“Spicing it Up”

Integrating the Arts

It’s been said time and time again that the arts can aid in the instruction of other subjects. We’ve all had those science teachers who have taught us to draw out different nature cycles, and those math teachers who have taught us rhymes and rhythms to memorize formulas. I still pride myself in knowing all of the states in alphabetical order because of the “Fifty Nifty United States” song that I learned back in the day (T.C. Miller alumni, stand uppp 😉 )

“What do you actually DO!?!?!”

Through my current position at a museum, much of my work revolves around just this, helping “core subject” teachers utilize art from the museum’s permanent collection to enrich their curriculums. This past week I had the amazing opportunity to teach at a local middle school. I collaborated with a remedial reading teacher to adapt the museum’s existing education initiatives to meet her student’s particular needs.. or as I like to say.. we “spiced it up”

“Overcoming Obstacles”

Through the three sessions that I spent with each class, we  practiced various viewing, critical thinking, dialogue, and writing composition skills staring with the most basic fundamentals. In other words, we learned to view artwork in a new light, visually break down an image in to pieces, think about it, talk about it, and then eventually write about it. The most rewarding part of teaching is that lightbulb moment. It’s helping a student overcome their obstacles… in this case, it was one word, sentence, and paragraph at a time. Students began with lists of words, developed phrases, and formed sentences strung together into paragraphs. These paragraphs eventually turned into an essay based on their choice of one of two images.

“Breaking it Down”

Today in emailing back and fourth with the teacher, she said:

“You should know that the kids are still talking about you.  Today, they mentioned something about what you said about figuring out what century we’re in. “Just add one.”

What she means by “Just add one” was… if a photo was taken in 1945, it’s in the 20th century, just add 1 to the “19”. That was the most profound thing I said, apparently Anyway…

So without writing the entire lesson plan (If you want it, feel free to contact me and I’ll send it to you!) I’ll explain this through an example of how images can be used in a simple exercise to practice the skill of “Comparing and Contrasting” which is both a writing and an “art criticism” skill.

You might assume that this is something all kids should at least grasp or understand. Any teacher will tell you that you can’t assume ANYTHING. EVER.  Sure students compare themselves to others in their daily lives all the time, but this isn’t a skill that they practice consciously… and that’s the key.

Here’s two photographs that I’ll choose for this example, just because I like them:

On the left: a b&w image of Biz Markie, I loooveee this photographer and have used his work several times in my lessons, including this one: see more of his work by clicking the photo.

On the right: a color image of from a photographer that I just discovered  while searching for a good example for this. Ashley Jordan Gordon – click the photo to go to her website.

First, we discussed the concept of finding similarities and differences aka “comparing and contrasting”. I broke down the word “contrasting” to “contrast” and we  talked about how people take bad facebook pictures with “high contrast” where the whites are super white and the darks are super dark. (Laugh at this example if you want, but you all know what I’m talking about and 7th graders do too.)

Second, We made a chart, you could also do a ven diagram, and I gave them some examples to start us off… but in the end, we ended up with a chart that looked a little something like this:

     “Biz Markie”                                        Both                     “Girl On Kingsland Road”

Black and White                                    Photographs                                        Color

one person – focuses on “him”               People                      many people – focuses on “her”

man dressed in white               dressed in solid colors                             girl dressed in black

Text – necklace                                    Text, signs                                           no necklace

“pizza pie”                                               “P signs ”                                             “prague”

published -2010 book                        21st century                                       taken – 2009

Other  discussion/activities based on these:

What can you say about the subjects emotion’s and body posture?

Create a short story based on one of these images: where are the people going? what are they doing? what is their relationship with the photographer?

In the color photograph, notice the side of the street that the car is on, what does this tell you about where this was taken?

How are the subjects’ emotions different? Biz looks stoked but what about the “Girl on Kingsland Road” how would you describe her emotion?

Anyway, that’s the basics…  I could talk all day about this so I’ll stop. I’ll have a new artist that I discovered to rant and rave about next time.

Betcha never thought Biz Markie could be educational 😉


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