, and crafts. Thus, the analogy that I have created to explain what I
consider the best practice of combining Language Arts and literacy is to compare it
to weaving a tapestry. Weaving is a textile craft in which two distinct sets of yarns,
threads called the warp, and a filling or weft, are entwined and interconnected to form
a fabric or cloth. The warp threads run lengthways on the piece of cloth and the weft
runs across from side to side. Cloth is woven on a loom, a device that holds the warp
threads in place while filling threads are woven through them. The way the warp and
filling threads intermingle with each other is called the weave. The majority of woven
products are created with one of three basic weaves and woven cloth can be plain (in
one color or a simple pattern), or can be woven in decorative or artistic designs, in-
cluding tapestries. Using Language Arts as the warp and creativity as the weft creates,
in my opinion, a most beautiful literacy tapestry.
During the creative act, the artist addresses three major goals of attitude, con-
tent, and process (just as one does in reading). Additionally, the artist uses specic
strategies appropriate to the artistic medium from the major cueing systems, which
I identied by reading pedagogy theorists and practitioners, including the authors of
the texts that I use for the Creative Responses class (and other classes I teach).
May and Rizzardi (2002) describe the four cueing systems used by readers as: 1) the
graphophonic, which is the sound-symbol relationship); 2) the syntactic, which is the
rule system of our language; 3) the semantic, the meanings of words; and 4) the prag-
matic/schematic, which involves the readers background knowledge and memories.
The four cueing systems within art are: 1) semantic (meaning of the art); 2) syntactic
(structure of the art); 3) technique (mechanics of the art); and, 4) pragmatic (function
of the art; the product’s audience). For me, the creative process is cyclical, simultane-
ous, and ongoing; becoming and being creative requires acceptance of miscues and
approximations, modeling by skilled practitioners, and engaging in conversation and
sharing with other artists. It is my belief that creativity and the six Language Arts are
interrelated parallel processes; thus, it is natural and authentic to combine the two
processes in an instructional setting. In my courses, I have the complementary areas
of creativity and Language Arts and the interrelated areas of meta-cognition and meta-
affective strategies in mind while planning and engaging in instruction.
I am a teacher educator who teaches literacy in all of its varied and multi-layered
aspects. I have a broad view of literacy and I long ago recognized that my philosophy
of education integrated aspects of student-centered and personal-centered philoso-
phies. Along with the language modes of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, the
“newest additions” of viewing and representing visually cross over several categories
of literacy. For example, viewing and representing visually are also components of
technological literacy. Engaging in communicative acts is both a social process and
a highly personal, intimate, and individual act. Clay (1991) stated that the goal is
for the reader to develop inner control of the process of engaging in language. The