Writing in Middle School Art

Writing in Middle School Art

Rebecca and Sarah are two amazing art teachers in our school. They explicitly teach, model, and guide students to their next steps through creative art units. They study the works of other artist and support students to try on those styles while adding their own artistic touch to their work. They want their students to start incorporating the language of art when discussing their own and others’ pieces. They also want to build the foundational skills for their students to write about art which they will build on high school. But they were noticing a startling difference in how students talked about art and how they wrote about art. The students’ writing was below their expectations. And so, they reached to out me as the literacy coach to help them think through how they could support their students’ writing in art.

We started with an initial meeting for them to share their concerns and hopes with me. Through that conversation we were able to identify several key strategies we use in writing workshop that could be helpful for them in art: starting with a mentor text (from real writing about art that exists in the world), identifying and listing key writing skills on a student facing checklist, and using their own writing to model steps and strategies. Rebecca and Sarah then asked if they could come and observe an English writing workshop lesson to see how we teach with mentor texts.

Next, I brought them into one of our grade seven writing workshop classes for an observation. They set up their notebooks with two kinds of notes. They made a T-chart to capture what they noticed and what they were wondering. They set up a page to capture specific things the teacher was doing to unpack the mentor text. We were in the classroom for about twenty minutes to observe the lesson and the first one-on-one conference. At different times, I whispered key moves the teacher was making that I wanted them to notice and how those moves supported the students’ learning and ability to work independently.

After we left the classroom, we took a few more minutes together to discuss what they had observed and for me to answer their questions. We decided that the next step was for them to select a few texts of writing about art that would be accessible for their students to use as a mentor text. I had a few picture books from the library ready for them to start their investigation. We decided to meet again once they had time to collect these texts.

We touched base a few times on email and in passing at our Friday morning staff teas, but with reports due then high school art exhibition projects coming in, it took us a little longer than we had all hoped. But, we all persisted and last week were able to reconnect and continue the conversation. I’ll write about that in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!


2 thoughts on “Writing in Middle School Art

  1. Hi Anne Marie,

    This is actually making me think that as coaches we could put together a series of posts about ‘the ways coaching begins.’ There is a great crossover with digital literacy too–the power of mentor texts (when you know where to go to for great examples) is something I should write more about–and your post has me wondering if it would be useful to put up a post showing the spectrum of good to great mentor texts…Hmm–thanks for provoking that thinking!
    Kind Regards,

  2. Hi Anne Marie,

    Reading your recount of your first few conversations with Sarah and Rebecca made me think about my own practice. Using mentor texts can be so powerful. The best piece of advice I ever received about teaching writing was to put myself in the student’s shoes. What would I write? It’s through that advice that helped me take the time to write what I was asking the students to write. I’m wondering if they have written about the art they’re asking their students to write about? What did they find challenging about it? I’m also thinking about the fact that they noticed a difference between the talk and the writing. I’m wondering if writing it down might feel more permanent for those who are trying to figure their thoughts out and build up their confidence in discussing a subject that they may or may not feel comfortable in.

    I think our students are so fortunate to have access to the incredible talent we have at the school. I’m really interested to read about how Sarah and Rebecca up level their students’ writing about art.

    thanks for sharing,

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