Fourth-Grade Art Students Use Color, Symbol, Image Routine
Mallory Molnar, Teacher, Way Elementary
Bloomfield Hills Schools (10.21.14)
VT Routine: Color, Symbol, Image (CSI): Usually the purpose of this routine is to capture the heart of what students have learned. However, in this art class it is being used as a starting block for making connections to what students value and incorporating that into the design of a mask. More specifically the routine provides a structure for:
- Representing essential ideas and themes in non-verbal ways.
- Engaging students in connecting something new to something they already know by identifying similarities and making comparisons.
- Enhancing comprehension and laying a foundation for engaging in metaphorical thinking in later grades.
Before the lesson: This art class meets once a week for 45 minutes. Students have already built the base of their masks out of plaster and are now planning their designs going through a series of steps. They are familiar with CSI and will now focus on the symbol aspect of the routine. Ms. Molnar states: “I have taught this lesson before and found that using just the symbol portion really helps students to focus on this aspect and allows their thinking to go much deeper.”
At Way Elementary, all classes have posted through-lines developed by teams of teachers. Teachers help students connect learning across units and content areas to their through-lines. The following were posted in this art classroom:
- Why do people create art?
- Why is reflection an important part of the art process?
As an observer, I also noticed the following sign: The EARTH without ART is just “EH”.
During the lesson: With students seated on the carpet in close proximity to the teacher and each other, Ms. Molnar guided a discussion on how masks are/have been used in different communities/countries. Students noted that the symbols on the masks often represented the values of the people in the community. Ms. Molnar gave students planning sheets to plan the design for their masks. She instructed them to take the following steps in making the design:
- Use the symbol only part of the CSI routine and design a symbol that represents a characteristic of community. To emphasize creative thinking, Ms. Molnar emphasized that the symbol must be one that the student had not previously seen used for this purpose.
- In the space provided on the planning sheet, write a defense for why your symbol represents community.
- Have your symbol and defense approved by me. (Ms. Molnar circulated among students as they worked and approved products as students were ready.)
- Begin to design your mask and incorporate your symbol into your design.
As an observer, I (Jean Schmeichel) circulated among students as they worked at tables. They exhibited a high level of engagement and on task behavior throughout the lesson. They definitely were interested in their work. As I listened in to side conversations, I realized that they were talking about their work. The following is an example of one side conversation of three students. Student # 1 suggested to # 2 that her drawing was not a symbol but rather an image. They disagreed at first and then # 3 joined in to remind them that a symbol was not like a picture showing specific objects and things. They discussed how she could “abstract” her drawing and make it a symbol. She followed through.
As students began working, symbols and written statements of defense varied.
- One student created a symbol comprised of small circles connected by arrows and arranged into one larger circle 0->0->…. In the center of the larger circle was a box filled with paper litter. A statement from her defense read: “People in community help each other by recycling litter.”
- Another student made a rectangle box with a wavy line at the top very smooth line at the bottom. When I asked him to explain, he said: “Our two high schools were in an unhealty rivalry. In my symbol, the uneven top part shows the rivalry and the bottom part shows the smoothness when they came together as one community. The squiggles on each side represent each H.S. and their rivalry. The circle in the middle of the box represents their coming together.
- A third student used his understanding of mathematics and created a triangle made up of three rays. He said: “Just like rays can intersect, people in communities intersect when they meet with each other.” This student began to incorporate his symbol into the design of his mask. Look for the triangles made of rays in the draft design above.
Since these students only meet for art one class period a week, this project will continue the following week. Ms. Molnar asked the students to think about their symbols and draft designs and assured them they could make any desired changes next week.
After the Lesson: Visitors to Ms. Molnar’s class included art, music, PE and media teachers. We met with her to debrief. Among many other complimentary comments, it was noted that she addressed a variety of styles of learning. The following are examples of the Q & A session:
Q: How often do you see the students?
A: I see grades K-3 80 minutes a week, but I only see grade 4 students for 55 minutes due to other things in their schedule.
Q: How do you decide when to use a routine and how often do you use them?
A: You build the routine into your instruction where it fits with the intended outcome. For instance I am using the “symbol” part of the CSI routine to introduce design to the students. I want to stress the process of creating and how important reflection is to this process. One of our through-lines is: “Why is reflection an important part of the art process?”
Q: How do you differentiate your instruction to meet the needs of those students who know the routine and those who do not?
A: In the beginning, you do a lot of modeling. I have a couple of new students who are not familiar, so I have to model more for them. This kind of teaching changes how you talk to students.
Q: Do you have the time? Do you know if PE and music use VT routines?
A: Routines usually take longer than I think, but for good reason. The students are really engaged in discussions and their participation in the project. Their thinking also goes a lot deeper, which in turn improves the end result. PE teachers have used routines to uncover the complexities of different sports. Music has used the I used to think; now I think when listening to different types of music or created symbols to represent different aspects of music like legato and staccato.
Q: Did you give students very many examples of symbols and masks?
A: I try not to give them too many examples since I want them to engage in the creative process and create their own. If I show them examples, they tend to just use those and not create one that means something to them. This is why I told them they could not use a symbol they had already seen on a mask or representing a community. We talked about masks around the world and how they are used to represent what individuals and communities value. Then I asked them to create a mask and integrate their symbol for community.
Thank you to Mallory Molnar and the fourth-grade students for sharing their teaching and learning with us. We learned from our observations and enjoyed our visit to their art classroom.
What did the students do that showed thinking and understanding?