About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Story Theme Inspired Personal Symbols

In my last blog entry I suggested possible strategies for helping students to make connections through their art.  Here is one lesson I have done with my students that may be of interest:

Story Theme Inspired Personal Symbols

A Fifth Grade Lesson

Prior to this lesson students read stories with partners in their literacy class.  With their partner they discussed the story and settled on a theme (i.e. friendship, diversity, commitment, inspiration).

Guiding Questions:

"How was the story theme reflected in the book that you read?"

"What does your story theme mean to you?"

"How does the story theme reflect you and your life?"

"Can you think of one or more memories that reflect your theme?"

Activity:  Students will generate a list of words or a word web of things that come to mind when thinking about their chosen theme.  These words should be based on the book theme, but should reflect personal experiences or memories (i.e. what does friendship mean in your life or how has diversity affected you personally).

Next students will draw simplified symbols to represent each of the words on their list or web.

Sketch:  Each student will make thoughtful, artistic choices as they develop a sketch of a "personal" symbol based on the book theme, which combines and incorporates lines and shapes from their collection of symbols.

Symbol Collage:  Students create symbol collages, by cutting parts of their symbol out of card stock and adding color in different ways with patterned papers and oil pastel crayons.  Each student re-assembles their symbol in layers by raising some of the parts with small pieces of cardboard or 3D dots to create depth and dimension.  Contrast and definition are acheived by using different colors and patterns on different layers of the symbol.  Students should consider color and pattern choices which reflect their story theme (i.e. if a best friend's favorite sweater is pink and white polka dots then friendship can be reflected with pink and white polka dots in the symbol).


9 x 12 sketch paper

drawing pencils



collage papers

oil pastels


Continue reading "Story Theme Inspired Personal Symbols" »

The National Edge of Art

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 has aimed much of its legislative power at helping the poorest children learn to read (USA TODAY). In the seven ensuing years, schools have narrowed their curricula and reduced their liberal arts offerings in order to help those students learn despite the NCLB designation of Art as one of 10 core academic subjects. The unintended outcome for the arts has been to place them more and more to the side of core courses.

Arts education has responded by developing programs that plug into school curriculum slots with less frequency but also with more impact, better design and fuller integration. One of the outside providers leading this good work was incubated in Washington at the Kennedy Center.

ARTSEDGE — the National Arts and Education Network — supports the placement of the arts at the center of the curriculum and advocates creative use of technology to enhance the K-12 educational experience. ARTSEDGE empowers educators to teach in, through, and about the arts by providing the tools to develop interdisciplinary curricula that fully integrate the arts with other academic subjects.

ARTSEDGE offers free, standards-based teaching materials for use in and out of the classroom, as well as professional development resources, student materials, and guidelines for arts-based instruction and assessment.

A program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, ARTSEDGE is also a partner of Thinkfinity, a consortium of national education organizations, state education agencies and the Verizon Foundation. Thinkfinity Content Partners develop free, standards-based, discipline-specific educational Web sites for K-12 teachers and students.

The process of fully integrating art into core curriculum is complex and not well understood even at the national policy level. However, one good resource for connecting policy with teaching in the arts is hosted by Americans For the Arts. In this political season it is important to work on arts integration from a variety of perspectives including upcoming reauthorization of NCLB. American for the Arts recommends these actions:

  • Retain the Arts in the Definition of Core Academic Subjects of Learning;
  • Require Annual State Reports on Student Access to Core Academic Subjects;
  • Improve National Data Collection and Research in Arts Education;
  • Reauthorize the Arts in Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education.

If arts integration is to make progress, national policy must support it's use.

Making Personal and Meaningful Connections for Deeper Learning Through the Arts

Several years ago I had a fourth grade classroom teacher tell me that I was very lucky.  She was a new teacher and was having some trouble engaging her students in reading and math.  She knew that her students really enjoyed coming to art.  She said to me that she wished she could "just sit around all day and make art".  It was a reminder for me that many people don't really understand what we do and accomplish in our art classrooms.  If she had come to art with her students, she would have recognized that her student's engagement in their learning came from more than just "playing around" with some fun materials.

I was reminded of that teacher's comment several weeks ago while reading Rob's first blog entry.  He made a point about the power of art to engage students in experiential learning.  I think it is really important in our art classrooms to remain aware of the difference between students engagement with materials and experiential learning at a deeper level. We need to understand that students enjoyment in working with the materials themselves is only one piece of the puzzle in helping our students to think deeply and to become active participants in their own learning.  Of course it is important for students to spend some time exploring materials in uninhibited ways, particularly when the materials are new to them or a good deal of time has passed since their last use.  Beyond exploration however, I think it is important to push students to develop and use critical thinking skills in their art making. 

We can help by providing opportunities for our students to make connections to their own real life experiences.  By asking students to reflect on and make art about self, other people, places, traditions, memories and other disciplines, in personal and meaningful ways, we are helping them to find their own voices in expressing ideas.  By asking open ended guiding questions in our lessons, we will empower students to use critical thinking skills to generate ideas, analyze and synthesize information and to make individual choices about how to best communicate their ideas through materials.

This type of questioning can empower students of all ages.  For example, we can ask kindergartners to consider the many things they see on the way to school in the morning and to create works of art which reflect the most important aspects of their daily journeys.  The art work might be about a neighbor's dog, a school bus, a bagel shop, a fire engine or a favorite playground.  As teachers, we will quickly learn from the responses what is important to our students.  We can ask fifth graders to reflect upon a theme found in a story they have read.  They can translate those themes (i.e. friendship, diversity, integrity, kindness, community, etc.) to their own life experiences and create works of art which reflect those themes is personal ways.  We can ask eighth graders to consider what they are learning in social studies about immigration.  We can ask them to create art about special objects they would choose to bring with them and pass down to future generations if they were immigrating to a new place.  Whatever the subject matter they decide upon, each student is able to generate meaningful ideas and find their own solutions to the challenges of representing those ideas through materials.  Then deep experiential learning can become a natural part of arts education in our classrooms.

I am always looking for ways that others in the field are rethinking their approach to teaching art and helping their students to make meaningful connections.  Check out this blog I found about Xtreme Art Education.  It is a great example of thinking about new ways to help today's students make meaningful connections.

Kites and Drums

While I was searching for others interested in arts integration, I came across Phil Tulga's website that helps teachers think about how to integrate music into many other core academic areas. I see such possibilities for our work when reviewing websites like this. For example, sounds you make with tubes that are inherently intriguing, that would grab and hold any student's attention, are masterful arts integration choices to initiate exciting learning opportunities. Tulga's site includes a keyboard on the site that allows you to type in your own name, have it translated into morse code, and have the code play music! Check this site out.

Student engagement was also on my mind when I started reading this great article by Gwen Autin in the Journal for Learning Through the Arts on how a student observation about how artists "invent things" leads to learning about fractions:

Mathematics and art are often considered opposites in the traditional curriculum. In this project with fourth graders, mathematics and art provided a springboard for using fractions, in particular, the multiplication of fractions, using Chinese kites.

The project began with a discussion of, “What does an artist really do in a mathematics classroom prior to studying fractions?” Typical responses from students included artists "make things" and artists sing, write stories, paint, draw, build, dance, compose music, etc. One student responded that special artists also “invent things,” which led directly into the project of kites (Autin 2008, p.1)

Whether starting with drums from Africa or kites from China, art has a special place in launching engagement, deepening understanding, and making learning fun. Cool.

Recent Posts


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Arts Integration are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.