Chrysa Papalazarou writes about her plenary session ‘Paint me a world: artful visuals in the language class’ at the Image Conference in Athens.
Five years ago, out of professional curiosity, I started using artful visuals with my upper primary classes as an alternative way towards creating a more affective and effective learning experience. This led to the Art in the English Class project. The idea was that we would regularly break away from coursebooks and work with paintings, videos, and other forms of visuals. These artifacts were linked to a topic. We shared our thinking and ideas in class, took notes, and finally wrote journals about our class experience. I don’t think that I could imagine at that time the impact that this project would have on both students and me. I’ve had the chance to work along those lines with a large number of students in many different groups of 6th graders since then.
Let me summarise my findings. In this approach, students are eager to offer and communicate their ideas in class. The importance given to sharing their thoughts pushes away their fear and anxiety of expressing themselves in English. Reliance on class notes aids active listening and concentration. The impersonal language included in coursebooks gives way to meaningful, personalised ideas. Students feed and scaffold their own writing with their shared thoughts, notes and class discussion. The usual paperwork that we teachers have to deal with turns into a fascinating journey into students’ notes and journals. Their individuality is celebrated through diverse modes of making meaning and where language and drawings, colours and symbols, happily coexist. Children naturally use a variety of modes to make meaning and in ways that are creative and beyond the design and expectation of us adults.
My plenary session at the Image Conference in Athens will focus on the use of paintings and how they can be linked to social topics. I’ll be reflecting on work we have done with the children and discuss activities that nurture the development of thinking dispositions, meaningful language, visual literacy and social awareness through examples and insights from my classroom practice.