As I arrived at Sunnyside Elementary in Clackamas on an assignment to photograph a classroom during their Right Brain arts residency last week, I remembered that as an elementary student, art was always the most exciting part of my school day. As part of my job with The Right Brain Initiative, I have the special task of trying to capture in photos what it “looks like” when students are engaging their whole brains in creative endeavors.
Upon entering the still infrequently used art room, I imagined that Mrs. Foote’s 2nd grade students would likely be experiencing that excitement too, especially because arts experiences such as this one are not yet typical for them, but rather only one out a few times during the entire year they are able to enjoy time dedicated to an arts activity. Their residency this year integrates “seeing” as a photographer with understanding and communicating about their subject as a writer, and will include five hour-long sessions with their class and the teaching artist, Julie Keefe. Ms. Foote, who collaboratively planned the residency with the artist, will also supplement with more curriculum connections
The class shuffled into the room with contained anticipation. Julie Keefe quickly gathered students around her and sat down to review what they had done the day before. Students had taken digital cameras outside to visually capture what they had brainstormed to be “the best part of me”, and with partners, they experimented with different perspectives and angles. With these photography skills, they took multiple shots of one another’s chosen attributes, such as their hair, ears, legs, or hands. On this day, each student took a turn to share with the group what they chose as their “best part” and which shots they enjoyed taking or being the subject of the day before. The seriousness and attention that the students gave to this conversation was more like a college-level discussion than what you’d expect in a standard 2nd grade classroom.
Students were then asked to find a seat with their partners and that their photographs from the day before were going to be distributed. The energy was palpable. Students beamed with happiness as they viewed their photos. As the students examined and discussed each and every photograph, I began to frame shots of this activity through my own camera. Julie encouraged the students to use their art vocabulary to describe and wonder about their photos while doing a “gallery walk” around the room. As they scrutinized photographs to begin editing down to the best images, students spoke earnestly and thoughtfully, sharing remarks like “I like your use of color,” and “That is a neat perspective,” and again I all but forgot I was in a room full of 2nd graders.
Students in this class would later build on their vision as photographers by putting poetic words to their images.
Allie Maya is the program assistant at The Right Brain Initiative.