Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Using Art to Teach Social Emotional Learning at BCS

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) “is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Studies have found that developing social and emotional skills at an early age fosters teamwork and problem-solving abilities, helping students grow into good students, citizens, and workers. SEL also lowers stress-levels and reduces certain risky behaviors, including bullying and drug use. Bullis Charter School stays current with these findings and believes strongly in helping its students develop the social and emotional skills necessary to thrive at all stages of life. For this reason, BCS integrates SEL into every aspect of its program, from the six pillars to classroom instruction.

BCS art specialist Amy Felder integrates social and emotional learning lessons into her curriculum throughout the year. She engages her students in creative SEL art lessons including Super Self-portraits where students create drawings of themselves as superheroes who possess one imagined superpower that will help them overcome a fear. First graders study the stars and the moon and create their own version of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. As part of the lesson, they read about Van Gogh and discuss his life struggles. The students practice empathy and imagine what it would be like to be Van Gogh. When learning about how certain townspeople mistreated Van Gogh, they discuss the importance of being caring and respectful towards others and how not doing so can leave someone feeling sad and lonely, like Van Gogh.

Recently, Ms. Felder invited artist Barbara Tolloczko, grandmother of a BCS kindergarten student, to talk to the class about how they can express their feelings through art. Mrs. Tolloczko showed the students a slideshow, explained how she gets her ideas for her own artwork and shared the different mediums she uses for her art. The simplest way to express herself, she explained, “is to draw something with a pencil on paper.”  She next showed the students various ways to add color to the drawing by using watercolors, colored pencils, markers, crayons, or pastels. When the slide of an oil painting depicting a dancing lady appeared, she asked the students, “What did I do to make it look like the woman is dancing?” The students examined the figure before them. The posture of dancer’s head was tilted back, her arms were behind her, she was standing on one leg, and her dress was floating in the air; all signifying she wasn’t standing but dancing.

Next, she discussed with the students how she decides what to draw. Of course, the easiest way is to draw or paint what you see. Sometimes though, it is fun to draw or paint what you imagine. After sharing slides of mythical animals, Ms. Tolloczko asked,  “Did you know that it is also possible to paint your idea or opinion about something? For example you can use snakes to represent someone’s hair if you want to depict them as not a nice person.”

Most importantly, art can be used to express your feelings and this can be done in ways other than drawing a happy or sad face. Ms. Tolloczko showed the students a painting of a lady with an octopus on her back and asked them what they thought this could mean? Perhaps the woman is trying to escape something but can’t. Maybe she feels overwhelmed or is carrying a heavy burden. She then showed the students a slide of a woman dancing and swirling in a bright happy dress. “How do you think she feels?” Mrs. Tolloczko asked the students? “Happy,” they responded in unison. “But, did you know you do not always need to put a person in your picture to show if you are feeling happy or sad. The colors you use can also represent your feelings.”

Armed with their new artistic knowledge, Ms. Felder gave the kindergarten students time to create their own artwork representing how they feel. She instructed them not to share the feeling they were drawing. When finished, she invited them to present their drawings and let their classmates guess the feeling depicted. By the end of the lesson, these young students had all discovered a new way to express their feelings through art. Developing this awareness of their emotions is the first step in learning to dealing with feelings in a healthy way, which then allows the students to control their actions. Instead of acting out from fear or anger, students can empathize with what another is feeling or experiencing and respond accordingly with care and kindness.