What makes us who we are?
Among others, it is our heritage, the culture and traditions passed down by family, generations past and present. It is something inescapable that we need to acknowledge and embrace. In the same way that Marc Chagall, the famous Russian artist, whose paintings were visual testimonies of the culture he grew up in his native Vitebsk, we feel the need to cherish our own heritage.
In this spirit, some teachers at Edmonton’s Old Scona Academic, a small high school of 360 students, decided that the heritage subject would enhance our grade ten students’ celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation, and allow them to see where they fit into this historical mosaic. Izabella Orzelski-Konikowski, the art teacher, Darolyn McCrostie, the drama teacher, and Lynn Preece, the English teacher, collaborated on the project, which was based on the musical Fiddler on the Roof. After we shared our project idea with our principal, Dee Elder, she encouraged us to pursue it and allowed us to have collaborative time to develop and create the lesson plans.
During our two collaborative meetings, we established a time line that would allow us to coordinate our three disciplines, yet still provide the creative freedom to approach the subject from each of our own subject areas and perspectives. The first step was taken by the Musical Theatre 15 class which began the process of preparing and mounting the show in a twelve- week time frame. Part of the preparation for the musical was the research into the historical and social background of the life and times of the people from Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. The students were then encouraged to compare and contrast what they learned with their own history and that of our present day immigration policies for Canada. Their study culminated in the staged production of the musical.
In their English class, the students explored the themes of tradition, heritage and culture and their effects on the characters in the film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. While learning about the ideas through this medium, they also learned how the filmmaker used cinematic techniques to convey those ideas. Their final project was the creation of a one minute film, using film techniques that reflected one of the themes in their own lives. To enhance the students’ understanding of the themes, the art teacher was invited to share a power point presentation on how the above themes have been documented through various visual media. The artist that she focused on was Marc Chagall who was from the region and a contemporary of Tevye, the protagonist of Fiddler of the Roof. She also talked about the subject of human rights that is evident in the musical, the film and Chagall’s paintings. This led the students to realize the reasons behind why people would risk leaving their homeland and communities to start over in an unknown land. This also brought about an in-depth discussion of Canada’s immigration policies, and how important a role Canada plays in accepting peoples from all nations without prejudice and discrimination. Our students realized how important this is, and why Canada is recognized worldwide as a tolerant multi-cultural society.
The Art class began their study of heritage, tradition and culture with a presentation on Marc Chagall’s life and artistic output which required students to analyze the symbolic meaning behind objects and characters of Chagall’s paintings. They also discussed how the painter’s own heritage and culture were reflected in his art. Students then researched and explored their own heritage; this was followed with completion of the My Heritage Self Portrait assignment. Each student created a life-size portrait, in a media of his/her choice, that was enhanced with symbols and iconography related to their own heritage.
This multi-discipline project was very successful as the students not only gained a deeper knowledge of the subject matter but came to realize that the curriculum subject areas are not discreet but rather are interrelated and connected to their lived experiences.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Izabella Orzelski-Konikowski, Darolyn McCrostie, & Lynn Preece
Izabella Orzelski-Konikowski, Darolyn McCrostie and Lynn Preece teach at the Old Scona Academic High School in Edmonton.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2017 issue.