Many young students struggle in my art class to find the right words to describe objects or points of interest in a piece of art. Often they tell me "it's there," and I have to follow up with "Where's
?" in order for the rest of the class and for me to locate the specific object to which they are referring. At such times I am hoping they will answer with a location word, such as
, yet students do not have the background knowledge of English that allows them to easily communicate to me about an illustration, drawing, painting or sculpture. They come from backgrounds in which parental interaction and support are sometimes not substantial; some students are raised by relatives and shuffle from house to house. Some kindergartners come to our school never having been to preschool or in a structured educational setting at all. Some are non-native speakers of English. In addition to the art room-specific vocabulary (line, shape, form, value, etc.), all of my students need to learn everyday vocabulary too—especially prepositions of location.
This curriculum unit can be used with students from kindergarten through third grade, and it will be equally useful to both classroom teachers and art teachers. In these grades the majority of students who are learning to read, write and interact socially start doing so in their early elementary years. Teachers, by integrating learning about art and about literacy in both their classroom setting and in the art room, can help students to expand their vocabularies beyond what they already came to school knowing. By the end of this unit, I am confident they will be able to describe locations in a piece of art and in the illustrations of a book. I am constantly surprised at how infrequently I see wordless books in classroom libraries throughout the schools I have worked in and visited. They are so beneficial to students of all ages that I would think their presence would be vast. I have chosen specifically to use artist prints and wordless books in my art classroom so that the students can focus on creating detail and using their own words to describe the story unfolding though the pictures.
I use works of children's literature that tell a story without words so that students will be able to link illustrations with their own interpretations of text: there are many "stories" that may come from the same book, depending on the specificity of the illustrations. Students will be able to write their own versions of what is occurring in the story and talk about what they see in the illustrations. Artist prints (reproductions of works of art as large-scale laminated posters) are a ubiquitous part of art classrooms, but they are often underused. This unit also involves using reproductions of artist prints displayed on an overhead projector at the beginning of class or shown at the front of the room. I offer several strategies to teach using them on a daily or weekly basis, depending on how often teachers see their students. Students will be able to place titles with the work based on the imagery they see. The more students are able to talk and write about a piece of art, the better their abilities become to write and speak about other academic subjects. This skill helps build vocabulary and fluency, which are skills that their classroom teachers are teaching them to build through their literacy lessons and small-group instruction.