"The Philadelphia School District has laid out guidelines for when and what should be taught. Each unit is guided by a set of essential questions, which lay out the higher order thinking questions. When I began our unit on Power and Government I wanted to find a way to elevate our work and take students to the next level where they could see things thematically, matching those essential questions. I wondered how I could get the students to really think about them and internalize them. I needed a way to do it that was comfortable and accessible to my students yet still approached strong academic skills. Art was the solution. I could show them a work of art and say, 'Tell me what you see.' They could answer the question in a meaningful way that didn't necessarily depend on prior knowledge. For example, I could say, 'So you see a skeleton riding over a dead body. What do you think that means?' and 'What time in history do you think this represents?' and 'How much power does that skeleton have over the bodies?' The result was that, without text, we were discussing the more difficult concepts of our Power and Government unit. They were responding to the essential questions and building the prior knowledge needed to understand the textbook. "I had created a baseline, a point from which to scaffold. The students remembered the art very well, and as we kept going back to it, the students could pull more and more from the paintings. This also elevated their connection to the textbook. We looked at art that depicted different forms of government, and the kids could make the connections. Monarchy, for example, was not something my students found very relevant, and they didn't have much knowledge of or interest in it. However, we had these images we could examine and talk about—and they became really excited and were more willing to read the textbook to learn more, despite the fact that the textbook is written at a level that is higher than most of their reading levels. The art gave them something they could fall back on, to the point where we actually read excerpts from college texts on the use of power by governments. The only reason we could examine those concepts at that level was because I had introduced the concepts through art. "We did the same things with units on the Industrial Revolution and Imperialism, and even used art to create a graphic essay to show, for example, the move from agriculture to industry. It allowed them to operate visually, where they were very comfortable, and still to work academically and discover connections. We just finished introducing World War I by using war posters and discussing propaganda. They are now excited when we use the art because they are more confident." Jennifer's plans for the remaining units in her curriculum will all make use of the powerful art connection. "We've talked about propaganda, and I will bring the art in again at our last unit, centered on post-1945, where we will look at the period through the angle of progressive democracy. What was happening, for example, with the women's movement before World War I, and then when women had to take the place of men in the factories of World War II, and how did that transition into other movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement. We'll do a lot with images."
For more information, please contact Education: School & Teacher Programs by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .