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Pedagogy Column: Teachers as Imaginative Beings

Yolanda Medina, Teacher Education

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Mask-making in EDU 203 trains and empowers students to use the arts on a daily basis with elementary school children, ensuring that they do not miss arts as a part of their early education. Not only does mask-making fulfill the course description – to introduce theories, methods and materials for integrating visual arts into the elementary school curriculum – it also serves other important goals for the class.


Teaching artist and current BMCC student Keith Saari, joins me for the mask-making session. Keith is an expert in mask making. Based on a presentation and discussion of the role of masks in different cultures, students work in pairs to create their own masks from inexpensive and easily available materials.


Art is Not Only in a Museum


The work with masks helps me fulfill an additional goal: to convince prospective teachers that they are creative beings capable of making art and understanding, and using the arts. Other purposes are to help future teachers see the connections between academic content and the arts, to know how to use the arts to assess student learning, to know children on a deep level, and to enable emerging bilingual students to use multiple ways of expressing and using content knowledge. Another aim is to teach future teachers to use the arts and the artists from the community where they teach to represent the children’s families and cultures and as a way to emphasize that art is not only in a museum.


Most of our BMCC Teacher Education students will teach in inner city schools, where art is the first program eliminated when budgets are cut. I want to empower teachers to use the arts on a daily basis, so children do not miss out on the arts.


Art Can Integrate Many Academic Subjects


As students make their masks, we discuss and journal about the use of masks in different cultures. This fulfills a social studies and literacy content. We measure and use vocabulary such as symmetry and asymmetry, parallels, lines, angles, curves, patterns, and reflection. This fulfills a mathematics content. We mix colors and concoct materials, fulfilling a science content. This portion of the activity exemplifies how arts can integrate many academic subjects. Observations of and conversations with students reveal what they understand about masks and about the content areas they will teach. This fits into the assessment component of the course.


Keith’s presence models what I hope the future teachers will do – invite members of the community into their classrooms. Keith and I encourage students to think about masks in their own cultures and to use those elements in the masks they make. I emphasize to students as they are integrating their culture and experiences in their mask making, that they also should take into account the cultures and experiences of the children they will teach, thereby raising cultural awareness.


As students see themselves as creative beings and realize how possible it is to integrate communities, cultures, academic content and assessment through the arts, they develop units of study that incorporate the aforementioned elements and that can be used on a daily basis in their future urban school classrooms.