One World Connected Through Art
What better way to explore the world than through art?
As part of a neat project called One World Classrooms Art Exchange, my fourth graders submitted art about their country and, in return, received a packet of work from 25 other fourth graders from 12 different nations.
When I heard about One World Classrooms Art Exchange, I knew Mr. Badjie would be the perfect teacher for the project. He is a teacher trainee in his second year and charged with his own class. Although he is one of my close friends in the village and he helped me paint the world map in our library, he has been reluctant to let me help him much in his classroom. However, because I know he loves art, I knew he wouldn’t wiggle out of this with his usual excuses. I was excited at the prospect of covertly helping him improve his teaching techniques while also showing him a way to use the map in conjunction with his passion for art. Triple Whammy!
To incorporate a new teaching strategy, I taught Mr. Badjie the concept of centers. Gambian teachers know that groups are “good” and typically have their seating arranged in such. However, they often struggle with implementing any type of group work or stations and instead their so-called “groups” are just students sitting in clusters while they do the same individual task. I thought centers would work perfectly for this lesson plan. Since it was art and not a core subject, students could opt in or out of the various centers, which would also introduce the concept of making choices. Students rarely have the chance to make choices in their culture, so they often can’t and simply say “I don’t know;” therefore, I like to encourage decision making whenever possible. Centers would also help eleviate the burden of not having enough art supplies to go around.
Mr. Badjie and I created a lesson plan together then co-taught the class. We explained the project and asked the students to think about what they want other kids to know about The Gambia. They listed: the river, hot season, rainy season, donkeys, farming, religion, and chores like fetching water, to name a few. Then, we gave a brief introduction of three art techniques: shading, pointillism and chalk drawing. The students then chose a station where they could practice their favorite technique to create a work that depicted an idea from the list about their country.
Since art is not something students regularly do, many really struggled. Others made beautiful pieces! Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted all my pictures of the kids. But, to the rescue, One World Art Exchange emailed me the photos they had on file, so here is a few!
When we received our packet of art from around the world, Mr. Badjie and I looked through it and chose the best ones to display on our world map. Again, we created a lesson plan together and co-taught.
We showed the students the art, one piece at a time, asking them to describe anything they saw in the picture. The one of a White Christmas drew blank stares, but otherwise the kids were very participatory. The simple discussion alone led to lessons on weather, the difference between an ocean and a river and other natural landscapes like volcano and mountains. We also talked to the kids about the English words “similar” and “different” and asked them to identify parts of the pictures that are similar or different to things in their own country.
I showed them where each work was from by pointing to the country on the map. Students came up and taped on the labels. We reviewed the names of the countries and their locations throughout the lesson. And the librarian (my dad) and I added any small details we knew about the countries as we went along: languages spoken, religions practiced and whether the country had many people or only a few.
It was the first time they realized that art could be used as a tool in learning. The librarian, (my dad) who is in his mid-fifties, said: “I remember when I was a young man in Spain and my friend took me to this museum and we saw art. And I said: ‘What is this? I suppose it is beautiful, sure.’ But I really didn’t know anything. I had not experienced something like art before. Now I know that art is something more than that. You can learn about another culture, about history, about people. Sure, art is beautiful. But it is also very interesting.”
At the end of class, we asked students to tell us which piece of art was their favorite and why. I loved hearing the kids express their raw opinions, which is so rare here: “the fisherman because we also fish in The Gambia, the one about snow because I learned something new, the one with the river because it’s the prettiest.”
We also tested the students to see, of the ones we learned about, how many countries could they identify without the labels. Mr. Badjie and disappointingly, even my dad, scoffed at the students’ abilities to remember. I told them to have a little faith! In groups, the students tried to re-label the map … and they did it — perfectly!
The lesson was a great success for too many reasons to count. We decided to leave up the display so other students and teachers could see the art when they came to use the library. My dad said he re-taught the lesson to every class that week and that the students were always very interested to learn how other countries can be similar even when they are so far away.
The world doesn’t seem so big when you can find small things we all have in common!