What has surprised you the most about teaching with Prism.K12 and American art in your classroom?

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What has surprised you the most about teaching with Prism.K12 and American art in your classroom?

Tell us a little bit more about the process of teaching with the Prism.K12 strategies and Made in the USA artists in your classroom. What has been the biggest surprise? What has gone according to plan, and what hasn't? What do you like most about teaching with arts integration?

New artist engagement

     It's been a great process and challenge to teach with a new artist, Horace Pippin. I had not used his art in lessons before, and I've been enjoyed getting to know his work better. His work is a nice alternative to Jacob Lawrence who is frequently used to represent Black American artists. His work has also been very engaging for the students, as they are able to form a lot of unique ideas from his work and engage in various narratives with each other around the work.

     With middle school students, it is always a challenge to keep the curriculum engaging for them, and they work best if projects take on personal meaning and they can be invested in the work. I’ve found that the EMPATHIZE strategy of the PrismK12 is most helpful when planning my lesson for middle school students specifically. The students really respond to opportunities to grapple with other’s thoughts, emotions and perspectives. Often, when students are asked to integrate writing into the art classroom, there can be some pushback because they expect to paint and draw everyday. But by focusing work on empathy and interpretation, I find the students are more compelled by these purposeful experiences to integrate writing and close-looking with artmaking.

     As most teachers would probably agree, TIME is always a battle in the classroom. I’ve been surprised that so many students are willing to share their work with classmates. When we have done close-looking or writing activities, almost every student volunteers to share, but to keep the class moving, we don’t always have time for all the shares. To remedy this, I have employed a lot of pair-share time and small-group sharing, so that everyone feels that they have a chance to share their thoughts. I am also planning to have students share their work with the larger school community at our whole-school meetings soon.

     I enjoy art integration when it is true art integration and not just for the sake of combining subjects. When students can improve in two areas of their learning, then integration is truly high quality and is a compelling experience for them. I also believe that it is important for students to place personal meaning to their own artwork and connect on a personal level with other’s artwork. When they are able to connect with art using another subject area- social studies, ELA or science, they walk away with a more memorable experience and will have developed deeper learning. 

Empathy & older students

I teach 4th & 5th graders (in Literacy and Science), but I often get similar pushback from them when it comes to writing.  Even in Writing class!  But I absolutely agree that the Empathize ray in the PrismK12 has really helped my students open up to the writing process a bit more.  As students get older and are expected to write more to show their learning, any opportunity to have them make social connections really helps to keep their motivation up.  I've sometimes even had students write notes (about whatever we are working on or learning about) to each other as an exit ticket, which has been pretty effective.


Great idea with the writing notes as an exit ticket! I also think, that if we model this practice and reinforce it often, students will have an easier time accepting writing as a way to engage with art looking and art making. 

I struggle to get my students

I struggle to get my students to write all the time! I liked how you had students write from the perspective of the people in the painting.  This means they have to write less, but more thoughtfully and from a different perspective.  Ithink often students are intimidated by having to write "academically" but if they can write from a persons perspctive they are more engaged.  

I have trouble getting my students to stay on task in pair-share time, but maybe with an exercise like this my students would be more engaged.  Great ideas!

Developing an artist's eye

One of the biggest surprises I had came at the very beginning of my desert lessons, when I had the students examine a photo of the desert and describe what they see. I was expecting them to most describe the dirt and the scrub, and probably share colors like brown, gray, and white for the colors that they saw. But when I asked them about the colors they very surprisingly picked up on many of the subtle colors in the picture, like purples, pinks and oranges. It was a good reminder to me about how differently young children see the world. They were lacking some of the preconceived notions I expected them to have about the desert, and were able to focus in on some of the richness before we even delved into the topic. It was a nice surprise, but it left me a little concerned about what they were going to get out of our first lesson on Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings!


After reading the story and completing the painting project, the students definitely added a lot of colors to their work, but it seemed like where they drew from O’Keefe was in the blending of the colors. I noted that many of them worked on blending light and dark colors in special ways to note some depth in the rocks, much like O’Keefe’s work. I was also happily surprised when a parent came to me a few days later and told me her son was discussing how he would paint the clouds and the sunset that he saw on their way home from school. It’s always satisfying to hear about connections students make outside of the classroom. I was excited to hear how working with O’Keefe’s paintings has helped to give him a keen eye for detail!

Collaborating with Young Art Aficionados

What surprised me the most as my students engaged with each artwork is how many of them were already familiar with the artists on display. Last week, I was able to introduce Edward Hopper, as a new artist, that my first graders were not familiar with. This week though, many of my students immediately recognized O’Keeffe’s unique painting style. Several students immediately referenced another O’Keeffe painting we had seen while on a field trip at the Philips Collection approximately four months ago. This familiarity allowed us to immediately begin making connections between the painting and what we’ve been studying as part of our current science unit.

In the second trimester, our focus has been on human, animal and plant adaptations. The environment that O'Keeffe created in Ranchos Church II allowed my students to combine their knowledge of wildlife adaptations to create examples of flora and fauna to add to the artwork. This activity required students to EXPRESS their understandings of our current science unit and CONNECT with the artwork. Prior to viewing the painting and creating our wildlife examples, we read a book about desert plants and animals to better learn the adaptations that species have developed.

We also partnered with a fourth grade class, which had been studying characters and character traits as part of their second trimester literature unit. Both first and fourth graders took turns presenting their character or wildlife creations to the group before adding them to a large sketch of the O’Keeffe painting. It was great to see both younger and older students interacting and sharing their personal impressions of the artwork with one another.

collaborations and integration

What a unique idea to have students fill O'keeffe's dessert landscape with flora, fauna and people while combining two grade levels AND incorporating integrative learning! That's an interesting addition to what could be viewed as a barren (also peaceful and spiritual) landscape. Despite the absence of life, there is such a feeling of warmth that the painting emits. What a fitting way to accomodate the physical and conceptual space.

reflection on teaching with the PrismK12 strategies
Originally I imagined the Prismk12 stragtegies to help focus students, giving them specifc information to consider while looking at art.  Not overwhelming them by the complexities of the artwork, but allowing them to zero in on one aspect at a time, helping them process the information to lead them to a deepened understanding of the work. I focused on 4 of the rays: IDENTIFY, CONNECT, EMPATHIZE, and COMPARE. Going for a collaborative, "jigsaw" approach to utilize the stratgeies, I had each child at a table respond (in writing) to the work by focusing on a different strategy each. My thinking was that it would be too much to have them go through and process of each strategy and that by focusing on only one, they could go into more depth. I had some guiding questions to help elicit deeper thinking and then after about 5 minutes or so, they shared their responses with one another in a conversation about the piece. Finally one person would then share their group conversation with the whole class, giving everyone a chance to hear different perspectives...Well, this did not work out as I had planned and their responses were somewhat shallow except for a few. I also don't know if I asked the right guiding qeustions. I think instead, having each child respond to the prompts for each strategy in the order I listed them above would have allowed for their interptretation of the work to be more scaffolded, helping them build a little bit of knowledge at a time and giving them a context for undersatnding. It wasnt quite the magic experienced in Rineke Dijkstra's Weeping Woman where you can see the understanding blooming and students all have these amazing "a-ha!" moments, No. Instead I got the inevitable" Are we going to do any actual art today?" So...back to the drawing board! One method I had tried in museums was to have them act out objects in the work they are viewing to kind of embody or EMPATHIZE with the artist through a more viceral approach. I suppose I could still give this a shot. Look for a video post soon...

One surprise realization I had while reading though student responses was the themes in Okeefe's works and the other two Made in the USA artists are somewhat somber, expressing sandess, lonliness, struggle, etc. or at least this was what my kids were picking up. This was alarming for me because I had previously had exposed these guys to the trials and tribulations other artist we'd studied with similarly depressing themes ( the displacement of Ndebele people in South Africa as expressed in geometric symbols in house paintings , sorrow and despair of Haitians looking to deities represented in vodou flags for hope and the struggles represented by African Americans in the Great Migration). I know that art is a vechicle for expression and that hard times make for great art, but I am wondering if these themes are more compelling to students for whatever reason or if there are just more artists out there working through their troubles in their work....

I enjoy teaching integratively as it offers more entry points for information. It goes without saying that integrative work should not be contrived and instead be a natural relationship. I am also learning that integrative learning also doesn't have to take place at the same time, in fact that may be overwhelming and giving students  time to learn something one way and then to use that as prior knowledge with which to deepen learning later in another subject, might be more beneficial. Kids learn in different ways and infusing the same idea through a variety of disciplines can help encourage a realization of connectedness.



Surprises in both 4th and 5th grades

For me, the most surprising aspect about teaching with PrismK12 has been the ease with which my students apply their background knowledge from other classes and experiences to studying the various artworks.  I have been surprised by how easy it has been to integrate the pieces into our lessons. 

When we began studying Edward Hoppers’ piece Sunday, the 5th graders initially made connections with their own lives – the man was lonely, maybe upset about family problems or job problems.  Once we discussed the time the piece was painted – 1926 – the students immediately connected with the Great Depression; a topic they had studied in History.  It was amazing to have such a deep conversation about the stock market and the US economy with a group of 10-year-olds – many adults I know don’t understand the complexities and the context in which various events came together to create the Great Depression, but these students were throwing around dates and details casually.  I was impressed.  When it came time for the project, I chose an activity where the students pretended to be Edward Hopper and write a letter to a friend or family member telling them about the painting – why he painted it, what he was thinking about when he painted it, and what he hopes other people see in the painting.  It was an interesting exercise, and many students continued with the theme of the Great Depression and job security (or lack thereof).  However, a few students returned to the initial theme of loneliness and isolation, unrelated to job security.  They imagined the artist as someone going through a difficult time with his family or job, and using his painting as a cry for help.  I was so impressed and moved by the empathy the 5th graders showed.

The moment I projected O’Keeffe’s Ranchos Church II in the classroom, my fourth graders immediately gasped and said, “Oh, I know this one!” and “Georgia O’Keeffe!”  Many of them remembered seeing her work at the Phillips Collection back in October.  The room was buzzing with recognition and excitement.  They immediately made many connections to our Literacy unit about Characters from earlier in the year, and our “See, Think, Wonder” conversation was made richer by the knowledge they brought to the pieces.  “It really looks just like a setting – there are no characters, and no plot, really, so it’s almost like there’s no story,” one student said.  The students were able to apply their knowledge of story structure – characters, goals, challenges, resolutions, and setting – to analyze the pieces we studied in this unit.  We had a long conversation about the artist’s intention with the piece – students wondered if she purposely left the narrative (or the story) up to us observers.  So students began to narrate a story using her piece as a setting.  When we began our project to create characters for O’Keeffe’s Ranchos Church II, I was a little hesitant at first – Georgia O’Keeffe is one of my personal favorite artists and I wasn’t sure how I felt about encouraging students to modify amazing art.  But, I projected the image onto a large paper on a wall and traced a basic outline, then shaded it in as best as I could to recreate the piece.  Students had many ideas for characters – Priests, congregants, tourists, activists, as well as villagers, and even a Star Wars character or a cactus farmer.  We teamed up with a 1st grade class (who created desert animals and plants for the scene) and together created an amazing work of art that our school will treasure.  It was really fun to collaborate with another class studying the same piece of art!

Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised

More expectations = More quality.  I must say that this is what surprised me the most with these Hopper inspired American landscapes.  This year I have been focusing on developing a more choice based curriculum.  In the previous semester when I taught landscapes I really let students choose what they would make and how they would make it; as long as it contained the elements that made it a landscape.  We talked about similar landscape issues both semesters: using symbols and compositional elements to create mood, setting a strong focal point to tell a story, including foreground, middleground, background, etc. This semester  I felt like I was adding on more and more restrictions and expectations to my students. I worried that I was limiting thier creativity and their intrinsic desire to complete the project.

Beyond restricitions, some of the questions I was asking were even hard for me to answer.  Questions such as "What makes America different from other countries?" "How can you make a landscape really look American?" "What symbols can you include in your landscape to express emotion without being cliche?" I also thought how can my students truly appreciate (or not) living in America when the majority of them have such little exposure to other cultures?  I just wasn't sure my students would get it all.

The results I have been receiving so far have been much more thought out, meaningful, and simply better, more detailed artworks than previous semesters.  Whereas in the past I would get maybe a picture of the washington monument, now I get the washington monument with people walking their dogs, and someone helping someone else.  Before I might get a cityscape with generic buildings, this semester I got a cityscape with a "Mega Beds" store because "why do we need to have so many bed options? We have so many options for everything and we don't really need them!" 

Setting a theme for the project and having the students CONNECT to cultural ideas and themes they have discussed in Social Studies and EMPATHIZE with people from around the world in order to appreciate  what they have (or don't have) has furthered their artistic thinking.  They really owned their concepts as opposed to just making something that looked nice. While some students couldn't complete the theme and stuggled simply with creating a foreground, middleground and background, some who couldn't even do that did create a landscape that had personal meaning to them. Some students focused only on the arts standards, some students focused on the Prism Rays, and some did both with amazing results.  Either way this lesson really gave my students more choice rather than less.