Altered Book Journals

Students in a graduate arts and education class use recycled books to create journals that explore the environment and the arts.

Recycle, Reuse, Reflect: Altered Book Journals

In Professor Young Song's graduate Environmental Arts and Education class, here's what students are asked to do: 1. Choose a book rescued from the library recycled books shelf. 2. In class and at home, add sketches, scrap paper, leaves, poems, stars, twigs, photographs, and random found materials. 3. Record your reflections on what you're learning in class into the book, in whatever way you choose.

In doing so, students create an altered book, a journal of their semester's journey in the M.Ed. in Arts, Community, and Education program course, as they learn to understand key environmental issues and how to develop an environmental education curriculum using the arts.

About the assignment, Song says, "Students without an arts background are often worried at first, especially about receiving a poor grade. I emphasize to them that when assigning grades, I focus on the quality of the written content in the journal. The artistic aspects are not graded and are purely up to them." She finds that as the course progresses, and students see each other's work, they become more motivated to express their own creativity.

"They end up paying much more attention to their surroundings to see whether there was anything that could be used as recycled materials for their altered books—on the street, at home, wherever they were."

Laura Kathrein, a recent student of the course, said of the project, "The most surprising aspect of utilizing altered books for class journaling was how much more invested I was in recording my class experience. I found myself wanting to come back to my journal and I liked that I could curate a personalized artifact that made sense for how I processed information."

Student Charlotte Huffman related that what she found most interesting about the project was "how much it helped me to process my learning, by creating visual images that corresponded with my insights and the new information I was processing." Creating the journal, she said, "helped me to process the readings and exercises in class more deeply, [and] help me understand the environmental issues we were studying."

Final Course Project: Make an Impact

The final class project includes research on environmental issues that are close to the student; creation of a public environmental art project using natural or recycled materials, to be installed in a public place or a back yard or created as a scaled model; and a final paper that addresses how the work addresses broader social or environmental issues. Below are samples of final projects from several students in the class.

Jennifer Mitchell: "My final project was about using natural building materials in local parks (bark, pine cones, twigs, leaves) to encourage children to interact with nature in playful ways. Many parks are sterile looking, with metal playground equipment and trees kept outside of the fenced in area. I wanted to create a woodsy experience for kids and thought making fairy houses would be interesting way to engage them."

Charlotte Huffman: "My final project was a response to research I conducted on the pesticides used in the Southwest Corridor Park in my neighborhood and the health consequences on the environment and people who surround the park. After learning that the MBTA, DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation), and Boston Mosquito Control all spray pesticides in the park and do not coordinate with each other, and that the asthma rate is 20% higher for people who live along the park than for the rest of Boston (which has the highest rate of asthma in the state), I used recycled materials to create a terrarium which I filled with weeds from my front yard. I temporarily installed this terrarium in Southwest Corridor Park and painted found tiles to read 'Let us Grow,' which I placed around the terrarium."

Laura Kathrein: "My final project was a public art intervention about visitor impact at the Arnold Arboretum. I completed two performance pieces and conceptualized a third. I framed plants like a museum exhibit (I held frames and was actually a part of the piece). I also did a series of site specific dances called Scar Story, where I created empathy through movement and attempted to elicit visitor empathy regarding the scars from graffiti on the beech trees. The last performance piece was to share the stories of the invisible workers at the arboretum by shadowing the head of maintenance, research, and education, learn their movements, and perform a dance inspired by their work."

Taken together, the altered book journals and final projects made students more conscious of the world and the materials around them. Mitchell says, "This class was a great example of how teachers can become lifelong learners about something not directly related to teaching. I think the class made all of us better teachers and better, more aware human beings!"

See more altered book images at lesleyecoart.com