Bulb Archived: A/R Partners 2017-2018: Watson & Perez

1. How did you and your teaching partner decide to do this project? (Please describe the context of your project, this can include influence from previous projects, context of your school, community, etc.): 

Our classroom demographics is 100% Latino and Spanish speaking. Students growing up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood confront their own unique challenges due to poverty and lack of resources. They often wrestle with the incorrect notion that to succeed in the United States they must adapt by erasing their language and culture. However, we believe that this could not be further from the truth. It is our hope that students come away with an understanding that their success is rooted in an empowered sense of identity through exploration of Spanish language literature and the arts.

2. Big Idea: Visual Arts as Investigation into Literature and Latino Identity

3. Inquiry: How can we use Latin American or Spanish Literature to create artwork that reflects and explores complex issues revolving around Latino identity here in the United States?

4. Grade Level: 4th

5. Academic Subject(s): Reading, writing, social studies, music, literature

6. Artistic Discipline(s): drawing, clay, music, literature, painting, image transferring.

7. How many years have you worked together as partners?: 3

8. Please describe what you did and what you made for this project:  


Project Description: Through art, literature, music, history (etc) and intense discussions, our studentsʼ researched different cultures from Mexico or Latin America and itʼs contribution/importance to American society. We investigated how Mexicans and Latinos here in the U.S. became an important fixture and how we have always played a pivotal role in Americaʼs labor industry: Past, Present and Future. Students listened to different a styles of music including a Mexican “corrida” titled “El Barzon” that contained lyrics that described the work of the Mexican farmer “ranchero”. 


They learned about the indigenous laborer in Mexico and the hard work, mistreatment, exploitation and class discrimination induced to them by the Mexican Government. Separation of economic systems of class that lead to a revolt and inspired the Mexican revolution. Students also made connections to The National Farm Workers Union (United Farms Workers Union) lead by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta here in U.S. This prompted a side conversation on the music of Susan Baca who sings about slavery, racism and some of injustices women of color faced.


Students took a deeper look at the rough relationship between Mexico & United States and how the saying “ We Did Not Cross the Border, the Border Crossed Us” came to be. Our students will also look at how this American & Mexican relationship led to an labor agreement that imported Mexicans (or Latinos) into the United States that began the “Bracero” working program here in the U.S.


Students looked at the clay art of the Mayan, Aztecs, Incas as well as from modern indigenous groups in Mexico and artists such as Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Luis Perez Meza & Susanna Baca. Our students also viewed short film clips of laborers from Latin America plowing the land with cattle.  They learn about the artistsʼ creative processes, techniques/materials and writings. Students used these artistsʼ creative style (process) and used it as a template to reflect their own perspective based on their Latin American culture studies.


Students created collage works on wood that encompass writings, reflections, lyrics, ceramic artifacts and drawings from the variety of themes they studied. Students chose artifacts (fragments of writings, lyrics,) that resonated with them. Students looked at the artwork of Frida Kahlo and how she put together fragments of imagery/symbols to create a larger visual. Students also learned some clay techniques to create artifacts taken from some of the groups they researched.


9. What were you hoping the students would learn during this project?: 

  • Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.
  • Learn numerous art practices such as visual arts: poetry, literature, music, etc. from Latin America & the United States.
  • Spanish language literature in various forms: novels, poetry, music, stories, and performing art.
  • Use Spanish or Latin American Literature to create artwork that reflects and explores complex issues revolving around Latino identity
  • Use the visual arts as a form of investigation into Latino Identity
  • Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.

10. What surprised you during this project?: Students took to clay, painting and watching film clips of the ranchero/farmer doing manual labor on the land–the handling of the cattle and plowing of the land.  I felt that students enjoyed looking at objective through many different forms art. They got really excited when we began to online film footage and listen closely to decipher lyrics of music. I think it was new for them to listen to music, investigate it, then have a discussion about it’s content and  how it fits into the larger equation of U.S. & Mexican history. 

11. What worked in this project and why? I felt approaching the big idea through a variety of sources: academic, literature, writings, song, visual arts; gave the students a bit more of a well rounded perspective on the content. I believe it helped show our students  the complexities in trying to explain Mexican or Latino identity. In order to understand the identity of a culture, you must look at it’s history and relationship to the rest of the world.


What didn’t work and why?: 

It was a challenge to develop a curriculum that would incorporate all of the topics we wanted to cover in this unit. We had to find material appropriate for fourth graders and take into account the wide range of reading levels and language proficiencies we have in the classroom. Being unsure of what background knowledge students came in with, we often front-loaded each unit with informational texts before connecting them to music and art pieces. However, it was the art that helped students draw connections and develop interest in the nonfiction. If we were to do it over again, we would incorporate art into every step of the process rather than at the end of each unit.

On a more logistical note, Converge took place during the same week as NWEA testing. It was difficult to balance the pressures of preparing students for benchmark testing with the pressures of completing this project. Going forward, we need to set our own personal deadlines several weeks ahead of testing or several weeks afterwards.

12. How did you assess student learning?: (ex. Was it formative or summative? Was it a written, verbal or performative based assessment? Were students provided with teacher or peer feedback? Did you use a rubric or portfolio system? Etc.) 

After engaging with each piece of art or music, students completed formative assessments through discussion, writing, and sketching images. They identified symbols and strategies used by the authors that they found important. Students would sketch out these symbols, explain their purpose, and then share them with the class. This all was incorporated in their summative assessment as student then picked the symbols that they felt were most important and blended them into their artwork. After convergence, we held one last discussion session where students, verbally and in writing, gave reasoning for the images they chose and what connection they felt with them.

“In my art, I painted one side green for Mexico and then the other side blue for the Pacific Ocean. Then I painted the other area a strong red for the Mayans. The reason I painted that area a strong red (for the Mayans) was because as I was doing it, I got a rush from the color and it went to my head and I really liked it.

What I really liked the most out of this was learning about Mexico and the Mayans because a long time ago, they were so important.

I learned more about Mayans when I began to work with clay and paint about it.” – Angel

13. How did you share your student’s learning process with others? Who did you share it with?: 

Currently our work is at the Bridgeport Art Center. Some staff and faculty have visited the student’s work. We are arranging a dialogue between students, staff, faculty and parents when the work returns to the school. Student’s work will also be on display at the school.


14. Standards Addressed: (Common Core, Next Generation Science, National Core Arts):


Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.


Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.

26.A.2e-Visual Arts: Describe the relationships among media, tools/technology and processes.

26.B.2d-Visual Arts: Demonstrate knowledge and skills to create works of visual art using problem solving, observing, designing, sketching and constructing.

27.B.2 Identify and describe how the arts communicate the similarities and differences among various people, places and times.