The Symbol Project

on Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Grade 4 and 5 students recently explored the use of symbolism in literature, art, and music. Symbolism, the use of an object to represent something else that is usually much deeper and more significant, can be difficult to interpret--even for adults. But it's worth the effort to understand because readers then have an opportunity to get an insight of the writer’s mind, and to more deeply understand the text.

Students read the novel "The Sign of the Beaver" by Elizabeth George Speare, a novel rich in symbolism. They first explored the symbolic visual art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Marc Chagall, Keith Haring, and Dogon door artists. Using visual art to look at symbolism is a student-friendly to introduce this concept. They also looked at symbolism in music, interpreting the symbolism in Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's haunting version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Finally they applied their understanding to the symbolism in the book, noting that the "sign of the beaver" noted in the novel not only represented a tribe's hunting grounds, but was a symbol for respect.

After finishing the novel students completed a visual art project based on symbolism. They listed their own character traits, hobbies, and things that were important to them. Then they created a symbol for each of these traits. Finally they used their symbols to create an artwork in the style of one of the artists we studied during this unit, and wrote an artist statement explaining their work. Their art is currently on display in our classroom windows. Please come by and take a look!

Jeff Fessler

Maimouna's Basquiat interpretation

El Shadai's Dogon door-inspired art

Clara's Haring-inspired piece

Soraya's Chagall-inspired art


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