Language and art can complement and assist each other. When a concept is not clear in its written form, the visual form can assist the learner to comprehend, and likewise, when the visual form is confusing and unclear, the written form can facilitate understanding.
Through the ages art has been a means of visual expression used to convey a wide spectrum of tangible and intangible ideas. Art can take the spectator into different times and into different worlds. It can also be used to introduce different levels of vocabulary to learners of a second language.
Learning a second language for most adolescents is, a very difficult and trying experience. They are not only trying to adjust to a new language but are also trying to adjust to themselves and a new environment. They are self-conscious about almost everything, but they are especially self-conscious about their performance in the classroom. By shifting the focus from the student to an abject, everyone participates, thus eliminating a certain degree of self-consciousness.
The experience the student has with art in the classroom has to be enjoyable for both the student and the teacher. If the atmosphere in the classroom is too serious or stressing it will not serve any useful purpose. In fact, if there had been any of even a slight chance of getting the student involved with art (even if superficially) it might disappear completely if not approached with care. I do not propose a deep study of art but to use art as a teaching tool in language development. The underlying meaning or messages in the piece of work are not important at this point, it serves as a means of instruction, we are not really studying it (the painting itself). This situation can be compared to a boat sailing on the ocean. We are concerned only with the boat, not with everything below it. The student becomes familiar with the works of art but s/he does not really have to understand them, it is the first impression that the student receives as a new observer that will provide the starting point in introducing vocabulary.
This unit is designed to take the Middle and/or High School students into a learning experience using visual forms instead of the usual textbook approach. This does not mean, however, that the book will not be used, but that the art form will complement the skill or concept that is being taught from the textbook.
A practical process using art as a means of instruction will be developed. In other words, my basic idea of using art as a teaching mechanism can be applied to any skill, be it naming geometric forms, numbers, clothing, furniture, verbs, or adjectives. First, it is important to define the concept or skill that is to be taught. Suppose you want to teach the names of various geometric forms (rectangles, squares, triangles, circles, semi-circles, ovals), a great number of modern paintings can help you teach your skill. The second step then, would be to select those paintings which would assist you best to teach and at the same time help the students to learn. After selecting the paintings, you can prepare several activities for the students.
I believe Modern Art can prove most useful in developing these units. Its variety enables the teacher to select several pieces to use in the classroom in developing a concept. Modern Art ranges from Impressionism to the Abstract. This period of art covers a span of more than seventy years, from the late nineteenth century to the 1960’s. This period can be expanded to include the present contemporary painting. Modern Art can be divided into different modes of expression because the artist and art was (and is) evolving as the purpose of painting changed. I am including a list of the various movements within this period of art and some well-known exponents in each. The Yale University Art Gallery has selections by the majority of the painters listed.
Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas
Cezanne, Seurat, Gauguin, van-Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec
Vlsminck, Matisse, Dufy, Marquet
Picasso, Braque, Gris, Leger, Delaunay
Munch, Kokoschka, Rouault, Modigliani, Chagall
Dadaism and Surrealism
Dali, Ernst, Klee, Miro
Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, Albers
Of course, this list is very much incomplete, but even as it is, there is such a wide variety of styles and themes for the teacher to select from that more than likely s/he will end up with more than needed. Therefore, the process of selecting just the right painting(s) is very time consuming, but I have done that for you in the lessons in this unit.
A painting is very much like a story and vice-versa; the student can write a composition or tell a story on what he or she sees in it, or draw what s/he “sees” in a story or composition. Before s/he can do this, a sizeable vocabulary (depending on the group’s ability and familiarity with the language) has to be built. Beginners in the task of learning a second language are facing an overwhelming number of words, which known or unknown to them, are the building blocks of the language. If the student is to survive while going through this process, it has to be programmed in such a way that it does not adversely affect learning. One does not want to give too much information to them at one time but then, neither is too little acceptable.
To be able to bring art into the classroom, the teacher may purchase reproductions for his/her personal use or use the services provided by the galleries and art museums. The Yale University Art Gallery through its Education Office can be most useful in providing tours of the gallery to public school students at no charge and also in offering their expertise and resources. The gallery is located at 1111 Chapel Street, New Haven and their phone number is 436-2490. There is more information on the gallery at the end of the unit.
The gallery has fine representative collections in the various art periods. Their Modern Art collection is on the second floor of the gallery and has proven very suitable in the development of this unit. Their contemporary art collection varies every few months so I have not included these paintings in this unit. I am very grateful for the help and attention given me by the Education Office through Mrs. Janet Dixon and Mrs. Janet Gordon.
In the development of the process through which the student will go, the visual form can provide a vehicle for transmitting instruction. The art work can be used to: 1) name an object or a group of objects, 2) develop a list of appropriate adjectives to describe the objects, 3) convey activity words (verbs), 4) establish relationships of objects through prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and possessive pronouns, and 5) in some cases depict present and/or past actions. Questions as: “What is this?”, “What are these?”, or “What is that?”, “What are those?”, and the phrases “This is . . . ”, “These are . . . ”, “That is . . . ”, and “Those are . . . ”, should be developed before introducing any painting to the class. It is not a difficult process and most language books offer plenty of exercises in the first few chapters geared for the mastering of these forms and the verb
in the present tense.
Textbooks, many times, are limited in the vocabulary they develop, for example, they teach the names of relatively few colors and seldom teach degrees of darkness or lightness in a color. Simple visual concepts such as light blue or dark brown are not taught in the lesson concerned with color. With the aid of the visual form, student(s) and teacher are able to enrich their vocabulary that is so necessary to be able to express complete descriptions and meanings.
One of the first skills taught the learner of a second language is color. Teachers usually point out various objects in the classroom that are of the specific color being taught. I intend to eliminate that extra burden of looking around the room and then trying to decide whether that strange word that the teacher is saying is the name of the object or the name of the color of the object(s). By carefully selecting four or five paintings the names of ten to twenty colors can be taught with ease.
After this unit, geometric shapes can be introduced. This vocabulary will prove useful to those students taking math, geometry, or drafting. This concept is followed by the unit on the numbers. These three units can worked using the same paintings, as we will see later in the lesson plans. Each skill (color, geometric shapes, numbers) can be worked on for two to five days. The lesson need not last for the whole class period but only as long as the teacher deems it necessary for the students to learn. There can be quizzes or activities prepared to test if the student has learned. Other skills developed at the same time are the usage of singular and plural agreements, for example, “This is yellow.”, “These are yellow.”, or “This is a circle.”, “These are circles.” can be joined to make longer, more meaningful sentences such as; “This is a yellow circle.” or “These are yellow circles.”, so skills are not isolated but are integrated to become a fully developed unit.
Another lesson dealing with the house and family includes the names of the parts of the body and the identification of the different members of the family, will be developed. Possessive pronouns and interrogative words are introduced in this unit; demonstrative pronouns will be reviewed. As the units progress, the students will incorporate what was learned in the previous unit(s).
The last lesson to be developed will include various verbs which will be very useful in the students’ everyday usage.
The art work will be used with the purpose to develop vocabulary only. It will be non-threatening to the student because we will not go into deep analysis, which is not what is important at the moment. Unconsciously, the student can have his/her reactions and if s/he wishes will be free to express them and possibly ask for meaning or an explanation of the piece of art before him/her. The works are mostly non-objective and are those which I feel are most useful in achieving the purpose of the lesson.