Located on a quiet corner in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, P.S. 84 Jose De Diego School’s facade displayed a handsome mural as befits an educational institution dedicated to the visual arts. A vibrant mosaic shone behind the security desk where I sign in each time I arrive for my classroom experience. I was assigned to a third-grade class with Phillip Berezney and Phyllis Capello as the Teaching Artists.
We started off with a Maori chant that also engaged the students’ bodies. My favorite part was the spirit of life and its accompanying gesture of stirring a pot. Then, Phyllis brought out her soprano ukulele, and the class sang a song called “If I Had the Wings of a Dove” for their regular teachers. I found myself joining those sweet voices. If I had the wings of a dove, If I had the wings of a dove I would fly, fly away…
I later realized Bob Marley performed this song, and the lyrics took on additional meaning. The guiding question for the lesson was “How can we connect our own interior landscapes to the physical landscapes of our school and city?” Though not explicitly discussed in class, Bob Marley is an example of an artist who responded to political unrest by using his creativity to promote peace and justice. On a micro level, students have been asked to think about “acts of kindness” among classmates.
We discussed the concept of being present in our lives. A student volunteered being “checked in.” The Teaching Artists tied this into the recurrent theme, “acts of kindness.” Students defined kindness as “smiling,” “helping each other out,” and “talking nicely.” Students were asked to complete the phrase “the __________ of love and caring.” Answers included “the spirit of love and caring,” the rainbow of love and caring,” and “the sweetness of love and caring.”
Eventually, the class will create an entire mural that will be exhibited on school grounds. The Teaching Artists have led up to this by having the students examine the relationship between poetry and visual art. In a previous lesson, students wrote zoom lens poems related to their community/neighborhood. For the uninitiated, zoom lens poems are three lines. The first line is a detail about the weather or time of year. The second line is a smaller place in the same area. The third line is one detail. Students made illustrations on postcards with water soluble pastels and then wrote their zoom lens poems on the back of their illustrated postcards. Below is an example of student work (name redacted).
the air > basketball yard > snowman
I loved that even though building a snowman is a cold-weather activity, this student used pink pastel everywhere. My role included making myself available to answer questions, provide encouragement, and offer suggestions. Illustrations varied in composition and color palette. However, like the example above, a lot of the work focused on what the student might see from far away. The following lesson will be centered on portraiture. I will be leading a lesson in February that will continue in that vein. I’m looking forward to it!