Identifying and Instructing Visual Arts Academic Language

                 In the article, “Cognitive Content Engagement In Content-Based Language Teaching”, Kong and Hoare (2011) compare classrooms in China that incorporated academic language successfully and unsuccessfully. The studies showed students were able to process information on a deeper level when academic language was applied. However, this outcome was incumbent upon the teaching of academic language. When students engaged in academic discussions, teachers saw that there was greater cognitive understanding that made, “…learning truly meaningful to them” (Kong & Hoare, 2011, p. 311). This shows that teachers must focus on teaching academic language as well as the inherent knowledge of communication. Kong and Hoare (2011) write, “They then need to develop content objectives that entail the understanding of concepts and relationships between concepts, and related language objectives, to support students’ language development” (p. 323).

                 Galguera (2011) argues that academia needs to stop categorizing English Language Learners (ELL’s) into one homogenous group. Instead, teachers should consider how best to teach academic language to promote learning. He suggests that “Participant Structures” allow teachers to empathize with their students. Galguera (2011) writes, “I propose that we concentrate our efforts in preparing teachers to consider the functions language plays in an academic setting” (p.86). By employing students’ personal vernacular and social communication, teachers form a bridge toward teaching academic language. Galgera (2011) writes that the goal of academic language is to “…describe complexity, higher-order thinking, abstractions, as well as using figurative expressions…” (p. 90). Here, we find a complex definition of academic language as a deeper level of cognition.

                 In the article, “Transmediation in the Language Arts Classroom”, McCormick (2011) discusses how “transmediation” can help students engage in analytical understanding, creating pathways to academic language. McCormick (2011) writes, “Through questions and direct comments, teachers encourage abstract association and logical reasoning” (p. 580). By involving students in transmediation activities, teachers present the opportunity to produce new meaning in a student’s vocabulary. The article placed emphasis on art education expanding student cognition through transmediation. McCormick (2011) argues that the arts can be used as a powerful tool to understand academic language.

                 Similarly, Mary Ann Saurino’s (2004) article, “We could do that! Improving Literacy Skills Through Arts-Based Interdisciplinary Teaching”, discusses the impact that art education has on the literacy of ELL’s. This idea was put into action by developing lessons organized around the question, “What is art?” (Saurino, 2004, p. 35). Through these hands-on classroom activities, she found that students developed a deeper understanding of language by expressing it through art. Saurino (2004) writes, “The students wrote and re-wrote descriptions of their antics, using both English and their native languages to negotiate, clarify, and extend their work as both artists and writers” (p. 36). This example of art being used to develop language literacy shows that interactive art activities can be used to bridge the gap between students and their understanding of academic language.

                 In my visual arts classes, I will use art as a communicative connection to academic language as well as ensuring student comprehension. I agree with the McCormick (2011) and Saurino (2004) approaches of using art as a means of making connections to understand academic language introduced in the classroom. For example, in my media classes I will teach students perspective by allowing them to see how different camera angles changes their point of view. For students to further understand the elements of “perspective” I can ask them to look at a painting right side up and then upside down while answering the question, “How does this change your interpretation of the painting?” Through this exercise, students will be able to develop an understanding of the different contexts of “perspective” and be able to practice having their own perspective.

                 In addition, I will use specific strategies involving visual arts language. In “Teach Like A Champion”, Doug Lemov (2010) explains a strategy I will employ: the technique of  “compare, combine, and contrast” (p. 274). This will allow students to see the difference and similarities between words to understand the vocabulary itself. I plan on teaching students how to ask rigorous questions, utilizing “text-to text, text-to-world and text-to-self” (Lemov, 2010, p. 296). Through these activities, students will be able to compare visual arts language with their current vocabulary. To create a deeper understanding of the visual arts language, I will “make connections” with student’s worldviews and personal lives (Lemov, 2010, p 303).  In conclusion, the resources reviewed have given me a clearer perspective on the importance and methodology of effectively teaching the appropriate academic language in my Visual Arts classroom.


Galguera, T. (2011). Participant structures as professional learning tasks and the                  development of pedagogical language knowledge among preservice                         teachers. Teacher Education Quarterly. 85-106.

Kong, S. & Hoare, P. (2011). Cognitive content engagement in content-based                       language teaching. Language Teaching Research. 15(3), 307-324.

Lemov, D. (2010). Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that put students on the               path to college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McCormick, J. (2011). Transmediation in the language arts classroom: creating                     contexts for analysis and ambiguity. Journal of Adolescent and Adult                         Literacy. 54(8), 579-587.

Saurino, M. (2004). We could do that! Improving literacy skills through arts-based                 interdisciplinary teaching. Voices From the Middle. 11(4), 33-36.


One thought on “Identifying and Instructing Visual Arts Academic Language

  1. You have a unique challenge in the visual arts classroom on how to integrate academic language instruction effectively with your content area. I would be interested in learning more about the notion of a “communicative connection.” What will this look like as you work with unique language mortar in your area?

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