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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Narratives Via Works of Art

Updated on July 31, 2012

The Dance Between Teacher and Student and the Task of Writing

"Hope is something shared between teachers and students. The hope that we can learn together, teach together, be curiously impatient together, produce something together, and resist together the obstacles that prevent the flowering of joy." ~~~Paolo Freire

As educators, it is incumbent upon us to to impart the important skills and tools students need in order to succeed in a challenging world. Of paramount importance, is to teach students to communicate in written and oral format . After all, that is how we as human beings exchange important ideas in a civilized society. And, let's not forget the omnipresent state assessment requirements, right? Let's not go there quite yet.

So, how do we go about teaching writing? Well, for many of us, it is an arduous task at best. Oftentimes, we are confronted with a littering of blank pages creatively coiled in a basket at the front of the room and a barrage of excuses to use the restroom during a writing workshop. Metaphorically, we've lost our dance partners at this juncture and in essence, we are left in a room filled with tremendous rising cortisol--the abyss.

Well, one way to help students open up their minds and hearts to writing is to chart a course that leads them back to their native childhood curiosity and inborn imagination. We do this by infusing the arts into the instruction.

The Province of Imagination

Today, students are faced with structured academia and overwhelming assessments that deny them the advantage of seeking multiple perspectives. They are presented with a question and confined to submit "one right answer." With such stricture, how can we as educators hope to open up young minds and help them to be more generative? It isn't easy unless we give ourselves over to a paradigm shift and reframe how we deliver instruction.

In order to become a pioneer and set your sails on this new route, you must ask yourself these critical essential questions:

1. Who are my students?

2. What backpacks do they carry?

3. What interests them? What are they intrigued by?

4. What are their hopes? What are their dreams?

5. What subjects do they enjoy?

6. What activities do they engage in after school?

7. What social networks do they visit?

8. What kind of art and music are they exposed to? Art can be a video, a poster, a symbol, etc...

Create an interest inventory with questions that assist you in learning about those you teach. Ask for a great picture you can use to attach to their page. Then, set out to collect relevant art that will elicit meaningful responses.

Art as the Vessel

It is a matter of creating situations in which active learning in the most vibrant sense can occur. They must be the kinds of situations that awaken the cognitive capacity called the imagination to look at things as if they could be otherwise, to bring as if into being, to put the everyday into parenthesis for a while with the hope of perceiving it from another vantage point, noticing differently when the encounter with the poem, the play, the sonata, the watercolor comes (at least for the moment) to a close (Maxine Greene).

Some Art Examples (Find Art that Resonates with Your Students):

For Older Students (Middle and High School) (Check Out Words that Cut)

For Younger Students

1. Use comic strip pictures

2. Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Anatomy of a Lesson

1. Expose the students to the work of art. Be creative and set up the room like a museum

2.Enlarge the pictures, dress the sculpture or other artwork---set the stage for inquiry

3. Have them address the following questions when viewing the work of art:

What do you notice in this work of art?

What do you see?

What is going on here?

Describe what is evident in the work of art itself?

How do parts relate to the whole?

How does an element compare and contrast to the other elements?

What kinds of relationships do you see?

What questions occur to you about this work of art?

What are you curious about?

What questions do you have that are not answerable by just viewing this work of art?

What surrounds this work, socially, politically, culturally, historically?

What do you think the artist is trying to convey?

What narrative do you see here?

What might you add to this piece?

Reword accordingly to adjust to student level, but never water down the curriculum.

Addendum: I owe my training to Lincoln Center Institute and must give kudos to them in this piece.

Putting It All Together

The final piece of the pedagogy is to have the students write a story about the work of art---they have ownership of the narrative they write (no right or wrong answers), or, the interpretation aspect of the lesson should help them to write a persuasive argument if that is your goal. If that is the case, have the students cogitate on the following:



Composition of the piece

Position of the contents or figures in the piece











Personal Connection

Materials used



Clarity, Definition



Place the students in "Writing Groups," a literacy strategy, when in the editing process. Have them review their drafts with one another, making positive suggestions and giving each other compliments.


I enjoyed that quote because it really inspired me.

The part I liked best was.....

The organization was great but there was one thing that puzzled me......

By placing them in groups, they can effectuate positive changes for one another as peer editors. It makes the class more cohesive and young minds learn from one another (Piaget).

Assessments Revisited and Summation

I'd like to interject one minutia about these tests we affectionately call the "state assessments," that is, you can come through the back door, if you will, if you cultivate critical thinking skills using art infusion. One requires high order thinking in order to interpret abstract vehicles, the same skill necessary in comparing and contrasting other work found on these confounded exams.

In sum, make the learning lively, make it relevant, tap into native childhood wonder and your students will hone skills that you never imagined them acquiring. Achievement is an artwork away:-0)


Submit a Comment

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile image

    Robin Grosswirth 5 years ago from New York

    The piano should be a passion he invites into his realm just as you chase yours here on the Hub.

    As for art, find a sport he loves and have him see a movie about it or take some sporting equipment and have him arrange it in a particular way that strikes his fancy then ask him to tell you about the sport sculpture he created. Or, get some clay and tell him to create a video game character from it, etc... Art is all around us.

    Thanks for the continuing read.

  • KevinMillican profile image

    KevinMillican 5 years ago from Stilwell, OK

    I would love to teach art to kids...but I'm already having a difficult time teaching my 12 year old son how to play the piano hehe.