Enhancing Experiences with Global Picturebooks by Learning the Language of Art
Prisca Martens and Ray Martens
For the past 10 years we have been members of a literacy community with K-3 teachers in the Baltimore, Maryland area. Our community has met regularly to discuss literature, literacy issues, and response to literature, and to plan new experiences to engage students. Currently, our community includes classroom teachers Robbie Stout (Kindergarten, Franklin Elementary), Elizabeth Soper (First grade, Pot Spring Elementary), Laura Fuhrman (Second grade, Pot Spring Elementary), Michelle Doyle (Third grade, Pot Spring Elementary), and Jenna Loomis (Third grade, Seventh District Elementary). We teach at Towson University, Prisca in literacy and children’s literature and Ray in art education. Our community has consistently had two primary foci to support our work with students–global literature and art as language.
Our commitment to reading and exploring global literature and developing students’ intercultural understandings through these books is unwavering. Global literature is “any book that is set in a global context outside the reader’s own global location” (Short, 2016, p. 5) which for us is the United States. Like multicultural literature, global literature encourages learners to respect and accept people who are different than themselves and break attitudes that are oppressive and prejudicial (Lehman, Freeman, & Scharer, 2010).
Discussions and experiences with global literature facilitate the ongoing development of readers’ intercultural understandings, that is, their “stance of openness to multiple ways of thinking and being in the world and to differences as resources for our shared humanity and responsibility in working together to create a better and more just world” (Short, 2016, p. 10). That’s of key importance to us for the students in our classrooms. Our world has become increasingly diverse and interconnected, particularly through technology. Daily we interact with others from a range of diverse backgrounds and learn about events and communicate with others around the world in “real” time. As diversity increases, it’s more important than ever that we help students develop knowledge, understanding, and respect for people in other places in the world, including their beliefs, values, traditions, and ways of living and being (Short, 2009).
Art as Language
The second focus of our literacy community is art as a language, that is, developing students’ knowledge and understanding of how artists think and the art concepts and tools they use in their work. Knowing this enhances both the students’ reading of picturebooks and their composing of their own stories in writing and art. Because our work is with young children, the global literature we read is primarily picturebooks. By definition, the art in picturebooks is just as integral to the story as the written text (Kiefer, 1995; Sipe, 2008). In other words, to fully understand and appreciate the story in picturebooks, it is necessary to read and integrate meanings in both the art and the written text.
Art and written language are both texts, or units of meaning (Halliday & Hasan, 1975; Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006). To read and comprehend texts, readers integrate cues to predict and construct meaning (Goodman, 2003; Piro, 2002; Pumphrey, 1996; Rosenblatt, 1978). In our work, we highlight and help students think about the cues artists place in their work to convey meaning in addition to the cues authors use. For example, we talk about why artists may have selected particular colors or drawn lines in certain ways, how/why they used contrast or texture, or the ways they created a sense of depth or 3-dimensionality in the art. Students are then encouraged to use these same artistic cues/styles in the art they create for their own stories. By thinking and composing like artists, students read and appreciate meanings in the art beyond a picture walk in which they identify objects and images.
As our work with global literature and art has evolved, we began referring to the time for reading, minilessons, and composing stories as Storying Studio (Martens et al., 2018). Storying Studio celebrates stories in literature and the stories students share about themselves and their lives, as well as diverse ways of making meaning, specifically art and written language. Story is how humans make sense of the world, organize their lives, know themselves and others, and learn (Rosen, 1985; Short, 2012). We use the term “storying” as a verb to refer to the process of how stories are composed by interweaving meanings in writing and art. Studios are places for creativity and meaning making.
We structure Storying Studio similar to writing workshop with mini-lessons and time to explore ideas and write. Mini-lessons focus on the art in picturebooks in addition to the written text. In Storying Studio, studios are blocks of time, sometimes once during the day and other times in smaller segments, in classroom schedules organized around read-alouds/mini-lessons, time to explore the focus, and opportunities to compose in writing and art. Teachers use document cameras for the read alouds to make it easier for students to focus on the mini-lesson topic. These topics include aspects of writing (i.e., story beginnings, descriptive adjectives) as well as art (i.e.,
Shelves and tables hold different types/colors of paper, scissors, staplers, glue, colored pencils, markers, etc., that students freely access. Teachers conference with students about their in- process and completed stories while others work.
Our Work as a Literacy Community
Over our years together we have studied a range of aspects of global literature and art as language. Through our studies we have learned, for example, that experiences with global literature support students’ understanding of culture and themselves as cultural beings, their appreciation of the range of ways they are both similar to and different than others, and their identification of themselves as global citizens with responsibilities to make their communities and the world a better place (i.e., Martens et al., 2015; Martens et al., 2016; Pot Spring Learning Community, 2012). We have also found that examining communication through art challenges students’ imaginations and creativity; encourages them to reason, problem-solve, and think critically; and pushes them to attend to details and make strong inferences (e.g., Maderazo et al., 2010; Martens, Martens, Doyle, Loomis, & Aghalarov, 2012, 2013; Martens et al., 2018).
In our work we have always lived with a tension, though. Our desire is to always explore and discuss the stories in global literature as well as examine the art simultaneously but we have found that difficult to do well with young children. It feels “overwhelming” for the children and for us. We’ve found it more manageable to have one primary focus while still addressing the other. For example, we may emphasize the story and developing intercultural understandings, with art used more for response than learning art language. Or, we discuss the literature and global concepts, but emphasize learning the language of art. (Sometimes, when the emphasis is on art, we also use other picturebooks as examples.) When the emphasis is on the art, teachers read and discuss global picturebooks, but spend more time discussing the art and the meanings the artists embed in their drawings/paintings. Following these discussions children compose stories but topics are usually more open to their imaginations and creativity related to the art than as responses to the literature.
Since the majority of past issues of WOW Stories have focused on developing students’ global understandings, our purpose with this issue is to concentrate primarily on how we focus on art in Storying Studio. The experiences with global literature the teachers share in their vignettes address the art focus in different ways, depending on the literature, the focus of the lesson they were teaching, and the students. Our hope is that we can demonstrate a range of ways to integrate art and inspire students that support teachers as they read global literature with students.
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Prisca Martens is a Professor in the Department of Elementary Education at Towson University, Towson, Maryland.
Ray Martens is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art + Design, Art History, and Art Education at Towson University, Towson, Maryland.