Making Connections in the Whole Language Classroom

Connecting Art, Literature, and Science With Turtles
Lori Jackson

Let me describe a typical Friday afternoon (one to two hours, generally not resulting in the finished project). This week we were working on a line project and learning to draw turtles. I find my students become much better drawers when they learn to slow down and to observe, but I am getting ahead of myself.

We began by reading Thirteen Moons on a Turtle's Back and discussing how the Lakota people used the moon rather than a calendar to define units of time. Our Lakota teacher was to have followed through on this for me, but he did not come Friday. We practiced saying turtle in Lakota (which I cannot do without my cheat sheet at school) and counted to thirteen in Lakota, to ten in song (which I can do) and then learning to go to thirteen.

It has been so dry, I was not successful in turtle capture (short term, observe and release), so we looked at some photographs. Noticing that the turtle is basically an oval, and another concentric oval for the shell, we began to draw. It isn't easy organizing that shape into 13 shells so I coach them a bit on noticing that there is an inner oval with three shells, and work together with them to show them how to divide the rest of the shell into ten shells. Using our sketchbooks - every child has one, just 25 sheets of newsprint stapled into a folder - we practiced drawing trutles from above.

We then read Mem Fox's Straight Line Wonder, which I discovered this summer and bought because it would be great for teaching my kids about the qualities of line. Students were then guided through the drawing steps we had arrived on as a class using 18x24 paper. We talked about some of the line qualities we noticed in the book, then I asked them to choose a shell, any shell, and practice that line inside that shape. We did this for about five shells and I was able to introduce terminology like straight, diaganal, corner, parallel and concentric. We also learned that a closed line creates a shape. A student, an especially shy student, volunteered that she knew how to draw stars after someone bemoaned that they could not. I asked her if she would teach anyone interested and she beamed as she complied! After they had filled each shell with a line, and having now been pronounced by me as 'Straight Line Wonders,' I asked them to use Sharpie Markers to trace over every pencil line in their drawings. I do this fairly often as it really helps them learn to control the instrument and brings control into their wrists--and beats the heck out of boring handwriting exercises.

Next week, we will learn to use watercolor wash (I have already taught them dry brush techniques) to fill each shell with color. Then we will cut them out. mount them on black and shadow cut them again. Throughout the lessons we are talking about how to use materials responsibly and safely, where we store the materials in the art center and some of the things we might do with the materials independently when they are in the art center.

I don't see this as fluff. I don't think fluff is always in the product, but in the process. Incidentally, we usually arrive on a nickname for our class and they want to be known as the 'Straight Line Wonders.'

I don't see any look alikes filling my walls, but do look for projects which support teaching
the elements of art, some that make good drawing projects, mixed media projects and so on for whole group instruction.


PPS During morning share the other day (art center hasn't opened yet), one little boy said he really liked all the art projects we do in this room and I commented that we really had only done one so far (Rainbow Fish, coming soon on my website). He grinned and said, "Yeah but I seen my sister's portfolio and we are going to do neat stuff!" I keep all the real artwork that is 2 dimensional in huge tag portfolios and for the spring artshow, they all select their personal favorites, writing a bit to explain why they like it and how they did it. Three weeks before school is out I send home invitations to pickup the portfolios along with suggestions for framing or matting finished work. Parents love it, getting a year's worth of well preserved art that shows their child's growth in control and rendering over the year. Kids love it--real artists keep portfolios and they are real artists. Parent pleasing? Oh, yeah, but I can live with that.

Lori Jackson has been teaching for nine years in Todd County, South Dakota. She is currently teaching as part of a 1-2 looping partnership. Her undergraduate work was complete at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, having accumulated too many credits not to, she is currently pursuing her master's degree in reading at Sinte Gleske University in South Dakota. She is a CGI trainer/mentor teacher and uses the philosophy of Whole Language to guide her classroom practice.

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