You don’t have to be a professional curator to integrate art into the ELA classroom, an imperative task for differentiating instruction for the multiple intelligences represented in our classrooms, especially the visual learners. Therefore, arts integration should happen frequently, not just when there happens to be a film adaptation of the novel you are teaching. While watching the film version of a novel can be an enriching experience, arts integration has so much more potential for supporting the Common Core standards.
Some of my most successful lessons have occurred when I grappled with how to bring varied forms of art into my classroom to support my work with different standards. Below are a few examples of how it has looked in my classroom recently. I frame these examples around specific texts I teach in my classes. As I do, I invite you to think about what these ideas might look like with the texts you teach.
- Using photography to make “Birches” more accessible
The first time I taught “Birches” by Robert Frost in my class, I failed. Trusted instructional strategies I had relied on in the past to help students determine central themes in works weren’t working all of a sudden. It wasn’t until a student asked, “What’s birch tree” that I realized a fundamental flaw in my lesson. Living in the Pacific Northwest, my students are unfamiliar with this species. Frost’s themes are largely shaped by his imagery, and because my students had no context to interpret this piece’s imagery, its themes remained inaccessible.
Arts integration does not have to be complex or time consuming to benefit students. The next time I taught the poem, I introduced it with a quick discussion over a photograph of birch trees. The visual was an important scaffold toward determining a central theme in the poem (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2). How might a particular photograph help your students access a difficult text?
- Using cinematography to explore character development in Frankenstein
I often use Shelley’s Frankenstein in class for analyzing how complex characters develop and advance the plot (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3). A project I find successful for this standard is having my students film a book trailer in which they explore how a particular character develops. After studying character development as a literary element, I start the project by showing example professional book trailers produced by publishers. Many can be found on Youtube.com and are a ripe source for discussing different techniques used to interpret and convey character development through visual media. One of my favorites is produced by Epic Reads on the novel The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Students then work to plan, script, film, and edit their own.
I have found this assignment apt for enabling students to capitalize on other intelligences as well. One of the most memorable book trailers I have received was a filmed interpretative dance exploring the decline of Victor’s character. I have even allowed submissions that were not even film but drawn storyboards for a book trailer. How could your students use book trailers to heighten their literary experiences?
- Using paintings to introduce author craft and structure (and so much more)
This one is not just for your artistic students or visual learners. Author craft and structure is probably one of the most complex concepts for students to dwell in. I have found that the concreteness visual text helps students realize author intentionality and its effects before they attempt to analyze it in the abstract world of the printed word. Two of my favorite paintings with which to introduce craft and structure are Munch’s “The Scream” and Wood’s “American Gothic.” Juxtaposing the two for students illuminates the differences in the artists’ craft, emphasizing how technique can create drastic effects. Since there are so many significant features, both glaring and subtle, in these works, just simply asking students what are notable characteristics of the paintings elicits rich discussion over what the author did intentionally and how it affects the text’s meaning, a valuable scaffold toward getting students to interpret similar craft in written texts.
And the possibilities with these two texts are extensive. Using them is also useful for analyzing how a similar subject is represented in two different artistic mediums (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7). While the two works use significantly different artistic techniques, both portray subjects who are affected by their environments. Many works of literature explore this topic as well, so the paintings are also successful for anticipatory activities for works like Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck or Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, which could include short research guided by a question about the paintings (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7). Khanacademy.org is a ripe resource for researching both “The Scream” and “American Gothic.” How could some of your favorite visual texts be used to teach author craft, enable comparative analysis, and prompt short research?
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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