Saturday, May 30, 2009


When we talk about art we often only think of the visual arts but dance, theater, music and storytelling are also part of the arts. Any time that you can integrate more than one art together into a lesson the more likely you are to reach every child. Many times my friend Peter a second grade teacher and I would work together to create lessons that used literature, visual art and sometimes theater skills. Our favorite was a lesson which integrated the Harlem Renaissance artists with the poets. We also included a children's book about Duke Ellington for a little history. This also gave me the opportunity to play jazz music while the students worked. At the culmination of the lesson we held a coffee house reading, inviting the parents in for punch and cookies as the students read their poems. The other students beat light rhythms on bongos and small drums as the reading took place. We used all the arts in this one.

What I discovered is that the students really liked the jazz music and often asked me to play it as they worked on other lessons. They seemed to concentrate more and some even stood by their seats and danced as they worked on their pieces. I remember one parent asking me what was going on in the art room because her son started asking for jazz music when they were driving in the car and she was pleasantly surprised.

We decided that we would create a book which included all the students images and accompanying poems. If I were going to do this lesson again, I would have enough colored reproductions to allow for each child to receive a copy of all of the works. Unfortunately, I didn't think of this so I have the only copy.

I used the work of Romare Beardon as a visual stimulus for the students. He created a number of images about jazz. To produce their images the students made their own scratch board paper (much cheaper than buying it). First the student colored the entire piece of oak tag paper with craypas crayons using many of the colors. (Avoid using black as it won't show up in the artwork.) Then using black tempera paint, which had a small amount of liquid dish washing soap mixed into it, the students coated the entire surface of their paper. When it dries, the students used small bamboo skewers to etch their images into the surface. This lesson really requires prior planning as once the line is scratched it is there forever. There is no way to erase it. The students had created pencil sketches of what they wanted prior to beginning the etching. The real problem solving happens when a mistake is made as the student has to find a way to incorporate it into their plan.

When the poems were written and the artworks were completed, the work was bound into an accordion fold book. The poetry is surprisingly sophisticated for second grade students. It is full of rich descriptive language.
"I hear fireworks in the drumsticks..."

"And the music teaches me to play
And the keyboard just playing
away as the crowd's mouths open
Like doors opening as fast as they can."

"I hear the pounding of a drum
saxophone screeching loudly and
the water sailing around the slippery keys
of the piano."

"The keyboard acts up
the music turns itself around."

"I hear the trumpet yell out its blues."

AMaZing! As a reference of how artist and writers respond to jazz music, try reading Seeing Jazz published by Chronicle Books.

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