Over the course of my teaching career, I have stumbled upon a key to unlocking doorways into a child's creativity through art and yet am only beginning to understand how to present this key in a way so that each child will take ownership of it and use it to discover what abounding imaginings lay dormant in their developing minds. From the very first interactions I have had with students in primary grades, story–telling and art have so naturally presented themselves as wonderful tools to evoke a child's curiosity and creative spirit.
At the Valley School in Bangalore, India, I offered students an 'art and literacy' course in which I gained invaluable experience both in working with students of a different culture and in delving deeper into my own creative instincts. I realized that a very good way to inspire children to discover their own creativity was through exposure to the artistic expressions of people who had dared to expose their innermost selves in their work.
Today, in my third grade classroom at Davis Street Arts & Academics Interdistrict Magnet School, the heterogeneous group of children ranging in age from 8–10 are no different from those children I taught in India, in terms of their affinity to art, whether creating it or observing and discussing it. Although I have designed this unit with my third graders in mind, I am confident that it could easily be adapted for use by teachers in other primary and intermediate grades as well.
In the recent past, I attended a wonderful seminar at the Yale Center for British Art, where I learned about a literacy–through–the–arts program, called 'Doorways to Writing.' This program invites students to write with elaborate detail about what they have experienced once a variety of 'doorways' into their own imaginings have been opened by way of the five senses. One such doorway is called the "Copy Doorway", in which students pick one post–card–sized replica painting, which piques their interest and return to their seats to replicate it in their journals. As they copy the painting they are encouraged to allow their imaginations to run wild so that when it comes time to write, they can attempt to express in written form what they have been inspired to think about, whether it be a narrative, memory, poem, etc. While this exercise is both enjoyable and stimulating for the children, I noted that there was still a missing link in my instruction. I felt that I had not yet done enough to raise students' awareness of the historical influences at work in each piece of artwork nor given them enough of a foundation in the different elements of a painting as a means of appreciating the art on a much deeper level.
My goal is to utilize the stories that artwork tells to inspire students to write their own pieces with greater elaboration and creative freedom. Therefore, my curriculum unit is designed to guide my students more gradually and sensitively into the complex world of art in order to better equip them to make insightful discoveries of their own. My curriculum unit will be interdisciplinary in scope, incorporating history, reading, writing, oral language and art. My students will work in both small– and large–group settings on the activities included in this unit. The unit lessons will be implemented 4–5 times a week, for a period of 40–60 minutes over a 4–month period. I plan to divide my curriculum–unit into five sections, in each of which I will employ the use of artwork in an effort to engage them and enhance their learning. The sections are:
Section 1: Teaching the Elements of Art
Section 2: Understanding British and American History through Art
Section 3: Inferential Thinking: Giving Figures in Art a Voice
Section 4: Exploring Landscape in Art through the Senses
Section 5: Allowing Stories to Unfold from Artwork
Section 6: Coming Full Circle: From Masterpiece to Masterpiece