Students in my 10th grade class are calling themselves published children's book authors, a title that they have earned through their hard work in their Foundations of Design class. The project, which took about a month to complete consisted of writing, illustrating, and publishing a children's book about being brave and starting school for the first time. This project is one of many in our new and innovative 10th grade art curriculum at Mount Everett which emphasizes design thinking and practical problem solving.
To start off the project, students read and analyzed children's books to come up with elements that make a book successful. They decoded the creative process of writing a great story and brainstormed ideas that could work in a group setting. The topic of the book was given to them as a way to make their work multi-functional. Not only would they be creating a book and publishing it, but the school would be able to use the book as part of a welcome kit to incoming youngsters.
Students then took part in a design charette with a mixture of teachers, administrators, and community members. A charette, typically used in architecture refers to a group of people involved in an intense period of planning to solve a problem. The group led a brainstorming session to determine the skeleton of the story and aesthetics of the book. With the information gained from this session, students took off on their journey of challenging, yet satisfying work.
What evolved from their initial problem: " How do you create a story that helps a young child start school for the first time?" was the story of Benny Everett who uses a pin with his favorite animal, the eagle, on it to find his bravery. After losing his pin, and making it through his day anyway, he realizes he had nothing to fear and that he can be brave even without needing a reminder. The book includes a side-story of another student who finds her own courage to make a new friend. All of the details of the book were meticulously chosen or crafted by the students. They researched meanings of names to make sure that each had significance. They were very excited to learn that the name Everett can also mean "Brave" which worked out quite well seeing as how we are Mount Everett eagles! The illustrations were created using an acrylic wash, collaged painted subjects with an outline created on a clear piece of film.
This was a time-consuming and challenging project. A lot goes into writing a children's book and the students definitely felt the enormity of this very professional endeavor. I wouldn't hesitate to repeat this lesson though. The class bonded in a way that I haven't seen in some time and the students learned a variety of design lessons in this one project alone. The most important lesson was that of revising. It can be difficult to explain to the students that work in design is not really their own. The outcome is meant to function successfully and ownership takes a different form. Having to rewrite, redraw, and reconceptualize was often very difficult. After repeating the process multiple times I began to see the students understand the design process a little better. Even though it was hard for them to "let go" of the story, characters, and illustrations, they knew that they wanted to book to be successful and that other voices would offer a way to ensure that success.
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.