The most important blog yet- how I involved an anxious learner

Well we’ve done it!

I’m feeling very over-whelmed tonight, I’m so proud of the journey that the participants have been on, not in a patronising way because I fully believed they could do it, they have so much creative sensitivities, it just needed to be ‘tapped in to’ and released.

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They spoke quite openly tonight about how, when we started this art project 6 months ago, that they were very hesitant, they didn’t believe they could do it and if I could get a pencil in their hand then they kept their work very private. Eddie, admitted that he avoided ‘the art bit’ by cooking for the group, which of course was amazing, but it was even better when he joined the group.

So I suppose this may become a bit of a guide on how to get people involved and encourage creativity:

  1. Do what they enjoy: It may take a couple of informal sessions to work this out, we did a couple of ‘getting to now each other sessions’ such as going for a walk and ‘hanging out’, nothing too serious. It soon came to light that photography was a common interest, so we went for it!

(a big thank you to @NorthernCollege and @PeopleMatters for helping us to build our photography skills)

2. Swap negativity for positivity: If you need to build confidence then do it slowly, start of with something fun and easy and build it up from there. Use positive language and praise.

3. Let them in on the secret. I have been present in far too many courses aimed for adult’s with learning disabilities that haven’t given the learner ‘the bigger picture’. Ok, each individual is different, some just want direct instruction, fine go with it, but, please don’t assume that an adult with learning disabilities can’t handle knowing why they’re doing something. I’ve seen ‘successful art produced’, with learning disability groups, by the tutor giving them exact instructions. Cool, you’ve something to put on the classroom wall, but was it really art or just an over used-method? I certainly believe that it doesn’t help the individual grow if they’ve done art for arts sake with no personal input.

4. Mix it up! At first we got into the rut of working as a group, all the time, which was fine for a bit as it encouraged team morale and social skills but eventually we we’re going to have to create some individual work. Now as the ‘facilitator’ how was I going to do this without mass panic? We probably take our autonomy for granted, the ability to have our own thoughts and put them in to use, but what if you don’t have the skills to self-govern? This was the dilemma I was faced with- I couldn’t suddenly set the whole group of working individually, heck, not without a lot of support! So I did it sneakily, and very controversially, as Eddie kept telling me. I set them off on a group task and then I made them switch task half way through, the whole group, to start a completely new task! I did this to them a few times, and then just before they got to the point of telling me about not finishing a task (ha ha, definitely not a problem for me) then I sent them of individually to finish something they had started. Ok, so there was no instant gratification that you get from a finished piece but that’s ok, we just saved it up! What it meant is that I never had to show them individually how to do something, this just would have been impossible with the groups demands, and it meant that for a good few month they approached each task confidently because it was something they had already started. They also started to show each other how to do something!

5. Put the emotion/feelings/creativity before the work:

Though I could go on, I think this is the most poignant one to stop on. Always allow the individual to approach the work with feelings before technique! It sounds simple doesn’t it? Most art classes teach technique first, shading, mixing, composition etc, but at the beginning, this was the reason why most of the group was hiding their work, this was the reason why they felt like they couldn’t do it, because, at some point in their lives someone had graded their technique and not their concept. Bang! The creativity has gone! It’s very scary to put your heart into something for it to be graded poorly because you didn’t use the whole of the paper! So what…well change the size of the paper!

Encouraging creativity grows confidence, rules and techniques can come later.

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