Kathy Adams, Language Arts
How long was the study of The Weirdo in language arts?
The unit of study on The Weirdo took approximately four weeks. This class met daily for 65 minutes each day. I try to teach one novel each grading period - this unit took place during the third quarter and was the third book we had studied.
How would you describe the academic level of the students in this class, and the challenges they face?
The academic level of this class ranged from students reading on approximately a third-grade level to those reading well above eighth-grade level. These students face the challenges of most working poor families in the U.S. Most of my students’ parents work at low-wage jobs and have little formal education. Most of these students have limited experience with art and literature outside the walls of the school. I chose to do this unit with this particular group because they had expressed interest in creating visual art products, and they were very interested in the novel we were studying.
How had you collaborated with arts teachers before, and what did you learn that influenced this project?
I collaborated with the dance teacher extensively the previous spring to create an integrated unit on the Harlem Renaissance. I enjoyed the challenges and rewards of working with a gifted arts teacher. This experience led me to seek collaborative projects with other arts teachers. I admired the work of our visual art teacher, Cindy Ellis. Cindy and I collaborated early in the year on a smaller project involving the Underground Railroad and quilt making. Our project on The Weirdo grew out of lunchtime conversations and a deep desire on our parts to have a chance to do a major project together. I love the novel The Weirdo and I thought Cindy would have exciting ideas on how to incorporate visual art into a collaborative effort.
You use technology very seamlessly and naturally as part of your teaching. How did that come about?
I laughed when I read that I use technology “seamlessly and effortlessly.” I struggle to include technology in my classroom because I believe that it is a “hook” to get kids excited about activities that they might otherwise consider mundane and boring. I do not consider myself to be technologically savvy; however, I strive to keep abreast of new ways of teaching and learning. Although I have taught for almost twenty-two years, I am constantly discovering new and better ways to inspire students to learn. If that means I have to break out of my “comfort zone,” then I do it.
What preparation for this unit had students already had in language arts classes?
We had worked on characterization and theme all year through novel and short story studies. The students were quite comfortable with studying themes, as we had sought to identify the author’s messages in each work that we read. Both of these objectives are a part of the North Carolina Standard Course of Study for language arts.
Prior to the art activity, students read the novel and completed several written assignments designed to address the concepts to be explored through art. They completed several graphic organizers created to encourage exploration of the characters in the novel and the ways in which each character changed as the story progressed.
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Cindy Ellis, Visual Art
How did this project fit with your goals and standards for eighth-grade art?
Students met a number of arts standards in this project. First, they planned, organized, analyzed, and refined solutions to solving a creative problem, which is our first state competency goal. They met the second goal by selecting various media for their effectiveness in the artistic solution, as well as by applying techniques and processes with each material they selected.
By creating their place settings, students used subjects, themes, and symbolic representation to communicate intended meaning, another state and national competency goal.
Finally, when students “set the table,” presented their works, and examined the work of their classmates, they were involved in our sixth competency goal (fifth in the National Standards) - assessing the merits of their work and the work of others.
The student work is beautiful. What previous arts learning (particularly in ceramics) did these students have before undertaking their projects?
Most of Kathy’s students were enrolled in my regular art class and had some exposure to the media and processes we used in this project. But there were a few students who had not had an art class since the fifth grade, and we felt they would benefit from a hands-on introduction to clay modeling techniques. So the day before, students experimented with manipulating, joining, and carving the clay. Potential problems were confronted, and the students were able to reach a comfort level using the medium.
What tie-ins with the community did you find for this project?
During this project some of the students were working on bowls to donate to the Empty Bowl event. This event raises hunger awareness as well as money for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Western North Carolina.
In conjunction with the Empty Bowl event and an exhibit on shelters, The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art invited all the art classes in our system to submit a place setting (one from each school). I chose our place setting from Kathy’s group.
What other artists would you like to use as a basis for collaborative projects?
To examine themes such as identity, I would focus on artists like George Segal, Frida Kahlo, and Chuck Close. Collaborating on the theme of conflict, I may use Pablo Picasso. Most recently, I used the Hudson River School artists as we examined nature and our environment.
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