Photography, language and communication (a clil assignment)

A while back I wrote a couple of posts about an internationally orientated photography project that I was working on with my art teacher colleague Pasi in Finland. I have never really written a reflection on how the process went, although I think both Pasi and I already have a pretty good idea about the strengths and weaknesses of the setup we had.

The project placed its emphasis on several key points:

  • Learning about photography: using a camera in a considered way, appreciating what makes a good photograph, etc.
  • Writing in a descriptive way and a way that communicates ideas clearly
  • Creating a degree of collaboration and engagement between pupils at Pasi’s school in Finland and mine in the Netherlands.

There were several elements to the projects that we drew up, including the analysis of various forms of portrait photography that we encounter in our modern lives, from the selfie to the school photograph and the celebrity photograph to a wedding photograph. Pupils were also asked to look at images of power in a photographic sense and draw comparisons with how our politicians and leaders present themselves when looked at alongside painted portraits from the past.

But perhaps the most complex and engaging part of the project involved the Finnish pupils writing 200 word descriptions of photographic portraits made by contemporary Finnish photographers and my pupils doing likewise with Dutch examples.

We ended up with descriptions such as this:

The length of the photograph is a bit longer than the width. The background is completely black. The back of the person is touching the left side of the photograph. The person covers a little bit more than the left-half of the photograph. The head of the person is almost reaching the top and the body is cut off at the chest. We can only see the right side of the body and face. The female is looking down. She is wearing a black shirt with a v-neck so, we can see her right collar bone. The black shirt blends in with the background so we can’t really see the edges of the shirt. She is wearing earphones; the wire is underneath her middle finger and on top of the other fingers. Her hand is positioned relaxed in her chest. Under her left sleeve, we can see a little bit of her watch. She has dark-brown curly hair braided in a Dutch braid on top of her forehead, which becomes darker and blends in with the black background. She might be listening to classical music I think. She’s wearing an earring in her right ear. The light is coming from the bottom right corner, there’s shadow in her back and the rest of the left-top. The darkness is important in the picture, the picture is very dark and the face is very light. Her face is neutral and she isn’t smiling.

In this case written about this photograph by Dutch photographer Suzanne Jongmans.

The text was then sent off to Pasi’s school where a pupil then set about remaking the photograph without ever seeing the original and only having the short text about it to work with. The resulting pair of photographs looked like this with the Suzanne Jongmans photo on the left and the pupil’s work on the right:

It was a fascinating process not least for the big ‘reveal’ at the end where pupils get to see the original that they have been trying to reconstruct, and indeed the results that others had made based on the text that they had written.

In some cases, a number of photographs were made by different pupils using the same description, a process that showed further how language and interpretation played a significant role in the process.  The link below takes you to more extended documentation of the project:

project documentation(shortened)

For me, the most interesting part of this whole process is how it opens pupil’s eyes to the use of different forms of language in communication. The limitations of text and description often become quite visible and obvious to the pupils in this way. Their descriptive texts often aren’t nearly as absolute and concrete as they thought. Misinterpretation and misunderstanding is at times highlighted, which can certainly provide good learning experiences.

Alongside this is the more visual language of photography, the images we used were so much more that ‘just photos of people’. Each told its individual story, gave us a view into a real or maybe constructed world and highlighted the whole series of decisions that a photographer makes when setting up, framing, lighting and directing their subject before finally taking the photograph. This was of course a series of steps that the pupils could experience for themselves when making their new versions of the originals.

Danish visitors

From time to time I am asked to give presentations to and yesterday I did in The Hague so to a group of Danish teachers and head teachers who were interested to hear more about the form of bilingual education that we offer in our schools in The Netherlands.

I’d like to thank them for their active participation in my part of the day. I enjoyed the chance to share ideas and discuss future possibilities.

I promised to make my presentation material available as a reminder of some of the teaching activities I touched on.  The PowerPoint itself is quite brief, so also feel free to take a look elsewhere on this blog and in particular at the CLIL link higher up the page.

Click on the link below for the presentation:

danish-visitors-2017

Digitalization – finding the right fit

Forcing digitalization into education can be a painful affair. Some people might say ‘yes, that’s what they’re trying to do to the education situation that I work in!’  But that would be to misunderstand what I mean by forcing digitalization. I am absolutely for the use of digital technologies in education. What I mean though is that the use of computers, laptops, tablets and indeed phones have a place, of that I’m sure, but exactly what that place is may take time to find.

The school I teach at took a decision a few years ago to move to a form of computer aided education where every pupil works with their own iPad. I’ve been teaching art lessons with the possible digital dimensions that this offers for two and a half years now. Despite being one of the most progressive minded in the school when it comes to the iPad, I would also say that I am still finding my way with the device and uncovering the possibilities. It’s a fascinating process for me, and I think for my pupils.  Searching out for the opportunities where it offers extensions to a project, or perhaps simply something new and previously unconsidered.

A few of these curriculum enrichment situations have been exactly what I have been experiencing in the classroom this week and observing in the pupils results.

img_3089

Last year I worked for the first time on a children’s book design project with the fourteen to fifteen year olds that I teach. In short, the pupils write and make an illustrated story book in which an artwork that they have previously researched plays a starring role.

Last year, each group of three produced and entirely handmade book. Illustrations were made, text was added either by writing it out by hand or printing it out on the computer and collaging it on to the illustrated pages. The results were satisfactory and in some cases good, but the problem we encountered in integrating the text was a bit of a puzzle. The classes worked well, but without the luxury of having the iPad to combine the language element with the illustrations.

This year though the situation is different and it is fascinating to watch. Groups are sharing tasks, stories are being written, handmade illustrations are being produced using the traditional materials, the artworks are being photographed, digitally enhanced where necessary before being inserted into page layouts and finally the text from the story is then laid on top.

I’m not quite finished with the assignment yet, but I’ve seen enough already to know that this is an example of digitalization extending a project into new areas. Groups are working genuinely as groups, sharing tasks and discussing what they are doing and working with a high level of engagement to produce and end product.  What was a good project has become an excellent one through a well-fitting digital extra element.

For those who are interested, the app we are using for the layout is the excellent Design Pad By Quark.

A rebus as a CLIL (content and language integrated learning) activity

rebus
ˈriːbəs/
noun
1. a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters; for instance, apex might be represented by a picture of an ape followed by a letter X.

I’ve been experimenting with a short language and design assignment recently with my two classes of third years (14-15 years old) that I teach. As is often the case with a new idea or assignment, after the first use of the idea a little refining is necessary, but I think there is enough of a finished idea to share it here.
As the definition above a rebus is a mixture of images and text (often in the form of loose letters) that combine to represent a new word or phrase. The most surprising and satisfying rebuses are often those that make unexpected use of the phonetic sounds of particular sections of words.
The assignment was simple; create and illustrate your own rebus. This could be done as either a straight forward black and white, ink on paper illustration or made digitally on the pupils’ iPad or computer. I made a couple of clear requirements for the finished piece of work:
• The rebus itself must contain a minimum of at least two pictorial elements
• The rebus should be placed in front of an appropriate background
I offered an example of the word acrobat to illustrate the sort of possibilities I saw.

The language part of this assignment comes first in the working process. It is very much about opening your mind up to the way words are constructed and thinking about what visual possibilities may be on offer. You want your pupils to think hard and experiment for themselves. My suggestion is to do this part of the the work in class and under almost exam-like conditions. Do not allow your pupils to use their phones or other online devices. Typing ‘rebus’ into a search engine will throw up countless examples that the pupil most likely won’t be able to resist….and the language challenge in the assignment will as a result be largely lost. Instead you could perhaps give them all a dictionary to help them along!
Try also to encourage pupils away from the most simple, unsurprising and illustrative combinations. The word football illustrated by a foot and a ball is unimaginative and obvious. Elements that play into the phonetic sounds of parts of words or phrases are much more fun to play with an deliver a final artwork that becomes a sort of visual and language puzzle.
I chose to set the design work/illustration of the rebus as a homework assignment and gave the pupils a choice of what sort of materials or approaches to use. As I said at the beginning it is still a bit of a work in progress, but below are a few examples of my pupils’ work.

If you are not sure, the three above, in no particular order are ‘electricity’, ‘fireflies’ and ‘beliefs’.

If you are interested in more CLIL related activities click here.

 

Text interventions – A CLIL work in progress

Scrabble is perhaps the world’s best known language based game. The puzzling out of word options within limited possibilities forces us to think hard and squeeze out the longest and highest scoring configurations.   In essence the same could be said for a small language and image assignment that I was experimenting with last week.

The idea ordinates from a piece of street art by the British artist known as Banksy.

banksy-swing-girl

The image doesn’t need a great deal of explanation. An altered text, an image is added and a social point is made……in this case, our city parks are being concreted over to provide city car parking. Simple and to the point, something that my pupils have no problem in ‘getting’. But coming up with an idea of their own is a whole different kettle of fish. Could my third year pupils (aged 14-15) face up to the challenge?

I was asked to provide a 90 minute language orientated workshop for a group, an ideal opportunity to try the idea out and see if they could.

Technically we were able to simultaneously use the project for a little digital orientation using iPads to do the necessary image manipulation (we used Brushes Redux for those interested) however in principle a desktop or just pencil and paper could be used.

I asked the pupils to go looking for warning signs, road and traffic direction boards, text on the roads, walls or anywhere else where text could be found. Like the Banksy example the challenge was then to remove letters to change the direction of the meaning of the text in a humourous, ironic, serious or simply crazy and unexpected way.

Like my Scrabble example the pupil is left trying to manipulate and construct within the limited options available. Also like the Banksy example a little extra imagery could also be added or the context behind the text altered.

An hour and a half later I am left with a series of examples. Some pupils have picked the idea up and developed some interesting angles. In truth we were perhaps a little short of time. Surprising, inspired ideas don’t always come so quickly. With a little more time I would also like to push the images that have been added a bit further, but there is certainly potential here to develop the idea into something a little more expansive.

In at the deep end…

Today is my first day back at school after the summer break and I’m closer than ever before to simply starting with my new bilingual first year classes in English, with none of the pupils’ native Dutch thrown in to make it easier for them. I describe them as a ‘bilingual classes’ but they aren’t really, or at least not yet. They are just starting down the language learning road. Virtually all have a smattering of English already, picked up from tv, films, music and the Internet. Normally the first weeks of the school year are for me and my first year pupils, sessions of constant switching between English and Dutch. So what has brought me to this point where I think I should just start in English and not offer a Dutch language back-up or safety net?

For the last three years I’ve been doing a workshop at a nearby school (where I don’t normally teach) that also has a bilingual stream. I am hired in for an intensive day of language and art activities that results in a presentation for parents.

cuijk

This workshop is also done with first year pupils (aged 12), just beginning their bilingual education. They are actually beginning with a lot of new things at once, it’s a big week. A new school, many new friends, new teachers, a new experience of subjects being taught as separate hours in a timetable and…….a new language of instruction. Could we make it a more intimidating and difficult step for a twelve year old I sometimes wonder.

For the pupils I worked with earlier in the week it was the start of just the second week at their new school, and the second week of wrestling with their new language of communication. It’s also been a week and one day of a huge number of new impressions and challenges for them.

Today was just such an example, verbal word games, poetry, describing activities, group communication games, drawing and illustration, all in a day long project, lead by someone they had never seen before. In short, variation ruled the day as we bounced from one assignment to the next. Variation that is, mixed with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is one of my strong points, and today it was greeted by the enthusiasm of the pupils.

(Click here for examples of the sort of lesson assignments I make use of)

As a visitor to the school I can pretend for a day that I don’t speak any Dutch, and so force them to do all their communication in English. This way I can usurp the natural hierarchy of language in a typical Dutch school. They struggle to communicate with me in English because that is the only way it’s going to work. Rather like when you are on holiday abroad. Just like I was in France during the summer. I struggled to make use of my minimal knowledge of the French language when it was necessary. Yes it was easier of course to leave it to my wife to communicate with the locals with her much superior knowledge of the French language, but the question is, is my French ever going to improve that way?

I don’t think that I’m advocating that all my bilingual colleagues take such a hard line and aggressive language approach. I can imagine in some subject areas it could be more problematic if English was the only language used right from the beginning. But so much of my subject in the art room has the back-up of visual elements, demonstrations and images to support to aid understanding. My workshop earlier in the week was a demonstration of just how far children are able to come when thrown in at the language deep end. It’s all about listening hard, helping each other out when they don’t understand or miss a bit. But above all, and I posted about this a year ago (Learning through not understanding), keeping them stretching and reaching beyond the capabilities that they think they have.

 

Playing with language….with a footballing connection

Sharing a joke with a class is one of the best parts of education.  It’s a potentially fun and entertaining moment and it does wonders for the relationship that you as a teacher have with a group.  If it can also include a kind of educational dimension then you have a perhaps unusual but also very valuable combination.

I’ve posted before about the difficult and rather unique place in language acquisition that proverbs and sayings in communication.

Lost Consonants, sayings and proverbs

They are a difficult part to grasp and to dare to use. I like to use them in my teaching as an art teacher in bilingual education. I often find myself pausing to explain what exactly I mean when I use such a phrase or proverb.  Understanding, and daring to use a phrase like ‘that’s a different kettle of fish’ is difficult, but knowing when to use it enriches communication and brings a new level to expression through language.

There is also a kind of flip side to this, and also one that I occasionally encounter in the classroom. A pupil tries to use a translated version of a Dutch proverb.  The translated version can at times sound very odd, bewildering or just plain funny.

It is normally only a diversion at the end of a lesson, but throwing translations of Dutch proverbs, (translated literally and into perfect English of course) can become so entertaining, at home in our bilingual household we do it as well. Someone who complains a lot is a ‘moan sock’, a direct translation from the Dutch ‘zeurkous’.

Or try ‘ik schrik me een hoedje’, it is used when you are very shocked or have someone made you jump. It means, literally translated ‘I shocked myself a hat’!

Or ‘you’re standing with your mouth full of teeth’…you just don’t know what to say, ‘met de mond vol tanden staan’ in Dutch.

Or ‘make someone happy with a dead sparrow’….trying to impress someone with something that is actually pretty valueless, ‘iemand blij maken met een dode mus’ in Dutch.

The comedians in the class seem to like the challenge of trying to have mock conversations that include direct English translations or Dutch sayings.  I’m not sure if this whole exercise has any real language value. Other than encouraging the pupils to play and explore language in unusual and fun ways.  I would hope that it does teach them at least how careful you need to be if to are tempted to try and translate and use a proverb from your own language. It can leave you looking  well, a little daft, which is where the football connection comes in. The current coach (Louis van Gaal) of Manchester United also at times runs into problems in this area as the following two videos show:

If anyone has any examples of strange translations of sayings and proverbs into English I’d be interested to hear them.

Just how bad were you at French?

Well the answer to that is really pretty bad. Mrs Hunt did her best, but for me in the flatlands of the Fens in East Anglia it just wasn’t happening.  I was generally a pretty good pupil at school but languages (even English, where I was a particularly slow reader) weren’t my thing.

CLIL-spring-2016-FINAL-version-enkel_Page_01-smaller

The irony is, I’m now bilingual, read a great deal, and although first and foremost an art teacher, I am also a language teacher…..specialised in CLIL (content and language integrated learning). With the CLIL approach my art skills are combined with my language knowledge in helping my Dutch pupils learn about art and the English language simultaneously.  How did that occur? It wasn’t a great plan, it just kind of happened and I’ve found great enjoyment in it, to the extent that, CLIL Magazine asked me to explain my perspective on this strange turn of events!

CLIL Magazine 2016 (Page 10)

The Dutch like to talk about a ‘taalknobbel‘ (a language bobble/lump??!), something that people who are good at languages are supposed to have and others (like me) don’t have.  When I was a teenager nobody would have said that I had a taalknobbel, yet here I am writing about language learning strategies and using them constantly in my art lessons with 12-17 year olds.

So what is the lesson here?  I would certainly start by saying that just because you struggle with language when you are 12 it doesn’t follow that you are a lost cause. To be honest, and I know that many will disagree with me, I think the way languages are generally taught in schools is where the problem (at least for me) lies.

The structural deconstruction of language in order to learn vocabulary, grammar and other elements of language simply made it too abstract and confusing for me.  Essentially the way I learnt Dutch was through immersion and being constantly surrounded by it.  It became a more real thing and learning to speak it became a more intuitive issue.  It is in this area that the CLIL approach to language scores, and it could also be the very reason why I seem to be quite good at it.

 

Contentious Quotations – a CLIL assignment

Stimulating a point of view is important in an art lesson. I guess I would often say that in a way having a point of view or and opinion is almost as important as the opinion itself. In this regard maybe my subject area is a little different to many others, being in absolute agreement with the ‘right answer’ is not normally the main aim in the art room.

But even in the ‘hard’ science areas there is room for discussion and opinion, certainly when exploring a new area or theme and when you are trying your best as a teacher to unlock pupils’ prior knowledge and intuitions. This can be done in a number of ways in the classroom, a group discussion, a brainstorming session on the board or individually or something as simple as providing pupils with key terminology and asking them in a group to discuss what they think the words might mean.

The following activity is designed to:

  • Allow space for diverse opinions from everyone in the group
  • Encourage an awareness that different people have different ideas that can be expressed in different styles and terminology
  • Encourage an awareness and analysis of others opinions be they from their peers or ‘experts’ and accept their validity
  • Encourage the viewing of a subject from multiple standpoints
  • Encourage an understanding of differences in standpoint and why it happens and why it might actually be useful
  • Encourage the understanding that the context of a statement might be important. The when, the how and the why behind the statement
  • Stimulate verbal engagement

guernica

How it works

The instructions below are for how this assignment might work in my art lesson, but by switching the artwork image for a different sort of image, diagram or film with different subject matter the basic principle should work across most subject areas.

Select the artwork. For the purpose of this example let us use the example of Picasso’s Guernica. If you’re not sure about the history and importance of this artwork take a quick look at some background information here.

  • At random hand out a sheet of paper to each pupil in the class. On each sheet the image of the artwork (Picasso’s Guernica in this case) is at the top and one of the numbered quotations below underneath it. (I should add that the ‘quotations’ used are fictitious ones that you the teacher should formulate in order to take the lines of thought of the pupils into desirable areas)
  1. “the Spanish town of Guernica was bombed by the German Condor Legion on Monday 26 April 1937. 3000 bombs were dropped killing more than 1600 people”
  2. “In this work we can see that Picasso was experimenting in the way he was painting, but there are definitely still Cubist influences”
  3. “After standing in the queue at he museum in Madrid I was finally able to get in, I was shocked to see just how big the work actually was”
  4. “Everything about this artwork is focused on destruction, the broken bodies, buildings and spirit of the people is clearly what the artist has focused on. There is just one small sign of hope….”
  5. “For me the real problem with this art work is how unrealistic it is. I get that it is about destruction and death, but I don’t get why the artist has painted it in such a basic way”
  6. “This image is absolutely at home in the UN headquarters in New York, it is exactly the sort of place that this image should be hung so that everyone can see what it is about”
  • Ask the pupils to think entirely for themselves (and without discussion) about the image and the quotation. They need to focus on their reaction to the statement. Do they agree or disagree with it, why that might be? What sort of person might have made the statement and why do they think that? When do they think that it was made and under what circumstances? Plus other comments they have, reminds me of…. Etc.
  • Encourage the pupils to look up words that they don’t know or facts or content in the quotation that they don’t understand.
  • When the written reactions are complete ask those with quotation number one to go and sit together, quotation two form another group, and so on. Within the group ask the group to explain their thoughts to one another and discuss the reactions, observations and thoughts that each had. Whilst doing is ask the pupils to discuss their observations and then to write down the areas of agreement and where the differences lie.
  • Subsequently ask a spokesperson from each group to present the quotation and the groups thoughts to the class as a whole.
  • The discussion phase can then be broadened out a step further by allowing the discourse to become class wide, with individual standpoints that they can articulate to the class.

The overall benefit of this structure is that it allows you the teacher to steer the engagement with the lesson material into desired areas though careful choice of the ‘quotations’ that you present to the class. However it requires the pupils to do the work in these areas as they engage with, and reflect on the different perspectives that can be taken in relation to a single subject.

The results of the assignment could easily be taken further and used as the basis for a more extensive written exercise relating to the theme.

Lost Consonants, sayings and proverbs – Content and language integrated learning (CLIL)

A couple of weeks ago I published a post called One Letter Switch that involved a small switch of one letter in the title of an existing film to produce a new and very different movie name. I mentioned in the post that I would also explain a second variation that in some ways follows similar lines.

I should start by underlining that this idea has its root in the extremely quirky “Lost Consonants” images that artist and writer Graham Rawle published in the Guardian newspaper a number of years ago. Rawle’s work was published in the newspaper for its entertainment value and its humour with both a visual and a text-based edge.

Each image was created in a similar way. He took a sentence, like for example, “Every time the doorbell rang, the dog started barking”. He then altered the sentence by removing one single consonant from somewhere in the sentence. So the sentence could become, “Every time the doorbell rang, the dog started baking”. This new variation of the text would then be placed underneath a collage that Rawle made by cutting up magazine images and illustrating the new, mostly somewhat sillier version of the phrase………..

graham-rawle

How exactly to apply the core of this idea to the classroom was the first issue. It occurred to me that potentially any sort of sentence could be used. Because of this it also seemed to offer an excellent opportunity to shine a light on one particularly troublesome area of language acquisition. Sayings, proverbs and other ‘wise’ sayings have their place in all languages. When you stop to consider them carefully it becomes only too clear just how often they are used. They enrich a language, they give it a more playful complexity, they are also quite difficult to learn.  I know this last point from my own experience of learning Dutch. They are some similarities and even some sayings that are essentially the same. There are others that simply have no comparison and if you stop to translate them literally into a second language you often see just how odd they are, a fact that makes you very nervous about daring to use them!

I decided to apply the ‘Lost Consonants’ approach to sayings and proverbs in my lesson. The aim was essentially three-fold:

  1. To get my pupils reading English proverbs and sayings on websites that also provide an explanation of what they mean and how they should be used.
  2. The get the class playing with the language and interpretation possibilities if just one letter was dropped from the proverb. The new version needed to have a linguistic logic, even (and hopefully) if the result was actually a rather crazy literal meaning.
  3. The new version had to work in such a way that it could result in an entertaining and engaging photographic collage put together from diverse sources (it is, after all an art lesson!)

Providing pupils with examples of sayings to look through was easy enough, there are plenty of sites available that offer lists:

www.phrasemix.com

www.smart-words.org

www.knowyourphrase.com

www.englishclub.com

Then the word game starts of experimenting with the possibilities. Just one consonant to be removed, no other possibilities allowed. Some of the sayings offer little or no options for adjustment, but there are plenty that do. Having experimented with this assignment with a couple of classes in the last week, I think it is also important to get the pupils sharing not only their new variations with each other but also the original version and explaining the contexts to one another when it might be used.

Most pupils were quite easily able to come up with three or four possibilities.  Often though the final decision of which one to work with was simply down to which one would make the best Graham Rawle-like collage with the most surreal visual qualities. Below are a few examples from my third years (14-15 year olds).

missingconsonants2

If you would like to see more of Graham Rawle’s work in this area it can be found here:

www.grahamrawle.com