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Arts Integration, Lesson 3: Adding Color to Color Poems

Painting with soft pastels on black paper makes a beautiful image. It also comes with its share of challenges, which Third Graders at Willow Creek Academy discussed with Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal as they prepared to add color to their poetry illustrations. Students contemplated words like self-control and restraint before they began to draw. They talked about using multiple colors to create richer images, and reflected on their knowledge of color mixing (soft pastels really are like paint, and it is just as easy to blend yellow and blue to make green). We again brainstormed on our design choices:

“What color is featured in my poem?”

“How will I show that?”

“What colors will add contrast to make my featured color POP?”

“I noticed that drawing with chalk is fun, but painting is easier. My drawing turned out good.”–Rachel

Arts Integration, Week 2: Illustrating a Color Poem

Students have been working hard on their COLOR poems in Language Arts Class. They used what they learned in our Exploring an Orange lesson to add more descriptive words to their poems. This week in art class, students chose the strongest line from their poem as the subject for their illustration on black paper.

We compared the word “composition”: how do we compose WORDS to make a strong poem? How do we compose a PICTURE to make a strong image? What is most important about our picture? Where should it be placed? How big will it be?

We sketched first, then we drew with glue.

After, students were asked to REFLECT: “What did you NOTICE about drawing with glue?”

“When you paint with glue, be careful: you can smudge.”

“I noticed that painting with glue is not easy at all, and painting with glue is fun and sticky!”

“Painting with glue is art. Glue is hard to control.”

“I notice it is harder than using paint. Also, you can get more texture using glue.”

Practicing Blind Contour Drawing with Fall Leaves: We again brainstormed descriptive words using SIGHT, SMELL, SOUND, and TOUCH ( we didn’t TASTE the leaves!)

Arts Integration, Week 1: How can we use more of our SENSES to tell the Whole Story?

Willow Creek’s 3rd graders are exploring ways to use all of their senses to tell a more complete story (in their descriptive non-fiction, myths, and poetry). Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal has been working closely with third grade teachers Anne Siskin and Maya Creedman to create an in-depth project combining fine art techniques with writing lessons to enhance stories. In class, students have been writing in-depth poems about a color. In our first art meeting, we began by writing 3 things we know about an orange, and then drawing one from memory.

“An orange is orange.”

“An orange is round.”

“It is fat.”

Then each child was given an orange, and together we brainstormed words describing what we could see, smell, feel, hear, and taste of our orange. Students then practiced blind contour drawing (learning to tell our hand to draw what our eye actually sees, not what we remember). And finally, children drew their oranges again, and wrote three more sentences about them. The results were amazing:

“Oranges are sweet, sour, and juicy.”

“If you split an orange in half, it looks like it has guts inside.”

“I felt delighted when I tasted the orange.”

6th grade Earth Science collaboration: A Pop-Up Book Exploring Plate Tectonics

Sixth grade scientists at Hall Middle School explored paper engineering and pop-up techniques to create a pop-up book illustrating the movement and concept of plate tectonics.

Two years ago, Mentor Artist Katy Bernheim collaborated with science teacher Ted Stoeckley to design a way to teach students about plate tectonics using paper engineering and pop-up techniques.  They decided to focus on the layers of the earth, subduction, strike/slip faults, and the movement of Pangaea, with an optional sea floor spreading.  After much trial and error, Katy was able to develop a model that the students would work from.

Because of time constraints and the challenges of accurately illustrating the movement of the earth’s plates, they designed the project as a model for the students to work towards, with step-by-step instructions.

Students began with paper exploration, playing with different first- and second-generation pop-up techniques.  They learned folding and creasing, and clarified how to use a ruler as a measuring devise as well as a straight edge.  They made stair steps, and frogs, and thrones, and repeating patterns out of brightly colored card stock.  The kids experimented, adding cuts and folds, and even adding their pop-ups together to make more elaborate patterns and structures.

The pages in the books began as legal-sized file folders cut in half.  Students started with the subduction of the South American Plate by the Nasca Plate.  First, they cut a long rectangular first-generation pop-up, and added a second-generation pop-up on one end.  This would be the foundation for the plates to ride on.  Next they cut strips to extend the pop-up foundation.  Finally, they cut out photocopies of the South American Plate and the Nasca Plate.  Students placed and glued the Nasca Plate first, then folded in (or un-popped) the page to position the South American Plate.  Because of the difference in height and length of the two strips, when the book is opened, it looks as if the smaller Nasca Plate is moving under the South American Plate (to create the Andes Mountains!).  There were lots of oohs and ahhhs as the students opened and closed their pages.  It was challenging for many kids, due to the precise nature of the instruction, with measuring and cutting along the lines, but when they got it, they were ecstatic.

Next, the class tackled the break up and movement of one large continent, Pangaea, into several of the continents we know today.  The students had a photocopy of South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica and the Indian Subcontinent that included illustrations of the fossil record that had helped prove the theory of plate tectonics.  They cut out each continent, and arranged them to form the original super continent, like putting together a puzzle.  Next they cut out and folded a first-generation strip in a new page of the book.  They glued South America to the popped-up rectangle, folded it in, and positioned Africa right next to the “un-popped” South America.  When students opened their books, South American moved left, away from Africa.  Next they prepped three supporting strips for the remaining continents.  Placing these continents in their completed-puzzle format next to Africa, they folded, positioned and glued the strips so that each continent could be pulled with a pull tab away from Africa, in the direction the continents ultimately landed.

On the facing page, students used California to illustrate a strike/slip fault.  They cut out the state, and cut off the section of California that is part of the Pacific Plate, along the San Andreas Fault.  They cut out bendable legs for each “plate,” attached pull tabs, and made sure the legs were glued in such a way as to move the sections in the correct direction: the Pacific Plate slice moving northwest, i.e. to the upper left of the page, and the North American Plate section moving southeast, or to the lower right.

Finally, students created a flip tab to show the layers of the earth.  They cut out a circle filled with concentric circles illustrating the earth’s layers.  They folded this in half, and glued one half to a third page in the book.  Next they cut out a round drawing of the earth, added a “fold” tab, folded that all in half, and glued it half of it to the layers, and half to the book page, making a page-within-the-page.

For students who finished early, Katy offered a model of sea floor spreading for them to experiment with for an extra page in their books.

The students added text to explain the theory of Plate Tectonics to their pop-up illustrations (from Science class and as homework).  They glued the pages back-to-back, and created a cover.  The kids put a huge amount of work into their books.  In the end they had a product they were proud of, and they had learned and internalized the concepts of Plate Tectonics more deeply than had they only read about it.  In practicing the paper engineering techniques, they now have skills to take to other art, science, or writing projects in the future.

Listening and Responding

Last year I wrote a blog suggesting that students’ behaviors should whenever possible be seen as an attempt to communicate. I encouraged my fellow teaching artists to:


1. Find the hidden messages in “behaviors” or “breakdowns”

Those of us that work with special needs students are very familiar with behaviors or breakdowns.  Initially the crying, repetitive gestures and outbursts from these students may seem random, but they rarely are.  These students have no way of saying “I don’t like this song,” or “The volume is too high.” Ask yourself:

What activity preceded the outburst?

Has this happened before?

What did you or the classroom staff do that calmed the student?

When does this student seem most content?

Sometimes there are even messages in the sounds and words said while in the midst of a tantrum.  One of my students “J” threw a tantrum in one of my classes, and after close listening, I realized that he was yelling, “e-i-e-i-o.” He wanted to sing Old MacDonald but didn’t have the vocabulary to express it.  So we sang Old MacDonald and he was immediately calmed.

 2. “Read” your audience.

A  great many skills we develop as performers are transferable to teaching special needs students.  One such skill is being able to “read” your audience.  After a while we instinctively know when to slow down, speed up or drop a section completely.  The same goes for working with students.

If you find your students engaged in a song, repeat it.  This populations thrives on repetition, and those with language processing delays will have an opportunity to learn your material.  On the other hand, if the class is losing focus or individuals are starting to show behaviors, find a quick stopping place and move on.  It takes patience and flexibility to work with special needs kids, and sometimes no matter how wonderful your lesson plan is, you may have to make a quick change.

3. Your greatest resource: The classroom teacher

The special day class teachers are an amazing group of individuals who know their students extremely well. Ask them for advice and listen to them when they make suggestions.

This year I have been considering the difficult situation when I realize what a student is trying to communicate and I have to decide to honor the request or continue with the class.  For instance, if a student breaks down in the middle of a song, is it best to stop the song or continue in the hopes that ignoring the behavior will not reinforce it.  The simplest answer I have come up with is to look to the classroom teacher for advice, but I am realizing that being a teaching artist with the same children over several years and sometimes through several classrooms can help in this situation.  We are in the unique situation of knowing students on a very deep level and can plan and react accordingly sometimes even surprising the classroom teachers. There was a specific instance where we were singing a song, and one fo the students was obviously not enjoying the experience. The classroom teacher and I looked at each other considering what to do.  I shared that in the past if I get to the next verse, this child usually calmed down.  We tried it, and it worked!

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Four Classes, Five Teachers and a Huge Range of Abilities

This was my sixth year teaching Music and Movement in Youth in Arts’ VSA program, and I was lucky enough to be assigned to work with four amazing teachers, Rockne Beeman, Laura Becker, Meriam Grainer Cox and Jessica Leaper.  We had a wonderful time singing, dancing, playing and learning.

Rockne Beeman’s class of upper elementary students were a challenging  joy to teach. He has a class of students with a variety of behaviors and levels of engagement.  Some students would fully participate and sit in the circle and others would listen from different parts of the room.  What was most facinating this year was that the students who had worked with me previously would suddenly focus and fully participate when they heard specific familiar songs.  One such song was A Rig-a-Jig, a song that requires students to dance with a teacher and/or myself.  Their favorite song by far was “Goin on a Bear Hunt,” where we would practice phonemes that are difficult for the students while we marched around and dance.

Another discovery was that certain students who had previously been non-verbal are now speaking and even singing.  The photo below shows one of these students singing his favorite “penny game” song.

"Penny Game"

Laura Becker and Carla Victoria’s elementary special day classes were combined for a wonderfully large group every week.  They accomplished a great deal over the course of ten weeks. The biggest challenge with these two groups was the fact that their abilities were so vastly different.  Laura’s students need a great deal of assistance physically.  All were in wheel chairs or other supportive devises and were not able to move on their own.  Carla’s class was very active and needed to be constantly stimulated or they would lose focus.  The best strategy I found for working with these two classes was to pair Carla’s most active students with Laura’s most inactive.  They became “helpers” and danced and sang to the students who did not have the ability to participate in that way.

Meriam Grainge-Cox’s students were the most high functioning of my groups this year and they were able to perform quite complicated musical phrases despite the fact that they were 3 and 4 year olds.  My focus with this group was to create a class where they could learn to be autonomous and run as much of the class as possible. This was very successful, and the last day of class was almost completely run by the young students

Jessica Leaper’s class was incredibly fun.  They absolutely loved singing train songs and their favorite activity was dancing to Greg and Steve’s Choo Choo. There are a number of autistic students in this class, so I focused primarily on creating a clear routine over the course of the first couple weeks. As they grew more comfortable with the progression of the class. I was able to add more complex music and movement problems for them to solve.  By the end of the 10 weeks the class was at a point of running most of the activities themselves.

All in all it was a fantastic school year, and each of these classes and their teachers made it an exciting experience.


YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Renaissance Drawing at Davidson Middle School

As part of the 7th Grade Social Studies curriculum, I presented a two-day workshop at Davidson Middle School on Renaissance drawing techniques.

After discussing the apprenticeship system of artist training and the tools and techniques used by the dominant artists of the period, students chose a print by Michelangelo or Leonardo DaVinci to copy. This was one of the most common exercises a Master artist would give their apprentice!

We started by drawing a measured grid on colored charcoal paper, and then we copied the master drawings square-by-square to our drawing paper using charcoal and/or conte pencils. Students don’t need advanced drafting skills to do this…one just has to break down the images into lines and shapes, a little bit at a time. This process forces the draftsperson to observe very closely, and the students were surprised with the accuracy of their drawings!

Youth in Arts “Travel the World” programs provide professional arts instruction linked to K-8 History/Social Studies curriculum. Click here to download a flyer on programs you can bring to your school next year.


Davidson Students Travel the World with Youth in Arts!

The 6th grade students at Davidson Middle School have been learning about Ancient Cultures in their Social Studies classes, and through our Passport event, their curriculum came to life! Throughout the day, every 6th grade Social Studies class took turns participating in a one hour long immersion into art forms of Ancient Cultures, engaging in both Visual and Performing Arts Activities.

Chinese Lion Dancers introduced students to the gongs, symbols, drums and dance movements of Ancient China; scaring off evil spirits with loud music and movements. Participants were given the opportunity to play the instruments and even get inside the Lion to dance!

YIA Mentor Artist Michelle Levy gave students a glimpse into the music of Ancient Mesopotamia and the Roman Empire, including the rebab, vielle, violin, saz (Turkey), Tambura (Macedonia), drums including dumbek, frame drum, riqq and the zurna. Students learned to count in different time signatures and the significance of various instruments in ancient time.

Students also participated in various styles of classical Persian dances with Shahrzad Khorsandi. Moving to the beats of the Daf (a traditional Persian frame drum), dancers moved in unison, learning social dance steps, hand movements and even a new way to snap their fingers!

For Visual Arts, students also explored two different activities.

YIA Mentor Artist Gabrielle Gamboa presented the ancient Greek art of Sgraffito – a technique traditionally used to adorn clay vessels, produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors, and then in either case scratching so as to produce an outline drawing. Students explored this by etching designs in Magic Paper.

In honor of the ancient Japanese art form of Chinese Brush Painting, YIA Mentor Artist Julia James taught students the various techniques of using Japanese brushes and traditional mulberry paper to create images of Mount Tam.

Every sixth grade student had the opportunity to participate in each activity, and most of them did exactly that! Students flowed seamlessly from one activity to the next, absorbing the information and partaking in the festivities. It was indeed a wonderful Passport to explore our artistic world!

Success for Tam High performers!

This past weekend May 17 & 18 Arts Unite Us premiered an original production which combined educator Ben Cleaveland’s advanced theatre students and students from educator Michael Lovejoy’s Special Day Classroom.  Students engaged in a collaborative theatre program, written, created, designed and performed by the youth under the leadership of Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs.  The packed performances received standing ovations and praise from all involved.

Tam High student creators Victor, Glyn, Julia, Jake, Cate, James, Maribel have some words to share with you about their experience writing, directing, producing and performing as an integrated ensemble of young artists from Conservatory Theatre Ensemble and Marin County Office of Education!

We took two of the most atypical programs in the county, and mashed them together, and it was extraordinary.”

At the beginning, “I was a little afraid of making new friends. I wasn’t sure we would get a long but by week two I felt so welcomed into the process.”

Spring rehearsal

“I liked rehearsing, all the exercises and breaking up the scenes.” Working hard together in rehearsal was “one of the reasons the performance went so well. But even when things on stage didn’t go so well we were there for each other.”

“It went perfectly! I wasn’t nervous. For this one I wasn’t nervous coming into the process knowing whatever happened would happen and it will be great. Something different will happen and you have to react accordingly.”

“It was more about the process more than the product. That is something I’ve learned to value the most.”

Together on stage

My feeling in performance “its good!”  I felt “happy”.  But “the writing part.  I like it cause the writing part was hard, the best.”

“I liked the acting part cause I like to dress up.”

Rehearsing a favorite scene

“It was a different experience. I felt really accomplished afterwards.”

One student was scared to go on stage for his cue with the packed audience. He finally worked up the courage and exited the stage whoop!ing it up! He said afterwards “I felt great!  And happy!  And I did my line!”  He was also quick to praise his classmate’s funny delivery of his lines.

Another student praised her castmate too, “Maribel inspired me.  I know she was always there for me on stage and as a writer.”

“I want to keep doing my lines!”

Actors playing campers

One of the co-directors had an interesting insight; before seeing the play some Tam High peers seemed to plan on “seeing it as if it was a kids show. It was like they didn’t really want to see or really think about it. I don’t know what to do to change that.”  You want to know what to do to change that?  You are doing it!

Other people would say our collaboration is going to be “so cute or sweet.”  When people talked about the play preparation in a patronizing way “I got angry and stopped talking. It was discouraging.”  Another said “you just have to see us working in rehearsal to know our work is just as hard, just as good!” But “The people who saw it and really thought about it, they loved it. They felt something. One guy said he had a horrible day and our play made him happy!  They saw we worked so hard for so long together. We made people think and feel something!  And I think that’s like the whole point of theatre.”

A moment backstage

Feedback on campus was super positive all around. “A lot of people say they heard it was good even if they didn’t see it. People were really talking about it, like, everywhere. Everyone said it was really entertaining to watch.” The audience “liked the ensemble aspect of it. How we were there for each other.”

Castmates and friends

“Everyone was so generous with themselves. Everyone put their peers before themselves but still worked hard on their work, their part of the pie. I think the world could use a little more of that. We put so much of ourselves and risked so much and the audience got to see that.”

“I know what we should do for our next play…”

Well… this project may be over, but high school students of all abilities from across the Bay Area are invited to apply for admission to a groundbreaking new integrated Dramatic Art Project (iDAP). This two-week intensive will be led by a professional artist and will culminate in a live multi-media performance. This is the beginning of the Youth in Arts Performance Company.

Your world isn’t typical.
Your art shouldn’t be either.
Exceptional young people with diverse experiences and abilities collaborate to produce an original piece of dramatic art. Explore elements of playmaking and filmmaking in this exclusive intensive at Youth in Arts in San Rafael this summer. Create an impactful live performance using forms of theatre and digital filmmaking.

Mentor Artist Melissa Jones Briggs will guide a small ensemble of students as they explore their collective authentic dramatic voice. Young artists will also work with professional guest artists to create, design, produce and perform an original piece of dramatic art. The Project meets at Youth in Arts Studio in San Rafael July 22nd - August 2nd, M-F, 10AM-3PM.

Many voices, one story: come share yours!
Apply @ youthinarts.org/idap

Project Based Learning: Designing a Compass Rose with Third Graders at Willow Creek Elementary

A Compass Rose is the diagram on a historical map that points the way north. The Compass Rose is also a way for a map maker to express themselves. So how can we tell future map readers about ourselves (as mapmakers) with our own personal Compass Rose? Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal worked with third grade teachers Anne Siskin and Maya Creedman at Willow Creek Academy to design this art project integrating Social Studies (mapping the local area), Math (fractions), and Art (self expression, drawing, composition and design).

What is most important to us? That idea should be facing True North, as marking is the most prominent aspect of a compass rose. What is also important? Draw those images around the edges. The Compass Rose can be your signature as a map maker.

Basketballs, puppies, paintbrushes, flowers, baseballs… What can you find in the pictures below? What would point north on your own personal Compass Rose?

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