Finding an Answer...

How does arts education make students better problem solvers? Teaching artist Lou Ferreri shared an insight he had on his way to teach a COMPAS painting residency at a Northern Minnesota school on a cold January day...

I remembered that I was in sixth grade when one morning the principal’s voice boomed through the loudspeaker, announcing an all-school writing contest. Tomorrow, the principal said, he would read the first part of a familiar nursery rhyme. Our assignment would be to write the final line.

The next day, at the appointed hour, we all sat, paper and pencils at hand, anticipating the reading of the nursery rhyme. Would I know the last line? Finally, the principal’s voice crackled through the speaker. Then, loud and clear, he read. “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill…” Silence.


One week later the principal’s voice sounded again. “The writing contest winner has been decided,” he announced. And then he read: “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill…went to call an ambulance. The ambulance came and took Jack to the hospital where he spent six months recovering from his fall. During that time Jill visited him every day and eventually they fell in love, got married, and bought a house with indoor plumbing so that Jack and Jill wouldn’t have to go up the hill to fetch a pail of water ever again.”

The moment was magic. I was astounded to think that someone actually had the nerve to make up an answer like that. I thought that that person was the most creative person in the school. More importantly, I realized that I could have created my own end to the rhyme.

As I pulled into the school parking lot, I thought about teaching art-making processes and helping students discover that the solution to a problem is not always to follow the rhyme, the pattern, the expected. Art-making processes are vehicles for learning and discovery.

Rather than being about learning to find the common correct answer, art-making is learning to work thoughtfully and find one’s own answer.

Excerpted from Lou Ferreri's piece, "Jack Fell Down and Broke His Crown and Jill..." in The Power of Creative Discovery; Reflections of Writers and Artists Working with Children. (c) COMPAS, 1988.

Lou was a teaching artist with COMPAS for many years. Information on his current work and examples of his paintings can be found here.

Find more opportunities for students to become thoughtful problem solvers through art-making by exploring the COMPAS roster of talented teaching artists.