Our Conceptual Literature unit, Chinese Calligraphy and Poetry, spans five complete weeks and is full of a variety of activities to cater to our students’ diverse learning needs. In these five weeks, we will study the artwork and prevalent ideas of the Tang dynasty, examining three poets and their poems along with their multimodal art pieces, and also three prevalent "ways of thought"-Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism-as they relate to the poetry we will study. Our instruction will also be multimodal, involving lectures, small-group and whole-class discussions, “new media” exposure, a class blog, a Chinese calligraphy demonstration, and more. The unit will culminate with students using their knowledge of Tang dynasty art and philosophy to create their own multimodal art piece (putting together their newfound skills of calligraphy, writing poetry, and creating visual art) and conveying their rationale behind it in an accompanying explanatory essay. We also stick close to the Basic Instructional Model in this unit. Below, we’ve outlined the progression of our unit, as well as how our instruction adheres to the Basic Instructional Model.
Week 1 of our unit is fully dedicated to introductions. We begin the first day with a class brainstorm about China—we expect the ideas that come to students’ minds will be a wide range of topics, and also topics that highlight the differences between American and Chinese culture. Then, we hope to guide the students to connections between the two countries to spark an initial interest in the unit, which we plan to outline the same day. Tuesday begins with yet another brainstorm, but this time about calligraphy. We expect the students will have limited prior knowledge about calligraphy, but we will remedy that by providing information about the importance and prominence of Chinese calligraphy to the creative culture in the country. We then plan to briefly discuss the final project (still five weeks away) and its connection to calligraphy. For Wednesday, ideally a professional calligrapher would come to visit and demonstrate how calligraphy is as much about the process of creating the symbols as it is about the beauty and meaning of the symbol. Students will have the opportunity to practice writing calligraphy authentically with the tools and expertise of the guest calligrapher. Thursday we will assign each student one word that will somehow guide the theme of their final projects. They will learn the traditional Chinese symbol for that word and practice writing it. Finally, Friday will be a computer lab day in which students can seek information on the history of China (specifically the progression of the dynasties) with URLs that we provide them. The idea behind this technique is that students will learn about history through discovery—picking what exactly interests them about Chinese history and culture. We will show them examples of past student projects and have them do a free write connecting what they’ve learned throughout the week to their final projects. It is essentially sum-up day before jumping into poetry and the Tang dynasty on Monday of the next week.
Our first week fits the Basic Instructional Model it that students began by activating their prior knowledge with collaborative class brainstorms. Then, after articulating what they already know, we provide them with information for them to compare with their preconceptions and make connections to their own lives. They practice and apply the model by participating in the guest calligraphy presentation and creating their own calligraphy, and finally, they are asked to brainstorm their ideas for sharing their knowledge in the final project.WEEK TWO
The Monday beginning Week 2 is packed with a lot of information, but we hope to engage students with by incorporating music, videos, and making real-world connections to their lives. Students will have a slideshow of pictures from the Tang dynasty to view and they will also watch a video from “the first Chinese heavy metal band,” Tang Dynasty, and then discuss the connection between the history of the Tang dynasty and the band’s possible reasons for naming themselves after the era. We will give them a little biographical information on Wang Wei and outline elements and trends of his poetry. Then, we will conduct a class analysis on the poem “Rain On and On at my Wheel-Rim River Farm.” While this analysis will be verbal, it was also be collaborative and end with a free write connecting the message conveyed in the couplet to students’ individual lives. Tuesday will essentially be the opposite of Monday, as we will have students in groups from the start of the class period. Students will see a piece of artwork called “Spring Mountain” that incorporates calligraphy and poetry. We will hold a brief class discussion on what themes of Wang Wei’s poetry the students see reflected in the art as a review from Monday. Then, each group will receive a hand out and students will conduct a poetry analysis of a Wang Wei poem (group poems are attached on the blog). They will fill out the worksheet, complete the paragraph assigned at the bottom of the worksheet, and turn it in at the end of the day. Wednesday will mirror Monday in that students will learn a lot of new information – but now it will be the topic of Buddhism, one of the main influences of Wang Wei’s poetry. They will be asked to activate their prior knowledge with a brainstorm, we will provide them with information to start forming new ideas with that information, and then complete an online group activity in which they examine the major aspects of Buddhism. Thursday mirrors Tuesday in that they will return to their groups and revisit the poems from Tuesday, looking for Buddhist elements specifically, and construct a collaborative writing assignment that will include peer analysis and further practice of literary analysis. Friday concludes the week with another visit to the computer lab in which students will write a poem of their own, drawing on the thematic, structural, and stylistic qualities of the Wang Wei poetry they studied in class this week. Towards the end of class, we will introduce students to the class blog, a forum for them to post their poetry and reflections to throughout the unit. This will be their homework each weekend, and they will be required to comment substantively on two of their peers’ poems each week to receive full credit. They can share their poem aloud to the class for extra credit.
This week meets the outline of the Basic Instructional Model by asking students to draw on their prior knowledge of Buddhism (probably including stereotypical preconceptions) and then taking new information and applying it to poetry, their lives, and American culture as a means of analyzing new information. Once they start forming these new ideas, they can practice and apply the information to their poetry analyses and compositions, and then share them on the class blog and in class for extra credit.
Week 3 will, in large part, repeat the format of week two. Monday will begin with an introduction to the week’s poet, Li Bai. Similar to Wang Wei’s introduction, we will give brief biographical information, spend more time on thematic tendencies in his poetry, and then discuss the connection of these themes to Wang Wei. Tuesday, students will again be placed in groups and given a worksheet to complete on their group’s poem. Wednesday, we will introduce the week’s way of thought—the Dao. We will discuss thematic elements and major aspects, compare to Buddhism, and revisit the group poems to identify and elaborate on Daoist influences. Thursday, students will view a movie on Chinese ways of thought (namely Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism), and the week will conclude with Friday as another day for students to write their individual poems in the style of Li Bai, post on the blog, and share for extra credit, time permitting. Students will also be asked to post on the blog a 150-word reflection on the movie from Thursday.
Week 3 follows the Basic Instructional Model in that it draws on the students’ prior knowledge of Wang Wei and Buddhism to compare with the new knowledge gained about Li Bai and the Dao. They will have the opportunity to connect these poets and their influences, see if the ideas exist in their own lives, and apply their knowledge to poetry analyses, compositions, and reflections on the class blog, which is where they will share their work.
Week 4 will continue our study of Tang dynasty poetry as we move to our third and final poet, Du Fu. Keeping with the style of Weeks 2 and 3, as to allow students to more easily follow and feel at ease with the progression of the unit, on Monday we will present and discuss Du Fu, covering his general presence within the artistic movement of the Tang dynasty as well as specifically focusing on comparing his poetry to Li Bai. (Though they were contemporaries, Li Bai favored writing poetry expressing spontaneity and social scenes, while Du Fu, in many ways his opposite, used pensive and solemn tones in his work.) We will play audio clips of the two poets’ works and provide examples of their multimodal art in order to make the concepts discussed more concrete to students. Again like the two previous weeks, on Tuesday the class will engage in small-group analysis of sample Du Fu poems while filling out the same literary analysis worksheet and producing a written response tying together the themes they discover in the poem. Wednesday we’ll look at the philosophy that influences Du Fu’s poetry, Confucianism. This philosophy is at the backbone of many modern structures of thought and emphasizes morality, peace, and tradition. We’ll both emphasize how Confucianism differs from the previous philosophies studied (Buddhism and Daoism) while also helping students recognize the commonalities between them through lecture and excerpts from History Channel documentary video. This multimedia experience will allow students to situate Confucianism within their own modern world. This week, we’ll also designate the final half of Wednesday’s class period to the group work we’ve done on Thursday for the past two weeks. As before, this group work involves each group getting back the Du Fu poem it analyzed on Tuesday and re-examining it via literary themes worksheet for themes from Confucianism that we will have just discussed. (We feel that both of these topics will fit into Wednesday because the students will quickly pick up on the ideas of Confucianism, being that they are so similar to Buddhism and Daoism.) Getting through all of this material on Wednesday means we can go on a field trip on Thursday! We’ll visit a nearby art museum and view its exhibit of ancient and modern Chinese art. Students will draw on their knowledge gained over the past 4 weeks and examine both ancient and modern Chinese artwork for evidence of the themes and philosophies we’ve studied in detail. They will also get ideas for the artwork portion of their final project, the due date for which will be quickly approaching! Friday will consist, again, of students writing a sample poem in the style of Du Fu. Each student will also brainstorm ideas for his/her multimodal art project, coming up with a plan for their poem and artwork, which must revolve around their chosen Chinese character. In their brainstorm, students will include a list of the materials they believe they’ll need. We will okay their ideas and materials lists and provide as many of the materials as possible (for example, calligraphy brushes, ink, drawing/coloring utensils, large pieces of paper).
It is clear that Week 4, too, follows the Basic Instructional Model. Students will be activating and assessing their prior knowledge in that we’ll tie the overarching themes of Du Fu’s poetry and Confucianism into the other poets and philosophies that we’ve already studied, highlighting their similarities and differences. Students will analyze presented models of these themes in examining the sample Du Fu poem in their group work on Tuesday and Wednesday. Students will practice and apply the model of the themes and how to use them in poetry by creating their own poems on Friday, as well as in our constant connections of these themes to students’ real-life experiences and occurrences in the media. Finally, students will be given the opportunity to share their own poems and evaluate their work and others’ through the class blogging forum.
Week 5, the final week of the unit, is mainly a work week for students to complete their multimodal art projects. We’ll start on Monday with a quiz consisting of another poem from the Tang dynasty that students will not have seen previously in class. They will be asked to analyze the poem and provide a reading of it, using their knowledge about the Tang dynasty poets and philosophies that we’ve covered, as well as their knowledge about how to use literary elements (both symbolic and formal) to tease a core meaning out of a poem. The rest of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday will be work days, with students allowed to go to the school computer lab to type out their accompanying essay to their multimodal art project, which will explain the rationale behind their work and how they see the elements of poem, calligraphy, and artwork working together to create their intended meaning. The classroom atmosphere will be relaxed during this time, with various forms of Chinese music (ancient and modern – perhaps bringing back some Tang Dynasty heavy metal…) playing in the background. Friday, the culminating day of the unit, will consist of a class-wide art show during which students will display and perhaps field other students’ questions about their work, and have the opportunity to peruse and discuss their classmates’ work as well. Chinese food and music will also be available for students to enjoy on this final day.
Though Week 5 contains less structure than the other weeks, it doesn’t follow the Basic Instructional Model in as much detail; however, it still contains some of its elements. In creating their final project, the multimodal art piece, students will be activating and assessing their prior knowledge by having to come up with a topic for their poem and visual artwork (one that will work with their Chinese symbol). Students will obviously be practicing and applying their knowledge of the model (the form of the poetry, the calligraphy, and even the artwork, to a certain extent) in creating this project. Finally, the class art show is a venue for students to share and evaluate – and ultimately, to be proud of! – their hard work.
As this detailed progression of Weeks 1-5 shows, through this Chinese Calligraphy and Poetry unit, our students will be exposed to the riches of Chinese art and culture through our examination of poets and ideas present in the Tang dynasty. Further, though, our students will engage with this multimodal art experience in a multimodal teaching environment. Our goal is to open up as many different facets of the artwork as possible so that our students can ultimately connect with the ideas being presented in a variety of meaningful and constructive ways that individually cater to their unique learning styles.