Teacher Tool: AWTT Portrait Study Cycle

Subject: Methods for Integrating AWTT Portraits into the Classroom
Age groups: Elementary School Middle School High School Homeschooling
Resource type: Teacher Tools

AWTT´s Portrait Study Cycle is intended to give teachers a variety of ways to use the portraits in classrooms. This flexible approach allows teachers, schools or districts to incorporate AWTT in the manner that makes the most sense to their existing curriculum and educational priorities.

The Portrait Study Cycle below is divided into the following five segments (described below):

1. Portrait Study/Visual Literacy

2. Essential Questions

3. Curriculum Connections

4. Community Connections

5. Creative Student Responses

These segments are designed to build from one to the next over the course of weeks or months. However, teachers may adapt any one segment or combine them for shorter periods of time.

1. Portrait Study/Visual Literacy:

Portraits can be presented to the students as posters, projections for the website, a field trip to a nearby AWTT exhibit, or by hosting their own AWTT portrait exhibit.

Students discuss the artistic elements of the portrait:

  • Composition
  • Color choice
  • The portrait subject´s expression
  • The relationship between the portrait and the quote, and the portrait and the biography
  • How does the portrait make you feel/think?
  • What reaction is the artist trying to invoke?

Possible discussion prompts, using Rosa Parks as an example:

How is Rosa Parks´ head positioned in her portrait? What color is the background of the Rosa Parks portrait? What could these artistic choices represent? Is Parks painted as a younger or older woman?Why?

How would you describe Park´s mood in the portrait? Does Rosa Parks´ kind of "tired" make her more or less likely to act? Fannie Lou Hamer said, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." How does her statement relate to that of Rosa Parks?

2. Essential Questions:

Essential Questions can help students make connection between the portrait subject and some of the following:

  • Their own lives and experiences.
  • How things work in their communities.
  • How citizens can influence their families, towns and cities, and countries.
  • How to envision solutions to the problems around them.

Give students an Essential Question as a way to begin thinking about a Portrait and place the portrait subject into a larger context. An Essential Question is one that is both specific enough to engage students and open enough to allow responses to be various and diverse.

Possible Essential Questions include:

Guide students to create their own Essential Question(s), which they can ask their fellow classmates, families or communities. They should study the selected portrait(s), read the quote(s), the biography(s) and explore the related resources in order to form their Essential Question(s).

3. Curriculum Connections

AWTT´s intention is that teachers will integrate Units of Study, Lesson Plans, and/or the portraits into existing curricula. Common subjects where AWTT materials have been used include: social studies/civics; art; language arts/English; history; science and math. Many AWTT themes can be applied to specific curriculum areas such as civil rights, environmental issues, business and economics, 19th century, workers' rights, women´s rights; journalism and media; war & peace.

AWTT´s materials also lend themselves to an interdisciplinary approach, whether it is in a single lesson or an integrated, multi-subject plan for a whole semester adopted across a grade level or in a school. See AWTT´s Units of Study for a more complete plan for integrating AWTT into the classroom.

Examples of an integrated disciplinary approach could be the following:

  • An art teacher discusses the portrait in terms of visual literacy;
  • The language arts teacher uses the quote as a writing prompt;
  • The socials studies teacher places the portrait subject (and the portrait) into a historical context or examines it in terms of civics;
  • A math or science teacher uses the portrait and its subject to discuss economic and environmental justice.

4. Community Connections

Think Locally. Have students connect their study of the AWTT portrait(s) to specific local issues that have meaning to them in their lives. These issues could apply to the school community, the neighborhoods where they live, or the larger city or region. Examples of questions to help frame local issues could include:

  • Are their communities safe for children? For their mothers? If not, why?
  • Do they know people who are in jail? Are there local issues that relate to the School to Prison Pipeline?
  • Are there high incidences of asthma in their communities? Can students identify local environmental issues?
  • How many jobs do their parents work? Do the students have jobs? Are there economic justice issues that affect their lives?
  • Is there a form of prejudice or racism that is an issue their school or community?
  • Do students have access to nutritious food at home and in school? How does/or doesn´t this happen?

AWTT suggests the following, solution oriented approach to these issues:

Ask students to identify portrait subjects whose ideas and actions relate to the themes they have identified. Then ask the students what the AWTT portrait subjects did or would have done if faced with similar issues in their communities. What could the students do to make changes in their own communities? (Some of these subjects are difficult to discuss. Feel free to contact AWTT for advice on how to bring complicated topics into your classroom.)

5. Creative and Action-oriented Student Responses

AWTT recommends that students keep journals, particularly if they are studying the AWTT portraits over the course of a semester or year. These journals will help them to keep track of their ideas, reactions and emotions as they study the portraits and make curriculum and community connections.

AWTT encourages teachers and students to use the portraits as a catalyst for creativity and action. Examples of possible projects include:

  • Artistic Responses. Students can make portraits of local or family truth tellers.
  • Action Oriented Responses. Students may write letters to local officials and politicians, outlining the challenges they face in their communities and proposing solutions.
  • Media Oriented Responses. Students could research and write articles, produce videos, or create photo slideshows to submit to the school or community newspapers or websites.