In July, my application was accepted by the Smithsonian Summer Institute at the American Art Museum (I promise a blog post/review about this to follow soon!).
During the two week long program, teachers learned effective ways to incorporate Visual Thinking Routines from Harvard’s Project Zero into the classroom. VTR utilizes any non-text source material to engage students in critical thinking skills; this workshop focused particularly on using American Art in application. The workshop fundamentally re-shaped how I teach analysis and re-invigorated the “warm up” in my classroom.
There are many arguments for using VTR in the classroom (including the innate interdisciplinary mode of thinking), but I was really invested in the analysis piece. Many of my students struggle in understanding rhetorical analysis. This is problematic for any student taking the AP Language exam which includes several types of non-textual components in at least one essay component. Using VTR propels students into evidence building, claim composition, and technique identification- all cornerstone skills necessary for a well written analysis. This year, I’ve decided to incorporate art and VTR into my junior and senior classrooms.
My first introduction of VTR has many different routines, but at the heart of all of them is the idea of claim and support (see above picture). This is a great way to warm up in the classroom; for my particular course (Native American and Asian American Voices), I chose artwork that would allow students to understand the module as an examination of marginalized voices. We started with George Caitlin’s “Going To and Returning From Washington.” The piece explores the effects of European culture on the Native American and many students articulate that tension in different ways. All of them are pressed to show exactly where in the art is this claim embedded:
Both students arrive at similar conclusion and both provide evidence to support their claim. This routine is crucial when moving into the next step: comparing visual text to a literary counterpart.
For this particular module, I modeled how to do a comparison of visual and literary text using the artwork from warm-ups; previous exposure help students feel more comfortable in the writing process. This time, students would view Caitlin’s piece (see above) with Tanaya Winder’s poem, “Missing More Than a Word.”
When paired with the poetry scaffolding lesson I created (see here), this becomes a powerful method in thesis creation. Many students were able to form a claim about both pieces and identify a technique the artist and poet utilize in their works:
Once evidence building becomes an important part of forming a claim, many feel much more comfortable developing a stronger thesis. This was particularly evident in our second comparison (using Hieu Minh Nguyen’s “White Boy Time Machine” and Roger Shimormura’s “Diary: December 12, 1941”).
At the end of the course, students are asked to answer a comparative analysis prompt within 45 minutes (message me or comment for the prompt). Between this year and last year’s response, there is a tangible difference: using the VTR has yielded well-supported, sophisticated analysis paragraphs while last year’s response seem to falter in organization structure.
More importantly than all of the quantifiable data is this: my students love the inclusion of art. It’s the most requested warm-up!
And I’m just as excited to continue using VTR in the classroom this year; I’ll continue to post progress. Thank you to the Smithsonian Learning Lab for beautiful high-definition free access to their collection!