An art project on myths and fables gives teens a taste of teaching
We teach our students all manner of skills, but we rarely tell them anything about teaching. Hardly ever do we open the door to our world and let our classes see what life is like on the other side. I decided to change that by giving my group of 16- and 17-year-olds the chance to teach children aged 4-5. The results were better than I could ever have expected.
The starting point for this experiment was a visit with the older students to the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum in Athens, Greece, which celebrates the work of the famous jewellery designer. Its permanent displays also explore everything from science to ancient Greek antiquities.
The purpose of the visit was to raise students' awareness of their own heritage and culture, and to give them some interesting visual stimuli to inspire them as they embarked on creating their own jewellery. Two central themes were chosen: Greek mythology and Aesop's fables, tales that have strong moral value.
Back in the classroom, the students drew mind maps and formulated various ideas for pieces they could create that would link the past to the present. Some drew parallels between the tale of the hard-working ant and the reckless cicada - or grasshopper in some versions - and the recent financial crisis.
The second part of their task was more challenging: they had to complete a collaborative project with the help of the kindergarten students at our school. This meant coming up with a concept for the piece, linking it to their original ideas, dividing the manual work between themselves and the younger students and finding ways of clearly communicating what they wanted their little helpers to make.
The result? The younger children gathered eagerly into groups and followed their "teachers" for the day. The classroom was bustling, filled with energy, innocence, excitement and often brutal honesty - mainly from the kindergarteners.
The works produced were varied: clay sea horses; painted paper flowers attached to a large-scale portrait; drawings of Greek goddesses and gods; clay tools; painted balloons that formed the wings of Icarus; drawings of the myth of the Minotaur that later became an animated film; and Medusa's hair created from tights filled with plaster.
Initially, the older students were in shock from the trauma of having to present their work to a surprisingly demanding audience, but they worked out how to adapt their projects to the younger students' needs. They lowered or raised their expectations, found ways of communicating using simple language and went through all the emotions a teacher experiences: excitement, anticipation, frustration, stress and finally pride at a job well done.
There was an extra reward to come. The works produced were put on display in an official exhibition at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum that lasted four months and attracted the attention of the press and visitors. It was the perfect reward for the students' hard work, but more importantly it consolidated the fact that group collaboration and working outside one's comfort zone can have effective and exciting results.
Marina Kouroumali is a visual arts teacher at the Moraitis School in Athens, Greece
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