Teacher-research intention

 I've been thinking about the way work with materials can create a context for challenge and rigor within projects. On my best days I can think of provocations that activate cognitive conflict or critical thinking for children. It is one of the hardest things I do. I don't think I'm very good at showing this important aspect of an atelierista's job. This year I want to focus my teacher-research on becoming more consistent in planning and documenting the rigor and challenge this type of encounter with materials creates.

Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling of encountering an idea that contradicts something you believe to be true. "Cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when (someone is) confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values." (wikipedia) Because we want to feel better and ease the mental discomfort of cognitive dissonance, people will change or add the new information to their thinking. In this way 'knotty problems' which cause cognitive dissonance lead us to build knowledge and deeper understandings. So setting up contexts which bring children to the point of cognitive dissonance is how I can bring rigor to projects all around the school.
Here are a few examples which I didn't capture particularly well, but which hint at the possibilities ahead;

In order to create a game they could play together, these children had to agree on common definition of 'game', the object and rules. Working with materials forced them to come into intersubjectivity.

Artist Ei Arakawa challenged us to create 'island hats' for more than one head. Children designed hats which were symbols of the community and isolation of immigrants to New York and Ellis Island. The elementary, preschool and VCU students directly experienced the difficulty of being in community while trying to match their pace and height, wearing the hats in an island parade. In this way the materials made everyone experience the ideas behind the project directly. Contemporary artists work with materials and ideas in the same way we can work with children in the atelier.

A group of young children who were fascinated with the gothic design of Old City hall were more satisfied with clay representations which could capture the qualities of rich texture and ornate design better than drawing. The children couldn't name these qualities but discovered them in a tactile way through the clay.


  1. Anna, I think the teacher-research that you've been doing is very beneficial for your students. Your description of cognitive dissonance really got me thinking about how conflict and disagreements are problems that all of us run into during our daily lives, and I think it's great that you're incorporating healthy discussion and problem-solving skills into your curriculum. I really enjoyed the way you had your students create common rules and definitions for a game; I have employed that in my own practice, as well. While working as a camp counselor, I had my campers create a list of rules for our group that they all thought were reasonable, and all of them could meet. It was a great way for the kids to get directly involved in the way we wanted our group to function, and the results were very successful. I also really enjoyed the hats that you had the students design; I believe that direct experiences are the best way for students to be totally immersed in learning.



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