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Art to Heart

The Subtext Strategy

The “subtext strategy” shown in Program 5 of Art to Heart—in which 3rd graders are asked to imagine what the people portrayed in a painting are thinking—illustrates the power of the arts as a tool for thinking, says University of Louisville professor of literacy education Jean Anne Clyde.

“Thinking like an artist, thinking like a musician, a dramatist, changes the way you can see the world. The things that we all remember and understand best in our lives are the things we’ve lived. So that’s what I try to do in teaching—give students opportunities to step into a character’s world, into the story.”

A Matter of Perspective

Clyde and a group of Louisville teachers, including Byck Elementary’s Laura Wasz, whose class is featured in Art to Heart, have explored the use of the “subtext strategy” in the classroom. “Subtext involves asking children to assume different perspectives,” Wasz says. The strategy can be used with a painting, an illustration in a book, a story, or even children’s own work, Wasz says. “When they write something and then draw about it or draw it first, then we ask them, ‘OK, what is your character thinking?’ Then they have to think again and go underneath what’s on the surface and think even more deeply about it.”

In the classroom, the subtext activities become a bridge not only to deeper thinking but to writing. After they imagine what the characters are thinking, “we ask them to begin writing scripts. They’re going to have to take the experience and make a play out of the thoughts of these people.”

Young children adapt easily to the subtext technique, Wasz says. Bridging from arts to writing starts with something children already understand and guides them to the challenge of written language. “If they can sing it, if they can dance it, they’re going to understand it so much better than if you just start pouring words at them. The written language is the last step in literacy. The arts are such a native language to children. For every type of education, there is a way to use the arts to connect children to what they’re trying to learn.”

For More Information

Clyde and Wasz are co-authors (along with Shelli Barber and Sandra Hogue) of the book Breakthrough to Meaning: Helping Your Kids Become Better Readers, Writers, and Thinkers, which includes the subtext strategy and other techniques.

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