Task: To have students demonstrate their knowledge of subject matter through written presentation; to have children also present that understanding in verbal form.
Skills Focus/Content Areas: Effective use of descriptive language, developing and demonstration of sequencing and logical thinking skills. Language Arts and Art.
Sharpened pencils and lined paper
Lined paper, a pencil and/or computer
A camera or snapshot of each student
(to accompany completed work)
Through storytelling and hands-on activities, students have experienced cultural traditions, folkloric tales, and artifacts created by Native American and African people. Young learners have also had the opportunity to create their own mask and to think about the purpose behind the creation of their masterpieces. Students will now have the opportunity to put those thoughts on paper.
Writing and related language arts activities should immediately conclude each completed maskmaking project. Because each child will surely want to participate in the activities that follow, and the attention span of children ages five through seven can at times be very short, it is suggested that visual/auditory and writing activities be spread out during the course of a week and conducted in groups of four or five during 45 minute sessions. Final works can be hand printed and/or typed on the computer and mounted beneath each corresponding mask.
You will remember that students were asked (1) to create an African mask that represented how they felt about themselves and (2) to pretend they were Native American and about to create a mask of themselves representing the character trait of some animal spirit. Writing their background description papers will surely be a challenge, for describing the reason behind the creation of their masks in writing is a sophisticated task for young learners. It may, therefore, be necessary to assist them in feeling comfortable with expressing themselves on paper.
Setting the Tone. Role-play demonstrations initiated by the instructor often enable children to get a firm handle on how to respond. Tape-recording responses is a terrific ice breaker. (With tape recorder set on record, I held up a mask I had created, stood before the class, and softly mumbled, “My name is Trina. I made a mask. It is pretty. It is red and green. I like it.” I stopped, and played back the tape. By this point, the children are in hysterical laughter, aware that my presentation was not what was desired. [Note: At the beginning of the school year, I set the tone that students should persevere even when they make a mistake. In this instance, I feigned crying, and asked, “What should I do?” The response was and usually is a unanimous “Don’t cry, just try!”] I repeated my presentation: “My name is Trina Mullins. In my class, we learned about African people and African masks! I pretended that I came from Ghana, and I created a mask that shows how I feel about myself, my family, and my people. I used triangles and circles for my eyes and nose because I have beautiful triangular eyes and oval full lips. I put short pieces of twine around the top of the head to show my beautiful corn-rowed braids. I glued gold-colored metal circles and parallelograms on my collar to represent members of my family. I used gold because having family means I am rich!....” I continued, speaking clearly and audibly, holding up the described mask with pride. I stopped, and played back the recording once again. The children get the idea and are subsequently called on to give their presentation.)
Ready, Set , Record. Call on a few students to stand before the class with mask in hand. Encourage them to talk about why they created their mask, and to use complete sentences when responding. Let them know their responses will be recorded. Request that they first identify themselves, then subsequently explain why and how they created each of their masks. Urge them to highlight why they used specific shapes and colors, and whether the use of shapes, patterns, and design held significant meaning. Student comments should be played back and re-recorded should the student so desire. Play back of recorded responses can take place immediately following student presentations, or during center time and group meeting sessions. Know that listening to their explanations provides students with a jump-off point for their written work.
Word Walls. Urge students to use inventive spelling (i.e., spelling words based on phonetic recognition), refer back to text previously read stories and text, or to make use of words strategically placed and found throughout the classroom environment (word walls). Word walls serve as a living resource for students, where new words are added as classroom studies continue. (Because our school is equipped with Macintoshes and Compaqs, words posted on our word walls are visibly enlarged, printed, and posted. Handwritten word list can also be used.) Using these self-empowering writing tools help students to minimally rely on classmates and teachers when completing their work and allows them to concentrate on the subject matter.
And We’re Off. Allot a scheduled time for children to create their written descriptions. This activity should take place a minimum of three days per week, for a period of at least 30 to 40 minutes. I have found that early morning hours or immediately after lunch prove effective for my first and second graders to participate in writing activities. While creating their written work, remind students to make use of inventive spelling and words contained in the classroom environment.
Edit, Edit, Edit. During the course of the school year, my students do a lot of journal writing and are taught to draft, revise, and share their written work with one another as it progresses. Continuing in this vein, I give my children time to put their thoughts on paper, to share and critique their literary creations with fellow classmates, to confer with me, and to revise their work accordingly. Allow students to create their description papers, revisit and rewrite them until they are pleased with the outcome.*
Culminating Experiences. I have collaborated with our school’s library media specialist, the head librarian at our local public library, and the manager at Barnes and Noble Bookstore. Our children have been invited to have their work displayed in these locales. A sense of pride and accomplishment will surely result from this outreach effort.
A trip to the New York City’s Museum of Natural History is on the agenda. Here, children will experience the Hall of Man where artifacts and lifestyles of past European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Native American cultures are on display. Here, young learners will discover that the masks they have created look similar to many of those on display at the museum.
Should you implement this unit, make every effort to visit art and natural history museums. Extend an invitation for your students’ work to be displayed both within and outside of your school. Through such activities, students will experience the interconnectedness of art and the human experience and will make a tangible connection with similarities found in cultural difference!
*I embrace Lucy McCormick Calkins’ Writing Process, a motivating approach to encourage children to become meaningful writers. A professor at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College in New York City, Ms. Calkins and her associates assist educators in seeing the process of writing through the eyes of a child. Using methodology brings out a lot of untapped creative writing from students. For additional information concerning The Writing Process, refer to Lucy Calkins’ work, The Art of Teaching Writing and/or my article, Celebrate A People, found in the American Children’s Literature Curriculum Units by Fellows of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, Volume II, 1997, Pages 153 - 157.