Using the Online Collections — Part Two

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.

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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.

–James Shivers

 

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