Challenging myself to think differently

Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. I’ve said those words, heard them said, but this summer I said them to myself.  Challenge is a word used frequently in education, not only in the context of what students do, but also in the realm of teaching. When I tell people I’m a high school teacher, the most common comment is “Wow – that must be a challenging job!” It is. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. After several years in teaching, as I imagine it must be in most other professions, one can choose to become complacent after a while, or one can choose to improve, face challenges, become better.

My challenge: find a way to integrate art into the literacy exercises I do in my classroom. Art is a perfect vehicle to lead to description, comparisons, personal responses, and cultural exploration. I’ve been working at teaching literacy more effectively for some time, and one of the things that has always bothered me is that we measure students’ learning in reading and writing by getting them to read and write. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences tells us that limiting responses to written or verbal keeps the learner and the learning locked in one spot on the wheel – the verbal/linguistic intelligence. Although Gardner’s work is widely acknowledged as truth, it’s not always integrated where it could be or used to give students a range of ways to show what they know. While Gardner himself argued that people should not be identified as learning only through one intelligence, but rather through a range of them, it’s hard to ignore the fact that most reading and writing instruction (and evidence of learning) happens primarily through the verbal intelligence.

multiple intelligences gardner

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • I’m reading “The Power of Pictures” by Beth Olshansky
  • I’ve started a Pinterest board with works of art by French artists to share with my students, as well as lesson plans and teacher resources to go along with it
  • I’ve started a second Pinterest board with works of art by Canadian Aboriginal artists in keeping with the new curriculum coming into BC schools
  • I’m revising the reading journals I created to use with my students last year to become “journals de culture”, incorporating reading, music and art

Art has been a communication tool since before there were books. I’m not doing anything new – this idea has been around since cave paintings and hieroglyphics. It’s embedded in our ways of thinking. We have all used phrases like “I see what you mean”, “picture it”, “in my mind’s eye“, “visualize“, or “imagery“. Pictures can lead to words, both oral and written. They are undeniably connected. If I can get students to start with an image and attach words and meaning to it, I’m hoping to make learning more interesting, engaging, and effective. I’m tapping into the visual/spatial intelligence in the hope that I can give my students another way to show what they know, and imaginative ways to explore culture while developing their language skills.

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