When I was in the sixth grade, I was a student in my mom's Language Arts class. Apart from occasionally getting in trouble for talking with my friends, Language Arts became my favorite subject. I can still remember learning about Egypt and World War II, but my favorite unit was on the Harlem Renaissance. Each student had to choose an important figure to do a biography report on. I chose Jelly Roll Morton because the name sounded funny to me at the time. I remember reading some short Langston Hughes poems in class, and learning more about the time period in general.
Fast forward 14 years later and I am teaching sixth grade art at Oregon Elementary School. I developed units to introduce students to some of the most important periods in art history. We recently finished a unit on Cubism, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to transition into the Harlem Renaissance. Cubism extended into the 1920s, which is about when the Harlem Renaissance is considered to have started.
As an art teacher, the obvious choice is to begin with the great painters of this period such as Jacob Lawrence. Instead I chose to revert back to what initially sparked my interest when I was a sixth grader, and began the unit with music. Students listened to Count Basie, Josephine Baker, and of course, Jelly Roll Morton. We talked about the imagery music creates as we listen. Students worked collaboratively to create figurative and/or abstract drawings with oil pastels.
The next class period, students were introduced to poets of the Harlem Renaissance: Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Clarissa Scott Delaney, and Gwendolyn Bennett. At our six table groups, each student had a different poem. After reading the poem independently, students shared their thoughts with the group, and then we had a class discussion about imagery. I listed their ideas on the board as they shared. Then each student created an illustration for the poems.
This Friday we will be visiting the computer lab to learn about visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Jacob Lawrence may be one of the most well-known figures, and is one of my personal favorites. During student teaching I did a mural project based on some of his work. Students will also discover the work of Romare Bearden and Lois Mailou Jones. After learning about each of the artists and viewing their work, students will be encouraged to create an original artwork inspired by their favorite of the three artists. They may work in any chosen two-dimensional medium. Once their artwork is complete, I would like to encourage them to write an accompanying poem, and/or choose a contemporary song that best describes their artwork.
Hopefully this will be a unit they remember long after sixth grade as I have!
Mr. DeWilde's Blog
I post information about projects and learning experiences from my curriculum.