By Kristina Thomas and Carrie Nordlund,
posted on Apr 11, 2022
“I want to become an emotion scientist,” says Marc Brackett, founder of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. How can we support our learners to become scientists of feelings, and explorers of both their own emotions and the emotions of others? The art room is a great place for such an investigation. One lesson I recently created to encourage learners’ social and emotional growth is based on the big idea Special Places. This lesson was successful because it incorporated many different personal connections with materials, kept learners engaged, and allowed them to create meaning.
Bella W.Norah R.student artworkEvie V.Eliza R.Emma B.
The Independent Learner
Each five-day cycle, I post my lessons on Google Classroom for my kindergarten, first-, and second-grade students. My school was employing hybrid instruction during the pandemic, so when I see students face-to-face, I like to bring an exciting or unexpected material for them to work with, like sequins, stamps, or wallpaper. Seeing students’ eyes light up during these media explorations is always the best part of my day.
When they are exploring, students enter a sustained and alert awareness of self, focusing on the media at hand. Mindfulness through independent explorations of materials is an effective way to reduce students’ anxiety and stress while encouraging self-regulation.
The Connected Learner
During a time when our sense of place had been disrupted, this lesson was a fitting way for students to reflect on a sense of community. Students’ overall goal was to create a scene of a special place, a place to which they attached strong feelings, while also using their knowledge of shapes and adding details to make the place unique.
To assist students in relating to special places and communities, they analyzed and compared David Hockney’s Garrowby Hill and Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach. Students picked out different aspects of each artwork that stood out—the trees, winding road, and texture in Hockney’s work compared to the city buildings, family, and stars in Ringgold’s work, to name a few. Their art talk connected them to diverse interpretations and feelings about these special places.
The Feeling Learner
Showing my learners model artworks and encouraging art talk first helped give them ideas for what they might want to include in expressing their own feelings about a special place. I wanted students to use their creative skills to connect to a place in their own way. Students used their choice of art materials to add fine details. As a final surprise, students used cotton swabs to add glitter glue in areas they wanted to emphasize.
This first attempt at my Special Places lesson with young learners was successful in giving them a means to think about a special place during an uncertain and unsteady time in their life. I gave them permission to feel and express meaning.
One thing I will do in future versions of this lesson is encourage more practice of emotional intelligence skills. One way to achieve this would be a round-robin activity in which students assign feeling descriptors to their illustrated special place, putting labels on their emotions. This would enable them to recognize their own emotions, as well as those of their classmates, making connections between similar and different feelings and diverse special places. Most importantly, I could demonstrate how to go to that special place in their mind’s eye and self-regulate when they are feeling unsteady.
“When do we get to see you for art next?” The question never fails to bring a smile to my face when I see my elementary artists in the hallway. This was my first year teaching early elementary art, and I honestly couldn’t be happier! Navigating the world of hybrid teaching was challenging, but I tried my best to stay positive and make the most of each day with my artists whether we were in the classroom or meeting virtually. I plan to continue designing curriculum that takes our current climate into account, with the goals of developing the skills of independent learners, connecting them to their emotional selves, and allowing them a space for creative expression.
Kristina Thomas is an art teacher at Lehigh Elementary School in Northampton Area School District in Walnutport, Pennsylvania. ThomasK@NASDSchools.org Carrie Nordlund is a professor of art education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Nordlund@Kutztown.edu
Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
Art teachers develop lessons that encourage students to explore their emotions, develop empathy, and nurture positive relationships. Young students use paper shapes to create scenes that interpret their feelings about a special place, elementary students share personal stories through clay and shrink-film treasures, middle-school students express a chosen emotion through paper and cardboard masks, high-school students connect to the Indigenous histories of their community, and more.