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How Can we Use Art and Sound to Document Important Times in Our Lives?

Words by Newton Bateman Elementary School 3rd Grade Teacher, Samantha Soto, and Teaching Artist, Betsy Zacsek.

“Did you learn anything new about yourself from completing the listening breaks?” was a recurring question asked to students in this sound listening and reflection project. Through listening techniques, students studied their sonic environment and reflected on their own inner feelings during the lockdown. Then they created artworks in response to the external and internal connections they made.


Week 1 Assignment Page

Week 1 Assignment Page

We choose to start our project by getting the students highly engaged, to “hook” them into the project. With only 15% of all my students participating in music remote learning, we wanted something to really engage the students. We gave them listening assignments which included spending time just listening to the world around them, writing about how they felt about a sound, and whether it was the same or different now than their life before the pandemic. From there, students created a monochromatic drawing that focused on the abstract feeling of that sound story. We wanted students to have space to be with their own, uninterrupted thoughts to really find how they fit into this “new normal” by using sound and art as an avenue to do that.


Week 2 Assignment Page

Week 2 Assignment Page

Our lessons have always built on the emotional space that music and art help us to access. When we began the process of totally adapting our unit to remote learning this year we wanted to scale down our thoughts into a compact, thoughtful, student guided unit that was open to changing as time went on. Building on what Samantha has said, we decided to include “fun” in the engagement “hook.” We used bitmoji avatars of ourselves everywhere — Samantha even added them to the google classroom landing page! We thought of our unit as giving our students the gift of a creative and thoughtful break to focus on themselves. Inquiry was ever present as we provided constant time for reflection in every week of the unit.


How did the project develop? How did students explore the inquiry questions through research and art making?


This project really grew from a small idea that we wanted students to really take a moment to reflect. Students were asked to complete “art break” journals which included listening, choosing a sound, describing as many current world details of that sound, drawing a monochromatic interpretation of how that sound made them feel, then recording a video of them recreating the sound. Each day students were asked to repeat this process. This really gave students the freedom to focus on how they felt through this, without necessarily seeing the end goal.

We then asked students to self reflect about their process  by responding to a couple questions and picking sound stories to share. This then gave us the ability to curate their work in an accessible way for them to reflect and respond to each other’s work. We ended with a short lesson on Pauline Oliveros to wrap up everything they did and make a connection to a professional working artist who used similar techniques. We felt that the fact students were able to make art, reflect and respond, then connect to a real working artist, that process gave them more room to explore the inquiry questions without having the answers of what it was supposed to look like in the end.

Students finished this project with reflecting on both on their own personal work, as well as the work of their classmates. This really brought up a lot more than we were anticipating in how students are working through this pandemic and processing the end of the school year as well as how connected they are to each other even though they are far apart. One thing we asked students in their reflection was “Did you learn anything new about yourself from completing the listening breaks?” Many students commented on how they are not given very many opportunities to sit with just their own thoughts and truly reflect upon that. Giving them resources of art, story, and sound, helped guide the students through this inquiry.