I have found that tying a project to the maker's experience is the best motivation in a classroom. Though I am using "altered books" as the focus of this post, this could easily be applied to a painting project, drawing series, clay exploration, or even a photography assignment. Most everything I post on my blog can be applied to more than just one medium. I love building scaffolds for my students to build with.
This exploration begins with a little self-examination. We look at 5 life events that make us who we are today. Here is the form I used. It is included in my book, "The Art Student's Workbook" from Firehouse Publications. They choose their own 5 events, but I have provided a list of some common experiences to get them started. I encourage them to go beyond this starting point.
- I spoke about how when I was in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade I had a very influential art teacher who helped me see that I did have a talent and he encouraged it. This was pivotal in me connecting to art education.
- When I was in college, I had a chance to do a student exchange to Japan for a year. I learned to be independent, learned to thrive in new situations daily, found my own inner strength, and a passion for Asian art that is with me today.
- The passing of my father was also pivotal. I had to make the decision to withdraw life-support when we knew it would not help in the long run. I put his ashes at the foot of a mountain where he wanted to rest, and I was his executor, doing all he wanted after he was gone. Though this was a very sad chapter in my life, I was honored he trusted me above all others, and I cherish all the lives of those around me even more.
I explained that both positive things and negative experiences shape who we are. I also explained that I understand not everyone is ready to explore tough issues. Students were free to dig as deep or topically as they felt comfortable with. They were also welcome to include tough experiences, but did not have to explain them in detail while we graded. Saying "This part represents a difficult time," would be perfectly acceptable. Some did go deep, with dark symbols for abuse issues, and others stayed in their comfort zone with topics of likes and achievements like a driver's license. Obviously if something alarming comes up, seek the help of guidance counselors.
Below is a Youtube compilation of a few projects.