The courses I teach cover World History and this seminar is primarily on American culture, but I feel that the unit produced will transcend cultures and political boundaries. This unit will enable students to understand national identity, then analyze the role national identity played in the art of the period. This idea of art and identity could be used to teach any historical culture or epoch, so the topic I apply this unit to will be
and the American West. Although this unit will enable students to understand American national identity in the 19th century, its primary focus won’t be the content exclusively.
Through writing critically about their analyses and interpretations of both art and history the students will become better overall writers, benefiting them in all later classes. Writing skills are not a unique demand of the English teacher, but for some reason teaching writing has become a unique responsibility of that teacher. I am certain that many English teachers would agree with the idea that students need to learn writing in all the major disciplines and not just in their English or Literature classes.
Improvements in the students’ writing and the ability to express and support an opinion are two aspects of this unit that will help the student prepare for the CAPT. It is essential that the art selected for this unit be rich and captivating enough to easily facilitate thoughtful responses from the students. As trends in education are shifting towards ideas such as standardized testing, exit exams, and the linking of those test scores to school funding, it is of ultimate importance that the methods and content used to enrich student performance are appealing and fascinating enough to produce the best test scores. This is in no way “teaching to the test,” it is teaching to the skill.
In A Short Guide to Writing about Art, Sylvan Barnet reminds us that when students are to write critically they “often think that they are writing for the teacher, but this is a misconception: when you write, you are the teacher.”1 Hopefully, this unit will prove to be especially effective because of the teaching method chosen. The analysis of works of art will enable the student to actually “do” history -
will make interpretations based on