thinking routines

Art in ELT : An interview with Chrysa Papalazarou

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Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see.

Paul Klee

I met Chrysa Papalazarou, online first (through social media) and then in person, early this year, and we both thought that we had a lot in common, especially our love for art. Chrysa has been using art in her English class in a systematic way for the last 3 years and has created two blogs for this purpose. Her work caught my attention immediately because it was  the first time I saw a colleague use a systematic research-based framework to ‘marry’ ELT and the Arts. The framework in discussion is Visible Thinking which stems from Project Zero (Harvard University). Even more intriguing though, is the fact that through these lesson ‘proposals’ , as she likes to call them, Chrysa tries to raise her students’ awareness on contemporary issues such as War and Peace, bullying, disabilities, etc.

The following is a video Chrysa created to talk about her work :

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  • Chrysa, I would like to welcome you and thank you for this interview. First of all, please tell us a few things about yourself.

I work as an English teacher in a state primary school in Greece. I have also worked in secondary education and as an educator with adults from socially vulnerable groups.

  • I would like to ask you about your blogs and how they started.

There are 2 blogs I have worked on this year: A personal blog (Art Least http://artleast.blogspot.gr) and a class blog (Art in the English Class http://1stchaidarienglish.blogspot.gr ). I started elaborating on the idea of a personal blog, to share things I have worked on or would be working on, last summer after coming across Kieran Donaghy’s Film English, a website I love.

The Art in the English Class blog was a way to publicize students’ work during the project; a place where they could watch again the audio visual material used in class, their own photos from class work, share and read extracts from their learning journals, and an attempt towards more interaction through their comments.

  • Why ESL and Art?

Art is an extremely effective way of realizing educational aims and improving the quality of learning; language learning alike. I work a lot with paintings, photography and video. I try to use visual stimuli which provide an aesthetic alternative from commercial standards. I also try to choose topics that teach values. I am worried to see children so prone to acquiring a pseudo visual literacy devoid of meanings, true information and feelings. Media over exposure to consumerism ideals is responsible for that. I believe this approach enhances their ability to evaluate the huge amount of visual information they receive daily. It also helps them become active readers of images. Coupled with the powerful effect of thinking routines it can stimulate curiosity, imagination, creativity, and develop their critical thinking skills alongside their English language skills.

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  • What is your relation to art? Have you studied art in any way?

My relation to art is that of someone who appreciates art and looks at it with wonder just like my students. There are always so many things to discover.

  • Do you  think that any ESL teacher without any specific knowledge of art could use these lesson plans? How could they benefit?

Yes, the lesson proposals in Art Least provide step by step guidance. I use the term proposals instead of lesson plans. This is deliberate. To my mind, it means a greater degree of flexibility on how to make use of them. Someone may decide to experiment with the entire idea of the proposal or choose one or more steps and work on them. I was happy, for example, when I got feedback from colleagues who had tried out successfully in their teaching situations specific steps. The greatest benefit is in experimentation per se; in the will to try something different, a change for them and their students.

  • What about the students? How interested were they in these lessons?

The students were very interested and this was really rewarding. Working without textbooks, team work, ample of visual stimuli, meaningful themes, activities that ignited their curiosity, publicizing our work through the blog were some of the sources of their enthusiasm. They also loved the thinking routines we used, and this validates the Making Thinking Visible approach in that it fosters engagement and motivation.

  • Are you going to continue with your project next year?

This is an excellent question I keep asking myself, as well. I honestly do not know. The Art in the English Class Project has been a wonderful experience, enriching for students and me alike. But no two classes, no two projects are ever the same. I will be revisiting this question in September.

  • Thank you, Chrysa, for agreeing to talk to me and for your time.

Thank you, Vicky!

Anyone more interested in Chrysa’s implementation of the Visible Thinking Approach as well as Project Zero itself might find useful the links below.

Useful links

  1. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum / Project Zero Educational Collaboration in http://www.pz.gse.harvard.edu/isabella_stewart_gardner_museum.php

  2. Papalazarou, Chrysa. The Art of ELT & the Power of Thinking Routines in http://itdi.pro/blog/2014/06/13/the-art-of-elt-chrysa/

  3. Visible Thinking’ in http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/VisibleThinking1.html

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