A mother and daughter had been discussing art pieces together more than a decade, but this year, the conversation traveled from the dinner table to an Abilene classroom and a Kansas City, Mo., museum.
“Thinking Through Art: Digital Outreach Program” is a pilot program for teaching art in a conversational, no-wrong-answers style. The program uses Skype, an Internet software application, to connect 5th grade students at Garfield Elementary School with a school partnerships liaison at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.
Tanya Sims, 5th grade language arts teacher at Garfield Elementary School, had been discussing art pieces with her daughter, Sarah Sims, for years. This year, the mother-daughter pair decided to team-teach “Thinking Through Art: Digital Outreach Program,” a pilot program for teaching art in a conversation.
“The kids are having a blast with this,” Tanya said. “I think they would like to do it every day.”
Tanya said the biggest results she has seen so far are with the students who normally would not speak up or raise their hand.
“There aren’t any right or wrong answers, and it’s just each kid’s interpretation of the art, so I thought it would be a good way for them to see that they could talk about anything without feeling like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to say anything because I might say a wrong answer,’ and that’s where I’ve really seen a big increase in our kids,” Tanya said. “Kids that don’t usually participate in my class, probably for fear that, ‘I don’t want to say something (wrong),’ they’re coming up and answering the questions that she’s asking of them.”
Sarah said the program is not only new to the school as a Skype application; it is also new to the museum as an in-person art teaching method.
“We’ve always offered school tours and workshops, but we’ve really been striving the last year to show those pictures and [engage] students in a more meaningful way,” Sarah said. “When I told my mom what the new initiatives were about, she got really excited because she’s a writing teacher and she saw how the conversation that we’re having about art connects to the writing process.”
Tanya said she wants to teach students that everything tells a story.
“They know that you read a book and it’s a story, but I said, ‘A painting or a sculpture tells a story also,’” Tanya said. “Anything that you look at tells a story because we do things for specific reasons. I think they’re getting an idea of that.”
How it works
Each “Thinking Through Art: Digital Outreach Program” session starts with a pre-write, in which students take a look at the painting and fill out what they think about it. Sarah then films the area around the painting to “situate them within the gallery.” After the students have viewed the painting and the room that holds it, the conversation begins.
“I think it’s pretty cool because we haven’t Skyped with someone (before),” 5th-grader Claire Weishaar said. “I think it’s kind of cool how we are going to eventually get to write our own story with it.”
In addition to writing a story about one of the paintings, the students will also return to their first art piece and write about it a second time so Tanya can test how their writing has improved.
“Hopefully I’ll see an increase in their writing abilities,” Tanya said. “Hopefully we’ll see good results when it comes to state testing time.”
While Tanya said she is eager to see improved writing from her students, what she said is most important to her is for the students to open their minds to opportunities and resources available beyond this community.
“Most of our kids have never been to a museum before, and the schools don’t get to do very many field trips anymore, so I thought, ‘Well, this is a way to get them out of Abilene without having to actually have to go out of Abilene,’” Tanya said. “Knowing that there’s a lot of things out there, and the possibilities that are there for them. Just being able to see things in a different city or in a different setting that they haven’t ever seen before, and for them to think about other opportunities for themselves.”
Sarah said she wants students to take what they learn from her mother at school and apply it to situations outside the classroom.
“I really want the students to kind of have that light-bulb-going-off moment of, ‘Oh, all the things that Mrs. Sims teaches us in writing, such as supporting our ideas with details or making a clear argument with valid reasons,’ that they see that that can apply in other places rather than just the classroom,” Sarah said. “ They can begin to think of their entire community – and outside the community obviously, since we’re in Kansas City – as learning spaces; that they would use those skills and find that they’re transferrable.”