The challenge of COVID-19 has called for immense innovation on the part of our educators. They are coming up with creative solutions to make sure our children get a strong education, even in these trying times. In the new Innovators Series, we profile their great work. 

Triptychs and Timelines

Art and Social Studies at the International School of Louisiana

Anne-Sophie Lassalle and Caitlin Sellers teach third grade social studies at the International School of Louisiana (ISL). ISL is a language immersion school; all classes, except for English Language Arts, are taught in either Spanish or French. Lassalle and Sellers immerse their students in French, and through an innovative partnership with a local nonprofit, they’re also teaching them through art.

Lassalle and Sellers are joined once a week by Tiana Nobile, a teacher with the nonprofit KID smART, which integrates the arts with academic subjects in New Orleans public schools. In Lassalle and Sellers’ class, the result is a hybrid of social studies, language, and arts education.

ISL educators Anne-Sophie Lassalle (left) and Caitlin Sellers (middle) and KID smART educator Tiana Nobile (right)

This means the students make comic strips to illustrate paragraphs from their textbooks. They make portraits of characters they read about. This past year, when class has been online, they have used online applications to make beautiful visual timelines of history.

Art from a unit in which students learned about the history of European colonization in our region, its impact on the Choctaw people who were already here, and how it formed the Louisiana we know today

“The things that we need to do and adapt in our curriculum in order to successfully teach American curriculum in French requires innovation. It requires us to sit outside of the box, to put ourselves in our students’ shoes,” says Sellers.

In this way, adding the arts to their classroom has been a natural next step. Lassalle was nervous about it at first. When she was introduced to KID smART two years ago, she had just moved from France, where she grew up and had been teaching for almost a decade. She was settling into a new country and a new school.

“When we had that first meeting for KID smART, I was brand new….I had so many things to do and then adding this seemed like too much. But now I’m very glad…I’m learning as much as the kids. I’m very proud. It’s not adding something, it’s just working differently and it’s very helpful for the kids.”

Sellers and Lassalle have found that their students are excited by the chance to learn social studies through art. Nobile is their co-teacher for these lessons.

She is a working artist and poet herself, and she is passionate about education.

“In my experience, when students are engaging in academic content in a creative way…it really deepens their perspective,” Nobile says.

One of Nobile’s recorded lessons (with the additional co-teacher of her cat!)

One way they engaged with the content this year was through making a triptych, or a piece of art with three panels. This was an artistic response to the state’s academic goals for students in third grade.

“One of the 3rd grade units in social studies includes comparing Louisiana culture to other places around the world,” Nobile explains. “They were focused on comparing it to France, India, and Brazil, and we thought especially since it’s three, it would be an organic connection to create triptychs,” Nobile says.

Because the class was virtual at the time, they did so using the Google Drawing app.

“It was really cool because not only did we get to insert images into the Google Drawing file, but they got to play with color adjustment, and placement, and size, and layering,” says Nobile.

One student connected the cultures of India, Brazil, and France using images of their local cuisine superimposed with a transparent image of their flag. Another student’s triptych showed a monument from each country – the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and Rio de Janiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue.

Triptych images made by third graders at the International School of Louisiana

“For some students, the virtual medium has been a helpful thing…before COVID, it was always paper and pencil, scissors and glue, and while I feel like that met the needs of the majority of the students in the room..there were some students that struggled with fine motor skills,” Nobile explains.

Sellers recalls one student who thrived with the “Jamboard” program online, which allows students to drag and drop images onto their screen to create a virtual collage. The opportunity to use art transformed his engagement overall. He loved making his visual timeline of Louisiana history.

“He hates drawing anything with a pencil, that’s not his thing at all…and he struggles a lot with participating in class at all, and so this year…having the timeline of Louisiana history and doing it on the computer with Jamboard has really increased his interest and participation,” says Sellers.

Another child, says Lassalle, “was a good student but very shy….he was very smart, but his oral skills [in French] were not as good as his writing skills….and through art, he did a portrait and he was very proud and he dared to present his work.”

For other students, expressing a historical fact through art, as when they made visual timelines of Louisiana history, helps it “stick.”

“Now they can remember the dates, the event, who, when [something happened]; it’s amazing to see how their use of art is helping,” Lassalle said.

And Sellers points out that adding the arts expands what a single class can cover.

“I think that art integration, in structured, careful, intentional ways…helps tie subjects together. Arts integrated into social studies can bring in elements of math that they need, for shapes and lines in geometry – it ties various subjects together to create something that’s a bit more holistic…it’s great for them,” she says.

Lassalle agrees. It has transformed her teaching and brought new possibilities to her class.

“In France, we have to teach one hour of art a week…so during my nine years in France, it was a separate subject…I realized with Tiana and KID smART, it’s actually easy to mix [art with other subjects],” she explains.

“And so for me and my teaching, it’s a new thing – and it’s innovative.”

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