3rd year, Art Education Specialization
Schoolbus Memories: An Invitation to Explore Self and Place
This lesson plan—entitled Schoolbus Memories—is part of a larger unit focused on helping Grades 5 and 6 students develop their imagination and explore their sense of self through drawing, discussion and collective collage. The central requirement is that students draw on a first-hand experience, then shape it using their imagination and artistic tools. The task of making images based on their morning trip to school not only allows students to reflect on their surroundings and external environment, but may be a place to consider their presence and belonging in that environment. I taught this lesson to a mixed-grade class of 16 students, half grade 5 and the other half grade 6 at an English elementary school in Montreal during Fall 2016 as part of an internship for my undergraduate degree in Art Education at Concordia. I was thrilled to see that students were engaged in collaborating with each other respectfully, as they were eager to align the quality and integrity of their visuals alongside those of their peers. I say integrity since the visuals produced by the students were intensely meaningful to them—and that’s a big part of what made this lesson work.
The imagination is a vital part of ourselves, guiding our thinking while allowing deeper access to complex aspects of life. Sorting through the multiple fertile images and ideas found in our imagination is one way that individual character reinforcement happens. Through the processes of art-making, students make choices about which aspects of their memories and identities could lead to the imaginative construction of an artwork. The resulting image can express in depth what we won’t or can’t necessarily express in words.
At the same time, ideas of the self and belonging are central to this lesson and larger unit plan. As students share their perspectives and created visuals, they get to see different points of view on the same subject. Students get to see multiple understandings of the self based on introspective inquiry. An important factor throughout the whole unit plan is that students are not seated alone; they are seated in groups or next to one another. This enables them to look over at the progress of their peers, learning from them and helping each other, as well. In simple terms, students share ideas in a carefully cultivated safe learning environment. Having the students reflect on their time travelling to school can be a place where visual memories become vivid, and the experience of the self emerges.
Preparation for Class
Questions of inquiry: What did you see on your way to school, and what would you change, add or modify? How could you bring your memories together in a “collage” work of art?
Pencils, coloring pencils, markers, glue, scissors, 2ft x 3ft sheet of bristol for each group, 3 sheets of letter size paper per student, 4 sandwich bags.
Visual Arts Vocabulary:
Collage: different images or parts of images that are combined together to create a new visual. Composition: the structure of the artwork; where elements are selectively placed and/or drawn. Layers: parts of different images stacked on top of each other.
Personal and Social Vocabulary:
Self: the sense of a distinct and stable identity, separate from the external world and other people, yet formed in relation to these.
Identity: how people see themselves and express ‘who they are inside’ to other people; related to ways of belonging; categories and characteristics that makes us who we are; may be collective or individual.
Introduction (15 min): Today’s art session will be about memories – recent memories. Before we get into it, let me ask you: “What did you see on your way to school?” Take a few moments to reflect and list anything you remember. Next question: “What would you change, add or modify?” We will discuss this together as a group. Next, imagine exaggerating particular elements of the scene: “You remembered seeing a bird? What kind of bird? How could it be different? Imagine changing or exaggerating any element of this bird. (5 minutes) Now, think about everything you saw today on your way to school. How did you get to school? How was the weather? Who did you see? What buildings did you pass? Was the road bumpy or smooth? What sounds did you hear? What else did you notice? How did you feel? Keep a list of these details. (5 minutes)
Prototype and Demonstration (10 min): Show the prototype artwork and memory collage. Explain what collage is and what it looks like, introducing the visual arts concepts (above).
Work Time (40 minutes): In groups of four, and working from the lists they generated above, have students draw their memories. When they are done, have students cut out their favourite elements (30 min). With their group, assemble the cut-out drawings on a large piece of cardboard without gluing them down. Together, move around the different pieces, experimenting with composition. Prompt students to explain or tell stories about their images. Finally, invite each group to glue down specific pieces to form a collage (10 min). They may add or modify through drawing, as well. Remember, this is team-work. Help students collaborate on the kind of artwork that will be made.
Despite having a restricted amount of time to teach this lesson, I noticed that students from grades 5 and 6 were able to grasp the notion of layering and exaggerating certain elements of their visuals (huge wings of a bird, for example). They got creative with the attempt to create certain 3d (pop-out) collage elements and experimenting with placement at the edge of the frame.
One way to improve this lesson might be to focus on a pre-session activity of “exaggerated drawings.” This session could introduce “caricature” drawings, as seen in newspapers and from other artists in order for them to develop and understand the visuals of exaggeration. I believe this pre-session could reinforce the students’ critical and imaginative thinking.
What could further enhance the notion of collaborative artwork in relation to the aspect of a “sense of belonging” is to have another pre-session activity where students get to speak in front of the class about what they recently saw by acting out (performing) an expressive reaction to what they saw. If they saw a bird, the student may have imagined it to be majestic with huge wings: the student could act this out in class by gazing towards the ceiling in awe. Here, the students in class get to see the same scene as the performer. The use of physical gesture can help to loosen up thinking and social processes. The whole class is within the dynamics of belonging in the learning environment.