Using Art in the Classroom
I love art! Love it!! I can spend all day in a museum looking at everything. The back wall of my classroom is filled with art reproductions from students and posters that I’ve “borrowed” from the art teacher. (Two art teachers ago, so I think they’re mine now.) If I do get to Paris the only thing I insist on seeing is large format paintings in the Louvre. When I did my master’s degree we had an amazing instructor who explained art to us and how to look at it and since then I have always incorporated art into my classes. In French II we used to do a massive art unit (in French and English) where we looked at different art periods and artists and paintings and they chose a painting to explain in French. It was extensive. And I used overheads to do it all. Overheads!! You remember- back when we had to walk barefoot uphill both ways to school. (This art unit was also the cause of what I now refer to as The Great Powerpoint Debacle of 2002 in which I swore I would never ever ever use Powerpoint again. Ever.)
We are only a couple of hours from Los Angeles and I’ve taken students several times to the Getty Center as a culmination activity for the art unit. One time went to the Huntington Library to view the Gutenberg Bible when we had studied the middle ages. Usually I had them find something that spoke to them and fill out an art critique form. Recently, I’ve swapped out some homework choice assignments if students go to a museum. I want them to get out and see what Los Angeles has to offer art wise, so I give them an overview of the different museums nearby-ish and encourage them to fill a car full of friends and take the day exploring. At the very least they’ll learn that they don’t like art and museums. They fill out the art critique form and turn it in in English.
There are other ways to use incorporate art in the classroom in a less formal manner and technology is what makes this possible and accessible to students on a daily basis. Going from grainy overheads to having full color reproductions available to each student without expensive copying is revolutionary.
Three Activities Incorporating Art
Here are three examples of how I’ve incorporated art into my lessons. (I’m saving my lessons with Google Arts and Culture for another post.)
- La météo – A weather based description activity based on famous paintings.
- La Chambre de Van Gogh – Students describe Van Gogh’s room. I’ve used this also as a speaking activity and had them compare their room to Van Gogh’s. I’ve also had them describe what kind of person they think Van Gogh is based on his room. What does what’s in your room say about you?
- Parau Api Paul Gauguin – Did you know Gauguin painted two different versions of this? I stumbled upon this one day and I knew it would be perfect for talking about clothes and where people are. When students look closely they notice that the women are actually in different places. We do it as a partner activity where they first write about the image and then describe it to their partners to see what the differences are. Go further and talk about how the colors influence the mood of the works. What are they talking about? What do the objects in the painting suggest the women might be doing?