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Visual journals.

The Museum of Children's Art in Oakland, California, was recently awarded a grant to pilot an innovative art program called Discover Art, in two Oakland Public Schools. Given the reality of budget constraints, the classroom teacher must take on the primary responsibility for developing the visual literacy of her students in order for a substantial art program to become part of any school in Oakland. The aim of the Discover Art Program was to develop the classroom teachers' visual literacy by having artists model lessons in the classrooms while the teachers observed and participated, learning along with their students. The concept of Visual Journals was introduced at one of these model lessons at Markham Elementary School.

Warming up to Art

One of the artists was "warming up" his classes by having them spend ten minutes drawing whatever was on their minds. This seemed to have a calming effect on the children. In an inner-city school, students rarely express themselves in the school setting. These warm-ups were a nice outlet for them. Seeing the value of these visual warm-ups, I suggested that all classroom teachers might want to try doing Visual Journals with their students. My recommendation is to provide the students with about fifteen or twenty pieces of newsprint stapled between pieces of construction paper and to keep the directions for the journals simple.

Teachers who incorporated Visual Journals into their daily routine found the results very rewarding. A sixth grade teacher said she felt it created a focused way to start the day. A kindergarten teacher said it really settled the little ones down.

In the sixth grade, students kept their portfolios in their desks and worked on them daily during fifteen minutes of silence. Students were free to create any art of their choice using different art media such as crayons, colored pencils, markers, oil pastels, or watercolors. Each day the teacher encouraged them to continue working on pictures from the previous day.

Focusing on Progress

To introduce the journal activity, the teacher read a passage from a book describing a place or scene very vividly. The students then illustrated the passage. The teacher began to see that students' attention span increased. They became more focused, and were able to complete other educational tasks more quickly and correctly as a result of beginning their day in this positive way. They enjoyed journal time and recognized their progress.

At the beginning of the school year, many of the kindergarten children did not know how to use a pencil or crayon. The children had short attention spans. When they started drawing in their journals daily, their attention spans increased and they began to relax. The journals also gave the students a way to release feelings and to build self-confidence.


* This is silent drawing time.

* You have fifteen minutes to draw.

* You will not he asked to share your drawing.

* Draw carefully.

Arlene Shmaeff is an education director at the Museum of Children's Art in Oakland, California.
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Author:Shmaeff, Arlene
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1997
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