Literacy and the Learner

“It is essential that all teachers understand and make a commitment to facilitate literacy growth and development. This course aligns with the performance-based standards for Colorado teachers and National Council of Teachers of English (1999) standards. The vision guiding this courses is that all students must have the opportunities and resources to develop the language and numeracy skills they need to pursue life’s goals and to participate fully as informed, productive members of society. This course will provide future teachers with knowledge to enable them to develop curriculum and instruction that make productive use of the emerging literacy abilities students bring to the classroom. Additionally, field experience will be connected to the classroom component in order to link educational theory and “real world” practice teaching literacy skills. The information, skills, and experiences in this class should prove valuable to both the professional and personal development of the teacher candidate as a responsible citizen.  The themes emphasized throughout this course include literacy and individualization of instruction.”
-From the Colorado State University School of Education

A Case Study was completed at the end of working in a Middle School Art Classroom

Part One:

I sat in the back of the class at the beginning of the semester wondering if teaching was really for me; did I have the skills, knowledge, and determination to work with a bunch of middle school students. The students intimidated me at first and I wondered if I would even be able to get anything out of the class. What did I even know about literacy or the learner? However, at the beginning of the semester I came across a quote by Kofi Annan that helped me understand a bit better what this class was about:

Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.

This idea of the importance of literacy was not always something I completely understood, but it was constantly pushed in the classroom and by my own parents. I was never completely aware of the true power and significance of reading and writing in the classroom. It is true that all teachers are teachers of reading but they become teachers of not only that but writing, comprehending, and analyzing; all parts of literacy must be taught. In the classroom encouraging students to read and write promotes individual growth. Reading in particular helps to build students’ prior knowledge and encourage activation of their current prior knowledge. In the art class I was in this semester there was very little actual reading that I got the chance to observe. There was however a book read to the class that the students really engaged in. Mr. Pipinich read the students a book on Leonardo da Vinci as they finished up their current project to bridge the class to the next project. I think that in an art setting the occasional reading allows the students a break and challenges them to switch their way of thinking. Vacca and Vacca wrote in Writing Across the Curriculum that reading and writing is important across all content areas because “it encourages students to play with ideas, explore concepts, clarify meaning and elaborate on what they are learning.”

Each day when the class came into the classroom they were asked to sit down and either draw whatever Mrs. T Hartman had written on the board or answer some questions. They all had notebooks that held these questions and spaces for drawing. These were a natural expectation in the classroom and I think it was good to have the students think about questions such as “what makes a good teacher” and “why did you decide to take art”. The students made a postcard for one of their projects emulating a famous artist and then they wrote a letter on the back of the card. Mrs. T Hartman had the students write five complete sentences in their letter. There was a chance for the students to write but there was little other that I had the opportunity to observe. I think that reading and writing could have been incorporated a bit more into the class but there was some obvious chances for the students to read and write.

Part Two:

I learned a lot of really helpful strategies that I plan on using in the future in my art classroom. My favorite strategy was the RAFT. There are many ways I could use this for my content area but I would particular like to see them write a RAFT to demonstrate their knowledge of color theory. The students would be asked to display their understanding of primary, tertiary, secondary, complimentary and analogous colors in terms of the color wheel. In addition I would expect them to demonstrate their knowledge on how colors mix; warm, cool, neutral, tint and shade. With it being an art class I would want the students to not only be as creative and funny as possible but also possibly create a drawing to accompany the RAFT.

Paragraph writing will play an important role in my future classroom. I think it is very important for students to be able to write artist statements to accompany works of art. Not only does this give the students a chance to practice writing but also analyze and critique their own art. While there is often times when a piece of art does not have an intention at first it is a crucial skill for students to interpret and analyze their own work objectively. In writing an artist statement they can learn to write and vocalize what they liked and did not like in their art work.

In talking about response journals I really believe that they would be helpful in the classroom however in the art setting they would look more like sketchbooks. In my own classes I have seen how crucial keeping a sketchbook is. Their sketchbooks would not only hold their own sketches but inspiration as well. It would encourage students to find inspiration anywhere they go and have a place to keep it. This would house pictures and drawings of their own and others, notes from the class and it would also encourage them to write. In my own experience I would find myself writing down ideas for art, general thoughts, and sometimes rants. Especially in the high school classroom, which I plan to be going into, I would want this to be their own and feel comfortable putting whatever they need in it.

In art systems of questioning takes on an important role. Without the ability to work through their thoughts and problem solve no art is possible. It is important to ask students what their ideas are, how to convey them, and if they did it another way how would it turn out. Questioning also plays a role in critiques of other students’ works. Through critiques students can ask their peers what works and what doesn’t work in a piece of art and why; this is how students become better artists. System of questioning also plays a role in interpreting art. Questions such as why sis this artist make this and what is the subject become very important. Students can also learn how they made it and why this piece of art is still important today. Works such as Botichelli’s Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper are crucial for aspiring artists to study and ask themselves these questions.

Connections are very important in art as well. Art is constantly connecting to what is going on at that time as well as works of art from the past. I would place the image of Cole Thompson’s Angel Gabriel on the board and ask what connections they can make. I would ask them to give me text to text, text to self, and text to world connections. I would push for the students to specifically compare it to other works of art, readings that may have inspired the works and what it reminds the students of.

I would also use character maps in the classroom when studying art movements. Andy Warhol for pop art, Van Gogh for impressionism, da Vinci for realism, Dali for surrealism, and Picaso for cubism. The students would be put into five small groups and assigned an artist to research and create a character map for the artist. When all the groups are done creating their maps they would go in front of the class and present. This would give the students the chance to focus on studying one artist and not be too overwhelmed with the research but still get the chance to learn about different artists and the art movements associated with them.

Numeracy is also important to all areas of art. In a photography class I would give students a worksheet with terms of photography and the numbers associated with them. Aperture would have numbers f/6, f/4, and f/2 and it is important for students to understand that the smaller the number the bigger the aperture hole of the camera. Students would need to understand the number represents how many of the aperture holes it takes to get from the lens to the film. Shutter speed would also come into play during numeracy. The numbers such as 1/100, 1/5 and 2 represent the seconds that the shutter is left open.


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