Teaching for Creativity through Fashion Design

By MacDonald, Nora M.; Bigelow, Susan | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Teaching for Creativity through Fashion Design

MacDonald, Nora M., Bigelow, Susan, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

In today's high technology, globally interdependent world, we must educate students to achieve to their highest capacity. The goal of this middle school fashion design project was to develop a classroom environment that promoted teaching for creativity. We examined the following questions. What was the students' perception of their (a) participation in the creative process and (b) self-confidence in the ability to design creative fashion products? Data revealed students benefitted from participation in the creative process and enhanced their self-confidence in the ability to create a fashion item. Findings were limited to students from one middle school and one teacher.

The field of family and consumer sciences (FCS) has evolved since its founding with the expansion of specialty areas over the past 50 years. In their review of needlearts in this journal over the past 100 years, Buckland, Leslie, and Jennings-Rentenaar (2009) noted a lack of research in this area possibly because it was aesthetic, not quantifiable. A review of articles during the first decade of the Journal of Home Economics, 1909-1919, revealed that needlearts benefited students' skill levels and thinking (Leslie, 2009). The debate as to the academic nature of needlework and sewing continues today.

Secondary FCS classrooms and curricula have changed dramatically. Broader curricula may now include career exploration with more diverse students. One high school fashion design teacher likens her challenge to that of a "ringmaster of a three-ring circus" (Nelson, 2009, p. 51). In our high technology, globally interdependent world, it is imperative that students achieve to their highest capacity. This theme was explored through fashion design, including needlearts, with the goal of developing a teaching strategy within the middle school curricula to promote a classroom environment that fostered creativity.

Beghetto (2006) proposed that creative ability in a student is not the sole determinant of a person's creative output. The classroom setting can foster creative student outcomes and it includes both teaching creatively and teaching for creativity. Teaching creatively focuses on the creativity of the teacher - the teacher makes learning interesting. The focus of teaching for creativity is to develop a person's creative thinking and ability, thereby shifting the spotlight from the teacher to the learner (Jeffrey & Craft, 2004; Rutland & Barlex, 2008).

We examined the following questions in this classroom project. What were the students' perceptions of (a) participation in the creative process and (b) self-confidence in the ability to design creative fashion products? The objective was to describe students' self- assessment of participation in a fashion design project. One middle school teacher and her students served as participants, thereby limiting the project.


Art, using the notion of romantic creativity, has been described as divinely inspired (Sefton-Green, 2000). Design, on the other hand, emphasizes skills or learning a craft and it brings together market forces and creativity or innovation (Hargrove & Rice, 2007; Sefton-Green, 2000). Rutland and Barlex (2008) noted that students show less creativity as they move through school, with teachers providing more structured activities as students' progress to higher levels. Their case study led to the development of a theoretical framework, the "three-feature model for creativity." Although the student is at the center of the model, the teacher is at the center of a dynamic process and can affect students' creativity outcomes by providing a safe, supportive, and rewarding environment and by encouraging students to be risk takers, tolerant, and pro-active.

Eisner (2004) proposed that educational effectiveness is affected by context. Hargrove and Rice (2007) found that self -planning, self -monitoring, and self -evaluation, along with creativity strategies, led to improved creative thinking abilities. Teaching for creativity involves teaching creatively and using an inclusive approach to teaching (Jeffrey & Craft, 2004). The teacher can ensure that lessons are relevant to learners by making them interesting, dynamic, and active while fostering innovation by encouraging possibility thinking. Using an inclusive approach involves teacher and student participation in the planning process; for example, students become empowered when they are allowed to help determine what to study/make, how to proceed, and how to evaluate their products (Cohen, 2001). When students are allowed to have control, it encourages them to develop innovative responses to tasks. Beghetto (2006) found that engagement in competitions could have a positive effect on some students when the projects are linked to learning and self -improvement. Today's teachers must utilize multiple teaching methodologies, teach to a diverse student population, use a variety of assessment tools to allow for divergent learning styles, and measure change through pre- assessments (Cho & Forde, 2001).

Kvashney (1982) proposed that creativity could be learned, while Mildrum (2000) suggested a person's creativity can improve with practice. Beghetto (2006) and Matthews (2007) noted that creativity is influenced by a person's self-efficacy, or self- judgment, of his or her creative ability. A student's creative self -efficacy can be enhanced through supportive teacher feedback (Beghetto, 2006). Meta- cognitive learning and skill development contribute to creativity through constant evaluation and understanding of the creative process (Hargrove & Rice, 2007; Matthews, 2007). Language, through writing and talking, can facilitate this process by enabling students to describe internal thoughts, materials, techniques, and actions (Raney & Hollands, 2000; Safford & Barrs, 2007; Sefton-Green, 2000). Self- evaluation and peer critiques may help build confidence to correct a mistake (Safford & Barrs, 2007; SeftonGreen, 2000) and contribute to self-directed learning (Owens, 2007).

Teaching for Creativity Model

The Teaching for Creativity Model was adapted from one proposed by Rutland and Barlex (2008) (see Figure 1). In this model, three interlocking spheres illustrate factors that influence a student's creativity: (a) domain relevant factors include the concept or idea, aesthetic issues include the five senses, technical knowledge, and product skills; (b) creative problem- solving factors include metacognitive learning, creative attitudes, and creative abilities; and (c) social/environmental factors include school atmosphere, community resources, and a supportive classroom environment (interesting starting points, open project themes, acceptance of mistakes, and allowance for individual/group time). It is posited that individual creativity occurs where these spheres intersect. The following classroom project was developed to incorporate factors from all three areas into the curriculum.

Project Design

The West Virginia AFCS fashion design competition is the only venue available for secondary students in the state. Guidelines were presented to all 7th and 8th grade students enrolled in FCS classes at the targeted middle school. They were directed to create a product within, or explore beyond, the stated categories. The competition required students to sew by hand and/or machine and it focused on creativity. Students received inclass instruction in 18 hand sewing and embroidery stitches and in sewing on buttons. Because of class time constraints and the link to a competition, students' produced their designs at home and received instruction, such as sewing machine usage, outside the classroom. Supplies, including fabric, thread, and sewing equipment, were provided. The teacher reviewed design ideation concepts, work done at home, and provided daily encouragement to make the lessons interesting, dynamic, and active. A "show and tell" approach allowed students to describe the design process they followed and selfassess the end product; an in-class peer review allowed for comments on each other's efforts.

Three middle school teachers from other disciplines in the same school evaluated all of the projects. Each design was placed in one of three groups - eligible for the state competition, average, or below average. Criteria were creativity of design involving use of textiles and color, technical workmanship, and appropriateness of techniques including embellishments and neatness of hand stitching. The teacher returned the project to each student and explained its creative features, emphasizing positive aspects to provide encouragement. Edifying words were used with each oral evaluation to provide a positive experience.

Competition rules allowed a maximum of 40 designs to be submitted. Therefore, 40 designers whose work was evaluated as eligible were notified by the teacher and asked to write an abstract about their design. Students discovered the nature of an abstract by verbalizing to the teacher the inspiration for their design, the process steps, and their self-assessment. (The spoken abstract helped students independently write one.) The teacher guided students, as needed, to determine steps taken to achieve their design. Each student received a letter grade for the project. A subjective evaluation method was used with grades skewed to the higher end in an effort to build self-confidence. Zero credit was given if no project was submitted. Grades were not given for the abstracts because not all students participated in this component.

During the West Virginia AFCS state exhibition, onsite judging determined winners in various categories. Judging criteria included visual attributes and creativity, technical workmanship, appropriateness of techniques, and clarity of the abstract. All meeting attendees also evaluated each design and filled out a People's Choice award ballot based on the same criteria. Ballots were tabulated and results announced during the annual meeting.

Multiple channels were used to recognize designers from the middle school whose projects won awards at the state competition. Winners' names were announced over the public address system and posted on bulletin boards at the school. Certificates were given to all 40 student finalists during the annual awards ceremony, with winners wearing or carrying their creations onto the stage to receive their award(s). In addition, articles appeared in the school and local newspapers.

The abstracts of students whose designs were accepted into the competition served as a source of qualitative data. They were used to determine student perceptions of the creative process and their self-confidence in producing a creative fashion product. Content analysis of the abstracts was conducted by the authors independently and then reviewed jointly to reach consensus. Teacher observation also was included in project assessment.

Findings and Discussion

Interest in creating original fashion designs by students at Suncrest Middle School has increased as evidenced by the number of entries in the AFCS annual design exhibition (MacDonald & Bigelow, 2004). Student participation from the target school has increased from about 40 students in the late 1990s to 285 students during the 2008-2009 academic year, including both boys n = 149) and girls n = 136). Student involvement has grown because of enthusiasm created by in- school and community publicity as well as word of mouth. Design categories have increased from three to seven by using an "open theme" approach to empower students, (see Table 1).

Through a review of abstracts submitted by students whose designs were accepted n = 40), it was apparent that they understood the creative process took time, effort, and thought (see Table 2 and sidebar). Following completion of the project, a high confidence level in their ability to produce a creative fashion product was indicated by several comments. Many of the students expressed pleasure with their project.

With the teacher at the center of a dynamic process, he or she can influence creativity outcomes. The teacher provided an opportunity for students to participate in a competition linked to learning and self-improvement in a safe, supportive, and energetic environment. Students were empowered to determine what to make and how to proceed. The teacher encouraged possibility thinking and observed that students were willing to explore options related to their projects throughout the design process. She noted an increase in self-confidence, even among students whose work was not selected for the competition. An increase in knowledge and awareness of fashion by all participating students also was observed.

Domain relevant factors were presented by the teacher so students would understand the competition, be aware of aesthetic issues, and have necessary technical knowledge and product skills. Creative problem solving was facilitated by reinforcement of meta-cognitive learning through positive feedback to each student. Writing and talking enabled students to describe the design process and their internal thoughts. Self- and peer-critiques helped build confidence and encouraged further exploration. Social and environmental factors facilitated a positive atmosphere. Other teachers and the school principal supported this project by serving as judges and acknowledging this effort across the school; parents and the community also are supportive of this initiative.

Applications and Recommendations

Theme-based design projects can be incorporated across the FCS secondary-level curriculum. Themes for interior design could include a home improvement focus such as "Designing my Bedroom," "Basement Beautification," or "Green Design." Foods courses could focus on top chefs, global foods, healthy eating, or organic foods. Content from across the middle school curriculum could be incorporated into FCS programs to include mathematics, English, social studies, art, and science. These broad projects could cover several state curriculum standards and objectives (Life Basics, 2009).

Oral and written strategies could be incorporated into the curricula such as writing a design process journal, including project assessment (Robinson & Ellis, 2000); writing an abstract (source of inspiration or purpose of the design, design process, and assessment); making oral presentations with self- and peer-critiques; calculating measurements and determining costs; and locating product origins on a map. A "thematic cross-curricular assessment" could be used for students to obtain credit in a subject for work completed in another (Bandyopadhyay, 2007, p. 174).

Collaboration could be developed with local colleges and universities through service learning projects. College students could visit middle school classrooms and attend career fairs to discuss their disciplines. In addition, the top middle school student designers could participate in college events and job shadow at a local college. At the professional level, teaching for creativity workshops could be developed for FCS teachers at the state, regional, and national levels. Future research could include a pre- and post-assessment of student selfefficacy of their creative ability in relation to the creation of an original design.


Teaching creatively focuses on the creativity of the teacher - the teacher makes learning interesting.


With the teacher at the center of a dynamic process, he or she can influence creativity outcomes.



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[Author Affiliation]

Nora M. MacDonald (nmacdona@wvu.edu) is Professor, Fashion Design and Merchandising, at West Virginia University in Morgantown, VW. Susan Bigelow is a secondary teacher at Suncrest Middle School in Morgantown.VW.

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