Written responses from students have become overemphasized. Why do we tend to rely solely on written responses from students, even when we are not assessing a writing standard? Why do we tend only to recognize written arguments when some of the richest arguments are visual texts? Why not include other artistic mediums to accommodate a variety of learning styles and forms of constructing meaning? Some might respond with, “It takes too long to grade,” or “I’m not an artist.” Let’s address these concerns.
Allow students to analyze visual arguments as well.
The Common Core Standards for reading informational texts are concerned with perceptive meaning making with texts, such as determining a central idea of identifying the author’s purpose; however, they do not specify only written texts should be used. In fact, CCSS ELA Literacy 7 calls for integration of multiple formats of media. Students may still give written responses, but from analyzing visual texts.
For example, analyzing Paul Revere’s “The Bloody Massacre” is a prime opportunity to introduce the idea of authorial purpose and how it can be crafted. In fact, using art helps many students understand that language is crafted, not merely written.
Having students compare the engraving to actual testimony of the event reveals Revere’s exaggeration, providing a rich example of how “language” can be crafted to evoke a certain effect, as Revere was not seeking to inform his audience but rather trying to evoke anger. Integrating art in this fashion does not longer than including written texts.
Allow for a diversity of responses when not assessing a writing standard.
It is unfair to allow only written responses when not assessing a writing skill. After all, don’t we want students to be able to put their best foot forward to demonstrate knowledge? A science teacher colleague of mine does a tremendous job differentiating for multiple learning styles and always allows for students to express their understanding in varied formats, such as using film. It may be common for one or two projects in a class to include artistic responses, but why not most? Maybe some think it is always labor intensive. Here is a beautiful example from my colleague’s class of how students can quickly create artistic responses and teachers can quickly grade them. I am not even a science teacher, and I can quickly tell these students have a strong understanding of cellular respiration.
Explore the richness of pop-culture.
Integrating art does not mean you have to be an expert on art – Try including the pop-culture art that is around us all the time and well-known by many. Too often, the brilliance in pop-culture art, such as album covers or commercials, is overlooked. One of my favorites to bring into the classroom is the Scream (1996) movie poster depicting the iconic mask. When juxtaposed to Munch’s “The Scream,” it is apparent the poster alludes to the painting, trying to evoke a sense of fear.
Rich rhetoric is even present in street art. Banksy, the anonymous English street art trio, has several works worthy of rhetorical analysis that speak to topics relevant to all subject areas. A favorite of my students is his painting of a cat made to look as if it is playing with an actual pile of rubble that looks like a ball of yarn. This piece, done in war-torn Gaza, chastises people for only caring for irrelevant cat videos instead of real news on the internet. Multiple pieces of pop-culture art can actually be analyzed and discussed quickly once students get used to it.
Let the students be the artists.
It is easy to get overwhelmed thinking of artistic responses to allow students to do for an assignment. Make it easy on yourself and give the students complete artistic license. Often I will have students create museum displays, a project that can be used to assess a variety of standards. For example, I might have them create a literary museum containing displays of symbols from the novel, including a label that analyzes how the symbol shapes a theme in the novel. Students are allowed to use any artistic medium for their displays, so I do not have to stress over coming up with creative responses. They choose their own.
What would your students create if they got to choose the format of their responses to your questions?
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.
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