Teachers Connect
Jul 14, 2014

Difference Maker

Making a difference through our chosen medium – be it art making, story telling, dancing, or singing, is a creator’s challenge.

One young girl’s work in an ABC classroom stood out.  Her classmates did the usual soccer, fairy tale books and pet stories.  But her book was a square jail cell covered with a dark veil material.  A child stood on the outside of the box “cell” and under the veil stood a figure of a man.  All the materials were dark colors and conveyed deep sadness.  Her father was in prison and the sadness of that in her life was the point she was making.

How can we help our students to think about words and materials that speak to “difference making” in their art work and writing?

32 Responses to Difference Maker

  1. Gina says:

    I think by encouraging students to explore expression via art elements really allows them to process their experiences. While they might not want to overtly share the deepest ideas, revealing part of their journey will allow other to connect. It can spark reflection, processing, and empathy for viewers.

  2. Melba Lucas says:

    The hands-on lesson in flag and & rubber band books challenged me and it was obvious when I saw the ease and effeciency that my 4 Visual Art teacher colleagues used as they applied their artistic skills but they helped me. I will be straightening out my flag book during the week.

  3. Yanitza Tavarez says:

    As a middle school art teacher, I find that students are genuinely interested in discovering who they are. This translates easily as we can help make them them look at “my self”, move into “my family”, and then into “my community”. With a better perspective of the role of the individual within the context of society, we can encourage our students to explore how they can make a difference through art.

    • Leigha says:

      Creating relationships is really important especially that the middle school level. I sometimes feel like students do hold back a bit when we are working at the fifth grade level because they are afraid to be judged. I think that if students are exposed to a more open class setting they will be more open with their expression.

  4. Laurie McLaughlin says:

    Perhaps reading books about activists who have overcome challenges will give students a broader view of a narrative that is richer and deeper. I have used the children’s book “Wangari’s Trees of Peace” as a jumping off place for a printmaking unit. Wangari Maathai is an environmental and political activist in Kenya and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Her story is moving and provides an alternate narrative to the usual soccer/fairytale stories.

  5. Jennifer-NeToi says:

    Since art is an expression of one’s self, students should draw from experience, memory, and environment. I would love to provide students with an array of words and colors and have them to connect them, before they actually produce their work.

  6. Cathleen Ueland says:

    As the amount of technology (educational and social) takes over a greater percentage of a child’s day, I think that lessons such as those taught in an ABC classroom become increasingly important. While most student work will not be as heart-wrenching as this child’s book, the ability to stop and give thought and insight to their work is within reach of all of our students. As a teacher, I need to slow down the rush to begin projects and allow the students time to reflect, explore and understand the goal before we put pen to paper or brush to paint.

    • Leigha says:

      I shave the same problem. If we aren’t pumping out work, I feel like we aren’t doing something. But in the end we do a lot! I did have an observation during a lesson where we did a VTS style lesson and even my principal said that it wasn’t art because we weren’t making anything. I guess I need to stand up for myself more!

  7. Jamayca says:

    I think the first step is something we touched on in class, which is to validate the work of every student whether it looks like it is “supposed” to or not. I think this set-up starts at the beginning of a lesson. As our reading on VTS pointed out, validating and idea no matter how small or redundant exposes children to the importance of their thoughts and creates a safe space to share those thoughts. In doing this we open the floor for deeper thoughts and discussions about an art project, so it is not a “surface” project but one that expresses the emotions and experiences of the child who is creating–as the child with the jail cell does.

    • Leigha says:

      Great point about how we need to acknowledge everything even if it is small. I know I have a few students who love to tell me stories about their family. Sometimes I do kind of blow them off because it seems like what they say is untrue, but they may be telling me exactly what is going on, which may sometimes be a bit scary! I guess I need to listen more carefully to these students because they are probably the ones who need the most love.

  8. Suzanne says:

    This will sound strange -but what really struck me today was just the experience of being the student. I am always in the classroom but not in the same way my students are-it is good to trade places-experience the other side. I love the fun and challenging hands on bookmaking! ALSO the books in the NMWA collection were so beautiful and inspiring.

  9. Jonathan Clay says:

    In order to help students speak out and feel comfortable making connections and creating, we first need to be sure that we as teachers have built a good, positive relationship with all the students. When the students are comfortable with you, then they can open up creatively as well as personally. As for getting students creating “difference making” artwork, I think that the students making a connection to their personal life will make the artwork more meaningful to the work. This also helps the students to begin to understand and think about the design elements and qualities that will best tell their story.

  10. Tasara says:

    What a brave statement that student made by sharing through her book. Something like this can let students communicate what they might not be able to/want to share in another way.
    Do you think the students who made the soccer/fairy tale/pet books were also “making a difference?” Or does it need to deal with a larger social/deeper personal issue?

    • Leigha says:

      I think that those soccer/fairy tale/pet books can be important as long as students take the time to reflect upon their work. They should think about why they made the choices they did and be given an opportunity to revise if they like. Reflection and editing are also an important part of learning. If we teach our students to do these things, they may start creating more meaningful work.

    • Rosemary says:

      Of course, not all writing deals with deep social issues. Many students, however, don’t automatically make the connection that writing can be used for a variety of purposes (including confession and reflection). This type of writing must be modeled/taught explicitly. Over time and with consistent practice, students will broaden the scope of their topics. It just takes time and patience.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    In graduate school I took an art therapy class. In the class we learned how different materials express different feelings. Similar to our flag book today when we explored what materials work best with different papers, students could be prompted with different feelings and see which materials fell like the best fit to express that feeling. This activity could maybe lead students to open up to new types of stories for their books.

  12. Eileen says:

    This child was able to express her feelings through her art work.How brave she was to express her inner most thoughts.I would encourage children to use their experiences and thoughts. To enhance writing I would have the children brainstorm words that show feelings and emotions. Perhaps have the children then pair up colors that go with those emotions. I would start with 6 word poems.

  13. Carolyn Kouri says:

    The sheer power of art and students’ ability to use it to express personal experiences, thoughts about change, and to let their ideas evolve is what brings me into the classroom each day. Exposing students to different stories, cultures, current events, and different people is one way to start the conversation about difference making in their art and writing.

    • Susan Little says:

      Writing is such a daunting part of our curriculum I am hoping that VTS will help us reach the creative writing as well as perfect their content.

  14. Emily says:

    I feel as though we could have students use stories, informational text, and art to prove their beliefs in regards to differences that they want to make in the world. Our students have different life experiences from us and it’s imperative that we welcome all views and beliefs in our classrooms. VTS is a great way to include them and their life stories in our classrooms.

  15. Leigha says:

    By offering choice and giving students the opportunity to experiment with media, students may become more open to sharing their own thoughts and feelings through their work. I find that when students get to choose for themselves they tend to work more toward their own ideas. I also think that when you have open communication with students and make them feel like they are in a safe space, they will be more likely to express themselves openly.

    • Susan Little says:

      Choice is a big part of Universal Design for Learning, ways to give all students access to instruction.

  16. darrell williams says:

    What an awesome first day of class experience, especially having had the chance to work side-by-side with so many creative fellow art educators and one space. The hands on activities gave me the opportunity to engage in a fun filled day of learning, observing, sharing and collaborating with other educators. I enjoyed sharing and listening to issues and concerns teachers are faced with and their classrooms. I am looking forward to more creative experiences like I had today!

  17. Mary Ellen Fink says:

    When working with emergent writers and when incorporating arts-based lessons, awareness of the five senses is so important. Beginning with a sensory exploration activity for cooperative groups or with rotating centers is a great way to start the year. This coils help students become more attuned to what words and materials to use in their writing and bookmaking. Creating an art-enriched classroom environment is a good way to let kids explore. I keep a big Rubbermaid container of art supplies and a variety of ever changing found materials on a table in the back of the classroom. Students can go there during indoor recesses and as a fast finishing activity. There are always many projects and groups endeavors in progress throughout the year. In letters to second graders telling them what to expect in third grade, many students mentioned the art box with ” anything you can imagine” inside!

  18. Melba Lucas says:

    You can give student’s an assignment with prompts an ideas for story telling/ narratives sometimes art whether visual or performing will reflect personal experiences or society because in general art often reflects life.

  19. Susan Little says:

    We have made social emotional learning a focus of our school plan this year. We have found that students cannot learn or be successful in the classroom with the many social emotional issues they carry. I hope that through the exploration of powerful visual arts and deeper thinking will help students face some of those challenges and see that we all can support them. With all of the creative and talented minds in this class, I am sure I will find new ways to reach my students.

  20. Amy says:

    Enlightening students to discover connections through the arts and content areas enhances their motivation to extend and apply their knowledge. As an art teacher, to inspire this connection by students experimenting & choosing what media they identify with increases their self confidence as an artist, thus creating their own difference.

  21. Catherine Falknor says:

    I believe that using the ABC curriculum with Visual Thinking Strategies will encourage students to portray first and then give voice to their feelings. Even if the specific images they create are abstract and color-oriented, they will be opening a portal to self-expression and conversation about the emotions connected to them in various assignments. As in the example given, students who begin to reveal their inner emotions may start to learn how to frame and articulate them. Memories, dreams, social issues, and maps are sources of rich content that students could draw from.

  22. maureen mcdonough berard says:

    What a great beginning to the week! I just finished a one week workshop on “The Global Classroom” which was wonderful but we only did one “hands on” project. Now I realize how difficult it is for my students to SIT especially when they have been sitting in their classrooms all day. I think if we have materials ready for them that they see, and they know that they will soon be able to express themselves they’ll come through. I like to put cards with questions on each table and tell them they must ask each other one before they consider their work finished.

  23. Julia says:

    Middle school girls need to know they are in a relationship of confidence in order to make a difference. If that need can be met, I think they can do great things. Often they are judgemental and criticize each other easily, and part of our work is focused on getting them to see that different is not “weird” but DIFFERENT.

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