Bulb Archived: Ray Graham Training Center 2018-2019 : Kurisch and Tritschler(2018-2019 A/R Partners)


1. How did you and your teaching partner decide to do this project?

When we met this past summer to begin writing our proposal, we talked about how Ray Graham Training Center High School would be transitioning to a “Transition Center” during the 2018-2019 school year. Therefore, more than ever, students would be preparing for life after they “age out” at 22 years old. A main issue for students when they reach this point is that often, when they leave Ray Graham, they end up staying at home for a majority of the time due to lack of programs, funding, transportation issues, confusion on how to access available programs and at times lack of required skill-sets for the programs that are available.

This has now become a major concern for Katie. Her former students have contacted her once they have left Ray Graham and have told her that they are not enrolled in any programs, that they usually just sit at home and that they miss school as a result. These stories are what led us to focus on how we could begin to change this pattern. We asked ourselves the following questions: What are some options for our students in terms of what programs are available? What do they personally need to be able to do to be both accepted into the programs and to be successful, contributing participants in the programs. This was where we thought the CAPE project could help address some of these issues. We wanted to teach our students to be able to present themselves, their skills, their strengths, weaknesses, and ideas to others. In this case, specifically to staff at potential future placements.

We titled our project Finding My Voice. Katie is the Ray Graham art teacher so together we relied on the art to be the vehicle to help students talk about themselves since the work would really be based on themselves.

2. Big Idea: Communication

3. Inquiry: How can creating and using the art of self-portraiture with students of limited verbal and physical skills help them to effectively communicate their attributes for the purpose of preparing them for future endeavors after high school?

We came up with a question for students as well, and it also served as the title of our project when we turned it into a phrase.

Student Inquiry: How do I find my voice through art?

4. Grade Level: 9-12

5. Academic Subject: Language Arts in the Art Room

6. Artistic Discipline: Visual Art

7. How many years have you worked together as partners?: This is our second year partnering in the Artist/Researcher Program.

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

         Selfie board from the first session. My favorite color makes me feel…


Student taking his selfie using an instant camera.

On the first day of our project, we began by taking selfies as way to begin a discussion. We asked the students the question, “What is your favorite color?” and “How does your favorite color make you feel?” We taught students how colors can represent moods and emotions. Throughout the project we would reference back to the latter question because we found that asking how students were feeling was a entry into having them open up and discuss how and why they were feeling a certain way that day.

Students pasting their selfies to the Selfie board.

Ericka: “My favorite color is yellow because it makes me feel calm.”

Adileny: “My favorite color is pink because it makes me happy!”


The discussions about color led to the next project which was based on the students’ favorite colors. Using a variety of materials from the art room, the students created a mixed media collage centered around their favorite color. We hoped that students would find different tints, tones and shades of their color to make a piece that reflected how they felt about the color.

Katie talking to a student about her mixed media collage.



Students had their photos taken as the way to begin the process of creating their self-portraits. The photos were projected onto the canvas and they traced them.  Once the image was traced, students painted their self-portrait using both watercolor pencils and paints. Students painted the backgrounds with their favorite color.

Tracing her image for her self-portrait.
Tracing his image for his self-portrait.
Students painting their self-portraits.
Painting his self-portrait.

Once the students completed the painting portion of their art work, they began to look for images and and words that describe themselves, their life goals, their likes and other things that are important to them. The students had come up with the words to describe themselves when we had a class discussion. If students couldn’t find the words in the magazines, then they typed in the words on the computer in the classroom and they changed the sizes, colors and fonts of the words.

Student uses a watercolor pencil for the details of his glasses.

Finally, students glued down the images and words in the background of their self-portrait and then they painted a layer of clear Modge Podge over the entire work to protect it.

Creating the collage around his self-portrait.
Completed self-portraits

9. How did you share your student’s learning process with your school faculty or community?

Students’ self-portraits hanging at CAPE’s Convergence exhibition.
Student and his dad at the opening reception of the CAPE Convergence exhibition.

We shared our learning process at two different exhibitions. First, students exhibited their self portraits, selfie board and mixed media color collages at the annual CAPE Convergence which was held at The Great Space on the UIC campus. At the opening reception, Azael’s father came and was able to see the art work for the first time.

The students took a field trip to Convergence and on the way home on the bus Katie saw A. had a huge smile on her face. She asked A. why she was smiling and A. commented, “I am so happy with my self-portrait. I just love myself so much.”

The students’ shared their learning process and their mixed media paintings at our second annual Snack & See. We invite the Ray Graham staff, teachers, students, parents and the CAPE staff to come and see the work and talk to the student artists.

Snack and See 2019
Snack and See 2019
Student and her mom at the second annual Snack and See event.

Teaching Artist Assessment:

How did you assess student arts 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.)

The assessment was summative, and it was orally presented in the form of a verbal reflection. The class met out in the Ray Graham garden, and together the students shared their art work by answering the questions that Katie and I asked. For the non-verbal students the assessment was modified so they could point to the images in their self-portraits. However, even the verbal students, when answering the questions, did in fact point to the collaged images in their art work. The questions are listed on the assessment below:

Assessment in the garden- Ellen listening to a student explain his self-portrait choices.

What were the results of the assessment? What did students learn in your class/project?

Here are some of the answers that students verbally expressed during the assessment/reflection conversations.

1. Can you tell or show us in three words how you described yourself in your self-portrait?

Antonio: “Sometimes I am friendly, helpful.”  “My face never turns out- but here it’s like I’m looking in the mirror at myself. I’m looking at another me.”

Ty: “I am singing, (eating) crackers and candy.”

Adileny: “Me, I’m beautiful, smart, helpful and want to be a chef.”

2. What does the color you chose communicate about who your are?

Antonio: “I choose blue because it is relaxing and I feel chill.”

Jashon: “Purple. Make’s me feel nice.”

A: “Me and my brother like red. It makes me feel happy.”

Erika: “Purple. Makes me feel calm.”

Adileny: Pink is my favorite cause it makes me feel happy!”

3. You chose images from the computer and magazines. You cut out these images because you felt a connection to them. Please explain how these images describe you, your attributes, and your goals?



  • points to the paint swatches: “I like to paint and draw.”
  • points to the cake: “I was hungry at the time and it’s cake.”
  • points to the wordsI am a helpful Person:  “I am.”

Later when Antonio was asked about his self portrait he commented, “My self-portrait makes me feel excited and so proud!”


  • points to headphones: “Beats. I wear headphones.”
  • points to the basketball: “Play basketball. I want to be a Bull’s player.”
  • points to shoes: “Purple ones.”


  • points to the word college: “I want to college.”
  • points o word Wendy’s: “I want to work at Wendy’s.”
  • points to the word clay: “I like the feel of clay because it’s squishy and makes me feel happy.”


  • points to the image of the chef: “I want to be a chef so I can be with my sister because she is a chef.”
  • points to the word beautiful: “I’m beautiful.”
  • points to the word college: “I want to learn more.”

What did you learn from analyzing the student assessments that informs your Arts teaching practice?

As we sat in the garden and listened to the students talk about their self-portraits, I felt that the entire process of the creating all the works and taking the selfies helped the students become more vocal about who they are. Their work helped answer their inquiry question: “How do I find my voice through art?”

Illinois Arts Learning Standards Addressed:

Introductory HS Levels VA:Cr1.2.Ia. Shape an artistic investigation of an aspect of present-
day life using a contemporary practice of art or design.

Introductory HS Levels VA:Pr6.1.I a. Analyze and describe the impact that an exhibition
or collection has on personal awareness of social, cultural, or political beliefs and understandings.

Introductory HS Levels Introductory HS Levels VA:Re8.1.I a. Construct meaningful interpretations, supported by evidence, of an artwork or collection of works through describing and analyzing feelings, subject matter, formal characteristics, art-making approaches, contextual information, and key concepts.