Implementation of “Illuminated Initials in Old Manuscripts” (SOI-MT-373)

Author: Hannah Muscat, Art Teacher

School/Organization: Malta: Mosta B primary and Għargħur primary.

This Learning scenario was implemented in a primary state school setting. Students learnt about medieval illuminated initials and proceeded to create and personalize their own illuminated letters as if they were writing their own book about themselves. I chose this learning scenario as currently, students celebrated book week, and so there was a tie to the school-wide focus on the importance of reading and books and the subject matter and history of the learning scenario.  The learning scenario that was implemented dealt more with English and the jargon involved with illuminated letters. Since my students were younger and the focus of the lesson was art and creativity, the learning scenario was adapted to both be age appropriate and beneficial to the students from an artistic and personal standpoint.

Illuminated letters in state school primary art classes. 
This Learning scenario was implemented in-person, in a state school primary setting, with grade 6 students. These students ranged from age 10 to 11 years of age, and all spoke English as a first or second language. This scenario was implemented in an Art lesson, with five different classes of year 6 each containing around 21 students. Due to a school-wide celebration of book week, the topic of illuminated initials seemed appropriate. Although the students were currently celebrating book week, they had no knowledge of the history of books or manuscripts nor were they familiar with medieval texts or their design. The student’s history was largely limited to the local context. They were familiar with initials and had familiarity with the bible (which was commonly the text reproduced in the medieval ages.) They did not know the process of how books are made and printed nor the history of bookmaking before the printing press. This learning scenario allowed them to learn about how books before the 1400s were made, and what illuminated initials are and helped them experiment with creating their own initials.

The implementation of the learning scenario 

Structure of the Learning Scenario:

The first session was 45 minutes long. 

The lesson was divided into three parts:

  1. Introducing the students to the topic using a PowerPoint presentation; using inquiry-based learning to get the students to observe the illuminated initials and think about their purpose. Students were briefly informed about the history and use of illuminated initials.
  2. Explaining the task at hand and providing demonstrations. 
  3. Having the students create their own illuminated personalized letters of their initials.

The second session was divided into three parts:

  1. The teacher asked what the students remembered from last week.
  2. Students continued and finished working on their initials.
  3. Students presented and discussed their work with each other as a form of critique. 

Discussing their working process. 

No description available.

Adaption of learning scenario:

Since this learning scenario was implemented in a primary setting it was adapted to fit the needs of an art lesson. In the original learning scenario, the lesson covered jargon related to illuminated letters, and students then went on to reproduce the letters. In my implementation, the letters were not reproduced identically, as this would limit and suppress the students’ creativity. 

To simplify it to an age-appropriate lesson, the jargon taught was reduced and there was more focus on the process, how they appeared and why this might have been done.  Since the students were so much younger, the lesson was turned into a bit of a role play where the students had to pretend, they were monks from the 1400s about to create a book about themselves to make the lesson interactive. 

Learning Scenario Reflection:

I believe this learning scenario went well. It allowed the students to be creative and permitted their personality to shine through. 

Learning outcomes in relation to art:

  • Students are familiar with illuminated initials.
  • Students understand why illuminated initials were used. 
  • Students were able to reproduce a letter in their own style incorporating their personality. 
  • Students learnt how to decorate a letter whilst retaining the shape of their initial. 
  • Students made use of patterns or decorate in floral patterns. 
  • Students were able to make use of borders to frame their initials. 
  • Students were able to colour in their initial. 
  • Students were able to draw an initial in relation to the space on their paper. 

Learning outcomes related to history:

  • Students were introduced to the printing press.
  • Students learnt about how rare it was to be literate in the past, and how people were not able to read but could still be smart and be able to talk.
  • Students learnt about how long it would take to make a “book” in the past. 

Whilst not all students achieved all of these outcomes, these learning outcomes could be observed from the work performed by the students. These could also be observed from how the students would respond in class during the introduction, and what designs and words they used to talk about their work.  A formative assessment was also held by asking questions.

Advice for other teachers using this scenario:
I would advise other educators using this EuropeanaScenario to possibly work with the main teacher for that class, so that the students could learn more about the Middle Ages and so that they could learn about the past in a cross-curricular manner, which would help cement their learning. Example: them reading a story about someone who lived in medieval times and discussing it.

Use of resources

I found using the resources beneficial. The fact that each blog or learning scenario links you to other learning scenarios, blogposts and galleries was incredibly useful and allowed me to branch out in previously inconceivable ways.  I was able to be inspired and build a strong lesson based on the previous learning scenario and including the arts and science digital heritage. 
Educators should use Europeana resources and whenever possible use them alongside other resources to make visual aids appropriate for every year group. For example, I paired this off with some examples of works that the students could achieve with their skill set. That aside I personally found the blogs and bundled up images from other learning scenarios incredibly educational and efficient.

I made use of this resource as this allowed me to guide the students into seeing initials as something that could help as a visual tool. This blog was both informative and educational for me but also provided me with visual aids that I proceeded to use in my own PowerPoint. I also made use of some of these images as powerful visual aids.

Did you find this story of implementation interesting? Why don’t you read about the related learning scenario? Illuminated Initials in Old Manuscripts (EN-CUR-482) created by Bianca Dabu

Did you find this story of implementation interesting? You might also like: 

Do you want to discover more stories of implementation? Click here.

Public Domain Mark 1.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the The British Library.

Leave a Reply

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial