Image of learning

The interdisciplinary power of images and art

Using art to teachTucky Fussell is a “teacher hopelessly in love with images” and believes they can have a remarkable impact on students’ learning across the curriculum.

The power of an image

I am a teacher hopelessly in love with images. I worship images not only because of their aesthetic beauty, but also for their power to help students learn. Doodles, photos, paintings and drawings can serve as powerful springboards to help students dive into social studies, history, writing, foreign language and more.

It was only though desperation that I learned this. Trained to teach elementary French, I was thrown into a grade 5 classroom at the Karachi American School after we were evacuated in 1998. Trying not to panic, I sought refuge in my sketchbook, obsessively recording people and objects I ran across – in the newspaper, on my adventures around Karachi or travels to the Sind, Punjab and Baluchistan.

Crayons and current events

In class, an exciting hour of every week was discussion of current events. One of my Muslim students brought in an article from a local paper with a report of how some boys had been mistreated in a fundamentalist Islamic school, in a part of Northern Pakistan. I remembered a trip to visit a poor school, outside of which boys were on the street stitching soccer balls together.

Moved by this memory, as well as our discussion, I created a sketch in charcoal and Conte crayon that I brought in to show my students. They were very interested, and asked many questions: “Why did the government not provide paper and pens for children?” “Were the children paid to make soccer balls, and if so, who took the money?” “What about girls?” I realised even a single image could generate intense interest, passion and learning.

The non-fiction narrative

In 2004, I began working in Cuzco, teaching young adult Peruvians to learn to write using intermediate English. Retaining only painful memory wounds of learning in school, these young men braced themselves against my onslaught of nouns, verbs and adjectives by crumpling up their papers and hurling Spanish insults back at me. Luckily, I didn’t understand most of them.

Conveniently, we had a week’s vacation shortly after I began. I distracted myself from the illusion that I had anything to teach them with memories of a road trip to Northern California. After every day, I had recorded the highlights of this mother-daughter journey in words and pictures. Fast-forward to my Peruvian classroom, in which I was sinking fast in an angry sea. Finally, I found a life vest – the visual diary. This format served as a way for my students to learn non-fiction by sequencing events.

I asked them to record everything that happened during a weekend day, with any English words they wanted next to every picture. As the students started to draw and write, they lost their anxiety and regained their confidence and sense of self. Finally, scowls turned into smiles, and pencils were no longer snapped in half and thrown across the room. Even more importantly, as the students started to have fun, they started to take more risks speaking English. As they explained their visual storyboards to one another, they learned to connect the verbal with the written for the first time.

Van Gogh inspires

At an International School in In Chennai India, I was hired as a French teacher. My Korean and Indian Middle School students had little knowledge of the language, nor of Van Gogh. What a great excuse to smother them with my passion for cut-off ears, par-boiled, Southern French landscapes, and my own pastel paintings. I brought in some oil pastels and paper and showed them examples of how to create trees, fields and skies using black paper and smudging.

The assignment was to create an outdoor landscape using colors and techniques of their choosing; not forgetting to use all the twenty vocabulary words- single and plural nouns plus definite article, (l’arbre- the tree; les arbres- the trees etc.). I was hoping that by drawing, my 13 year-old students would lose their anxiety about the seemingly menacing ogre that terrified me as a young girl – French Grammar. In fact, they became so engrossed in the project that they recorded one another presenting their landscape in French! 

Opportunities abound

Restless teaching other subjects, I have finally found peace in the field of Visual Art. I teach techniques in drawing, painting and sculpture, international movements in art and how to analyze what you see.

But I can’t help it. I still have this sudden urge to connect art to other subjects whenever I can. Fortunately, there are programs that can help people like me; one is the International Baccalaureate, offered in schools all over the world. The IB encourages multidisciplinary teaching and learning, and I am lucky to have been involved in teaching it in three different international high schools in three different countries: Kuwait, the US and the Philippines. Now, in Paraguay, I have a new struggle – trying to remember where I put all those images. So many choices. Now where are they, on my iPad, camera, flash drive, or laptop?

Tucky Fussell 

Tucky Fussell has been an international educator for the last twenty years. She has taught foreign language and art in private schools around the world, including Pakistan, India, Kuwait, and the Philippines. Currently, she is teaching art in Paraguay.

Her book, The Gulf: A Story Of Art, Mystery, And Deception Through Images, is available for purchase on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Click on the book cover to follow the link to Amazon.

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