Last week, I had the opportunity to get out of the office and into the classroom by attending the Picturing Writing: Fostering Literacy Through Art workshop in Bismarck. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I’m not a k-6 educator like the rest of the participants. New job, new experiences, and so many new things to learn! I was raised in the arts, I know the arts, and so as I embark upon this partnership with our elementary schools and classrooms, I’m eager to learn anything I can about curriculum and classroom implementation.
Picturing Writing: Fostering Literacy Through Art is a “progression of literature, art, and writing experiences designed to teach the key elements of writing to students with diverse learning styles.” Essentially, we all learn differently; some of us verbally, some visually. Often, those of us who are visual learners are pushed to learn verbally – think right and left-brain. While this may seem like a small detail, our instructor Beth Olshansky likened this to using your non-dominant hand in penmanship class. (Go ahead, try it! It’s frustrating and brings a level of defeat equal to what those learners experience.) Pictures, however, are universal. They are something we ALL can understand.
She urged us to look at the conventional way we (so often) ask students to learn; where the lessons all begin: words. For these visual learners, the difficulty starts right away! Normally, we write a story before we illustrate the words. We write that science paper before we get to decorate the science fair display. If we can ALL relate to an image, why not reverse this process and begin with the picture??
Beth started the workshop by walking us through making a completed painting. It was a simple landscape and she gave every one of us the artistic tools needed to feel confident in our abilities. From here, we set out on a structured approach to pull from this image: we wrote poems and conducted research for a science report, we learned about weather, animals, climate, and habitat – ALL from an image WE created! Each of us felt confident, proud, and successful.
Picturing Writing has not only been validated by the US Department of Education as an innovative and effective literacy program, but time and time again students who participate in the program test higher than their non-participating peers; often by double or more. I can go on and on about how wonderful art is as an artist, but when the facts show this exceptional development, it’s hard to argue the success. Artist or not, it’s crucial for all of us to recognize and foster the importance of art in the learning process.
For more information on Picturing Writing, Beth Olshansky, or her programs, please visit Picture Writing.org
This week’s blog was contributed by Jessica Christy, the Arts Center’s Education Coordinator.