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Lesson Plans


timelines - a different view long post)

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EILEEN PRINCE (eprinc1)
Sun, 25 Aug 1996 09:31:48 -0500 (CDT)


After weeks of putting my art room back together, I am just catching up on
my artsednet reading. I hope I'm not too late to offer a different opinion
on teaching art through a timeline approach.
At Sycamore, art history as a specific course begins in fourth grade with an
introduction to the nature of art-historical inquiry and then a year
studying Tribal Arts, Central and South American art, African art (and its
influence on modern and American art), Native American art and the arts of
China and Japan. In fifth grade, the year in which Middle School begins at
Sycamore, we start our Western Art Survey (for want of a better title,
though it includes arts of Egypt, Islam, etc.) For three years, students in
ALL HUMANITIES COURSES follow a timeline. Students in fifth grade start
with Pre-historic times and work their way through the Medieval period.
Sixth graders go from the Renaissance through the Age of Revolution and
seventh grade starts in the late 1800's and finishes the 20th century.
I have always taught my art history on a timeline, so when the Humanities
curriculum was being rewritten to make it more interdisciplinary (through
the use of themes), I politely explained that I would accomodate any plan
insofar as it did not change the structure of my course. I will not teach a
"Picasso" unit one day and a "Rembrandt" unit the next. People will tell
you that children do not think sequentially. I'm not surprised, since
programs are rarely structured to help them do so. Also, I teach art in
cultural context and I want my students to see the ebb and flow of history -
how the same cycles repeat and repeat. How cultures with absolute religeous
hierarchies produce art with similar features, how scientific and
technological advancement has been crucial to the history of art, how one
style grows logically out of the previous one. The music teacher, who had
begun keying her curriculum to mine was even more adamant about keeping the
sequential perspective. Since art and music are generally the two most
popular subjects at Sycamore, we get a LOT of support from the
administration, so it was decided to use the timeline approach throughout
the entire middle school. I explained that this approach IN NO WAY
precludes the use of themes - in fact, important eras practically supply
their own. Since everyone works from the same timeline, we never need
teachers' meetings to coordinate different curricula. My hands-on projects
automatically serve as hands-on for history, social studies, literature,
etc. without my having to sacrifice the integrity of my course. The
advantages to the kids are incredible. They get to see the big picture, not
only sequentially but within a time period. They can become immersed in an
era - they don't have to change mental gears every 45 minutes. The study
they do for one class benefits all the others and field trips are productive
for almost everyone (so money goes a lot further.)
As far as engaging the kids in an historical approach, I have never had that
problem. I had horrible history teachers until I got to college, so maybe
that's why I love to make history fascinating to my kids. I always throw in
lots of appropriate trivia in my introductions - like what a kid their age
would have been doing in Ancient Egypt or Greece, or all the gory deatails
of mummification. With all the other classes covering the same period, I
have kids coming to my room dressed in chitons and cheering when I mention
Sparta or Athens, depending on which city-stae they represent; kids coming
from science class where they got to meet the doctor who discovered the
brain Michaelangelo painted into the Sistine Chapel ceiling; children
creating a full-sized self-portrait as they would have appeared sometime
during the years 1600-1775, including a brief "autobiograpy"; and seventh
graders, who do an intensive W.W.II/Holocaust unit, staging an authentic
U.S.O. canteen, complete with military uniforms, dresses of the period,
appropriate music and dances, posters, etc. (One of the most amazing,
touching experiences I have had as a teacher.) One of the things that art
can do, it seems to me, is to open a window onto the past, to make those
people come alive in ways that show how little human nature has changed
throughout the centuries. Art is one of many "languages" we must speak in
order to transmit and receive culture. It is a great deal more than that,
but I believe that this is one of its primary functions. My kids will never
again be REQUIRED to take art, and although many of them, fortunately,
choose to take classes in high school, for some this will be their only
organized exposure to art history. I want them to have access to as much of
what's out there as possible. Sorry for this long post, but I feel VERY
strongly about this. The feedback I receive from my graduates makes me
think they would agree.

Eileen Prince
Sycamore School


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