Language through the visual arts: An interdisciplinary partnership

Awardees: Maria Luisa Parra (FAS), Elvira Di Fabio (FAS)

Summary: Awardees plan to develop innovative methodology and curricula to promote the use of visual art in language classes.

Maria Luisa Parra and Elvira Di Fabio, both of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, observed that visual art constitutes a powerful and meaningful “multimodal” text that, when incorporated into the foreign language classroom, increases students’ levels of literacy and communication proficiency in the targeted language. They proposed to develop a model for collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums in order to actively engage students with cultural artifacts to enhance the foreign language learning experience.

Parra and Di Fabio developed a framework for integrating art into daily language classroom activities, cultivating students’ capacity to analyze and synthesize various forms of cultural and linguistic knowledge. Examples of hands-on activities include creating a Mayan calendar and designing and building a collective Day of the Dead altar. Other activities were developed for observing and interpreting cubist and contemporary art at the Harvard Art Museums. Full modules that included structured inclusion of interpretive, interpersonal and presentational communicative modes, written and oral, were developed for the more advanced language classes. The results of their work have been published at Parra M.L., and Di Fabio, E. G. (2016). Languages in partnership with the visual arts: Implications for curriculum design and training. In Issues in Language Program Direction: Integrating the Arts: Creative Thinking about FL Curricula and Language Program Direction. L. Parkes,, C. Ryan and S. Katz-Bourns (Eds.). Boston: Cengage. 11-36

Di Fabio also organized a fall 2014 symposium and presented on and discussed the theory and practice of foreign language study in partnership with the visual and dramatic arts, proposing best practices toward higher-level critical thinking and increased aesthetic literacy.

In October 2015, Di Fabio invited Philip Yenawine, author of Visual Thinking Strategies (2013) to give a presentation/workshop using art at the Harvard Art Museums. The strategies harmonized with the methods developed by Parra/DiFabio under the HILT grant, and gave further exposure to the project and its outcome.