This Thursday night, Wildwood’s 5th grade students will exhibit their artwork to their families, friends, and teachers. The theme for their work is “identity” and the pieces are very personal—the subjects are the students themselves.
This week I spend time with a group of Wildwood 5th graders as they finalized their projects with visual arts teachers, Kendra Elstad, Kusum Nairi, and Michael Fujikawa. I also discover that these students’ work is all about blending; both the literal blending of colors, as well as the blending of two curricula—5th grade visual arts and language arts.
For years, the visual arts teachers have collaborated with 5th grade language arts teachers Sandi Crozier and Leslie Troy to incorporate her curriculum’s theme of identity into student work. With Sandi and Leslie, students explore the theme through creative writing—both prose and poetry. In visual arts the students study and practice a variety of painting techniques, including color blending, tinting, and shading. The result: the students create a variety of pieces that represent their individual identities—what people can see on the outside, as well as what they can’t see on the inside.
“One of the first challenges we give the kids for this project,” Kendra explains, “is to blend colors to match what they see as their skin tone.” She says that there’s a science to color blending that really engages her students. “Some kids test their blend by putting a little on their hands until they create a match.” Then they paint a small canvas with their color blend.
A few days earlier, in language arts class, students get a head start on another piece for their exhibition, responding to a writing prompt: If you were to choose a color(s) that expressed you and/or how you feel on the inside, what would it(they) be? Why? When they get to visual arts class, the students build masks out of cardboard or paper mache and paint them the colors they chose to write about. First, they paint with a base color and then, using their new color blending skills, add lighter colors to create a tint and darker colors to create a shade of their base.
During my visit, 5th grader Toochi B. shows me his mask; “green,” he tells, “with hints of gold.” Toochi chose green as his base color because, he tells me, “it brightens up my world when I’m not feeling great.” Fellow 5th grader Henry C.’s mask is baby blue. Why? “It represents peaceful, happy and fun all at the same time,” he shares. “I remember it from when I was little; it’s always been very soothing.”
While 5th grade classes have been doing this cross-disciplinary project for a few years, Sandi says “we like to take it in a different direction every year.” For this year’s twist, Sandi shared with her visual arts colleagues the idea of having students write their responses to the color writing prompt on a clear transparency, which they then overlay on their skin tone canvas. “The idea,” Sandi explains, “is that if you could see through to the inside of a heart and mind, or see the color of emotions and feelings, what might you see?”
The answers, for this year’s 5th graders, are not only visually appealing, but also a very personal reflection of what makes our students unique—both inside and out.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning