through Art contains 100 creative activities for enlivening
classrooms, stimulating students and widening their horizons. The volume is
accompanied by a CD-ROM, with a selection of 50 full-colour reproductions from
the National Museum and Gallery of Wales. These works of art are also
reproduced in an Appendix at the back of the book, along with a
'quick-reference guide' to help find suitable activities according to student
level and time available. The book can be adapted to a wide range of
educational scenarios, and each particular activity starts off with a specific
set of instructions, including aim, language focus, materials suggested and
Review from Modern English Teacher 22(1)
"A teachers’ resource book, even a successful one, no doubt sells less than a textbook and has less credibility than an academic monograph. And as any teacher with quick google fingers can pull out a dozen activities on a given topic within seconds these days, it’s a wonder that publishers are still putting out resource books in 2012. However, the success of Delta Publishing, and exciting new ventures like ‘The Round’, shows that there is still an appetite for such projects. I’m glad to see it, because my own resource books are certainly among the best-loved and most well-thumbed on my shelves.
The Helbling ‘Resourceful Teacher’ series has become well established in the last few years, producing a set of themed class activity collections with additional CD-ROM materials. The most recent is English through Art by Peter Grundy, Hania Bociek and Kevin Parker (and with contributions from several other working teachers). The book was born out of a workshop at the 43rd IATEFL Conference in Cardiff in 2009, and contains 100 activities. There are eight chapters, each loosely themed around a certain linguistic or cognitive skill. The opening chapter aims to familiarise students with art and get them talking about what they see. Chapter Two contains a selection of activities to review language forms and functions. Chapters Three, Four and Five deal with imagination, creativity and thinking skills, and Chapter Six gathers together activities which enable students to talk about themselves through art. The final two chapters are based on vocabulary and writing tasks respectively.
The most important point to stress about this book is that it is not only for those who are 'into' art. Many of the topics use art as a trigger, but require no prior knowledge of art theory or history. Many of the activities would also be suitable for students who are still learning to express more complex ideas. A good example would be 'Detail: Picture building' (p. 41), in which students move around the class and take turns to add to written descriptions. It's an interesting and dynamic activity, utilising the class language pool, and practising a variety of skills.
As with the other books in the series, the authors have included a CD-ROM of additional material. In this case, they have scored quite a coup in licensing fifty images from the National Museum and Gallery of Wales in Cardiff. These can't be printed, but they display very clearly through a projector, and are accompanied by a small selection of examples and worksheets, which are printable. Many of the activities suggest images from those supplied but of course teachers are not obliged to use them, and the book also contains a number of recommendations for alternative sources of affordable art images for educational use.
This leads to one of my reservations – that the book may be seen as having a fairly limited view of art. That might not be the intention of the authors, but the vast majority of the pieces mentioned are nineteenth century oil paintings. That's not to say that teachers can't use alternatives, but I would like to have seen more suggestions for using photography, sculpture, video, typography, or graphic art and design.
Most teacher resource books are of a more general nature than this one. The only comparable ones I can think of are Ben Goldstein's Working with Images and Andrew Wright's Pictures for Language Learning (both in the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series), and Jamie Keddie's Images (from the Oxford Resource Books for Teachers), although none of them fits exactly the space that this book is trying to fill. Goldstein's book in particular had a very strong overarching theme and was well served by an introduction which outlined this theme – that the visual image needs to be read as text. I feel that English through Art lacks this drive somewhat. I would have liked to have seen more activities about art rather than activities that just use art, and I would have liked more art theory, more further reading, and more weight.
However, I am falling into the reviewer’s trap of reviewing the book I want to read instead of the one the writers wanted to write. The back cover clearly states “… no prior knowledge of art or artists is required”, and inside “The aim of this book isn't to help you make your students aware of art and design issues” (p.10). It could be justifiably argued that if a language teacher wants to teach about art history or theory (and students want to learn about it) he or she can go and find appropriate materials and adapt the activities for the learners. Perhaps the book I am looking for is ‘Art through English', but such a book would probably be too niche.
For all my misgivings, it is becoming harder to come up with a totally new activity in a language classroom in this day and age but the authors present one hundred tasks here, each tweaked freshly enough to be considered new. That in itself is a great achievement. I also suspect that I am in the minority regarding the balance of art and language included. Most students and teachers will find this balance well-judged – enough art to pique the interest, but not enough to intimidate. I'm still looking for materials to teach students about art, but this book will nestle alongside my other activity books on the bookshelf very comfortably, and I sense it won't be too long before it looks as well- thumbed and dog-eared as the others."