Page 2 of 17
Understanding Your Participants and Developing Relationships:
The Collage Exercise
Our mural project brought together undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines with two classrooms of elementary school children. The plan was for the UCLA undergraduates to serve as mentors and aides to the children in helping them to uncover and express their ideas and put them to visual form. Before even beginning to engage in the process of design, we felt it was important for the students to get to know one another. We wanted the UES children to feel safe and supported by their UCLA mentors and we wanted the UCLA students to begin to develop relationships with these children as well as to get familiar with the ways that five and six year olds see themselves and their worlds.
The first exercise we did was called the “Collage Exercise.” We chose collage because we thought it would be relatively simple and it would allow more of the focus to be on relationship-building and trust-building.
Goals of the Collage Exercise
• To engage in an exercise which would allow the children to share their lives and their perceptions of themselves with their mentors (the UCLA students.)
• To begin the thinking process on representation. How many of the children would find the representations in magazines adequate for their needs? That is, how many of them would see themselves in these pictures? The idea was for the children to think about issues of difference/diversity couched in a way that allows the children to focus on themselves.
1. UCLA students were asked to bring in magazines for the children to use as material. The children were then asked to look through the magazines to find pictures that would help tell a story about them—how they seem themselves, what they want to be when they get older, their likes, their dislikes, etc.
2. UCLA students were to help the children create their collages, cutting pictures when necessary, and helping the children glue the images onto paper. In the meantime the UCLA students asked the children questions that helped them to understand why the children chose their particular images.
3. After the collages were completed, the children shared their final products and explained why they chose their particular images.
Observations of Exercise
The relationship-building aspect worked very well. The UCLA and UES students enjoyed working with each other and getting to know one another. However we ran into some representation issues when it came to the materials we used. It seemed the children were more inclined to choose pictures of things they “liked” rather than pictures of things that represented them. Many collages included pictures of Star Wars characters, images which included favorite colors, or famous people the children liked. We did have some instances where students claimed they could not find anyone that looked like them (The pictures in the magazines contained images of people who were predominantly white. There were a few images of African Americans but those happened to be pictures of athletes involved in the Olympics.) There were also some instances where children drew images that they wanted as part of their collages but which were not found in the magazines (e.g. pictures of girls playing soccer.) One way to improve this exercise would be to really evaluate the materials used. Is there enough diversity in the images? To be sure, this issue is reflective of the broader issue of problematic media representations but if you choose to use this exercise, just be cognizant of the limitations and try to provide as much diversity in imagery as possible.
The following are a few alternative exercises that you can do instead of or in addition to the collage exercise. It’s a great way of getting your students to think about their lives, the people in their lives, and their histories.
1) Create an altar that honors who you are.
• You may want to begin with a lesson on altars and how they are used to honor loved ones. Look to Chicano/a art or pictures of Dia de Los Muertos celebrations for images of altars. (Note: This lesson works very well if you can tie it specifically to Dia de Los Muertos.)
• Have the student bring in artifacts that represent important parts of their lives—the people in their lives, significant events, etc. Samples of artifacts that our students brought in were pictures of relatives, toys from their pets, karate belts, and medals from competitions.
• You may want to set size parameters for their altars. One way to do this is to have them use a shoe box as a pedestal. They can decorate the outside of the shoe box and then arrange their artifacts on the shoebox.
2) Create a memory box to collect important pieces of your history.
• This is similar to the altar exercise, only it does not have to take altar form. Have the students decorate a shoe box. This can be done in many different ways, using different papers, paint, markers, etc.
• You can either have them keep their artifacts in this box or open the box up and have it serve as a frame for a kind of diorama and the students can arrange their artifacts within the frame.
Note: This memory box exercise was critical to our process, as it served as the foundation for many subsequent exercises.
1) Journal entry about the lesson.
2) Write an essay about one piece in the memory box or on the altar. What is the significance of that piece? What does that say about you or the person it represents?
3) Write a story about a person or people represented in your altar.