Saturday, October 16, 2010

Helping Elementary Students Dig Deeper into the World of Art

Note:  If you were unable to attend the Global Classroom Workshop Picasso: Eyes on the World at the Seattle Art Museum on Saturday, October 16, you can access the teacher resource packet through the World Affairs Council Website.
Shanghai World Expo: Chinese Pavilion Student Exhibit, 
student artist, age 8
Are you wondering how to take what you have learned about Picasso and make it relevant to the 5 – 10 year olds in your classroom?  Why not consider an integrated curriculum that includes a study of Picasso.  For the last fifteen years I have used the heading “The Role of the Artist in the Community” as the title of a six to eight week integrated study, with a focus on visual art.  It is never the same year to year. As the students change, the local art exhibits change and the school community changes, so does a responsive curriculum.  What is consistent is the students’ ownership of their work, their motivation to learn and master new skills, and their increased self-esteem as they take risks and problem-solve within a safe community of learners.

When you keep a few essential ideas in mind, your students can be on the road to global competency, while practicing skills and learning new concepts in reading, writing and math.  Encourage curiosity; help students to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment.  Show an interest in multiple perspectives, model asking the question “whose perspective is that?”  Create a classroom environment where students have the opportunity to communicate their ideas effectively with diverse audiences.  Where students discover the need for change, help them take action.

Begin this study with a discussion about art.  What is art?  Who makes art?  Is art important?  Why or why not?  Most young students will have had some first hand experiences creating art, and I try to follow up a discussion with an opportunity to make art. 

Follow up the art project with a writing activity where students can write about the art they created.  As the weeks go on students can have a chance to write about each other’s artwork. Practice communication skills by pairing students and asking the first one to make a drawing and then describe the drawing to the partner, using only words to suggest shapes and lines or even colors, but not content. The listener will attempt to make the same drawing from the directions.

This is a great time to do some measurement and geometry during math time.  Picasso’s art and Cubism use geometry to transform reality.  The exploration of color and color mixing are science topics to include.

Visual art class at the Children's Palace, Shanghai
Begin to keep a portfolio of each student’s work.  As the month goes on students will want to exhibit their work and the prospect of a culminating art show for the families and school community will be on its way.  Research will be needed, perhaps a trip to a local gallery.  If you plan ahead the artist currently showing work may be able to meet you at the gallery and answer questions students prepared in advance.  If not, invite an artist into your classroom and conduct the interview there.  Many artists deal with complex world issues such as environmental sustainability, global conflict and cooperation, human rights, and cultural identity and diversity.  Picasso certainly did.  Your next outing may be to the Seattle Art Museum to see the Picasso exhibit.  You may introduce other artists who also dealt with complex world issues, such as Jacob Lawrence, Kara Walker or Diego Rivera.  Include artists who inspire you.

Ask your school librarian for help and visit your local public library to create a special resource section in your classroom for books about artists and making art.  Small reading groups can become class experts on different artists and make a presentation about them.  Be sure to include your school art teacher as well.

Self-portraits with writing 
Portraits and self-portraits are sure to become an important part of your class exhibit.  Students can write a personal narrative to accompany their work as an artist’s statement so they can share the importance of art to them and show what they have learned.  On the day your exhibit opens you may decide to include a slide show, providing each student artist with the opportunity to select one art piece to highlight. Given the opportunity to share with an audience the important message contained in their work and the reason they value art in their community, you may be surprised by their answers.

You are invited to participate in an exciting new project to transform the teaching and assessing of key skills in students of all ages. EdSteps is collecting samples of work that demonstrate global competence as part of a ground breaking effort to assess student performance using real examples of work done by students and professionals from across the nation and throughout the world. This site also provides a Global Competence Matrix to measure the global competency of students.  Note the EdSteps link under Helpful Links.

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