Over the past three years I have been doing something with my classes which now has become a mainstay of my educational practice which, I hope, is packed with a lot of fun. The first of our four Buddy Classes happened. I pair my Art 1 students, mostly ninth graders, with a class from the elementary school. This year one mono-lingual class and two dual language classes. Over the period of a school year the students meet four times, once for each of our corresponding units in Art 1. Right now the students are studying drawing, and for the Buddy Class we do light drawing.
Light drawing is using a light source (glow sticks) and long exposure photography. I booked the black box, recruited the art and photography TA’s and we all got together for a heap of fun. It works like this: Students stand at one end of the room with glow sticks and the photographer sits at the other with the camera. Someone (me) turns off the lights and the students move the glow sticks in a pattern, the camera shutters stays open, we found eight seconds was the right time for our environment. When the shutter closes the path of the glow sticks has been recorded.
The students are organized into groups, two HS students with 4-6 first grade students. At first they are let free to do what they want with the glow sticks but the challenges get increasingly complex. First try it out, second, shapes, third a scene, and we end with writing. HS students work together with and help organize the first grade students, although there was more than one instance of a first grade student organizing an HS student.
In preparation the HS students are explained how light drawing works. We also have a class discussion about working with younger classmates. We poll the room for those who are older siblings and the those who are younger siblings. There is class discussion about effective and positive ways of dealing with younger students. I lend them a little expertise from my times as an elementary school teacher as well. After the event the students complete a survey about which techniques they used and what they will do next time.
This type of experience is important for a few reasons. First, it provides my students a way to use what we have been studying in class from a teaching standpoint. It asks the high school students to think about gestural drawing in a way that requires understanding so that it can be explained. Second, it builds relationships across the school. The first-grade students explore a part of the school they are rarely in. They work with students and teachers from different divisions, and they are doing something with purpose. The HS students get to take a leadership role and learn how to organize an activity as well as listen to suggestions and turn those into ideas. To the first and second point simultaneously, the first-grade students will begin a unit on light in just a few weeks and already their teachers have asked if her students can interview mine. Finally, the social and emotional learning (SEL) benefits are put into action through class content. Our school’s SEL competencies include nurturing healthy relationships, through this way we are learning through the constructivist approach, that is doing it in the company of others.
Some fun anecdotes: A fairly shy high school student (above) was observed being an excellent leader with young children. A first grade student wore her light up shoes on purpose, to add to the fun. Two days later the first grade students visited my classroom when they were making a map of the school. Their teacher told me they were hoping to meet their buddies. Sadly, their buddies were not present, but my diploma students were and the first graders came in to say hello. On the survey for the question inquiring about how much the activity was enjoyed, one student selected the “I want to be a first grade teacher" option.
Our next buddy class will be happening in a month. The HS students will be studying painting and how art is an interdisciplinary subject. With the first grade students we will write Chinese calligraphy, make some winter-time paintings, and have a go at the very large paint brush (it’s really big, taller than most first grade students.). Stay tuned. If you have questions and comments please reach out. Be well and do good work!