Tumbling Lessons: Using Tumblr Iconography to Strengthen Multimodal Teaching and Learning in Preservice Art Education

By Hofsess, Brooke A.; Shields, Sara Scott et al. | Art Education, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Tumbling Lessons: Using Tumblr Iconography to Strengthen Multimodal Teaching and Learning in Preservice Art Education


Hofsess, Brooke A., Shields, Sara Scott, Wilson, Gloria J., Art Education


Artistic literacy involves multimodal capacities moving beyond the visual, challenging humans to respond to an everchanging world with feeling, intuition, playfulness, resilience, and imagination (Eisner, 2002; Greene, 1995). By honing in on multimodal approaches to art education, we aim to emphasize how perception and expression occur through many and varied modes (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic, emotive, and spatial) as teachers and students seek to communicate and respond not only to each other, but also through the materials and processes of art. In this article, we share our experiences as art teacher educators using social media in innovative ways that stretch and strengthen multimodality in lesson design.

Specifically, we explore our process of using the popular blog site Tumblr as a format to design what we have termed "tumbling lessons" with preservice art educators at our respective universities. This approach to teaching-learning lesson design was inspired by Tumblr's use of seven distinct modalities: text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, and video. While we initially envisioned these tumbling lessons as an open structure for preservice teachers to gently fall through the process of lesson planning, we believe this format offers any teacher a structure for engaging with multimodal lesson design. Working through the various Tumblr modalities prompts the development of dynamic, responsive lessons in the art classroom and beyond.

Big Questions and Ideas

"You should plan to tumble when you least expect it."1

Lesson planning is not an easy craft to teach: At one point or another, each of us has found ourselves confuddled by how to effectively prepare preservice teachers to design rigorous curriculum that moves with and responds to students' interests for creative engagement. One strategy we have employed is using big ideas and essential questions (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) to open up possibilities that challenge preservice teachers to think and move beyond the DBAE model of art education (Dobbs, 1998)2 they likely encountered in their elementary, middle, or high school art classrooms.

In thinking together about the many and varied challenges inherent in teaching lesson planning, we dug deep into our own big questions, including: What does multimodality open up in the art classroom? And, how might attention to multimodal lesson design prompt curricular innovations? We were compelled to acknowledge that educational buzzwords that pepper teaching methods courses, including multimodality, differentiation, or experiential learning, may be difficult for preservice students with limited classroom experience to grasp.

These big questions led us to wonder and imagine about how we might incorporate the multimodal thinking our students are already constantly engaged in. Most of our students are digital natives, and as such, process and curate their life experiences through the photos, quotes, videos, and sounds posted on social media sites. We wondered what might happen if these same modalities became opportunities to expand and explore curricular choices. Drawing on the iconography of the popular blogging site Tumblr, we challenged our students to use these icons to play within the structure of lesson designs (Figure 1).

What might occur if each of these Tumblr icons became an opportunity to play within the structure of a lesson design? How might preservice teachers begin to engage with difficult to grasp educational constructs, like multimodality, in generative and creative ways? Let's take the text icon for example: text can be envisioned as a provocation in a lesson plan in multiple ways: reading aloud excerpts from children's picture books or young adult fiction, encouraging students to craft artist statements, making a work of art that integrates written text, calling on work of artists (Barbara Kreuger, Sol LeWitt, Lisa Anne Auerbach, John Baldessari, Lawrence Weiner, and others) who use text as an integral part of their work as imagery, instruction, narrative, and/or invitation. …

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