ABC’s of Art: The 2015 Teacher Institutes

NMWA offered the week-long Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute for the sixth year, and for the second time also held the Advanced ABC course for returning teachers. Participants spent the dog days of summer, July 13–17, 2015, learning arts-integration techniques. The ABC curriculum is ideal for third- through eighth-grade educators. During the program, teachers explored new avenues of creativity.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

One teacher’s book art project; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, ABC encourages growth in visual literacy and critical thinking, while also highlighting women artists’ achievements. In particular, the work of Maria Sibylla Merian inspired “bug books,” which encourage students to focus on insect life cycles and habitats.

As NMWA’s education intern, I learned as much as the enrolled teachers. I was largely unaware of the many challenges educators face—particularly in issues of literacy in D.C. schools. The Advanced ABC participants discussed ways in which artists’ books could provide visual literacy as a pathway to reading.

Unfamiliar with artists’ books, I was not aware of their practical applications. Teachers found new ways to incorporate concepts into their own curriculum plans. One educator based his flag book on famous women of the American Revolution. Another teacher said these techniques would allow her to “feed the artist in my classroom.” Ranging from investigations of traditional Native American cultures to literacy interventions, many advanced lesson plans were ready to be shared with colleagues by the end of the week.

Teachers wear their hats; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Teachers with their hat creations; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Participants also constructed sculptural hats and “star books”—books with complex folds and covers that demonstrate knowledge of shapes and primary colors.

The Advanced Institute teachers delved deeper and experimented with circuits to add lights and motorized elements to their books.

Toward the end of the program, the two groups converged during a crafty happy hour at the museum. Program participants enjoyed wine and refreshments and then experimented with paste, marbling, and watercolor techniques during a paper-making activity.

While creating personal portfolios of artists’ books, teachers learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)—a method for facilitating discussions about art.

VTS encourages close looking and deep thinking, where each student feels his or her opinion validated. This method provides an equal playing field for art appreciation and creative engagement. As an art history student, I often ask about a work’s title, artist, or time period. However, I was exposed to new points of view through hearing participants’ personal connections. VTS creates a culture of thinking where students work together as storytellers.

To access the free curriculum, visit the ABC website. To learn more about the ABC Teacher Institute, check out the museum’s website.

—Brittany Fiocca was the summer 2015 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.