Practicing visual literacy skills throughout the year opens opportunities to explore new combinations of reading and writing. In this exercise I wanted to explore creative writing using a film, a painting, and drawing. As a whole class we had recently watched a film. I spent some time looking through the online collections at YCBA and I chose this image due to the film’s content concerning the inner workings of a court life. The first part of the exercise was to draw the whole picture in their journals.
The following day we used the painting as the setting for a scene between characters in A Midsummer’s Night Dream and the film we watched. They had to pick at least one character from each story. Inside the painting they had to choose a place for their scene to take place and draw a mini-scene.
The story was opened ended, but had to be accurate to the characters in the stories. Each student chose their own characters, imagined what characters from two different stories would say to each other, and then chose the best visual location for the story to take place.
The creative writing prompt gave them very specific tasks. Each student had to draw the whole, but then within that whole had to choose a specific location that would be meaningful for their story. The writing had to construct a story with characters from two different stories (and mediums) and place these characters (in character) into a third space. Within these requirements the students were free to imagine and explore. Although some students chose similar characters, no one story was the same.
Students are accustomed to searching for materials online. Often the search comes from the browser they use. Using a curated collection like the one at YCBA is a different matter. All the materials exist, have been researched, catalogued, placed in the community for viewing and dialogue. I regularly search the collections and encourage my students to do the same. I have even designed lessons around the searching through the collections.
When we were reading Speak, I wanted a tree the class could draw. I found James Ward’s (1769-1859) ‘Mr. Howard’s Large Oak, August 5, 1820′ to be perfect for the assignment. As this was our last unit of the year, I was able to ask the students to draw in a different way. I asked them to draw the image of the tree as they felt at the beginning of the year. In other words, I asked them not to just copy the tree, but to use the tree as a starting point for a visual interpretation of their own experience. Their images were very personal and full of surprises. One student drew the tree with very little leaves. The only leaves he had, he wrote ‘a new hope’ for this year. The students were able to look back at themselves at the beginning of their High School experience and reflect using their visual literacy skills. The assignment also stretched their sense of drawing. Instead of drawing as ‘copying’ drawing was a way of seeing. They were free to modify, add, enhance, alter the image in order to communicate a particular experience.
As a general rule, I do the assignments with the students. I decided to draw the tree, but to fill the limbs from some comments written in my journal from quarter one.
Since I do the assignments with the students and tell them if they want to see my work they can. Occasionally, I will show them what I’ve done. But, I am careful here. I do not want them to fall into the mimetic role: only do what the teacher does, then copy it slavishly, and then you are finished. More important that seeing my work is seeing me work along side them instead of answer emails, grading, working on something for another class. Obviously, at times, I need to work the room and take care of paperwork. However, I don’t ask the students to do something I haven’t done myself.