This unit is intended for middle school (grades 5-8) ESOL students. My school, East Rock Global Magnet, is a K-8 school of approximately 750 students. Within the school is a New Arrival Center, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), with approximately 75 students from 30 countries, at all levels of English proficiency. Many of the students are Muslim, some from Middle Eastern and North African countries. This year we have students from Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Morocco. Muslim students come from some African countries extending further south on the western side of Africa, such as Guinea, Senegal and the Ivory Coast, and reaching as far east as Bangladesh. This unit is intended to be an instructive, interactive and meaningful area of study for these new arrivals. Many of our students come with a remarkable knowledge of their history and also bring artistic skills from their countries of origin. Although these students come from different traditions and speak different languages, they have a common heritage in Islam and an appreciation for the traditional art forms, which they take pride in sharing with the rest of the students. They are able to make meaningful contributions that enrich the curriculum. This unit is also appropriate for all students, including native English speakers, as we become increasingly aware of both the necessity and the enjoyment of a growing awareness of other cultures.
Within this unit we will explore the background of Islamic art- what it is, how it developed, how it was shaped by the Islamic faith and the Arab expansion, as well as the defining features of Islamic art. Four characteristic media will be discussed: calligraphy, miniature paintings, carpets, and metalwork. With each, there is a suggested lesson plan, which consists of art projects simple enough to do in the classroom, over a period of many days, or for a single class lesson.
These lessons develop language skills through planned art projects. For example, a painting project based on Persian miniatures would work in the following way. Students often draw naturally in a way similar to the miniatures and to other folk art. They happily fill their pictures with scenes rich with detail. ESOL classes of students contain varied levels of English proficiency and projects like painting of small detailed scenes are successful with this group. When new students enter the school with no English, they do not yet speak but the learning process has begun, they comprehend key words and can respond through art. After just a few weeks to a few months, they are able to name the objects in their pictures. They can draw and label pictures, make lists and write short phrases. They can recall, retell and explain information using simple grammar and syntax. They learn color words through the mixing and applying of the various rich hues of paint. They learn to follow directions and the many verbs they will understand through actually performing them- mixing, sketching, explaining, painting, showing, etc. Some students will be further along in their English skills. They are able to comment and react using more complex sentences. They can explain problems and complain. They use descriptive details and can read simple passages. When students reach intermediate fluency, they can describe their projects using extensive vocabulary. They can research and report on their projects. All will enjoy the painting and will increase their English skills.
Through this unit the students will also learn an important part of world history, relevant generally and personally. They will have hands-on experiences in creating projects which reflect or illuminate the arts of the Middle East. They will learn how these art forms contribute to the richness of today’s artistic culture.