Documenting Our Identities: 3rd Grade Photography Project
Students explore concepts of identity and culture through photographic and written narrative.
Each year, ICS 3rd grade students participate in Documenting Our Identities, a rich arts education project integrated into the International Baccalaureate® (IB) transdisciplinary units “How We Express Ourselves” and “Where We Are in Place and Time.” Through this project, students learn how to create photographic works of art and write stories in English/Spanish or English/Portuguese as complementary ways of exploring and sharing their own identities and cultural communities.
Documenting Our Identities is a 13-week project that involves the collaboration of all 3rd grade students, their families, ICS teachers—including our three 3rd grade classroom teachers, our visual arts teacher, and our Information and Communication Technology (ICT) teacher—and Artist-in-Residence Mary Beth Meehan to explore concepts of identity, culture, and community through photography and visual narrative. ICS provides digital cameras to all students to take home each weekend throughout the project.
Exploring Visual Narrative
At the beginning of the project, Artist-in-Residence Mary Beth Meehan teaches students about the cameras—how to use a camera and take care of it, and how to be a photographer and create visual narratives. She shares examples of photographs and leads students in discussion to illustrate the key concepts of the simple rubric she uses throughout the project: FRAMING + MOMENT = STORY.
Students develop an understanding of the still photograph as an art form, along with its power to tell stories and document history. The documentation that comes out of this study is reflected upon and shared with peers through group-based and individual critiques, which develop students’ visual narrative and observation skills.
Since the project began in 2008, it has been continually evolving. Recent enhancements include incorporating ICS’s full-time visual arts teacher Alison Plump into its curriculum. Through this additional component, students explore and express their identity and cultural community by creating art works that explore personal identity to complement their photographic and written stories.
In addition, ICS’s ICT teacher Chrissy Ford has facilitated the integration of technology skills into the project. Using an application called HP Reveal, students have created videos about their identity as expressed by their photography and art works. Students are also encouraged to learn to use technology independently, as they download their own images from the camera and maintain their portfolio of images.
Documenting Our Communities addresses multiple educational goals that are fully aligned with our mission at ICS. It validates students’ cultures, engages students and their families through art, and promotes language and literacy development. Each child’s experience is acknowledged, validated, and celebrated.
ICS Annual Photography Exhibition
The Documenting Our Communities project culminates in a public exhibition of student photographs, written stories, art works that explore personal identity, and videos—all of which work together to tell their personal stories and share their cultural communities. The entire ICS community—including families, teachers, staff, students, and the public—is invited to the share in the exhibition.
ICS is grateful to the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) for its support of Documenting Our Identities through the Project Grants in Education program. We also thank the Rhode Island Foundation, Printmakers, and Hunt’s Photo & Video for supporting the annual photo exhibition.
Documenting Our Identities is featured in the 2018 publication Art as a Way of Talking for Emergent Bilingual Youth published by Routledge, with a chapter titled “Seen from Within: Photography, Culture, and Community in a Dual-Language School” by ICS Director Julie Nora and Artist-in-Residence Mary Beth Meehan.