Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Art in the History Classroom: American Progress

After teaching Westward expansion to 1890 or so, I have students analyze this painting as kind of a review exercise. I like having the image projected in two locations in my classroom on LARGE screens. Do what you can, but it pays to have at least ONE large projection of the image.

Here are some easy to understand tips on teaching this painting
1) Do NOT tell students the title of the painting.  They will take an educated guess at it at the end of the class.
2) Ensure you can project it on a large screen so you AND the students can discuss it TOGETHER.
3) Look at the image in your mind as being in 4 separate quadrants. This will form the basis of the student analysis.
4) Ask students to write down what tangible "things" are in each quadrant. I usually brainstorm outloud with the students, we point things out together, as they "yell out" to me what they see. In the process of this, students review America's westward growth. Below is a former student's work showing this.
5) Have students write down words that describe the MOOD in each quadrant. Below is the same student's work. I'll wait a few minutes before asking them to tell me a few words describing each quadrant. I'll use an overhead transparency to write down words for them that they are calling out. I'll take a minute, if necessary, to embrace that learning moment to explain what MELANCHOLY means, etc.

6) Have students give each quadrant a TITLE. Student work below:

7) Then, after discussing the imagery of the painting, and along the way recounting America's expansion westward, I ask students to take a guess at the painting's title. I tell them that the title has two words and that it is NOT Manifest Destiny; otherwise, they would all guess that.
8) I'll give students five minutes or so to think of a title, quietly. Then, I will physically walk up to each student and ask them what title they came up with. Over the years, I have had only a handful of students guess the name of the painting: "American Progress" by Thomas Gast.

Analyzing the painting is a wonderful way to review information and prepare them for an essay that assesses the costs and motives behind westward expansion.

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