Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jian Zhi 剪纸

When I was in elementary school, my mother took art classes in the community to learn scherenschnitte. I've never tried it myself, but paper snowflakes are a family legacy, passed down to me from an aunt who has done snowflakes to represent the different twelve days of Christmas.

Now I live in China, and the art of the paper cut is still deeply tied to culture.

I would love to do a unit on the paper cut, making connections across time and throughout cultures to the designs, techniques, and cultural significance of the paper cut. Just a dream. You could easily use the medium to explore symmetrical and asymmetrical designs or positive and negative space, but symbolism, patterning, decoration, line, shape, emphasis, movement, and a host of others could apply. The image on the right is a paper cut that I designed, then digitally manipulated as part of a master's assignment during Chinese New Year last year.

Back in November, I passed on the paper cut unit that only exists in my head to my new TA. I was going to a curriculum meeting in another city and China and would be gone Monday-Wednesday. I only have elementary art Monday-Thursday, so I decided my TA would have a special week, teaching all the elementary classes with an isolated lesson of Chinese art. I had suggested calligraphy, but he preferred paper cutting. I tried to explain the big ideas, enduring understandings, and interdisciplinary connections. How I wanted them to learn the significance in the Chinese culture and relate the designs to concepts they'd been learning with me. Ultimately, it was more of a follow-the-directions lesson emphasizing fine motor skills than a cultural exploration of a medium and its use of symmetrical and asymmetrical designs. But it was a start. I don't think he was comfortable with spending large amounts of time in discussion during the lesson. Presenting images, directing conversation, and educating on the history of the paper cut in China using English. Instead, he preferred to spend the hour on art production.

The results were mixed. Many students were not able to complete the designs he prepared in the class period. And as he is new to teaching at our school, and he hasn't worked with my students, classroom management was difficult on both ends. Still it was a learning experience, especially for him.

To celebrate for Chinese New Year,
I asked him to create a display of some of the work, finished or unfinished, on the two bulletin boards in our hallway. The words were a struggle, as I insisted he cut them out of paper, not print them from a computer and staple the copy paper onto the white background. It's a board on paper cuts, so paper cut words further illustrate the concept. The English is literal translations of common Chinese New Year sayings. I wish all the paper cuts were done on the bright paper, not the pastel used in the bottom left of one board.

Otherwise, I think the boards are a festive way to display this one day venture into a traditional Chinese art form and decorate the school for Chinese New Year.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Class Pet

After our 5 week hiatus from school, I came back to a classroom with a new resident: Mr. Moth.

At least I'm guessing he's a moth. He's got wings but a very large body, like that of a carpenter bee. I call him a moth because it's less scary than the alternatives.

He first came out to play during a prep period. His buzzing wings startled me, but I decided to leave him alone.

          He'd find his way out eventually.

One day, he came out in front of the students. Fourth graders, to be exact. They weren't so fond of him. Screaming, hiding under the table, refusing to do work. I wanted them to ignore him, as I'd done earlier, but it quickly became clear that other actions were necessary. Since he was drawn to the light, we turned out all the lights and shut the blinds, save one open window. It was cold, but we suffered the drop in temperature, in hopes he would fly out. Nope. I even trapped him under the blinds and tried to push him towards the window, but he managed to get free. Eventually, he settled down and went back to hiding from the students.

          Until today.

In the middle of third grade art, he decided to stretch his wings. Not willing to sacrifice work time again, I quickly announced "That's the class pet." What? "Yeah. He's a moth and he's the class pet. He's been living here since Christmas break. I promise he won't hurt anyone."

Well not only did we avoid the complete chaos of the fourth grade freak out session, we made a friend. By the end of the period, third grade had developed a list of names and voted on their favorites. I approve of all the top-rated names. Mothy, Dumpling, Arty, Fly Guy, and Junior M. You can see them listed on the board below, along with some less popular options. Mothy is my least favorite. Dumpling is just funny because we live in China. Arty--perfect for the art room! Fly Guy has a great rhyme for a flying creature. And Junior M, well that's in honor of me, Miss M.

I'm thinking if Mr. Moth makes an appearance in any more classes, I'll let them vote on this list of five.

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