Interview with Amy Mooney, Ph.d.

How do you use American art as a teaching strategy in the classroom?
"It is key to look for a connection and recognize that as a whole, we are a visual culture. It is the one sense that we privilege over all others. Understanding what we see requires additional honing of our critical faculties. As teachers, we need to model visual literacy—how we go about gathering, organizing, interpreting, and synthesizing information. This practice draws from Bloom's taxonomy and, with the right activities, can result in an increased awareness of self and society. Looking to the methods employed by visual thinking strategies is also helpful. Increasing a student's observation skills and evidential reasoning ability supports all forms of learning. Our "close read" approach is inspired by this method developed by museum educators Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine. You can learn more about their approach at: http://www.vtshome.org/pages/about-us. I also consider the national standards that we set. The CPS charges us with the tremendous responsibility of helping "young people make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse democratic society in an interdependent world." Concepts of citizenship and cultural diversity can be understood through art. By looking at art and visiting a museum students can facilitate their understanding of what it means to participate in a democratic society. Thus, the classroom becomes a sort of microcosm of the values that we hope to impart."

How do you select a piece of American art to go with a lesson? Where does a teacher start, with the artist, the piece of art, the time period, etc.?
"I would recommend that teachers begin by asking themselves questions about the learning objectives and content that they wish to engage. In some cases, a historical connection can facilitate the selection. For example, if the Civil War is the topic, then looking for works of art that were created in the 1860s could be a good starting point, but then the key is to probe deeper, asking: What is it that the teacher wants to communicate about the Civil War? Do they want to address the economic and ideological reasons that led to the war? The loss of life? The impact of war on daily life? The African American participation in the war? These types of questions will help to clarify teachers' own expectations of a given work of art and ensure a good fit.The language arts teacher might have a different line of questioning, beginning with the goal of teaching the parts of a story. This might lead to looking for a work of art that has plot, characters, symbolism, etc. A visual arts teacher may want to select a work that demonstrates the qualities of value and hue. It will be different for everyone, but basically I would counsel teachers to select a work that complements their learning objectives."

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