Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University

40 Arts Circle Dr, Evanston, IL 60208

Participating Staff:

  • Maggie Borowitz
  • Judy Koon
  • Sarah Salto

The Dust Bowl Experience: Storied in Image and Text

This teacher curriculum and student visit program was designed for educators of social studies and literature in grades 5-8. The curriculum The Dust Bowl Experience: Storied in Image and Text provides a framework for closely reading and comparing a range of texts and images related to the Dust Bowl, including works of art from the Museum of Contemporary Photography and Mary & Leigh Block Museum collections, documentary photographs, historic fiction, informational texts, maps, and timelines. The sources address the hardship of life during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, which inspired these artists and authors to think critically about the era and the experiences of those who lived during the time. Specific questions are included in the curriculum to help students critically examine and consider each of these texts, the choices made by their authors, the historic and cultural contexts in which they were made, and the differences and connections among modes of communication. This project was a collaboration between the Block Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Key learning objectives

Student learning objectives:

  • Learn to identify key details that reveal the content, central ideas, and tone of a text.
  • Understand how formal and contextual analysis helps us to consider the purpose and point of view of a text.
  • Learn how viewing historic events, such as the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, through a range of texts can deepen our understanding of that moment in history.
  • Understand that studying the past helps us to better understand the present world and the future.

CCSS connections

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text/work of art and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text/work of art.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts/works of art address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors/artists take.

What we learned

In partnering with classroom teachers, museum educators gained insight into the age appropriateness of readings and lessons in The Dust Bowl Experience: Storied in Image and Text unit and made adjustments in the final version. In piloting these materials we also learned that some lessons were perhaps too ambitious, so we scaled those elements back in the final version. Lesson One, called Dust, was tested in the classroom by two teachers who responded positively to the unit. Lesson Two, a close reading of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, was tested during a student field trip to the MoCP and in two MoCP facilitated classroom visits. It was additionally modeled in professional development sessions for approximately forty teachers. Both teachers and students responded positively to the unit and afterward noted increased ability and confidence in closely reading images as well as increased knowledge of the Dust Bowl. At the MoCP, after doing a close reading of Migrant Mother, students participated in a “backpack activity” where they answered question: “what would you take if you had to leave?” They greatly enjoyed this activity–it really seemed to help students understand the gravity of the experiences of migrants and engage more deeply with the content. The paired close readings (image/text) and discussion of reading across a range of texts in both lessons seemed effective in connecting students’ understanding to other disciplines and areas of knowledge.

Quotes from participants

Students provided the following feedback:

  • “I learned a lot and when I saw the picture’s I was sad because the picture made me sad and If was them I would say can you Help me! If I see a bus I would say the same thing. But I learned about the dust bowl and a lot about the people that was in the pictures [sic].”
  • “I think the mother is thinking like: why did this have to happen to me and my kids. And she is thinking God please give us hope and food and safty. Plus I think she is in shock like she can’t believe this [sic].”

Sample materials

Download sample materials from this program here.