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Better Learning Through Art

Boston Globe

Boston, MA-Paintings Talk. Photographs speak of moments. To help students hear all this art, the National Endowment for the Humanities has created a new program that sends high-quality reproductions of 40 works of great American art to schools and libraries.

Picturing America includes famous paintings, such as Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” and photographs, including Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother and Children” shot in 1936. It’s a way to teach about America by spreading art and art history across the curriculum. And it’s appealingly low-tech: a set of plastic-coated posters and a teacher resource book that can work in a variety of educational settings.

In Somerville, at the Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, teacher Laurie Regan brought several posters into a sixth-grade science class. She asked students to make observations and inferences about the images. Then she got them to recognize their own critical thinking by pointing out the skills they had used to talk about art. Now, she told students, apply these same skills to science.

Jessie Gerson-Neider, a middle school English teacher at Prospect Hill, uses the posters to talk about what it means to be an American. Given the school’s diversity, this grows into a conversation about the American stories of students whose families might come from Haiti, Puerto Rico or Peru.

Mary Kelleher, Prospect Hill’s middle school librarian, sent in the Picturing America application to the NEH. When the posters aren’t being used in classes, they are on display in the library.

The next application deadline is April 15. NEH distributes one set of images and a resource book per school or library. Kelleher’s advice is “start small.” Find eager teachers then tell colleagues about the program.

Even those who don’t formally apply can use Picturing America’s website It has many of the images, the resource book, and links to related information.

The buzz of American stories crowds the airways, especially in this campaign season. So it’s a refreshing lesson to turn down this volume and let art speak for the nation.

© 2008 YellowBrix, Inc.

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