Monday, June 11, 2012

As promised - here is a bit of information about the International Memory Project (IMP)!  It's one of my favorites and each year I am completely WOW'ed by the passion, talent and love that my students put into their art; art they create to honor the identity of an orphaned child in another country or state or town.  Their art is making a difference in our world and it's powerful stuff!

(watercolor by Anna; colored pencil by Abigail, watercolor by Leslie and watercolor by Neli)
International Memory Project
The rationale for my study was to investigate how the IMP can improve secondary visual art curricula when combining this service learning activity inherent in this lesson with traditional art curricula for art II students.  My art II students worked on this project for 2 weeks in May of 2012 and I wrote my observations and my student’s experiences daily in a visual journal which became the main source of my data. I collaged my thoughts, images, words, poems and memoirs, creating a total of 10, two page spreads from each of the ten days that they participated in this project.  I observed and interviewed my students as they worked on their portraits for the orphaned children we “adopted”.  My research procedures were conducted in the following order: 
  1. Introduced my students to the IMP lesson through the IMP website,, specifically via a powerpoint slide show that discusses why this service learning art lesson was created and how it works. 
  2. Each student was given a photograph that I had pre-ordered from the IMP’s founder, Ben Shumacher, of an orphan.   This lesson permits us to “adopt” forty orphans from Peru and then honor their identity through the art of portraiture.  I laid the photos of the orphans out on a table and students selected their child to draw or paint.  I observed and interviewed the randomly selected students as they chose their orphans. 
  3. Students selected the media and paper that they wanted to create their portraits on.  All completed portrait sizes must be 9 x 12 to fit into the preordered plastic cellophane envelopes provided by the IMP organization.  Students worked on their portraits for approximately two weeks, as our in class schedule dictates, this amounts to ten days, with 55 minutes of studio/instruction per day.  As my art II students have participated in a standard portraiture lesson in the past, I did not have to fully explain the art of portraiture to them.  We did, however review the basics, such as the measuring of facial features, the use of line, shape and value and how each student could creatively alter the negative space to showcase personalization of the final art portrait, thus traditional art lessons ensued.  I guided each student individually as their art educator. 
  4. Students concluded the lesson by attaching the photo they drew from on the back next to a photo of them, as required by the IMP guidelines.  They wrote a personal note to the child as well, in either English or Spanish.  At the end of the art lesson, each student participated in a project evaluation form writing assignment, which acted as an assessment form, where they graded themselves while reflecting on the lesson in written form. 
  5. The randomly selected participants for this study were observed, interviewed and had their visual art, journals and written comments evaluated as part of my data collection.  My projected time line for the entire study was eight weeks, allowing time to collect and analyze my data.

Students kept reflective journals as a lesson requirement that they wrote in daily explaining the processes of creating a portrait for their selected orphan.  These journals encouraged students to internalize the lesson, add to their current knowledge base, and broaden their thinking about service learning when combined with a traditional visual art lesson, specifically the IMP. The reflection piece allowed my students to make the connections between their technical learning experiences and their service learning in order to meet the general models of a service learning curricula.  I was looking for particular service learning student outcomes, including academic, civic responsibility, life skills and personal development.  The connection between thoughtful, "worthwhile" educational experiences, action, and further learning, is the cornerstone of the service learning reflective process. Dewey saw reflective thinking as a way to discover specific connections between actions and consequences. He believed that reflective thinking would help students learn from experience and improve their problem solving skills.  The theoretical basis for reflection as a practice in education is grounded in the work of John Dewey.  Bringle and Hatcher (1999) noted that at the core of Dewey's educational philosophy were three principals:
    1. Education must lead to personal growth
    2. Education must contribute to humane conditions
    3. Education must engage citizens in association with one another (p. 181).
Dewey's "educational continuum" distinguished between educational experiences that are worthwhile versus those that are not. Worthwhile educational experiences "do something to prepare a person for later experiences of deeper and more expansive quality and “this is the very meaning of growth, continuity, and reconstruction of experience” (Dewey, 1934, p. 47). 
The reflective piece of this study was what I found to be the most useful.  As I utilized my final visual journal as a major part of my data using arts-based methods and the findings became a part of a newly created type of collaged memoir consisting of poetry, artwork, and personal reflection/student reflection memoir put together via the media of collage.  A final meta-reflection of the entire process presented a philosophy explaining the dynamics of the intrapersonal relationships found from this lesson. The method I went through was intense and I discovered that the stages of my student’s learning development appeared to reflect the stages within a “rite of passage” (Ruud, 1995) as well as the literature connecting to self-actualization (Maslow, 1968) and peak experiences (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). These discoveries made me reflect and realize the importance of the connection between a visual art educator and her students as a catalyst for enhancing an internal sense of “presence”, or as Dewey (1934) mentions,                                                                                                            
The general features of a reflective experience ... are perplexity, confusion, doubt, due to the fact that one is implicated in an incomplete situation whose full character is not yet determined; a conjectural anticipation - a tentative interpretation of the given elements, attributing to them a tendency to effect certain consequences; a careful survey (examination, inspection, exploration, analysis) of all attainable consideration which will define and clarify the problem in hand. It is the extent and accuracy of these steps which mark off a distinctive reflective experience from one on the trial and error plane. They make thinking itself into an experience. 
As stated in one of my journal entries: “I believe through this project that I have learned to be fully present with myself,  better understanding the creative thought process that is needed for my students to understand what it is to walk in another’s shoes while believing in themselves as creative artists and divergent thinkers. ” (West, 2012).

(colored pencil by Rachel, watercolor and pen & ink by Jessica, colored pencil by Taylor)
Taylor and her beautiful layered colored pencil portrait...filled with LOVE!

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