by Nadine Marx
4th Grade, Auke Bay Elementary
Too often I see a blank stare on my students’ faces when they are tasked with writing. The pressure of an assignment empties their brains of ideas and they don’t know how to start.
After participating in Jamin Carter’s workshop, Cut Paper: A Pathway to Creative Writing, I was excited to try his way of warming up students by integrating art into the writing process. Students would learn about art elements (shape, size, color, space) and create a piece of art using construction paper, scissors, and glue, and in doing so, would plan the setting, characters, and problem in a story before being asked to write a well-developed narrative.
Before teaching Jamin’s lesson, I led students through mini-lessons on story structure, problem and solution, figurative language, and how to write and punctuate dialogue. Then, over two days, I taught Jamin’s lessons as scripted in the materials provided at the workshop. Students enjoyed learning the gestures that went along with the art elements. They loved playing Pass the Setting, and were excited that they would create their own picture of a problem that they would write about.
On Day 3, I was surprised (and delighted) that most students had no problem thinking of a problem to illustrate, and were able to get right to creating a picture. One student needed some time to think of a problem, but then easily finished his picture within the time given. Students were asked to create a paper scene of the problem, or the middle of their story, showing setting, time of day, characters, and lastly, give a hint as to how the problem might be solved.
On Day 4, students got started with their narrative writing. I was clear about my expectations, showing them a scoring guide I would use to evaluate their writing (thinkSRSD.com). Because of increasing expectations for 4th graders to type responses on assessments, I provided a google doc for students’ writing. Three of 23 students opted to write their story in their journals, while the others typed.
When students had their first draft of their story done, I asked them to complete an “Exit Ticket” on Google Forms about the project. I asked if they finished their art, if the art helped them plan their story, if the art helped them write their story, and if they would like to do this again. Questions 2-4 were answerable on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being on the No end, and 5 meaning Yes. Offering these choices may have been a mistake, since students gave a lot of 3s, making data less telling. After reviewing answers, I printed the individual forms, allowing space at the bottom for a written explanation of their answer. This was more helpful. But because I was asking students for multiple edits and rewrites, most written comments were harping on the amount of work this project was. Apparently they did not like to edit. A few written comments expressed the students’ enjoyment of the project.
My own observational data led me to believe that creating the picture of the problem before writing the story was highly effective. Students had created the setting, characters, and problem and had thought about the solution before starting to write. I thought that students seemed to be writing their stories more quickly, and just as I had felt that the story flowed out of my pen after having done most of the thinking and planning beforehand during the workshop, I thought that students’ writing seemed to be an easier process for them. I did not see students staring blankly at the screen or page, and if they were, it was because they were trying to think about how to satisfy the expectations of the scoring guide.
Would I do this again? Absolutely! It did take a good bit of class time to teach the art concepts and go through practice to get them ready for their part. My class worked on this during the last week of March, and had we done this earlier in the school year, we could have had more opportunities to create additional cut paper stories and write them. At this late date, we had to finish assessments and complete the last of our 4th grade tasks. Next year, I would teach this in August or September, and use the strategy several times throughout the year, making the time invested in the background knowledge more useful.
By creating art, and thinking about art elements of shape, size, space, and color, students planned the setting, characters, problem and solution for their narrative stories while engaged in creating with paper, scissors, and glue. They planned setting while choosing a background color to represent day or night, or interior lighting. They cut out trees or furniture or buildings and further developed their setting. They thought about character development while shaping their characters, choosing colors and shapes that would represent who their characters where and how they would interact. They added shapes to represent the problem of a broken vase, a cookie jar that was out of reach, a train that crashed or stolen jewels. Then they developed a visual clue of how their problem could be solved. While working on their art, students talked with their table groups about the process, and got more ideas, and explained to each other what each part meant. When it was time to write, their stories were written in their minds, and they only needed to get them out in words. Often teachers ask students to write and then give them time to create visual art as a reward for getting their work done. This now seems backward to me. Having intentionally created art with a meaningful setting, characters, and plot, students were more than ready to write.
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A collection of JSD teachers' arts integration classroom experiences