Improving Student’s Performance and Writing Skills by Using Photography, Autophotography and Music

 Chapter I
Every photograph tells a story, every story can be expressed by music but it is
only up to us to see or hear the story that is told and can be written. The following paper
will explore the influence of photographs and music on free-style and creative writings. It
would examine how the use of photographs and music can improve students’ self-expressions during the free-style and creative writings and increase their interest in
writing. In addition, it will analyze the influence of this approach on the free style and
creative writings of marginalized students. I believe the use of photography,

autophotography, and music engage adult learners, students and people in general in their
pathways to self-discovery and their ideas of belongings. In addition, it may help them to
find a community of people who share similar interests or are connected to each other
through belonging to a group of people sharing similar or ‘different’ backgrounds.
I would try to prove that the combination of photographs and autobiography
(autophotography) together with music is an important tool helping students to express
themselves by writings. I would, based on my findings, summarize which approach
towards free-style and creative writings seems to suite the students the best: (1) a teacher
selects a photograph and music, (2) a student selects a photograph from a group of
photographs provided by a teacher and listens music selected by the teacher and (3)
students either take their own photographs or select an image on their own together with
a selection of their own music. I believe that any of the above approaches are important
and can be used in any form by others when dealing with today students and adults and,
mainly, when dealing with marginalized groups of people.  The major reason is that
media (art forms) used during this research method are accessible to a large variety of
I believe that using photography and autobiography (autophotography) in
combination with music would help students to engage themselves more deeply in
written expressions dealing with their search for their placement in our society and build
a community of people that is based on some common goals. Furthermore, it would help
them to define needs for social justice and democracy “because life stories and
photographs are a record of social interaction and the inevitable power relationships
among the people interacting” (Armstrong, 2005, p. 34). The use of music at the same
time would enrich learners’ mood that is in my view an important factor when they are
engaged in self-directed writing.
In 1996, I was working for Keewatin Community College, now The University of
North, in northern Manitoba. I was preparing First Nation Students for their entry to the
post-secondary education. Besides teaching many courses I was responsible for, the focus
of the program was to help the students with their adjustment to higher learning. One of
the important factors of their adjustment was, as it was viewed by the administrative
bodies of this project, to help students with their awareness of themselves and to learn
about empathy towards others. Since I had some academic freedom in designing my
courses, I decided to explore the use of photography and music with a combination of
creative writings to accomplish this task. The result was amazing. The majority of
students in my program usually refused to write, not because they did not know how, but
because they did not know what to write. Like for many of us, having an empty page on
which they should write their ideas was extremely challenging. I had empathized with
them, knowing how hard it is to write a first letter, a first word and then compose a first
sentence on a blank piece of a paper.
I decided that there must be some other easier way how to accomplish this task. A
one day I brought into my class two photographs, a one of an older woman from the
community and the second of a young European woman. I asked the students to write
anything they want about these two women. The result was amazing. In a few minutes
the students were able to write not a one page but two to three pages reflecting their ideas
about those two women. The most interesting was that they did not only describe the
photographs, but wrote stories including feelings. They reflected not just what those two
women may have, but also the feelings and empathies of individual students towards
these two women as well. After the project, I asked the students how we should improve
this approach. They suggested using their own photographs. I asked them if playing the
music during this project would help them with their abilities to express themselves.
Their answer was that we should explore it.
The next class the students brought their own photographs or images they wanted
to write about. I selected some songs that I thought would be appropriate for this
assignment: a classical music and music of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. I believed
that songs would be appropriate for this task since thy represent more than a pop music. It
is need to note that at that time there were no MP3s yet, so it was impossible to have each
student listening to their own music. During the project many students became emotional.
The music and the pictures had evoked in them emotions connected to their own self
discoveries. Their works, their piece of writings, become for them the tool that enabled
them to express their own beliefs, feelings, happiness, fears sadness and dreams. It was
their own writings that was not forced upon them and, therefore, become a part of their
personal expression. The emotional part of the writing, although important, may cause
some difficulties for all parties, therefore, it is a factor than cannot be controlled, but must
be considered. Due to this fact, the teacher or instructor must be prepared to be able
dealing with the emotional part of the assignment; in addition, if needed the counselling
service should be available. Overall, results of the project and the students’ appreciation
for this approach overweight the possible difficulties.


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