Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Mixed Media Self

Who am I? I'm a male Pre-Kindergarten teacher working in an international school. My hairline is receding at an increasing rate. I enjoy cycling, sometimes with the girlfriend and sometimes alone, but I enjoy coffee, cake, and Negroni, more. Italy owns a significant piece of my heart. My beliefs lean towards a simplistic theory that sometimes we're struggling uphill, and sometimes we're blissfully coasting downhill. Never to mind, there's always something worthy at the end. Who are you?

It's both an inevitable question and an obvious choice. 'Who am I, who are you?' The wonderings of the first weeks of school, and our first PYP unit of inquiry here in Pre-Kindergarten. November seems an oddly late time in the school year to be asking introductory questions, but although Dutch weather, dark mornings, the evening intake of red wine, and general tiredness, all point to a pre-Christmas point on the calendar, it's worth remembering that it is only mid-September. School has been in full flow for three weeks, yet I have three months worth of grey hair. Such is the frantic glorification of 'busy' in the international school calendar.

Teachers the world over are annually afforded with the luxury of starting again at the end of each summer. And it is a luxury. The process of deciding which bits to keep from last year, and which to never speak of again, can range from complete reinvention of the self, to the humble omission of that slightly creepy picture book. 

Personally, the gamble of painted self-portraits was on my radar of improvement. In previous years I've lent a helping hand to my four-year-old artists in the shape of a photo-copied facial outline. That came after a particularly startling batch of unique shapes with facial features. Bearing in mind these things adorn the walls till the following June, you'll understand the careful approach. 

At the start of the school year, some of the children are yet to turn four. They are, generally, the mark makers and the scribblers. Some children will be turning five very soon, and they are confident and talented artists in their own right. They're confident with a range of creative tools, and aren't afraid to show it. The range of ability and independence is huge, and challenging. Therefore, reverting to a simple, 'let them be', approach works well. Of course it does. The challenging part, for us teachers, is to draw out that process of self-reflection and introspect, and evidence it... in a meaningful way... and in a way which looks nice on the wall. Mixed media and the blog of Bridgette Guerzon Mills provided wonderful answers and guidance.

Essentially copying her idea, I consoled myself with the notion that there are very few truly original ideas in 2015, and that even though the idea of completing mixed media self-portraits with a Pre-Kindergarten class wouldn't be original, the process would. The children would produce original, unique pieces, and their answers to my questions would also be unique and original. Plus, I Tweeted Bridgette to give her attribution as my shining light, a beacon of motivation in a sea of Pintrest, if you will. 

Anyway, the first layer was a wax crayon drawing of the children's favourite things, or something they like. We had fine and intricate images of a playground full of children, a wonderful caricature of Super Mario, a page of systematic red scribble, and everything in-between. Andre took great pleasure in extending my knowledge and understanding, which explaining that his red anger was in-fact a T5 tornado. "It's the strongest one there is Glenn, be careful". Empty threats aside, the next weave in these mixed media tapestries was water colour paints, naturally. Their favourite colour paint over the top of the crayon drawings, and questions and scribbles from me on why they like that colour.

Last year we bulk ordered hand-held mirrors in several shades of colourful plastic. The intention was a stern, and spur-of-the-moment look at the self. Hard enough as an 'educated' thirty-two year old, yet near impossible for a four-year-old who is just 32mins away from recess. To spark some interest in this gentle peer into the window of their own souls, I put to use some professional development by the lovely Stacey Storyteller, and our brand new Cannon 600D. Having spent just a few moments talking to the children, both in small groups and individually, trying to make them laugh, pull sad and silly faces, favourite faces etc, an eclectic gallery of personal expression soon appeared in the iPhoto library. It was a simple and enjoyable task to print these off, and spend time discussing them with each child. The images were sent home with instructions for the EAL beginners in the group, and those responses, too, provided genuine introspect. 

With all the colour of the paints and pastel crayons, black and white pictures provided an aesthetic contrast, and the children did a sterling job of selecting the one portrait photo that was 'just right'. The careful cutting and sticking was down to me, as was the laminating, which I find therapeutic.

The result, was a genuine look into the self, completed with direct quotes captured at each stage, a batch of unerring photographical portraits, evidence of genuine reflection upon mood and expression, work with two different creative tools for the children, and that's excluding my own development in the area of photography. Furthermore, there were no excruciating ten minute debates with Charlie about the colour of his eyes, or trying to convince Ben that he isn't black.

Enjoy your year, everyone!

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