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Authors with Artifacts


An English language learner (ELL) teacher at L'Etoile du Nord French Immersion School in St. Paul, Minnesota, Christi Schmitt holds a certificate in the book arts from Hamline University and plans lessons to integrate bookmaking into content-area instruction.

In a recent endeavor, Schmitt collaborated with book artist Lori Brink of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and a classroom teacher, LeQuyen Tran. Schmitt and Tran visited the center and spent a day designing handmade books and family artifact boxes. They used these creations as models for a similar project for students, which was supported by an Arts for All" award from the Saint Paul Public Schools.

Ms. Tran is from Vietnam, and she shared a bracelet that her uncle had made for her out of silverware while imprisoned by the Vietcong," recalled Schmitt. I also had a bracelet; except mine was plastic and was put around my wrist on the day I was born."

The teachers used the handbook ARTFUL Teaching and Learning, designed by The Perpich Center for Arts Education, to develop ideas and monitor progress throughout the project. In their activity that promoted understanding of culture and identity, students chose representative family artifacts" after discussing ideas with their parents and siblings. Parents influenced the students selections by sharing stories and possibilities for artifacts.

Through a writers workshop, participating fifth graders generated many writings and placed them inside a family artifacts box. The wooden boxes were adorned with marbled paper created by the kids. Each box held a map of the country from which the artifact came, a handmade book with the artifacts story," a family tree, and a pamphlet that described the artifact in English and French.

In many cases, students learned new stories by asking questions about their family history," Schmitt told Education World. Parents supported their endeavors with building family trees and arranging interviews with other family members."

The students rose to the occasion in this assignment, bringing a variety of unique items and describing their meaning to the family. A girl from South America chose a doll that her grandmother had made for her. The grandmother had used hair from the girls mother, which had been saved since childhood.

Storytelling and family histories are a natural discipline alongside bookmaking. Handmade books [of family stories] are easily shared with others, exhibited to the community, and taken home for a family to treasure. Books are as unique as their stories, and both books and the stories represent the individuality of every student."
-- Christi Schmitt

Just as it takes one or more people to fill in the details of a family story, this mother and daughter both shared how the grandmother had saved the hair for many years until she had decided to make the doll for her granddaughter," said Schmitt. I was moved by the way the mother and the daughter told parts of the story, as if the story required both to bring it all together."

All family members had a stake in the stories conveyed by the students. This was never more evident than during the students exhibition of family artifacts at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. The event was well attended, and parents showed a strong personal connection with this specific activity. A Korean student brought her parents and shared a family story about a ring that her father had bought for her mother on the streets of Seoul.

All the planning paid off and led to the incalculable benefits of learning and community-building," Schmitt observed. With making books, students can have a container to hold their information and ideas that will last long after we have moved on to another unit."

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