Observations by Becky Engstrom
3-5th Grade TED Specialist, Gastineau and Harborview Schools
As a specialist serving intermediate students grades 3 through 5, I have always rotated language arts units on a 3-year basis to be sure students are offered an eclectic mix of content supported by lessons to improve reading and writing skills. One of my favorite units has always been an art biography unit. Students would do research on an artist collecting pertinent facts by taking notes. They would use the notes to write a three paragraph report on their chosen artist. They would write haiku poetry about their artist and the art work. They would create a piece of work combining their artist’s style and beliefs with their own, then they would support the piece they created with a description explaining their reasoning behind their work of art. All these parts are then mounted on a poster board which has always made for a beautiful display.
After signing up and committing myself to the study of Artful Teaching, the first thing I wanted to do was change this unit to create more opportunities for authentic artful thinking using a variety of thinking routines from different thinking dispositions. I experimented with a selected artist to experience different routines that would help students when they finally selected the artist they wanted to study. I chose Frederic Remington to learn and model different thinking routines. We did a verbal See/Think/Wonder in table groups with different Remington pieces, then used the same pieces to do a verbal Beginning/Middle/End. We experienced Step Inside with a work from Remington. We studied desert vocabulary (mesa, plateau, canyon, butte, saguaro, ocotillo, etc.) and used that vocabulary to create tableaus.
ON THEIR OWN
After students selected their artist, gathered notes, and wrote their report, I selected a piece from their artist, printed it out, and students wrote their See/Think/Wonders on the printout.
Students also selected a piece from their artist that they wanted to attempt to turn into a Tableau (step inside). The student who selected their piece would become the tableau director and had to put people in position until they were satisfied with the outcome. It gave me a good understanding of which students had excellent communication skills and which students needed improvement. It also helped me see the students who noticed many details and the ones who did not. I would have to bring focus to areas in the piece with questions… “What direction are they looking?” “What is their hand doing?” The amount of information I received from this one activity was a true eye-opener!
Students also extended their thinking by creating a piece of art that connected their own thinking to the artist they were studying.
CRITIQUING AN ARTIST
Students wrote a research paper on the artist they picked. The last paragraph was their opinion of the artist they selected. I especially enjoyed reading these paragraphs.
NEW PROJECTS DISPLAYED
Although I believe the old poster board displays were more visually pleasing and beautiful, the new displays showed more artful thinking; the most beautiful moment to catch is proof of a brain in action. Whereas the old displays had more writing skills involved, the new supported the process by which learning took place. It was inspiring to watch the students make incredible observations. To listen to the details noticed to create the tableaus was a treat. To read their observations of the students’ chosen artist was deeply satisfying. Teaching became more passive, as if I handed the wheel to the students because they were ready to drive. It’s scary, and wonderful at the same time.
A collection of JSD teachers' arts integration classroom experiences