Bulb Archived: George Washington SCALE 2017-2018: Innocenti-Peterman & Murray

School Name: George Washington High School

Teacher Name: Katy Peterman

Teaching Artist Name: Ben Murray

Big Idea: Community-Based Murals

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Inquiry: How do we create an engaging and thought-provoking student-led curriculum?

1. Planning: What interests and curiosities were brought to the planning by each of you? 

Teacher response: 

I have always been connected nature, sound, ideologies of different religions/spirituality, and the possibility of peace and unity in society at large. I am always questioning how to create physical work about non-physical, intangible ideas/thoughts/themes. I think that both Ben and I want to create meaningful work that begs audiences to ponder, question, re-think, and act. We both feel that talking about issues is one thing, but taking action  is how we can create positive change in the world.

Teaching Artist response: 

Similarly to earlier years, I approached this project with the goal of providing students an environment that allows them to create images that address concerns in their respective communities and our contemporary society.  

Moreover, I’m increasingly interested in clarifying the ability to guide/teach without inhibiting a student’s creative expression.

2. The Project: Tell the story of your project. What happened in the classroom? 

The core of our curriculum is to embody inclusive collaborative relationship between teacher/artist and students/artists. It is of the utmost importance that students develop their own theme for our murals so that they take total ownership. They will develop these ideas through public art research, group project proposals, word webs, discussions, etc. As a class, students brainstormed various possible themes, voted on said ideas, and we finally landed on the topic of Immigration. We created word webs, researched activists and the history of Immigration in the U.S., and we even took our students to see Lane Tech’s WPA murals. 

3. How did you check in throughout the project to plan and adjust plans as the project unfolded? 

Since the class when students chose their topic, we (as a class) have come up with hundreds of possible sketches, cut up those sketches and created various compositions with them, and now we are collaborating to create a color scheme for our final draft. Each class is constantly changing, and we are guiding our students every day so that they create a unifying and cohesive community mural. 

4. What are the conflicts, contradictions or challenges of your teacher/artist collaboration? 

Teacher response: 

I think a big challenge has been figuring out each other’s strengths and weaknesses, seeing where each of us needs to jump in when needed, and making sure that we are on the same page in terms of our vision for our students and their project. It helps that this is our fourth year working together as a collaborative team, but there are always new challenges every year. 

Teaching Artist response: 

To a lot of success, we’ve been able to play off of each other’s teaching styles pretty organically. However, as with any collaboration we have to make compromises in order to achieve curriculum goals. As we’ve continued working on the project, I’ve had to “bench” several ideas I’ve had for the direction of our project in order to better serve the class. 

A personal challenge is learning “where the students are” in terms of language and interests.

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 5. What are you learning as a result of collaborating with one another in terms of teaching and art making? 

Teacher response: 

We’ve figured out that we can plan until we’re blue in the face, but there will always be something that does not go according to our plan. This year, we thought that we were ahead of the game in terms of being on schedule, but our project took a 180-degree turn. Sometimes we work better when we let things develop more organically.

Teaching Artist response: 

I’m learning more from Katy “where the students are at” , and beginning to develop a sense of what fundamental skills are essential at their level to help their future progress as image-makers.

 6. How has the community-focused component of the project contributed to or challenged your teacher/artist collaboration? 

Teacher response: 

I think that the idea of this project being community-based has become our central focus, and we are finding that to be true more and more each year of working together. Not only is the execution of the mural done as a community of artists, but the idea is for a community of audience members to not only look at, but engage in our work. 

 Teaching Artist response:

The community-focused element acted as a prompt for how we addressed our project. We asked students at the start what concerns are affecting them today, and as a class, we came together to create a visual response. 

It is challenging to address large-scale societal issues in a classroom-scale setting without losing the student’s/community’s perspective.

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