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Empathy Factor

By: Amanda Karioth Thompson, COCA | January 30, 2019

Reproductions of famous artworks line the perimeter of Heather Mott’s art room.

Examples from Romare Bearden, Mary Cassatt and N.C. Wyeth show a peaceful community, a woman holding a child, and a spirited wild horse. These artworks elicit strong emotional responses which have been studied and discussed by art historians and critics. In Mott’s class, they’re discussed by fourthgraders.

Projected onto the board are more examples of famous artworks and art students are prompted to describe the emotions they awaken. In response to Dorthea Lang’s “Migrant Mother,” one student shared, “it looks like she’s upset because she can’t pay her bills.” This type of close examination and inquiry relates to a new initiative at Sealey Elementary School.

Mott explained, “the Sanford Harmony program for social-emotional learning is research based and it helps the kids communicate better in their classrooms.” The goal is for students to gain skills to work through interpersonal difficulty, becoming their own mediators and problem solvers. By incorporating these strategies into her teaching, Mott sees additional benefits.

“It expands their vocabulary and helps kids become a bit more educated in art literacy.” When students are encouraged to analyze artworks critically, verbalize their aesthetic response and create their own expressive images, “they learn about their own and each other’s emotions. They become more empathetic to people’s feelings.”

Sealey fourth-graders investigated the displayed artwork reproductions and discussed their findings. After jotting down their emotional reactions on sticky notes, students adhered them to the artwork. They were asked to consider the way an image is rendered, with crisp lines or blurry brushstrokes, and how color might convey emotion. “Once they start seeing all of this, you can see the wheels turning,” said Mott.

Responding to diverse examples allows students to thoughtfully design their own artworks.

Mott admits, “this is a challenging activity because a lot of kids just want to draw a heart and put love, love, love in the background. I talk to them about how it doesn’t have to be so literal. I want them to struggle through it and it is a little bit of a struggle. I want them to come to some kind of agreement in their mind of how to convey how they feel, visually.”

Read the rest of the story by visiting the Tallahassee Democrat

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