Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 8: Social Justice and Action - Joseph Bruchac and Francisco Jimenez
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Double-Entry Journal
Two Rounds
Photography Project
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Teaching Strategies
Photography Project


Teachers like Lisa Espinosa draw on their students' engagement with images -- in photography, books, and film -- to build media literacy skills. Espinosa shows her students how to deconstruct images, then gives them cameras with which to create portraits of their communities. Guided by the same set of essential questions they have worked with throughout the unit ("What is representation?", "How do stereotypes of groups influence how they are represented?", and "Why is self-representation important?"), the students synthesize what they have learned and create visual messages.

The Photography Project in Lisa Espinosa's Classroom

Espinosa weaves her photography project throughout her unit, guiding her students to be both critical viewers and thoughtful artists. She begins by showing the students photography by and about three groups: African Americans, Native Americans, and Latino/as. The students choose two photographs each and, guided by a handout - analyze their elements: composition, framing, lighting, angles, and color. They begin to answer Espinosa's key question: "What is the message of this text?" Espinosa reminds her students that photographs can be analyzed. As the unit progresses, she gives the students great deal of practice in looking critically at the details of a text and then articulating its overall message.

Espinosa gives each student a practice disposable camera with black-and-white film. The students learn how the camera works, how black-and-white images are different from color, and how to compose shots that use framing, angles, and lighting in interesting and effective ways (see handout). They then critique the practice images. As Espinosa comments, "This practice is important, because when they take their pictures, I want them to be thoughtful and reflective about what they're going to take and how they're going to do that."

Before the students take photos of their community, Pilsen in Chicago, Espinosa tells them to photograph the ordinary things in their days, family, and community. The students brainstorm ideas for these images by creating sensory webs of their neighborhood: typical sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. They also brainstorm possible themes, such as family, sports, or "things that need improvement." Espinosa asks her class, "What do you want to say about your community? What story do you want to tell?" She reminds them that they are "authors" of their own story and that these photographs will be publicly displayed.

In order to broaden the range of subjects in the photographs, Espinosa asks each student to choose one of several themes they've identified, then pairs students according to theme. Each pair sets out with one camera, 27 shots, with which to portray their theme. When the students have finished taking their photos, they spread them on their desks to consider which one they will write about and display.

After the students select a photo, they draft and revise essays about themselves, their photograph, how it represents their community, and the message they hope it sends. Espinosa then enlarges each photograph and mounts it, along with a snapshot of the student and a paragraph they have selected from their essay to hang alongside it.

At a culminating photo exhibit in a local coffee shop, parents, teachers, and community members view the pictures, read the accompanying paragraphs, and speak to the students about their projects. "When they see the pictures on display, it's so validating," Espinosa comments. "It makes them see, 'I have something to say and something to add to this conversation.' My students are making a statement about who they are." (See Student Work.)

Tips and Variations for the Photography Project

  • Working in pairs, the students can take photos of the same object from different angles. They can then compare them and discuss how the camera angle, focus, and distance affect the images' messages.

  • Students in pairs or small groups can alternate using color with using black-and-white film to take photographs of the same object or subject. They can then compare and contrast the images to examine mood and effect.

  • The students can also write identity stories and pair them with photographic self-portraits. (See Teaching Strategy: Identity Stories.)

  • When taking photographs, the students should be respectful, discussing the project and asking permission of their subjects beforehand.

Benefits of the Photography Project

  • By crafting their own photographs and essays, the students learn not to passively accept media representations. They are empowered to become "authors" of their own messages.

  • This activity helps students strengthen their media literacy skills and realize that being literate means being able to "read" a variety of kinds of texts. Pairing composition and photography is a powerful way for the students to see how media use different tools to convey messages.

  • The photography project supports various learners, including English-language learners. By allowing the students to practice two complementary media, more students will feel engaged and successful.

  • The photography project helps connect the students to their community.

  • Through the photography project, the students recognize the power of their voices and their roles as active citizens who can make a difference in the community. Moreover, taking social action helps them connect schoolwork with the world.

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