|Abstract:||This photography-based art project (the “Project”) seeks to reflect on how current art educational practices facilitate learning processes in a multicultural school community. This study explores teaching and learning strategies through a series of photography-based workshops included in the art curriculum of Stratton Academy of the Arts Elementary School (“Stratton School”).
The Project was organized and led by a photographer/artist who was invited not only to be involved in teaching practices but also to contribute her professional experience in furtherance of the educational goals of Stratton School. The students - voluntary participants in choice-based art studios - had the opportunity to participate in the Project outside of regularly scheduled classroom activities.
To understand the Project’s impact in the Stratton School community and specifically in visual arts instruction, I used participatory action research (PAR) as an interpretative method to explore what makes art an effective learning strategy within an elementary school curriculum. Initially, seeking to engage the Stratton School community, thirteen student volunteers were involved, joined by their parents and teachers. Participants involved in the Project were taught several in art photography-based workshops. These workshops aimed to stimulate the participants to make observations, to engage in critical inquiry, and to experiment with photographic media techniques and concepts centered on themes of identity, self-recognition, and inclusion.
Using principles of social justice as a theoretical framework and as a pedagogical tool, I engaged participants in activities such as questioning, connecting, locating, and translating their personal experiences through learning to the practice of making photographs. These activities contributed to the participants’ recognition of the school community as a site where they interacted among themselves through collaborative artistic practice and where they reached mutual understanding through individual artistic expression. Some of the social justice principles included in the Project contributed to a better school environment by encouraging participants to develop self-confidence, critical thinking, and problem solving. The Project also motivated participants to reflect together through the creation of images within the workshops as active participants in the cultural and artistic enrichment of the Stratton School community.
Equally important, I used the phenomenology theory as a principle to achieve a description of a particular experience (John Creswell, 2013). Phenomenology helped me to analyzes student’s creative ideas, perceptions, and actions inside the workshops and also my personal understanding and teaching procedures during the preparation and implementation of the photography-based workshops. By incorporating the Project into the art curriculum of Stratton School, students’ engagement was meaningful both in participation and in image-making. The photographic media allowed them to produce a great variety of technically and conceptually rich and creative images all of them with their own personal meaning. Also, students learned technical, historical, and creative principals of photography and gained an appreciation of photography as a form of art capable of conveying high artistic and cultural values.
The experience acquired during the Project, the potential contribution of artistic photography to other areas of knowledge, and the level of engagement of the participants clearly show the need to include photography as a class subject in the visual arts curriculum for elementary students. This research provides an example of a photography-based course that can be included in any school curriculum and urges that this be accomplished.
The Project sets forth a plan to improve elementary visual art curricula, a critical goal in a time when students and citizens passively consume ever more intrusive and polemical images and guided in their interpretation and response to them.