From Pictures to Tableau: An Arts Based Strategy

4 Min Read  •  Visual Thinking

Remember the KWL – “Know, Want to Know, Learned”?  Long ago I learned that strategy of introducing new material to my students – ask them what they already know and want to know about a new topic and then add what was learned.  Later, I was introduced to a new version that read:  What I think I know, What I want to know, Misconceptions, New Learning. This new version had student responses on sticky notes so the statements could be moved around in case something a child “thought I knew” turned out to be a “misconception” and the questions could be moved to “new learning” with the answers.  I thought that was a great new development in the old KWL.  Well, this arts based strategy has nothing on the power of image and tableau to engage students in and prepare them for new learning.

Taking it to the Next Level

Being part of a Turnaround Arts school has many benefits and meeting amazing specialists in the world of arts and arts integration is just one of them.  Melanie Rick of Focus 5 is one of those specialists.  In addition to her work with Focus 5, she has worked with the Kennedy Center as a course leader and instructional arts coach.  Over the two-plus years, our school has been a Turnaround Arts school, Melanie has come on several occasions to help the staff learn to integrate images, Acting Right and tableau into their teaching.  On her last visit, Ms. Rick demonstrated and led the staff through several ways to move from pictures to tableau to introduce new learning to students.

What is so fantastic about using images is that they are so engaging regardless of the literacy level of the students.  All sighted students can appreciate an image on some level and most can easily learn to read an image noticing the setting; any objects; facial expressions, clothing and body language of characters/subjects; medium (like photo versus painting); etc.  When students learn to notice these things through direct instruction and from peer modeling, they can start to make predictions and generate wonderings about new learning

For example, I watched Ms. Rick introduce the Gold Rush to a group of 4th-grade students who already had experience with Visual Thinking Strategies and Acting Right.  First, she asked them to just consider the name “Gold Rush” to activate their thinking.  Then, she showed them a number of images related to the Gold Rush.  In small groups, the students discussed these images and created tableau (frozen pictures created with the body) to recreate the images.  This generated lots of enthusiasm, helped the students draw some conclusions and created some wonderings about the Gold Rush.

The Arts Based Strategy

One way to work with images is just to have the students generate observations about the pictures themselves.  When looking at images depicting the Gold Rush, the students might notice the tools the subjects were using, the setting in the outdoors often near water, the fact that most of the pictures had men but not women, the clothing indicating this was not something that happened in their lifetime, etc.  That in and of itself could be enough to whet the appetite of curious learners and create a rich learning environment.  Incorporating tableau takes that one step further.  By having the students physically recreate the images, they are engaging more deeply.  They have to select those elements they feel are most important since they won’t be able to completely recreate the image. This is how arts based strategy works.

This can indicate a great deal to the teacher in terms of the students’ understanding.  By embodying the image, the students have to take on the body posture and facial expression of any human or animal subjects pulling them further into their understanding of the image and the relationship between subjects and actions in the image.  They might embody any natural elements or tools in the image further impressing upon them other important details that can reveal clues about this new topic to be studied.

By using images as your arts based strategy and having the students create tableaux based on those images, all the students are now invested in this new topic and are armed with an awareness and some wonderings.  By recording those (even incorporating the old or newer version of KWL!), the students can reflect on their learning at the end of the unit and see how far they have come!