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Playlist The Self Portrait Project
The Self Portrait Project
Examples of Student Self portraits
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Warm up

Before beginning the project, the students draw a series of lines on a piece of paper. The purpose of this is several-fold. Firstly, the lines help the students to understand the multiple ways that they can use a pencil and the different effects that they can create. Secondly, this warm up activity helps to ease the anxiety that some students feel when they are faced with drawing. Suggested lines (students are also great at coming up with ideas for this too): - a dark/faint line - a thick/thin line - a wavy/straight line - a happy/angry/sad line

Launching the project

I typically start this project on the afternoon of the first day of the school year. Students have often drawn self portraits as introductory activities to the year but they are always surprised when I explain that for the first hour, they will just be drawing their eye.

Stage 1: draw your eye

Using hand held mirrors, students draw their eyes. There are two norms that lead to high quality outcomes. 1. Try to draw the eye as large as the piece of paper (this allows students to include all the details that they can see. 2. Spend 5 minutes looking for each minute drawing (this is nearly impossible for a fourth grader to do, but the existence of the norm means that students spend much longer closely observing their eyes than they would do otherwise. Finish this lesson with a gallery walk and kind and specific critique (e.g. "I like the way you have really noticed the different directions that your eye lashes go in."). This allows students to learn from their peers and begins to develop a class culture of critique. You can see three examples of students' drawings below.

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Stage 2: draw your lips

Students are beginning to adapt to drawing and close observation. However, to achieve a high standard, be sure to model looking closely at the lips and ask questions such as, What shape are your lips? What makes them different to the shape of your partner's lips? What else can you see? Extend this by asking students to draw the indentation from the top of their lips to their nose. Finish with a gallery walk with kind and specific feedback.

Stage 3: draw your nose

This is typically the facial feature that students dislike drawing. Emphasize the fact that there are very few clear lines. The nose should be made life like through shading. Beware, if students start to hold their mirror underneath, rather than parallel to, their faces, the perspective will be different and it will look like they have giant nostrils! Finish with a gallery walk with kind and specific feedback.

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Stage 4: draw your partner's ear

It would be almost impossible to draw your own ear using close observation, so instead divide students into pairs. One person models (they can read during this time) and the other draws. After 10 minutes, swap roles. Finish with a gallery walk with kind and specific feedback.

Stage 5: drawing the outline of the face

Introduce this by looking at face shapes. Invite about five students in the class to the front and discuss what facial shape each child has and how it differs or is similar to others in the class. NOTE: IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO EXPLAIN THIS PROCESS IN ADVANCE TO STUDENT VOLUNTEERS AND ALLOW THEM TO CHOOSE WHETHER THEY ARE COMFORTABLE WITH THIS! At the end of the whole class session, model drawing your own face using a mirror and asking students for feedback. Again, set the expectation to draw what you can actually see, rather than what you think you can see. Be prepared for the fact that as students relearn how to draw the shape of a face, they may create some bizarre shapes. This is a cause for celebration as it means the students are really using the information that they see in the mirrors. If this is the case, celebrate these moments as mistakes that show learning and allow students to start again if they want to. Finish with a gallery walk with kind and specific feedback.

Stage 6: drawing the whole face

Now is the time to put everything together. During the modeling at the start of the lesson, really focus on where each feature on the face is. Notice the relationship between the top of the ears and the eyes. Notice how your hair falls. What kind of lines will you need to use? As each section has been focused on independently, it may be that this is the finished draft, or you may want to do one or two more. My tip would be to make sure that you use the largest size of paper that you can. US Letter size or A4 is not big enough for students to include all the details that they have noticed.

Adding color

The self portraits will look beautiful as pencil or ink drawings. However, you might want to add color. The first time I did this, I used paint and students spent several lessons mixing colors, looking at the color of their eyes, skin, hair, lips in order to paint their portraits. However, recently I have started to use chalk pastels instead. Students blend these colors (without smudging them) and have better control than they do with the paint brush. Students can begin by making a rough outline of their portraits with a yellow pastel (as this is easily covered over in the finished product). It takes about a week for students to complete these chalk pastel drawings to a high standard. As with the pencil drawing, it is important to use a large piece of paper in order for students to add details.

Student reflection

The following reflection was written by a student after we completed the project. "Ms. Chown said we were starting self portraits I thought easy, one step, one draft, one coloring. When she said we were going to take one month I said "I don't need 31 days I need 31 minutes!

The easiest part was thinking that this project was going to be easy. The most difficult part was drawing my mouth because it was hard to even out the sides of the lips.

My favorite part would probably be the chalk pastels because they bring out the color more than colored pencils, markers, or crayons. I feel like a real artist when I use the pastels because I feel like I am making a million dollar picture! I feel that all I need is an artist's hat and I am set up.

I thought my self portrait was going to be easy and now that I am done I know that it takes a lot of hard work and focus to get a detailed self protrait done. I have learned that colorful or not, a picture is beautiful. Some advice that might help you is however hard the work gets, don't give up and keep going because it is going to be amazing in your own way." (Transcribed with minor edits - view the original below)

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Teacher reflection

I love using this as a beginning of the year project. It sets up the class culture that I aim for (one in which students re-examine what they think they know and become more focused and in-depth in their approach). Students learn to trust me and each other as they create something that is far better than they have drawn before. They start to understand that fourth grade will be hard work but they will be proud of the outcomes. They also start to appreciate the power of drafts and critique (although I tend to emphasize this less in this project. I have recently started combining this project and biography writing into a broader project called Knowing Me, Knowing You. This ensures a greater reading and writing focus and will be the next playlist that I create.

Exhibition

It is important to exhibit these portraits so that the children can share their creations with friends and family. I buy frames from Michael's for each portrait - with an educator discount and coupons it is generally possible to get simple frames for $5 each. I cannot emphasize how much better the work looks if it is in a real frame. Students also feel incredibly proud to see their work in a frame. Read their blog posts below to find out more about the exhibition that we held.

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Resources

Hand held mirrors (1 per student), large sized construction paper, pencils, artist quality chalk pastels (if desired).

General project planning resources
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