I first ran across the work of Bev Doolittle way back when I was teaching middle school during the eighties. I was struggling to find ways to hook kids into Kansas History and Native Americans. Media Specialist Linda Lee hooked me up with one of Bev’s earlier books and I knew I had something.
But I wasn’t exactly sure how to use it. It’s a bit hard to describe Bev’s work.
You know those kid magazines that have a picture in the back where you’re supposed to find the 20 hidden animals? Her work is a bit like that.
She’s best known for creating images that have hidden meaning or other images embedded in them. And because much of her work focuses on Native American themes, it seemed like a good way to engage kids in content.
It was my first real attempt at trying to activate the prior knowledge stored in the heads of my students. I got better at it over time but I still remember the incredible feeling I had at the end of the day when I realized how well it went.
I was able to find some Indian flute music on cassette tape and had that playing as kids came into my room. The lights were dimmed and blank paper was on each desk, all of which were facing the wall. Using one of those old, weird book projectors, I threw up an image titled Doubled Back and simple asked kids to yell out what they saw. Then asked them to look again and to write down what they saw.
Some got it right away.
I told them the title of the painting and slowly, all over the room, I begin to heard little gasps of discovery.
It’s a bear!
I showed more of Bev’s work and asked them to describe on paper, and then in small groups, what they saw. Then we moved to the deeper questions:
What do you feel when you look at these images?
Why do you think the artist painted the images the way she did?
These last two were often the favorites. I used the Calling the Buffalo painting as the last image and referenced it often as we later discussed and discovered how Plains Indians used the buffalo.
It was during this activity that I began to discover how powerful images, music, emotional connections and interesting problems can be in the learning process. Most importantly, it helped me realize that much of what I was doing with kids just wasn’t working. It filled time, it created grades but it didn’t support real learning.
You can still find Bev Doolittle work. Artifacts Gallery sells her stuff and it has a nice online display that lets you get a feel for what she does. A simple Google Image search can also get you started. She’s got tons of books online – you’ll want to get the books because of the high quality.
(Be sure to check out a piece called The Forest Has Eyes. It’s a great filler activity at the end of the hour. Simply ask kids how people they see and hand out some quick extra credit.)
I’m curious if others have used her work and what they did with it. If you haven’t seen her work before, how would you use it?