Language Arts Lesson
Teacher Reflections by Lynn Provencher
The experience with Looking to Learn lessons was positive for me. I am a self-proclaimed non-artist, a linear thinker; I like facts, schedules, and even ask my students to draw for me. Being asked to combine art into my classroom went outside of my comfort zone. Luckily, I found the lessons to be easy to understand and fun to implement. I learned that a piece of art can easily be used to help teach all subjects from math to grammar! I did discover that the lessons take more time than I anticipated.
The Weatherbeaten lesson was surprisingly easy to fold into my ongoing curriculum. Meaningful writing projects are always needed in the classroom. The journal entries were ideal writing practice, peer editing practice, and even MEA-constructed response practice.
We spent a month on Weatherbeaten. The students responded to the lessons and the painting very well. Once I passed out their Weatherbeaten work folders and described the objectives and art museum connection, they were intrigued. I framed the poster and hung it prominently in the classroom, and we referred to Homer and the painting throughout the month as appropriate. They both became an important part of the classroom!
The most important thing I learned was about the power of a piece of artwork. In my classroom, a poster (not even the real painting!) of Weatherbeaten elicited thoughts, stories, and feelings that I never would have considered possible. I used the poster to teach about the brain, sea life, the tourist industry in Maine, grammar, facts, opinions, fiction, and non-fiction topics. This was my greatest learning. In the future, I will always be on the lookout for a piece of art that will go hand-in-hand with the unit I am teaching.
I created an “art response folder” where students kept all their reflections and related work. We had many class discussions about the painting and the painter. We made connections and inferences about time, place, weather, mood, sea life, etc. I particularly liked our discussions because there were no right or wrong answers and I was able to catch a glimpse into the students’ thought processes and feelings. The students and I wrote a copious amount of reflections. I discovered that writing my own reflection and sharing it was the key to encouraging students to really think and be creative writers. Lead by example! Once I began writing and sharing as well, the ball really got rolling.
The evidence of student learning was apparent in their writing. As we moved through the lesson, our writing became more personal and thoughtful. Students chose the piece of writing that was to be published for the final product. Interestingly, some students chose writing that I would not have. Technically, they had better writing pieces. Through individual conversations, I realized that the students had selected writing that was personally important to them. Personal connections to the artist and the painting were more important than traditionally “good” writing. Also, as time went on, their observations about the painting became deeper, revealing new layers of meaning.
From the formative assessments, I learned that students know when they have put quality thinking and effort into their work and can tell you what they could improve upon. For example, some students were very much into the written reflections, while others were not. I was pleased with the personal connections the students shared with each other about the painting. Not all students engaged in the writing as I had hoped, but they all appreciated and supported each other’s thoughts and feelings. Weatherbeaten sparked several stories in my students that I never would have heard otherwise. We became a closer family when someone shared an experience brought on by observing the painting. All students found a place to shine within this unit.
My biggest challenge was the role-play. Role-play activities were something that I had never formally attempted before. I needed to be more structured in giving students a specific scenario to act out. The kids did enjoy doing it, though! The role-play activity was a perfect fit for the group work and classroom community building that I am continually working on. The role-play was a perfect example of students calling on strengths that they normally do not get to display in a regular classroom. I know that the role-play activity was successful because the students worked well together with few problems. Some students earned the respect of their peers because of their acting and creativity, and some began to write and act their own mini-plays during their free time!
Collaborating with other teachers and community members makes my teaching and classroom work more authentic. The students are more engaged when there are hands-on projects, community connections, meaningful field trips, and multiple teachers working in different ways. The art teacher and I were able to plan and coordinate the timing of our lessons. The students were sort of excited about the simultaneous projects in the classroom and art room. I set aside time each week for the students to discuss what they had done in the art room and to write a journal entry about their art project. I also joined in at the beginning and end of the art class. This was valuable in that the students could see that the teachers were working together, and that I was invested in their artwork. Although we did not team-teach the lessons, the art teacher and I met weekly to plan and coordinate activities. The students knew and responded to the fact that we were all working together on an important project.