Self Portrait


Who Am I? Self-Portrait Lesson Plan

The TARI teachers met in January 2010 for their quarterly daylong PD led by Tana Johnson and Lois Hetland. After this day together, classroom teachers were given a MOCHA artist, who came into the classroom and conducted the self-portrait project shown below.

The January PD plan:

Teacher Action Research Institute – San Leandro Initiative
January 14, 2010 PD
Location: San Leandro Public Library

TARI-SLI Throughlines:

  1. What and how are students learning in the arts?
  2. How can arts support learning in other subjects?
  3. How can we see and track student learning over time?

Understanding Goals for the day:

  1. How can teacher action research help us see and think better about student learning?
  2. How does looking at what students make, say, and do through SHoM help us teach better?
  3. How can collage self-portraits with words express cultural identities and support student learning?

9:00 am Think Up SHoM Relay
Develop Craft in Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts:

a) Resources (materials, tools) and
b) Conventions (systems, rules, classifications)

9:30 am Teacher Action Research Questions

Brainstorm three “good enough” questions, one for each TARI-SLI Throughline. Then follow protocol to help each other discuss and hone research questions. Criteria for good questions:

  • You passionately want to understand the question better.
  • Understanding the question supports student learning.
  • Can be used to gather evidence/is observable.
  • Question fits under the TARI-SLI throughlines.

Post questions on sticky wall; note people whose questions relate to yours. Lois discusses what she is seeing among groups related to the five elements of TARI: Action research; Focal students; Frameworks (SHoM, TfU, CRTS, MLV); Arts-contemporary/integrated; Professional learning communities.

11:00 Assessing Student Learning Protocol
Break into groups of three to discuss focal students with colleagues based on their student learning observations/analysis sheets; think about how this observation offers evidence for your action research question. Lois highlights findings from the seven forms analyzed.

12:15-12:45 Lunch

12:45 TARI Fair Sharing TARI projects.
Each project is displayed with a TARI Fair Label including Teacher Name, Project Name, Understanding Goal, and Teacher Reflection: How did it go? What worked? What didn’t work?

1:15 Self-portrait Poetry Collage/Assemblage: How can collage self-portraits help us understand our students’ personal and cultural identities as resources for their learning?

Show Mark Bradford Art:21, look for how his artwork builds layers from his personal and cultural experiences, memories, relationships, and contexts.

Project: Drawing/writing/talking back and forth, digging into observations, play, memories, and relationships. As you work, pause to take notes on how you could use this in your own classroom:

  • What to collect?
  • What questions to ask/tasks to focus on?
  • What understanding are you using this project to develop?
  • What connections does this project make to other curricula?
  • What CRTS to employ?

Reminder: MOCHA artists will be coming to your classroom in February/March.

3:00 Last Thoughts
Making Learning Visible: Lois gives feedback; thinking wall; making commitments:

a) Prep for MOCHA artists.
b) Weekly observation/analysis of a focal student, turned in to your coach OR posted online.
c) Monthly posting online.
d) Site visits 4-6 week cycle. Coach assignments.


A Teacher’s Self-Portrait


A Teacher’s Self-Portrait

The Self-Portrait Lesson Plan

Who Am I?
by Tana Johnson (w/help of Sarah Cruz and TARI teachers)
Title of Lesson/Unit: Collage Self-Portraits
Generative Topic: Self-Portraits

  • How Self-Portraits Connect to our Curriculum
  • Proportion
  • Details
  • Color/shape
  • Shadow & light
  • 3D > 2D
  • Inner/outer
  • Similarities/difference
  • Individuality/uniqueness
  • Objectivity/subjectivity
  • Cultural awareness
  • Diversity
  • Racial pride
  • Emotion
  • Story about yourself
  • Symbols/personal meanings
  • Metaphorical thinking
  • Documentation
  • Describing words/adjectives
  • Courage
  • Risk taking
  • Complexity
  • Labeling/Stereotyping

Understanding Goal in art (in both question and statement form):

  • How can we express our complex stories by layering drawings and writings to make a self-portrait collage?
  • Students will understand and appreciate how self-portraits express characteristics of self while learning skills such as 3D > 2D, proportion, color, and juxtaposition.

Understanding Goals in core topic (in both question and statement form):

  • How can we express our complex stories through descriptive words, phrases, songs or poetry?
  • Students will understand and appreciate that writing can be used creatively to express the complexity of who we are.
  • How can we better understand cultural difference?

Students will understand and appreciate that each person comes with a complex cultural background that makes him/her unique yet connected.

Studio Habits of Mind targeted:

  • Observe
  • Express (with artwork and writing)
  • Engage and Persist (with artwork and writing)
  • Develop Craft (with artwork and writing)
  • Understand Art World
  • Reflect, Question and Explain

Culturally and Linguistically Responsive (CLR) Core Instructional Strand:
Create a Validating and Affirming Learning Environment

CLR Participation and Discussion Protocols:
Think/Pair/Share, Pass It On, Raise a Righteous Hand

Materials needed: lined writing paper, pencils, colored pencils and crayons, white drawing paper, tracing paper, scissors, glue sticks, collage paper, colored tissue paper.

Performances of Understanding:
Step 1: Introduce students to the concept of self-portraits.

Why do artists make self-portraits? Why do writers write stories, letters, diaries, journals, and poetry expressing inner thoughts and stories? Why are self-portraits important to us as young artists and writers? What might we learn from creating a self-portrait with image and words combined? (Create a list now and again at the end of the project.) Choose one or more of the following Understand Art World options:

a) 12 good examples of famous artists’ self portraits can be found in this self-portrait lesson from the National Gallery of Art. There are some good facts, and some discussion prompts but the images do not zoom.
b) Show Mark Bradford Art:21 Season 4, look for how his artwork uses found materials from his neighborhood to create a narrative or story about: people, relationships, neighborhoods, soccer, basketball, and more. Discussion questions:

  • What materials does Bradford use?
  • Where does he find his materials?
  • Why do you think he uses those materials vs. bronze or steel?
  • Do any of his works of art seem like they are telling a story about who Bradford is? Which ones?
  • What did you see or hear that makes you say that?
  • What studio habits of mind did you see Bradford using?

Mark Bradford, image courtesy Art21

c) Look at Bettye Saar in SFMOMA ArtThink: Creating a Box Assemblage
And Frida Kahlo: Exploring Kahlo’s Place in the World (memory box lesson)

Use discussion questions above and add:

  • What personal symbols does Frida Kahlo use in her paintings to describe both her inner and outer worlds?
  • What personal symbol might you use (sun = bright and sunny personality, tall tree = strength, flower = soft) to describe yourself?

Note: The Understand Art World part of this lesson is critical! Students need a context for why we are creating self-portraits: to understand and appreciate why artists make self-portraits, use found materials, combine text and image to tell personal stories. Please do not skip this step! Your discussions will build vocabulary and push the students to think more broadly about what a self-portrait could include.

Creating the Self-Portrait

(ALL of these steps are OPTIONAL and can be shifted toward a portrait of a character in a book or novel, or a hero or historic figure. They can be done in any order that work for you.)

Step 2: Brainstorm Descriptive Terms for portraits and self-portraits:

  • Introduce which Studio Habits of Mind you will use on the project: “observe,” “express,” “engage and persist,” and “develop craft.” Introduce the Understanding Goals and writing standards.
  • Ask students to work with a partner to brainstorm and discuss vocabulary to describe their partner’s skin, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and hair. We make a 7-column chart and fill it with descriptive words (Raise a Righteous Hand). Emphasis is on using non-judgmental words – factual words, not opinion words. Students copy the chart, to be used later as a Prewrite.

Step 3: Draw facial features:

  • Possible warm-up: quick draws of your friends’ facial features: eyes, noses, lips, ears, eyebrows, etc. Collect everyone in a circle and use this thinking routine: See, Think, Wonder. What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder?*
  • Ask students to work with a partner to brainstorm and discuss vocabulary to describe their partner’s skin, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and hair. We make a 7-column chart and fill it with descriptive words (Raise a Righteous Hand). Emphasis is on using non-judgmental words – factual words, not opinion words. Students copy the chart, to be used later as a Prewrite.
  • Focus on aspects of observational/portrait drawing they’ve previously practiced (shape, line, proportion, color). If they have not practiced this yet, talk to your art teacher about doing some prep work in the art room to support you.
  • Circulate and provide assistance with observing, drawing, reflecting, and persisting.
  • Gallery walk and respectful appreciation.

Step 4: Write similes or poetry:

  • Students review and circle words on their charts that describe themselves, and add other words they’ve thought of.
  • Students write similes of themselves (e.g., My hair is curly like spaghetti. My dreams are like a garden after the rain, etc.) (and/or)
  • Students write the “I Am” poem using their descriptive words. (and/or)
  • Students write phrases in their home language that describe who they are racially and culturally.
  • Circulate and provide assistance with observing, drawing, reflecting, and persisting. Pair share, students each read to and listen to a person’s writing.

Step 5: Draw symbols:

  • Students draw a person, place, or thing that they love, or a symbol of something that they feel represents who they are (a cultural object, a personal object, or an envisioned symbol which has come out of their simile or poetry writing).
  • Pair Share. Circulate and provide assistance with observing, drawing, reflecting, and persisting.

Step 6: Collect family photos, old artwork, letters, journal pages, etc.:

  • Students may bring in objects from home to glue onto the self-portrait.
  • Students may revise any part of their drawings or writings.

Step 7: Draw Self-Portraits and Layer images/texts:

  • Draw self by looking in the mirror and observing facial features. Use basic proportion of the face. Color in with either colored pencils or oil pastels. Collage: combine any drawings/texts students wish.
  • Compare and contrast: how is your portrait similar to others, how is it different?
  • Critique the self-portraits using the Studio Habits: which different crafts did we learn? Proportion, collage, color, lines, and juxtaposition; other studio habits used: observe, engage and persist, express, stretch and explore, etc. What did we learn about our friends and peers?

Step 8: Exibition on Learning:

  • Post the self portraits in the hall or in a public space on campus. Include documentation of the students working whenever possible. Could we invite friends or family members in to see them? Could we have a class exchange? Will we exhibit the work at the district office?
  • Can we develop a protocol for students to use to present their self-portraits to one another?

*See/Think/Wonder is from Visible Thinking at Harvard’s Project Zero


Teacher Action Research Institute will have three exhibitions this spring/summer at various locations: the San Leandro Unified School District, the multicultural festival at John Muir Middle School, and the Alameda County Office of Education. All TARI projects will be on display at each school site for May Open House.

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