How did the lab teacher build in opportunities for students to experience Kngwarreye’s approach to making art?
From: Jennifer Childress
In M.A.’s 6th grade lesson, students were first introduced to Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s work through classroom discussion based on images of Kngwarreye’s work; art criticism questioning; and contextual information about Emily’s life, her nature-based sources of imagery, and the Dreamtime. Students were very eager to discuss her work and were awed by its scale. They had also just completed a week of ELA testing and were very happy to have an extra art lesson that day. The art lesson was held in the regular classroom, so after discussion accompanied by worksheets as a class, desks were moved aside and the floor cleared for work. Shower liners were used to protect the floor, and swaths of brown craft paper were (eventually) taped down. M.A. also provided demonstrations of how to use the paint, and she invited students to help with the demonstrations as though they were apprentices.
M.A.’s lesson was developed for groups rather than individuals, for practical and conceptual reasons. First, she wanted students out of their desks and sitting on the floor (similar to Emily Kngwarreye) as they painted on large-scale lengths of brown paper. This required them to experience the full body, physical aspect of how Kngwarreye painted, and prevented a sense of preciousness that often accompanies making art on small desk-top. Hopefully this would free students up for experimentation as well.
The use of small groups made it possible for the students to finish multiple large works in the allotted time period; timed sessions urged students to work without excess deliberation; and the collaborative aspect encouraged independent problem-solving and on-the-spot visual solutions.
Students were given one size of brush to use but were encouraged to experiment making meandering lines of paint on smaller pieces of paper before moving to the larger “canvases.” They were provided with worksheets This helped them have more confidence as they took on the bigger task. Aborigine music was played during work sessions to help create a rhythmic mood, and to hopefully help students pace themselves.
1. Students must work in collaboration with their group members to create a large-scale painting based on EKK’s work.
2. Students must create one group painting using a wandering line and all paintings must include an irregular pattern with shapes in between the lines.
3. Students must work intuitively, no pre-planning (like pencil marks) except for quick check-ins with each other; and no corrections of painted lines.
4. Each student must paint 2 starting lines from one edge of the paper to the other (this was to encourage working the whole space of the paper).
1. The group collectively decides on the type of irregular pattern to apply to their painting, based on natural imagery.
2. The group decides on two color choices.
3. The group decides when the painting is complete.
4. The group decides on how to proceed, after completing two lines each.
5. Individuals create their own interpretations of the patterns within their own working space, but must make lines connect as they move towards each other’s work.
Though the painting was to be intuitive, M.A. wanted them to experience letting “one line inform the next,” which required remaining aware of the whole (natural pattern-like) as each small part was completed. Most groups were able to sustain this kind of focus for only about half of the painting time; many got caught up in the fun of painting freely, and ended up making hasty scribbly marks. It was clear after the lesson was completed that the timed work sessions needed to be shorter at first, then gradually lengthened to accommodate 11 and 12-year old attention spans (on a Friday afternoon in April, after a week of testing, no less!)
Nevertheless, most students expressed great enthusiasm for this new way of painting they had never before experienced, and were definitely eager to learn more about Kngwarreye and her work, and to do further experimentation. One student, who was standing out in the hall after school to admire her classmates’ drying works of art, declared, “This was the best art lesson I ever had!”
The slides included in this post have been excerpted from the lesson portion of M.A.’s lesson PPT (slides 28-54). They capture key moments of this lesson based on Kngwarreye’s artwork and painting methods, and include pictures of student work in progress.
In the full version of the PPT, the lab teacher includes her formative and summative assessment methods, evaluates the student work to note what students understood and struggled with; and evaluates her planning and instruction after completion (the full PPT in PDF form can be downloaded here).