I had come across a 3 minute animation showing extracts from the graphic biography of Anne Frank that I wanted to show students, but I thought that language might be a bit difficult for them. The research, sharing, visually organizing, and writing activities that we first worked on, and that I wrote about in the previous post, paved the ground for stepping smoothly into watching the animation.
The Anne Frank animation – ordering the events
I prepared a worksheet with 10 events from the video and jumbled them up. This is an activity drawn from Kieran Donaghy’s excellent resource Film in Action. Students watched the video twice and they ordered the events as they appeared in the animation.
Representing: my image of Anne Frank’s story
On finishing the lesson, I asked students to choose the most important thing from Anne’s story and communicate their ideas in both verbal and non-verbal ways. A wealth of hand made drawings and digital work was brought in class.
Many students chose to draw Anne’s diary associating it with her life events and her writings about the war. Others drew Anne herself writing in her diary and the importance of what she wrote not only for herself, but also for us, as future generations. A student drew Anne with a “Jew” badge on her chest the moment she was arrested by the Nazis. There was also a group of students who had chosen to work on this collaboratively and came up with a series of 4 portraits of Anne capturing all the important events in her life. These portraits were inspired by the imagery in the animation and were linked to four relevant life moments. Each portrait was related to her state and feelings starting from birth when she was free, moving to her receiving the diary (happy), hiding and writing in the Annex (sad, angry) and finally being arrested (scared).
Sentence-phrase-word: what speaks to me
The last activity on this topic involved being exposed to Anne’s writing. I was lucky enough to trace the definitive edition online and made a worksheet with 3 excerpts. I first read the excerpts to the students and we worked on language they did not know. Then, we worked on the sentence, phrase, word routine. I asked them to choose:
that were important, meaningful, powerful or moved them. I also encouraged them to justify their choices.
Some students chose their sentence, phrase, word from the first excerpt, some from the second, while some from the third. Some others tried choosing from more than one excerpts and some made one choice from each excerpt. Finally, some students chose only one or two of the stems (sentence or phrase or word). I realize that this activity requires a deep, personal insight into a topic which is not an easy one, let alone when you have to express yourself in another language. Students’ answers were touching and showed an admirable effort to offer their personal interpretations on Anne’s writing.
Some responses for excerpt 1
for excerpt 2
for excerpt 3 and mixed responses
By the time, we reached the end of our work, Anne Frank and her diary had become a topic of everyday discussion whether we had a class together or not. I can even say that I was slighlty surprised by the impact it had on the students. Books bought were brought in class, others had already been ordered, excerpts from their Greek language textbook on Anne Frank were discovered and they asked their Greek language teacher to work on them; students were sharing among themselves youtube addresses where they could watch and find out more about her. It was great to see the resonance of her story with the children.
Some diary excerpts from previous decades that were in our coursebook sparked the idea of dealing with the most widely read diary: the diary of Anne Frank. Not a happy ending story, yet one that I felt is important for my young sixth graders (A2, eleven year-olds) to know. It can trigger thinking about injustice and discrimination, about where hate can lead, and stimulate empathy for others through a real story of a girl close to their age.
I first showed them a screenshot from an animation on Anne Frank and we worked on the see-think-wonder routine. They observed silently and answered 3 questions:
What do you see?
What do you think about it?
What does it make you wonder?
They took notes of their ideas. I went round the classroom and offered help with language when needed. Some asked for words like “wires”, “torn”, “borders”, “bent” (shoulders). One needed help clarifying between “die” and “kill”.
We shared our ideas in class. They fact that the girl in the image was writing a diary was a prominent answer among most of the students. They identified the feeling of sadness in the girl’s face and made associations with a war situation. Two of the students straightly associated the image with World War II because the shape of the airplane reminded them of similar airplanes they had seen from that period. A student used the word “cloudy” to describe her thoughts about the girl and word choice made me smile. I found it creative and unexpected.
They also hypothesized about the relationship between the two female figures. Some thought the woman at the back was the girl’s mother, others her grandmother. A couple of them thought that the people were refugees trying to cross the borders because of the wired fence at the back and their torn clothes.
Students’ questions embraced all the who, where, what and why relevant to the topic: Who are these people? What is the girl writing? Why is this war happening? Why are they sad? Where are they?
I took some notes of their ideas on the board and encouraged students to do the same in their notebooks.
By the end of the session they were more than curious to find out who the girl in the image was. I revealed her name and wrote it on the board: Anne Frank.
Some of them went bright-eyed. Two had the Greek translation of the book at home, but had never read it. One said he was a member of an amateur theatre club and he remembered once talking about staging a performance of this play, but not doing it in the end. A fourth one had been to the theatre with her parents and had attended a professional performance based on Anne Frank’s life. A vague familiarity with the cloudy girl in the image began to spread in the classroom.
I asked them what they knew about Anne Frank and three things came up: she was writing in her diary about the war, she lived in Germany, she was a Jew (that was a word that they knew in Greek, and I provided them with the English equivalent). When they asked what Jew means, I explained in simple terms that it is a religion.
At the end of this first session, I asked them as a follow-up to:
Write a short paragraph about the lesson, based on their notes and class discussion.
Research, read about Anne Frank (reading could be done in either L1 or L2) and come back next time with 4-5 sentences about what struck them as most interesting.
Organising Anne’s story visually
Skills: reading, listening, speaking, note-taking, story building
Until our next session, I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see students come and find me before the morning assembly or during breaks to report either that they had started reading the book or that they had asked their parents for a copy. Those who had started reading it were amazed to find out how many things Anne could not do because she was a Jew.
In our second session on the topic, individual students initially read their paragraphs and some feedback was given.
Then, they started sharing their choices of sentences. I knew that not all students would come up with the same things. I trusted that from the multitude of sentences we would manage to create an as complete as possible picture of Anne’s story. I also had in mind of asking them at the end of the session for a writing assignment that would incorporate all the elements shared in class.
I decided to organise the information into a more visual form to illustrate the connections and relationships between various aspects of what we were discussing. I hoped to enable students to refer to, relate between information, and help the writing process.
The diagramme was built around the first 4 sentences that were read in class, namely that she was born in Germany, she was a Jew, she wrote a diary and that she died in 1945. From thereon I intervened at times and facilitated building the story by asking some questions and seeing whether students had written a relevant sentence.
For example, I asked “What was happening in Germany at the time Anne was born?” and a student had written a sentence about Adolph Hitler and the Nazis coming to power. That’s how the left part of the diagramme started being formed. The next question was “Why was this important for Anne?” and someone else had written that the Nazis discriminated against the Jews and made life difficult for them. I went on by asking “So, what did Anne’s family do?” and we found out that they moved to the Netherlands. “Were they safe there?” was the next question to get the answer that “no” because “persecutions against the Jews intensified”.
We finally reached the point where the family hid in the Secret Annex with four other friends. The Secret Annex was linked to her writing the diary and the people were linked to the aftermath i.e that the Nazis arrested them, and they were taken to a concentration camp where Anne died. Which brought us back to one of the first four sentences.
While writing on the board, I used colour coding: blue for the information, black to highlight verbs used, red for things of importance, and finally a green contour around new language. This was language students had included in their sentences, but other students were not familiar with since each one had come up with different sentences.
At the end of the session, I asked students to draw on the diagramme and retell the story. We did this as a relay race. One would start, I would say stop, another student would take up from that point and go on with the story. We tried this two or three times and it went well. Students left the class to do their writing assignment feeling quite confident about it. I left thinking about the next stage of the topic which is still going on and I hope to write about it in a next post.
This post reports on how we worked some time ago with a group of fifth graders (A1 level students, 10 years old) using Norman Rockwell’s “The problem we all live with”. The aims were to:
collaboratively build a story with prompts
raise awareness of intolerance and racism
practise Past tenses (Past Simple, Past Progressive)
develop viewing, observing and description skills
link to Art, History, and Geography
“The problem we all live with” is an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. It depicts Ruby Bridges. She was the first African-American child to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960.
Building the story
I framed the procedure as a viewing/describing activity towards collaboratively building a story with prompts. For the prompts I used the typical journalistic questions: Who? What? Where? How? Why?
I first introduced the painting by saying: Well, this is Ruby…,and then invited the children to go on with the story, prompting them to respond by providing full answers to my questions:
Who was she?
What was she doing/carrying/wearing?
Where do you think she was going?
How did she look?
Was she alone?
Who was with her?
The students were speaking, they listened to their classmates’ ideas and took notes. As the story was gradually built, individual students narrated it, adding each time the new elements, so that they could get an as good as possible grasp of it. They came up with descriptive pieces of writing based on their notes and class discussion.
Students were very happy with Ruby’s story. They liked the painting and they also liked this beautiful little black girl. They thought that the four policemen were walking with Ruby and protecting her because she was an important person. They made associations with the former USA president.
What more can we find? Ruby’s real story unfolds
Then I started drawing their attention to other details in the painting by asking:
Look carefully, what more can we find?
We started developing the real story. They first noticed the tomato splash on the wall and the tomato on the ground. I asked them:
What do you think about that?
What was happening?
Students were surprised to realise that “Oh! people were throwing tomatoes”. Then they noticed the word Nigger on the wall above Ruby and they asked: “What is a Nigger?” I explained in simple terms that this is a racist word to talk about black people. They finally noticed the letters KKK on the top left corner of the painting and again they wanted to know what these stand for. I said that it is an organization in the USA that terrorizes black people. All this was added to our initial notes about Ruby. It was at this moment that the students were shocked, sad and angry. They had grown to like Ruby so much that when the actual story unfolded in front of their eyes, they felt it was unfair. It was an apt moment to ask:
Why do you think that people were reacting like that?
It came very natural to children to say that this had happened because she wasn’t white, she was different.
I then provided them with the geographical and historical context of the incident.
We also moved from racial intolerance in general to the racism of our everyday life. I asked them to look at each other and notice how different we are, whether that means height, weight, whether we are strong or less strong, and the things we like. We are all different. It was about raising awareness of intolerance towards difference: the more “different” the other is perceived, the stronger the fears and negative feelings tend to be.
Interactive work on Ruby’s story
Following classroom work on Ruby’s story, I developed a course presentation with interactive slides to give students the chance to further practise vocabulary and grammatical structures involved in the lesson. It comprises of 12 micro-activities, each one dealt with in a different slide:
drag and drop vocabulary activity
reading, part i
reading quiz- answer 5 questions
reading part ii
reading comprehension gap fill
focus on language structures: Past Progressive identification
focus on language structures: Past Simple & Past Progressive gap fill
Interactive video (hotspots with questions and information): Ruby Bridges talks about herself and the painting.
Choose one of the following 2 activities:
Work in groups of 3. One of you must get in the shoes of Ruby, one in the shoes of a US Marshal, and one in the shoes of one of the people in the crowd. From your point of view, answer the questions: What do you think? How do you feel? What do you care about? These questions build understanding of multiple perspectives.
Watch the trailer from a film about Ruby Bridges. Answer the questions: How is the trailer similar to the painting? How is it different? How do you feel? Why? What new things did you learn about Ruby’s story?
Choose one of the following 2 activities:
Visit GoogleEarth – Louisiana (make sure you open your browser in Google Chrome). Prepare a word doc or a ppt presentation about 3 things that you find interesting about Louisiana.
Prepare a word doc or a ppt presentation about Norman Rockwell.
Ruby’s story triggered students’ curiosity and evoked self-initiated work and further research. They made little booklets with illustrations, handmade word clouds, little posters. I think what happened to Ruby spoke highly to children’s hearts and minds.
Note: The interactive work was created using H5P, an online tool for creating, sharing and reusing interactive HTML5 content.
The 21st of March is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We worked with eleven-year-old primary school students on the topic of racism, not only on that day, but also during the following week. Here is an account focusing on two of the resources we used and the activities we worked on.
Racism Explained to My Daughterby Tahar Ben Jelloun
Tahar Ben Jelloun is a Morrocan writer whose entire work is written in French although his first language is Arabic. Racism Explained to My Daughter is a wonderful book which involves a compelling dialogue between the author and his ten-year-old daughter on the difficult topic of racism in an admirably straightforward and understandable way. There were three main activites that guided our way through the excerpt we worked with:
I described this in the previous post. It is a thinking routine that provides learners with a structure for identifying key ideas and committing them to memory. It can be used after reading a text, watching a movie, or being presented with new information or ideas. Students are asked to a) recall and note (a list of key ideas), b) exchange notes with classmates, read others’ ideas and add one new thing to the list, and c) review their returned notes with all the additions from their classmates and maybe add any new ideas they have picked up from reading others’ notes. The way we tried it in class was slightly adapted since recalling from memory would be difficult for the students’ language level. I let them have a look at the excerpt whenever they felt they needed to.
Make note is a routine that enhances students’ memory of and engagement with ideas by focusing on capturing the heart and distilling key issues and questions.
After a film, reading or discussion we ask students to make a note of ONE of the following:
What is the most important point?
What do you find difficult to understand?
What question would you most like to discuss?
What is something you found intesting?
A final activity that we tried with the same text was the sentence-phrase-word routine. Students chose a sentence, a phrase and a word that they thought was powerful, important or moving and justified their choices. The children offered a wealth of ideas highlighting diverse aspects of the issue. Some choices and explanations offered:
Murder at Sharpeville by Godfrey Rubens
This painting by the painter and photographer Godfrey Rubens portrays the massacre in the town of Sharpeville, South Africa, which took place on the 21st of March, 1960. The incident in which 69 unarmed black African people were shot dead during a peaceful protest against apartheid’s pass-books system marked a turning point. It is the reason that today this day is commemorated as the Universal Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
See, think, wonder
We first worked with the see, think, wonder routine. The children wrote and shared interesting ideas and thoughts and were very curious to know what, where, and why this happened.
The story behind the painting
This high curiosity level led us to look at the historical facts behind the painting. I wanted to avoid developing another reading text since we had already worked with the excerpt from Tahar Ben Jelloun’s book. I decided to frame it as a listening activity. I started telling the story using simplified language to ensure understanding. At the same time I was writing key points on the board. Students were listening and taking notes. From time to time I asked them questions or invited them to ask me questions. I also paused regularly and asked individual students to repeat the story so far. Little by little we built a diagram with the story behind the painting on the board. When we finished that session I asked them to study the diagram at home and be prepared to talk about it next time. In the lesson that followed children practised speaking about the incident by drawing on the diagram. We tried this a few times, students took turns among them each narrating a part of the story and then another would take up and continue. Their confidence gradually grew. During this stage, we added two more clouds to the diagram. In the first one we included the verbs they used (base form) while in the second some other words and phrases they needed to refine their story-telling. The final diagram served as their blueprint for stepping into writing the story. We started that in class and they finalized it at home. Although it was one of the longest texts the children have written so far, it worked really well. I asked them in the following lesson how they coped with writing the story and they said that having the diagram with the key points, verbs and extra words was very helpful. Some of them also said that having talked about it in class made writing easy because they “had it in their minds”. We spent a small part of that session narrating the incident again and after having told, retold and writing about it there was a very satisfying, smooth speaking flow.
I remember that when we started working on this topic, I had asked students if they knew what we celebrate on the 21st of March. They had come up with the answer: the world day of sleep. It did not come as a surprise. After all, World Sleep Day was quite prominent on tv those days, and I myself had seen a surge of tv commercials for furniture, mattresses and other relevant products. The children had probably seen them, too. I think it’s good that they now know it is the day against racial discrimination.
It was our first day at school after Christmas break and we all looked a bit numb. There was a mixture of sadness that holidays had ended and happiness to see familiar faces again. We were also a bit tired and sleepy after a two-week period of waking up late. I felt it was important not to overwhelm students right from the get-go at 8:00 am on a Monday morning, but opt for a more open-ended, student-led activity.
This post reflects on how we worked with two groups of sixth graders, mixed-ability A2- English learners, on the concept of “change” by using the thinking routine Making Meaning. The aim of the routine is to build collective meaning of words, ideas, concepts or events; a collective concept mapping. It is a new routine I had come across some time ago, but had not given it a try so far. I was a bit cautious not knowing how it was going to work with students. Yet, after having tried routines in my classes for a long time, I trusted in the results they can yield with students and the richness and originality of ideas they can trigger. In any case one can never find out until one tries and cautiousness was outweighed by curiosity and anticipation.
In our case the concept was “change” and it emerged after looking at a visual stimulus. It was a street art piece which read: Happy New Year. The change starts here.
We first discussed a bit what it showed and where it could be found. We identified that it was a street art piece, probably on a wall, and that the focus was the concept of change. Change was written in the centre of the board. The first step then was to ask students
1.Think of one word that you associate/connect with change. Which word is this?
This was done as a whole class brainstorming activity and yielded some first tentative responses. Students came up with the words: New Year, school, safety, technology, economy.
As a second step I asked:
2. Now, can you think and add one more word or phrase under any of these four so as to tell me something more about it?
Students began to warm up and were able to contribute more ideas, there was greater participation and more words and phrases were added under the initial ones.
In the third step I asked them to:
3. Look at all the words and phrases we shared on the board. Can you see any connections? Think and tell me about them.
The third step found me coping with the practical issue of how to draw joining lines between the connections the children found and talked about, and how to write on those lines. It was quite an enjoyable stage as we were all taking notes, trying to accommodate on our concept maps the new information that came up from sharing ideas. It was also a moment that reveals so eloquently that thinking expands in multiple directions, it “does not happen in a linear manner” (Ritchhart et al., 2011).
In the fourth step I asked students to look at the collective concept mapping our board was displaying and think and ask any questions about the topics that had emerged:
4. Look at all our ideas shared on the board. Do you have any questions to ask about what we discussed?
We ended by adding some interesting questions:
I tried the routine with another class on that same first day at school after Christmas. I did not have the time though to take proper snapshots of our board so here are the few hasty ones I captured:
What kind of map is this?
It was funny how on finishing with the four steps, students in both groups began making jokes about this kind of map they had in their notebooks, different for each one since their notes were personalized. Some of them had opted for a full diagram while a few others had opted for a mixture of diagram and listing ideas and questions as I noticed by a quick look at their notebooks. One student said that it was “a map not to find your way, but to get lost”, another added “yes, to get lost in ideas and thoughts”, a third remarked that “it’s a map of all the different, nice ideas we had in our minds” while some others were explaining to their classmates how they were able to navigate themselves in their maps through lines, arrows, colours, boxes and clouds. I told them this was a concept map and the term seemed to stick in their minds.
The new language that emerged out of the students’ need to express their ideas while working on this routine was: connect with, associate with, concept map, economy, sustainable, equipment, space, hybrid, citizens, develop, thefts, special needs (first group) and connect with, associate with, concept map, radical, gap, reduce, increase, tax, racism, origin, argument (for the second group).
The proper wrapping up of the Making Meaning routine is that students come up with their own definition of the word, concept, topic being explored. We did not have much time to do this individually as the session was coming to an end so I asked children to hierarchize the most important elements for them and came up with a joint very short piece of writing.
I found it interesting how in both groups the routine facilitated the expression of a diversity of ideas that captured aspects of the issue ranging from the personal/school/local one to the wider “big global picture”. They associated the concept of change not only with themselves, their school, their relationships with classmates, but also with the current state of unemployment in the country, feeling of insecurity, loss of homes and the more global issues related to sustainable environment, gap between rich and poor, racism, injustice, war/peace. Each one of the questions the students asked at the final step lends itself to a new circle of inquiry.
The Making Meaning routine helped smooth our way back into “school mode” and gain some energy after the Christmas-hynernation phase. It reminded me a lot of Chalk Talk, another routine that helps students build understanding collectively. For some pictures of classroom practice with the Chalk Talk routine you can have a look here and here.
Hope you have a Happy New Year.
Ritchhart, R. Church, M. and Morrison, K. (2011) Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
There was a unit on shopping we were recently working on with my sixth grade primary school students that triggered the idea of showing them Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters” and relating it to poverty. After looking at coursebooks images of happy people shopping and paying at supermarkets, and reading texts on the numerous goods one can buy there, I could not help but wonder how the children would react to the issue of poverty, especially since they are growing up and living in a country constantly descending into poverty because of the prolongued economic recession. There was also some reaction on the part of the children while working with the coursebook when a couple of them pointed out that “well, if you don’t have money, you can’t buy anything”. That made me even more curious to find out what the students see around them, in their surroundings. For these children, who in their majority come from families who can provide for the basics and in some cases more than that, are the poor invisible? or even worse “written off as trash” as John Berger phrased it?
My main aims during these lessons were to:
expose them to the work of art and encourage careful observation and aesthetic appreciation
encourage students’ thinking, speaking, active listening and writing
associate the work of art with the issue of poverty and prompt their thinking on it
explore how the children make meaning of poverty through seeing around them, drawing their own images of poverty and writing about them
The Potato Eaters
The “Potato Eaters” (1885) by Vincent Van Gogh is a realistic painting about harsh country life. It depicts five peasants sitting around a table, eating potatoes. The colours are dark and gloomy and the only light source comes from an oil lamp on the ceiling, at the centre of the panting, which sheds light on the facial expressions of four of the figures.
What’s going on?
We first observed carefully the painting. I then asked the students:
What’s going on in this painting?
When a student offered his/her idea, I asked a follow-up question:
What do you see that makes you say that?
This is the Visual Thinking Strategies approach (VTS) to finding meaning in imagery, developing visual literacy through learning on the arts, fostering thinking, and communication skills—listening and expressing oneself. Following a constructivist, developmental approach to aesthetic appreciation, VTS views the teacher as the facilitator who allows the students’ mental frame to evolve by making connections, new constructions, and building meaning in new kinds of ways as they weave their understanding and interpretation of a work of art.
This was a viewing, speaking and note-taking activity. Children agreed as to the more evident elements like the fact that “there are people around a table who are eating”. They also negotiated meaning on:
what exactly it is that they’re eating and drinking
what is the overall situation they’re in
In the first case, ideas involved “fish”, “apples”, “potatoes”, “tea”, “coffee”, “cocoa”. In the second case, some children believed there are “poor people in a house” while others believed the people in the painting are “in a war” situation.
The What do you see that makes you say that? stem prompted them to look more carefully for details that supported their ideas so
“poor” was related to the figures’ “old and cheap clothes”, and the fact that “they’re eating from the same platter”. Students also related “poor” with “sad and tired faces” who “are not smiling” and even with “dirty” appearance
“eating” was related to the fact that they can see “food on the table”, “they’re holding forks”, “they’re sitting around a table and families usually sit around a table to have lunch or dinner”
“potatoes” was related to the fact that “they are not expensive so they can buy them”
“War” was related to the “small room” which had no electricity, but “only one lamp” and because these people “looked sad”
I finally asked the children if the atmosphere in the painting is cold or warm. Opinions were divided. Others thought it was cold because the people in the painting were poor, tired, sad. Others, however, thought it was warm because these people were all together and were sharing their food.
As students were expressing their ideas and listening to each other’s ideas, I facilitated note-taking by writing key words and phrases shared, when speaking, on the board for all to see. I also helped them with the language they needed in the flow of the conversation which involved items like “hiding shed”, “platter”, “serve”, “shelves”, “in the background”, “all together” “atmosphere”, “I believe”, “in my opinion”.
When this session ended, I revealed the title and asked them to write a text on what we did in class, drawing on the classroom discussion and their notes. Children came up with shorter or longer texts that ranged from simple descriptive accounts of the painting to more elaborate reflective texts where they incorporated their own thinking as well as their classmates’ thinking. All of them responded well and even struggling students found the activity accessible since the in-built differentiation and the fact that their writing was based on classroom experience was of considerable help.
In the second session, first, we briefly revised the previous lesson through a plenary discussion and brainstorming around questions like: “What did we talk about last time?”, “what did we see in the painting?” I also mentioned the name of the painter and his country of origin. Then I asked them to look again and answer the question:
What more can we find?
This is the third question in the VTS approach that encourages more careful viewing. We focussed on
the colours of the painting which the children found dark and gloomy, but noticed bright spots, too (What do you think about the colours?)
the appearance of the people in the painting (What are the people wearing?, “)
what their job might be (What do you think their job is?)
how the room is illuminated (How is the room illuminated?)
any other details they could find (Can you see anything else?)
what emotions the painting evoked (What are your feelings?, How does the painting make you feel?)
The new vocabulary that emerged out of this session included items like “ceiling”, “illuminate”, “bony” (fingers), “kerchiefs”, “caps”, “bright”, “little, a little, very little”, “depressing”, “gloomy”, “feeling”. I also provided them with the terms “monochromatic”, “realistic” and “naturalistic” related to the artistic elements of the painting. I finally explained that Vincent Van Gogh made this painting for two reasons: he wanted people to see that he was a good artist, and he wanted to show how hard the life of poor peasants is because he lived among them at that time. “Peasants” was added to our words list and I asked the students’ opinion on whether the painting was successfully showing what it was supposed to show.
For the next lesson I assigned them to write a text on the new information we had added
I also asked them to look around them, think, and draw their own images of poverty along with a short description and rationale.
My Image of Poverty
The children did look around them and what they brought in class indeed reflected the face of poverty in our surroundings. In the final sessions, they presented their images to their classmates and talked about them. The majority chose to depict people scavenging food, paper or anything useful from rubbish bins which in the Greek debt crisis context has been rapidly rising and has become a way to survive. At times they associated it with the country’s shuttered industrial infrastructure, scarcity of jobs or poorly paid ones.
Begging in the streets, in the subway, in front of global supermarket chains and homelessness also featured in their work. This was again at times related to the rising unemployment in the country and the rising cost of living.
Others related their images of poverty to immigrants and refugees
Or associated poverty with different reactions towards poor people
On completing these series of lessons, children had come in contact with art, had shown interest in both the aesthetic and social aspect it embraces, had had the opportunity to express themselves in verbal and visual modes, and had seen and identified the often unseen and overlooked. Their responses were marked by awareness and emotional and cognitive engagement. As they were trying to make meaning of poverty through drawing their own images and writing about them, they employed their thinking, planning, and connecting skills. There were interesting signs of individual engagement with putting together their own works of art and reasoning their choices. Of course, there were varying degrees of conscious connectivity among the children which have to do with their diverse degree of maturity, artistic and language ability, familial and social context.
Ideally, a related problem-solving situation that would push children’s thinking beyond identifying and empathizing towards developing and initiating ways of tackling with the issue of poverty should follow. Poverty is a very complex issue with the unequal distribution of wealth at its core. We did not go that far. Food for thought for the future.
In this post I will describe the Looking 10×2 thinking routine. It is a routine that helps learners slow down, concentrate, observe carefully and describe. The routine stems from the Artful Thinking programme, one of the programmes at Project Zero. It is linked by the theme Visible Thinking which aims at helping students develop thinking dispositions that foster thoughtful learning.
Introduce the source material. This may be any kind of image, painting or artwork, especially visual art.
Ask students to concentrate and look quietly at the source material for thirty seconds. If the source material is rich in details, you can extend the time to one minute.
Ask them to take notes and make a list of up to ten words or phrases about any aspect of what they have just seen. In this stage students can work individually, in pairs or in small groups.
Work as a whole class and share ideas. As students come up with their words and phrases keep a visible record on the board by using a brainstorming diagram or a concept map. A circle map works well with this routine. Ask students to take notes of the ideas shared in class.
Repeat steps 1-4. That is, ask students to look again, add more words and phrases to their list, and share them.
As this is a routine that helps students generate descriptive language, it is a useful springboard into a writing activity. After completing the routine ask them as a writing assignment to produce a short text reflecting on the activity, the classroom discussion or elaborating further on the thoughts and ideas the routine triggered.
I have tried this routine on quite a few occasions so far with my mixed ability A2+ groups of 6th graders (twelve years old). The first one was with the topic of war/peace where we used Picasso’s Guernica as the source material. I did not tell them anything about the artwork apart from the title and the name of the painter. Students were highly engaged and motivated and came up with some interesting responses. Their responses involved references both to what was obvious (horse, bull, lamp, door, faces, feet) as well as attempts beyond it (lost lives, lost dreams, black world, death, fear). We used a circle concept map to document our words and phrases. Red marker was used for the words and phrases they came up with when we repeated the routine.
Another occasion was with the topic of refugees. Here the source material was an illustration for World Refugee Day by Hanane Kai, a graphic designer. Again, students’ responses were recorded through the use of a circle concept map.
A third occasion was with the topic of mobility disability. In this case the source material was an image by Ian James for ELTpics. This time we used a brainstorming diagram.
Things to consider
The idea in this routine is to have students slow down their usual busy mode of work and spend some time to look carefully and think. Careful looking means taking time to notice more than what meets the eye at first glance. It is the observing and describing disposition that is at work here, a component of creative thinking, which is about noticing, thinking and communicating impressions.
What I find interesting about the Looking 10×2 routine, and the same goes with all the routines I have tried in class, is that it serves what David Perkins calls “the optimal ambiguity” in an assignment. It is flexible for the teacher, structured enough to guide students, and open enough to let them discover their unique paths. This openness results in a nice flow of ideas expressed in the English classroom.
Using artwork as source material is enriching as it provides a nonjudgmental territory for students. Art is open to multiple interpretations, pushing students at the edge of what is and what isn’t; it is exploring, there are no incorrect answers and this is particularly important for students with low confidence.
The routine is most effective when attached to a topic or content which gives students something worth thinking about. It can also be nicely combined with the See-think-wonder routine to push their thinking further.
The routine may also be used with a piece of music as Listening 10×2.