“My journals are not just filled with words now. They’re filled with words, and with things stuck in with tape, sketched by my hand, labels peeled from things. They have a very different quality.” — Donna Williams
“Lots of different things find their way in there,” Modler said. “Everything about your life experience has potential as a piece of art.” Modler earned undergraduate and graduate art education degrees from Towson State University. He already had a decade of art education experience in Virginia’s public schools when he moved to Perquimans County in 2001, and began teaching art at Hertford Grammar School. It was there he first learned of NCCAT. “People were always talking about it,” he said.
The superintendent of Perquimans County Schools, Dr. Kenneth Wells, was an NCCAT proponent, Modler said. “He would always say that any teacher in his county who wanted to go to NCCAT could go,” Modler recalled. Wells, who retired from Perquimans County Schools in 2007, has served as chairman of the NCCAT Board of Trustees since 2005.
Modler was accepted into NCCAT’s “Teacher Scholars in Residence” seminar, where teachers have the freedom of time and resources for focused work on independent projects. In August 2003, he spent a week at NCCAT’s Cullowhee campus researching visual journals and creating a resource booklet. He returned in November 2004 to draft the outline for a book on visual journaling. “It was an opportunity to have a week of unencumbered time to work on one thing without worrying about lesson plans or feeding the cat,” Modler said. “Both times I came, I got so much work done on my project. You know what you’re there to work on and you just do it.”
During his second residency, Modler met Center Fellow Donna Glee Williams, who heard buzz about Modler’s project and presentation skills.
“The concept of mixing journaling with the artist’s sketchbook was completely new to me,” said Williams, who has kept a journal since she was very young. “Just through one conversation with David and by looking at his journals, my journal keeping was changed forever. My journals are not just filled with words now. They’re filled with words, and with things stuck in with tape, sketched by my hand, labels peeled from things. They have a very different quality.”
Williams invited Modler to co-develop an NCCAT seminar based on visual journaling. Modler, along with Eric Scott, a former colleague from Virginia who also teaches art, now have presented at the “Visual Journal: Where the Image Meets the Word” seminar three times and will present again in December. The two have presented together about visual journaling and NCCAT at education conferences in North Carolina and Virginia; earlier this year, they presented at the 2008 National Art Education Association conference in New Orleans with Center Fellow Jane Dalton. They have also produced a manuscript, “Journal Fodder Junkies: A Guide to Visual Journals,” that they hope will be published soon.
Lori Deal-Eckard, a visual arts instructor at St. Stephens High School in Hickory, N.C. since 2000, participated in the December 2006 visual journal seminar at NCCAT. “The enthusiasm was contagious,” she said. She was so impressed by what she learned that she secured grant funding to bring Modler and Scott to her high school for a week.
They spent four days in September working with students and one day with arts educators from Catawba County. Students throughout the school have responded to the journals, Deal-Eckard reported. “Now the kids take the journals to other classes, and that’s what I wanted,” she said.
Modler, Deal-Eckard and Williams believe the adaptability of the visual journal can prompt integrated learning across curriculums. For example, an English teacher at St. Stephens now has students in a literary circle respond to books through a visual journal. “It’s started to creep into other disciplines,” Deal-Eckard said. “I hear kids say things like, ‘I did a page for history.’ ”
According to Williams, the visual journal is a tool for educators to connect with students. “It helps teachers reach all their students and helps ensure that none of them get left behind,” she said.
“Now the kids take the journals to other classes, and that’s what I wanted,” she said.