Sylvia Erlichman-Gross

Third year- Art Education Major

It’s Time for Some Creative Changes: Opening Our Eyes to New Perspectives About Individual Art-Making in Quebec Elementary Schools

Written work

I am an undergraduate student working towards my BFA in Art Education at Concordia University in Montreal. During a recent internship at an elementary school, I found that the students lacked enthusiasm for art class and were not engaged in the lessons and assignments; the teacher was more focused on the structure of the class than the morale in the classroom. Creativity cannot be taught, it must be nurtured. Nurturing creativity leads to confident self-expression, which again in turn leads to strong and passionate change-makers in our society. Tying lessons to a specific set of rules squanders the opportunity for one’s creativity and imagination to flourish. This is counterproductive to the future of society.

In contrast to what I saw as an intern, models of education like the Waldorf, for example, let students explore the new material and ideas before the teacher presents the concepts clearly and hands out reading material. This method of teaching can be more rewarding for the students in the art classroom, as they would be able to explore new mediums and techniques, which ignite imagination and independence before learning the theories. I believe that the creative freedoms articulated in the Quebec Education Program under Visual Arts Education¹are constricting and preventing young students in elementary school from expressing themselves fully in the art classroom. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education identifies three competencies in the visual arts for preschool and elementary school arts: To Produce Individual Works in the Visual Arts (Competency 1)², To Produce Media Works in the Visual Arts (Competency 2)³ and To Appreciate Works of Art, Traditional Artistic Objects, Media Images, Personal Productions and Those of Classmates (Competency 3). 4

Competency 1

Figure 1: A diagram of the objectives outlined under Competency 1, as shown in ch. 8.2 of the Quebec Education Program for Elementary Education document.

The section Competency 1 (Figure 1): To Produce Individual Works in the Visual Arts 5 outlines the creative process, as well as how students will progress through the Elementary school system. Competency 2 focuses on the students’ abilities to create media images that express their individual understanding of reality or personal experiences using elements of visual arts language that will support their intended message to show to viewers. Competency 3 focuses on art appreciation and building critical thinking skills as well as learning to examine and reflect on experiences as well as media images discussed. Although the Quebec Education Program (QEP) makes very strong arguments in each competency section, in reference to the production of individual works of art, the first competency holds a very rigid structure, which results in conformity instead of encouraging creative thinking.

The current structuring of the creative process in elementary education is at risk of silencing the creative ideas of students both in the classroom, as well as outside the classroom. I believe that focusing on a child-centered approach–including conversations about critical thinking, direct communication from teacher to student one-on-one, and encouraging respectful discussions and presentations in the art class environment–will ultimately provide a supportive space for elementary school students. With this, they will be able to express their ideas themselves by using lessons as time for expressive and free art making as well as structured projects. When lessons that focus on Competency 1 are planned in a way where they introduce information and material at the beginning of the class in a presentation format, this deters students from mentally and physically engaging in the beginning of the lesson. This type of engagement is well defined and opposed in the Waldorf model of education. 

I saw this during the observational internship I participated in during my first year in the major program. I was placed with the Art Specialist, and observed both Grade 3 and 5 art classes with an average class size of 22. For both grades, the Art Specialist focused largely on Competency 1, starting each lesson in the same format: A presentation style, where students must sit on the floor in a specific way, listen to the teacher explain new material and review the objectives for that day’s class. Every individual project had specific parameters, and held potential for students to utilize their unique creative ideas for specific aspects of the project. For example, the Grade 3 class was assigned a drawing project where the students would pick their favourite scene from a fairy tale that they were reading in English class and then recreate that scene in a drawing. Students imagined what the scene would look like if the story took place in the future. They were required to include the characters that were involved in that part of the fairy tale as well as any other given details, such as an action or setting that were mentioned in the story. But I found that many students had trouble drawing the characters as well as including everything that the teacher instructed for the lesson, leading to incomplete work for around 60% of students in that class. With what I have personally witnessed, I would argue that this particular project limited students from engaging with the assignment and that those specific rules inhibited the students from completing the project.

As part of my internship, I had the chance to teach one art lesson to a class of my choice–thereby giving me a chance to challenge the methods I oppose. I chose to teach the same Grade 3 class that had repeated difficulty completing the fairy tale project, as well as other projects over the course of the semester. My lesson took a child-centered approach and was based on experiential learning. I invited students to sit at the art-making tables and explained that we would be painting to all different kinds of music. They responded, “That’s all?” After the students played with the wide variety of materials that I had offered them and danced while painting, drawing, gluing and laughing, I facilitated a response activity where students could respond to some questions about their experience. I had overwhelming positive feedback; students were very vocal about what kinds of music they did and did not like as well as their favourite materials to use. Many of the students asked to do this activity again next week! I saw their response to my lesson as a sign that they were craving freedom in that art class. They needed more room to use their imagination, and they responded very well to immediately starting the art-making experience, rather than behaving in a controlled way in the classroom, and during specific projects as well. Creating a balance of both structured and creative lessons that use free art making would help students to express themselves more freely and explore their connections to art in independent projects.

According to the QEP: “Visual arts education, in the context of continuous progress throughout elementary school, helps children acquire visual literacy and develops their creative potential with regard to the visual world and their abilities to symbolize, express and communicate through images.”6 The QEP should not only continue to promote visual literacy in art class but also incorporate experiential learning into the provincial document so that students can reach their full potential and communicate their own individual understandings of reality.

I think teachers must be as frustrated as students with the demands set out by the QEP. I reflected on my notes over the course of the internship and I found the teacher to be focused on the end product, rather than the process. I found that this was when the students started disengaging with the process the most, primarily by talking amongst each other. Instead of continuing with the current outline of Competency 1, I believe other methods should be incorporated in the learning process in elementary school such as that of former elementary school teacher, David Rufo, currently an Instructor in the Art Education Department of Syracuse University in New York. In his article, Allowing Artistic Agency in The Elementary Classroom,7 Rufo draws from qualitative research in the form of journal entries that reflect on observations he made during two specific activities he ran in his classroom, called Read Aloud and Open Studio. Rufo’s research found that “giving up arbitrary control over creativity in the classroom allowed children to have ownership of their own creativity.”He writes, “Children need time to create unfettered by systems, institutional expectations, and government-directed assessments. Art does not conveniently fit into, and should not be forced to adhere to, the ways in which other curricula are designed and put into practice.” 9

One reason for the frustration might be the way the Quebec Education Program describes the process of learning in the visual arts. Overly explicit descriptions of how creative thinking progresses in each student can make art educators feel boxed in when creating lessons for their classes. From my perspective, it’s not about the end result but how you get there. Whether exploring new skills and techniques to accomplish a certain pattern in drawing, for example, or learning more about themselves through the process of making an artwork; what students learn in the process of making art is often the most rewarding part of class.

I value the Waldorf model of education for its “child-centered initiatives”10 and for how it recognizes the individual ways in which each child learns; it’s a model that asks students to relate the material they learn to their personal life experiences and to reflect on new information through their individual creative modes of response. A Waldorf teacher for 14 years, Bonnie Chauncey discusses the approach, using science as an example,“the typical approach is for the teacher to explain a concept or phenomenon to be studied, and to then use hands-on activity to illustrate it. Contrast this with a Waldorf science lesson. Here, the concept comes at the end, not the beginning.”11 This approach to teaching in the classroom is exactly what I have described previously. By allowing this creative exploration of either new material, or new art pieces and artists, children are supported in forming their own ways of thinking critically as well as forming their own judgement.

Another supporter of the Waldorf model would be Carrie Nordlund, who is an Associate Professor of Art Education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. After teaching art in public schools for 10 years, and a critic of the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States, she started to search for alternative approaches to learning.12 Based on her research, conducted with Waldorf graduates across the country, Nordlund believes that “Waldorf-Inspired practices,”13 “may spur greater mindfulness of creativity within our classrooms or schools.”1She writes, “When making art, we essentially play: translate and construct our world, create new things, and take risks with the unknown.”15 This statement reflects my view on what needs to be incorporated in the Quebec Education Program for Visual-Arts Education, using Waldorf ideas and structures to enhance and strengthen Competency 1 of the Visual Arts section in Arts Education within Quebec’s Education Program.

Creativity is an innate, inalienable right that can no longer be lost as one matures into adulthood. It is the creative thinkers of the world that have made the huge changes in human society. Creativity cannot be taught as rote behaviour, it must be nurtured and supported, perhaps through non-traditional methods such as the Waldorf model. Enriching the curriculum with child-centered approaches in addition to considering the Waldorf model would create a well-rounded method to teaching art in elementary schools. A critical reassessment of Competency 1 in the Quebec Education Program Visual Arts Education outline will not only help the students, it will be a more satisfying and enriching experience for teachers and students alike.


[1] Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Québec Education Program: Arts Education – Visual Arts, n.d. c. 8.2. Government of Québec, 2016.

[²] Ibid., 228-229. 

[³] Ibid., 230-231.

[4] Ibid., 232-233. 

[5] Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Québec Education Program: Arts Education – Visual Arts, n.d. c. 8.2. Government of Québec, 2016, 228-229.

[6] Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Québec Education Program: Arts Education – Visual Arts, n.d. c. 8.2. Government of Québec, 2016, 226.

[7] Rufo, David. Allowing Artistic Agency in the Elementary Classroom (Art Education, 2011), 64 (3):18-23.

[8] Rufo,David. Allowing Artistic Agency in the Elementary Classroom (Art Education, 2011), 64 (3): 22.

[9] Ibid., 23.

[10] Chauncey, Bonnie, The Waldorf Model and Public School Reform (Encounter, 2006) 19 (3): 39.

[11] Ibid., 40. 

[12] Nordlund, Carrie, Waldorf Education: Breathing Creativity (Art Education, 2013 66 (2): 13.

[13] Ibid., 16.

[14] Ibid., 15. 

[15] Ibid., 15.

Works Cited:

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. Accessed June 09, 2017.

Canada. Québec. Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Québec Education

Program: Art Education – Visual Arts, n.d. c. 8.2. Government of Québec, 2016.

Chauncey, Bonnie. 2006. “The Waldorf Model and Public School Reform.” Encounter 19

(3): 39-44.

Department of Art Education & Crafts, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. Accessed

June 11, 2017.

“David Rufo.” Syracuse University – Accessed June 09, 2017.

Nordlund, Carrie. 2013. “Waldorf Education: Breathing Creativity.” Art Education 66 (2): 13-19.


Rufo, David. 2011. “Allowing Artistic Agency in the Elementary Classroom.” Art Education, 64