Illustrating Stories and Collaboration

Sometimes it gets lonely in the art room.  I am the only one here who does my job.  The positives of being the one art teacher is that I have freedom from planning meetings, common assessments, etc.  Freedom, baby, yeah.

But, there’s a lot to be said for having a team. When things don’t go well you can run next door and ask for advice.  You can share your woes and triumphs because you have a team.  Your peeps.  They understand.  They’ve got your back.  I run down the halls excited about something that went really well.  People nod their heads and say, “That’s great.”  But they really don’t understand.  They don’t know the amount of work it took to get the kids to this point because they are not on my team.  Our experiences are just too different.  Right?!

Sometimes, to break through the barrier,  I try to collaborate with co-workers.  I gel with some teachers naturally and we’ve worked together long enough so I know what the grade learning units are.  Everyone knows me well enough to not come in and say, “Hey, can you do a Mother’s Day project for me? Maybe have the kids make a clay flower vase.  By next week.” Uh, no.  Chalk one up to mutual respect.

But I’ve always had this worry.  Do people really know what I do?  Is it seen as valuable?  I walk down the hallway and see samples of drawings on bulletin boards.  They suck. Stick figures for people, stringy hair, faces that look like they took thirty seconds to make.  “I’VE TAUGHT THE STUDENTS HOW TO DRAW FACES. WE SPENT WEEKS LEARNING HOW TO DRAW A PERSON LOOK LIKE A PERSON AND NOT A STICK FIGURE!”  Why does the work look so bad when we spent so much of our time making our work look so good?

My husband, who teaches fourth grade, says it has a lot to do with time in the classroom. There is only so much time allotted to all the curriculum they have to go through.  And, surprise, surprise, drawing is not part of the curriculum.

An idea formed to collaborate with my co-workers and get the children to produce better illustrations for their stories.

This is when communication in collaboration is important. Also, focusing on the details.  I had previously met with a few teachers on the third grade team and told them my idea. We decided to have one illustration day a trimester in art class to help students make better illustrations for their stories. Great.  We also had a deadline for kids to bring in their stories. Great. I thought everything was clear and I thought this would be a way for kids to learn more about illustrations.

As a build-up, I had students watch a few YouTube videos about Lynne Chapman. She is an illustrator and has documented the process a person goes through to become an illustrator, as well as how she works on her stories.  We learned about thumbnail sketches, layouts, and how she communicates with the editor.  We learned how to make a career out of drawing. Yes, parents, you can make money at drawing and painting!

So on the day the kids were to come in with their stories, only half brought them in. I had to have them go back to their room and get their work.  Some didn’t have finished stories, some didn’t have anything.  One teacher had his students make books that were complete with illustrations, another had students write final drafts, and two more simply had students bring in their writing journals.

The students who had already written and drawn pictures were the most difficult to work with.  They felt they had already done the work and they weren’t interested in doing it again. They wanted to make the same exact illustration they had already done.  Didn’t matter that their first illustration was the size of a post-it and contained very little details.  The other groups were definitely more flexible. The two that had written stories in their journals kept trying to change the illustration or the stories though.  Since their journal is a work in progress, they thought it made sense that their illustrations should be too.  This does makes sense.

After we ironed out some of the kinks, we got to work.  The first step was to have students put post-it notes everywhere they thought they wanted to make an illustration. Then they added a quick note on what it could look like.

We worked on rough drafts.  It was great watching some of the kids work through the problems.  You can’t draw your face the way you want, no problem.  Face away from your audience and show us what you are looking at.



The next step was to add details.  I had students use the cards I made during our zentangle/line design lesson.

Then, I had students circle the sentence in their story they planned on illustrating.  They read me their sentence as I typed it on the computer.  I amazed them with my typing skills. I printed their sentence out.  They placed the words on their paper and their illustrations were done.


I like this one because the student divided their sentence into separate parts.  We also got to use a different font for one of the words for emphasis.



This student showed incredible problem solving.  There was some sort of misunderstanding and she told me I printed out a sentence she didn’t mean for me to do for the illustration.  She sat for almost an entire hour and then she drew this.  I love it.

This was such a big learning experience for me.  I learned that even when you think you are on the same page with your co-workers, you may not be.  Our goals may be different.  Also, I think I shot too high too soon with the kids.  One of the third grade teachers and I discussed this and we are going to do something different for the next project.  The third grade is going to learn one new vocabulary word.  In my class, they will need to draw an illustration of this word.  Then they will have to write a story based on their illustration.  I am excited to see how this turns out. Next trimester.

Author: Sonia Chapman

I am an art teacher, living in the Middle East, following my passion for art, teaching little children about the finer things in life, and loving every bit of it.

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