The Priority of Wonderings and Wanderings: MoMA- Art and Inquiry Final Project

I am never sure exactly why I sign up for MOOCS as I continue the search for a teaching job, but I am always pleasantly surprised as I have been with this class.  As ever, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate with others in so valuable a course.

The field of education is undergoing a sometimes quiet but often boisterous revolution which can lead the connected, networked and perceptive teacher to many “wonderings” and “wanderings” about the intricacies of the profession.  Regardless of the answers to all the troublesome and insightful questions we have, I think it is of utmost importance to continue asking the questions.  So in that spirit, I recently I followed up on this tweet:

That tweet led me to guest blogger Nancy White on techlearning.com.  One of her insightful suggestions is  starting off a unit or a topic at the beginning of the year with the simple question, “What do you wonder?”  You don’t get much more open-ended!  However, all that “wondering” may imply some “wandering” so to speak, and that can be very difficult when we have a specific goal in mind or are required “by the powers that be” to teach certain information.   Perhaps with a little more “wondering” and “wandering” we may get to the grain of what inspires a student to learn in their own way.

So in thinking about this final project, I asked myself, ” What does it mean to wonder or to wander and how can I integrate this meandering stream of consciousness into my art inquiry final project and into my teaching approach as a whole?”

Then fortuitously enough I came across Cathleen Nardi’s Google + link to Guadelupe de la Mata’s blog which links  to a document on The Art of Powerful Questions in which his visual proved helpful in thinking about formulating questions for art inquiry:

Screen shot 2013-08-21 at 2.47.56 PM

As this class  has given me the opportunity to think more about how I can encourage students through open-ended questions to use language in both spoken and written form to express their ideas about what they see and the connections that can be made to literature, the world around them as well as the world within them, I came up with the following plan.

Being a literature and language teacher, I have often looked for visual representations and viewing activities that I could integrate into classes that tend to relate to themes or vocabulary in stories.  So for the final project  I have decided to create a unit on the broad theme of “Tradition and Society” at the beginning of which students view Girl with a Pearl Earring (Het Meisje met de Peral) by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer as a pre-reading and viewing activity which would lead to a discussion of the themes in either a Contemporary Studies (Humanities elective course) or an English B course (for the IB program).

For this piece of artwork, first and foremost students will be asked to form groups and be encouraged to brainstorm “I wonder” statements about the piece that they are viewing, which they will share with the rest of the class.  This would preferably be done in a school garden or auditorium where larger copies  of the paintings can be displayed.  This would also encourage movement (students move around -up close to and away from the artwork) as I find that thoughts move more freely when when one allows for the free and uninhibited movement of the body. Then students will use the links below on flipgrid.com (thanks for the tweet about this site Amy Burvall) to record their responses to three open ended questions regarding the painting. After everyone has posted their responses students will be asked to go back and listen to other student’s perspectivies on the artwork as a homework assignment.  The teacher will also do the same.  The following day, students and teachers will engage in a class discussion of the artwork and some of the factual details surrounding it as well as their observations and “wonderings” and “wanderings”about the artwork.

After the initial viewing and responding activitity, the class will read and discuss Tracy Chevalier’s  Girl with a Pearl Earring which is a fictional account of the girl behind the painting and lends itself to discussion of the traditions, mores, and society of 17th century Holland in which a young servant girl learns about the process of art and tensions surface often in this highly structured Dutch society where everyone has a place and Catholics and Protestant ideologies conflict.

Upon completing the reading and discussion, I will repeat and perhaps modify the instructions (depending on how the first part went) for the Vermeer painting  and have the students use them on a modern take on the Dutch masterpiece done by the young Israeli artist Limor Betzalel (who we discovered while taking EDCMOOC).  As this artwork is a modern take on Vermeer’s work, the traditions, mores and society reflected in the work lend itself to a compare and contrast discussion of both pieces of art.

So this brings me to the end of this blog post, and I there is something I am thinking about as I am writing.   Being without a teaching post, I find these experiments in lesson plans are now always hypothetical and do not offer the automatic feedback one gets when one is actually in a classroom with a group of students, so, I wonder if some of my coursera peers might be kind enough to  give me some constructive feedback:)

(The opened ended questions for the students’ spoken responses are linked here below:)

419px-Johannes_Vermeer_(1632-1675)_-_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665) Limor_Betzalel_1

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3 Responses to The Priority of Wonderings and Wanderings: MoMA- Art and Inquiry Final Project

  1. Ary Aranguiz says:

    Maureen, what a wonderful lesson! We have two things in common. We’re both literature and language teachers, and we’re both without teaching posts. (Although I miss it terribly, I remain ambivalent about returning.) Anyway, I love everything about this lesson because you integrated tech and all aspects of language arts. All the activities involve high order thinking, reading/writing/speaking which are so critical, and opportunities to respond as individuals, pairs and whole class. Students will be exposed to a multicultural art inquiry experience (which many American schools fail to provide…even in IB) by learning about the lives and artworks of Vermeer and Betzalel. At first glance, the modern take seems not much different, a photograph version of the original, but the art of close looking will spark many rich conversations among students about cultural mores, traditions, society and more, as you mentioned. If we were both teaching, imagine an online collaboration where our E/LA students discussed these pieces through Flipgrid, and then worked together to find classic or even modern pieces to create their own original spin offs. Thanks again for a thought-provoking post, and I urge you to check out teacherspayteachers.com where you can share outstanding lessons like these and get paid for doing so!

  2. So nice to meet you Maureen. While we have been crossing paths (#EDCMOOC, #ART&INQUIRY, #CICMOOC, this is the first blog of yours that I have had an opportunity to read. Indeed, we are kindred spirits: I used to have your blog quote as part of my email signature, I love Eric Sheninger and appreciate your link to his blog, and I also follow Nancy White. I am also an educator seeking to redefine myself as I have relocated to Hawaii. I have been experimenting with MOOCs since January and see the power of MOOC process. It is about creating connections, establishing your digital identity, and creating a Personal Learning Network. Everything you are doing, including the “hypothetical lesson plan” for #art&inquiry is making you a better teacher. So keep reflecting, and start QuadBlogging in #CICMOOC. I appreciate your insights, and love the fact that the Art of Powerful Questions gave you the inspiration for your final project. Did I mention that I love “Girl with a Pearl Earring?”

  3. danceswithcloud says:

    Hi Maureen, I’ve been crossing your path as well – and this is my first finding of your blog. I do really like your lesson plan – especially the leap off point upon the art of wondering – and the joy of trying to harness the wondering for your lesson plan. You succeeded. Best wishes, Sandra

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