Thursday, May 3, 2012

Great Inches in Art

Inspired by Thomas Newkirk's The Art of Slow Reading, I worked with my 8th grade students on individual lines from Anne Frank's text.  In our writer's notebooks, we created short lists of self-selected lines of text that we liked or found interesting.

Lines of text could be a full sentence or two to anything clipped from within any piece of text written by Anne Frank.

The challenge was to treat one of Anne's line as a "golden line" of text, to borrow from Kelly Gallagher's Teaching Adolescent Writers.  In the past, we have extracted our own lines of texts where we explore what idea, concept, big picture, we were really writing about.  Now, we are asking ourselves what idea, concept, big picture, Anne was really writing about.

I asked the students to create a bumper sticker of the selected line of text written by Anne Frank.  With this, use imagery to help the reader see the line through your eyes.  Avoid imagery that is decoration or window dressing--find a way through imagery, color, text manipulation, to show the reader how you feel, interpret, think about the line.

In his book, Newkirk shares the anecdote about a colleague who, when reflecting on the practice of students focusing on one small piece of a novel asked, "What's next, great inches in art?"  I laugh--I'm really fond of that line.  However, I have found that by slowing down and opening up the conversation to hear, read, and see what my students hear, read, and see in the text we have found a rich and meaningful experience (in my mind) accessible to all.

My mentor text / bumper sticker (above) included a spelling error in the word "contradiction" that I completely missed!  An eagle-eyed student pointed it out to me.  Another told me to pass it off as an intentional contradiction. That gaffe aside, my piece includes drawn faces of many different emotions and lines of text behind them--I included many of Anne's emotional statements.  It was intended to be a reflection or study of her wide mood swings and tender temperament.

On the back, I included a reflection of the line and the imagery I chose--essentially I am trying to make connections for my readers.  I'm digging deep into why this line all of us.

I learned, through a mixed bag of final products, that some of my students struggled with the concept of using imagery, manipulated text, and color as a way to work with the text beyond just decoration.  Of course, this leads into all kinds of discussions about media and the influences we encounter everyday online, in the car, on television...everywhere.

In the mix of student work samples below,  I included five sample that I felt achieved at least some success visually.  You'll find a mixed bag regarding the reflections included on the back of each piece:

It only takes one bomb...
This bumper sticker caught my attention for the possibilities beyond the cranky scrawl of a boy for a couple of reasons--what he observed and the connections he made.  The starkness of his lettering on the front feels so appropriate for the plain, somber, message.  Furthermore, the student equates the term bomb as a potential metaphor for mistake.

(segment of student text) I choose this quote because it represents something more than a single bomb.  Any one movement, one noise, one accident or even as the quote suggests one bomb could spell doom for them all.  A movement or noise could alert (illegible) in the shop below, who would turn in the Franks to Nazi S.S. forces.

When will we be granted the privilege of fresh air...
 I found myself really pleased with the focus on the lush green nature of this bumper sticker.  It feels soft.  It looks pleasant.  And there, dominating it all, the word "privilege" looms and puts nature and fresh air into a fresh perspective.  To be fair, we had been discussing this concept (Anne and nature) and had looked at this quote as a class.

(segment of student text) This quote hit me because we don't normally think of trees and grass as a privilege.  We take advantage of things like this and its weird to think that it takes being trapped inside for 2 years for someone to realize this.


I firmly believe that nature brings solace to all troubles...
Here I found myself drawn to the image of the girl, alone in nature, complimented by the bold text of "believe" and "solace"...when I think of Anne, I return her longing for someone to hold onto and her profound conviction that happiness can be found through the sun, the trees, the air...finally, I love the clouds.  How often do younger students include fluffy white clouds into an outdoorsy image?  These are like puddles of eggplant, oil slicks...they move, in my mind, across the gloaming.

(segment of student text) This quote reminds me of every sunset I've ever seen.  I imagine the sliver of the oranges, yellow sun in the center surrounded by the reds and pinks that blend together until they fade into purples and black.  I am reminded of all the places that  have the best sunsets, like the beaches in the Outer Banks and the shores in Hawaii and the Chesapeake Bay.  As the memories come flooding back I remember the sense of comfort and warmth that sunsets have always given me. 

Himmelhoch jauchzend und zum tode betrubt. - Goethe
On top of the world or in the depths of despair.
 The image speaks to beauty and destruction, freedom and containment, fragility and severity.  Inside the bird, the student wrote "On top of the world." Hugging its feet, the words "or in the depths of despair seem to cling to barbed wire themselves.  Adding to the feel of the piece for the reader is the simple tone of the colors of graphite and paper along with the text written in German.  It  makes me feel uncomfortable and wary--yet, a sense of longing exists as my eye, after tracing the line of barbed wire back and forth, constantly comes back to the bird with its back to us...looking off to its right, off the page, unaware of us behind him.  Is it looking in, or out?  My gut tells me...out.

 (segment of student text)...Anne is torn between whether she's lucky or in a deathtrap.  The picture I drew "the bird on the barbed wire" symbolizes how the bird is free and on top of the world but if he takes the wrong step and isn't careful he could die.  In German "zum tode betrubt" translates into "in total silence."  Throughout Anne's diary she is conveying her sadness and longing to be free and happy once again.

What I could be if...
The manipulation of "if" strikes a melancholy chord.  I love the sunrise (or sunset?) behind and framing "if" and the fact that the long narrow lane fading into the horizon almost perfectly splits the dark and light diving the sky also seems appropriate.  The overall image makes me contemplate the line, for sure, but the combination of the sky and the word "if" asks me to dwell on the melancholy.

(segment of student text) Her usual hopelessness puts a great weight on five words that sometimes are used for trivial things, but in Anne's world she clung to a perfect place she would live in after being in hiding, that was, if she lived, if she would not be tortured, if she could make it past this traumatic experience mentally sound, but she didn't.

There is no smoke without fire...
Perhaps my favorite visually, the student looked surprised when I praised it.  A difficult task is to take a cliche such as "Where there is smoke there is fire" and create imagery with a relevant connection to the literature.  Although the image is only smoke and fire, there is something enormous, out of compass, and untenable about the message behind the image.  It elevates the line beyond the cliche and provides a slice of the horrific and shameful.  It makes me want to look at it.  It makes me think about the line of text as it pertains to Anne's situation...and then I read the student's reflection on the back.  And I am surprised again--the line comes from disagreements with Mrs. Van Daan over Anne's skirt length.  And I reflect again on the image and love it even more--the toothsome ranklings of a fourteen year-old girl!  I felt Anne's spirit when I read this student's reflection (below).

(segment of student text) In Anne's case, she is "immature" because her skirts are too short and she is too loud.  It shows you just easy it is to label someone personally wrong.  This quote connects to me because sometimes I feel the same way as Anne.  Some people see me as irresponsible because I like to have fun while doing something serious.  Its like someones personality affects on how other people see them, but then nothing happens without a reason, so sometimes I say if those people don't like me, then maybe its a sign that we weren't supposed to be friends.  Because if they do judge me without knowing me, that it isn't meant to be.

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