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Stephanie Barenz-Wiegman

Collaborating Across Divisions with Zine Making 

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. –African proverb

When I joined the early childhood (EC) faculty as art specialist at Concordia International School in Shanghai, EC principal Dr. Drew Gerdes mentioned to me that he would love to see EC students collaborate with older students. The “big kids” are often a mystery to our youngest learners, and high school students may only see our EC students in passing.

Jane Klammer, one of Concordia’s HS art teachers, and I met about four years ago. Upon our meeting, I was so impressed with her facilitating capabilities. She seemed to be the type of teacher who was continually looking for ways to connect, be it in her teaching or in her art practice. It only seemed fitting to do this first collaboration with Jane.

Kindergarteners Join the "Big Kids" on a Color Walk

For our collaboration we chose to do a color walk and a zine making workshop between the EC and HS art classes. This was born out of a university course I designed called Psychogeography and the Sketchbook. In this course, we took a lot of walks and adapted the playful philosophy of psychogeography, which is the way a place effects ones psyche, and in turn our studio practices. Sometimes a walk would have a prompt, for example, the color walk, would involve choosing a color and then following it, letting the color lead you from place to place and then creating artwork based on the process.

As I prepared for my unit on color with the Kindergarteners, I thought that the color walk would be a perfect fit. Children are in tuned with the details of their surroundings. Recess turns into a treasure hunt—picking up leaves, bits of paper, and stones. I knew they would love the challenge of hunting for color.

In preparation for this walk, we made color wands, which were markers, with different colored caps but in the same color family, taped together. This added to the magic of the hunt but also helped them to recognize that there were many different types of color in just one color family. Each group had one wand, an iPad, and the best part of all— a “big kid” (aka a high schooler). After the rules were explained, the children could barely contain themselves and exploded out of the school doors leading their high schooler buddy around campus on a hunt for color.

The Three C's of Zine-Making: Color, Creativity and Collaboration

When we were finished we had high schoolers inspired and encouraged by the kindergarteners love for creating; kindergarteners who felt like they now had a “big kid” buddy; and iPads full of colorful pictures as a record of the morning’s events. In the days that followed, we would unpack these iPads, a job assigned to the HS art students, to look for inspiration and fodder for their collage assignment. Meanwhile, some of the Kindergarteners explored the joys of color mixing in the HS art classrooms and created large sheets of color using water droppers, rollers, and poured paint. They gasped as yellow and blue made green, and how if you added a bit more blue you would have a darker green. They so graciously handed some of these papers over to the HS students to use in their collages.

For the third part of this collaboration, HS students finished their color collages using the paintings the kindergarteners made and then photocopied them to turn them into zines. Zines are small, self-published books that are made out of one piece of paper by folding it into a book form. They can easily be unfolded and photocopied making them an accessible alternative to formal routes of publishing. While the HS students made their zine the Kindergarten also worked on making their own zines. This was a meaningful, reflective exercise that resulted in all of us thinking about the joys and complexities of color and collaboration.

The zine exchange was the final part of our EC/HS collaboration. This is a popular event in zine culture, where zinesters (people who make zines) will set up tables of their zines and trade with other zinesters. For our zine exchange, each Kindergartener received five copies of the zine they made, a mini portfolio, and the ability to trade their zines with the HS students. This was truly the best part of this collaboration, it was a joyful event and was a beautiful to see the ways students shared their art with one another.

One Good Zine Project Deserves Another

In the weeks that followed, Jane and I found that our collaboration kept growing branches. I believe this is the true spirit of collaboration, it grows unexpectedly and produces surprising opportunities.

Here are some of the events that followed as a result of our project. We decided to exhibit the work in our all level Monochromatic art show as each work was based on one color. This resulted in a collaborative art exhibition where the kindergarteners’ work hung beside the high school students’ work. Concordia also made a beautiful short video about the project that was exhibited alongside the zines. Last fall, we were invited to present on our project and lead a workshop on zine making at AWEA, Artists Working in Education in Asia in Hong Kong. This spring, we were invited to present at the Asian Lutheran Education Association Conference in Taipei, Taiwan about Collaboration in Art Education.

This project also inspired one of the classrooms in the Middle School humanities division. Andre de Koker, a MS teacher, asked me to present to his class about social justice art. We decided to make zines the subject for this unit based upon the success of the HS and EC collaboration. Zines have a rich history in social justice. Some claim that Martin Luther was the first zinester when he nailed the 95 Theses on Castle Church, other attribute it to Benjamin Franklin. We also see zines-like pamphlets throughout other social movements like the abolition of slavery, civil rights, and feminism (properganderpress.com). Zines were often adopted by marginalized groups in society, and they allowed their audience to experience other points of views and perspectives. As I presented to the MS students, I was able to show them example of the Kindergarteners’ and High Schoolers’ zines and show them how any age group could have access to this medium.

As a result of this presentation, Mr. De Koker incorporated zine making into his student’s  final project and presentation, opting to have students create a zine for their social justice topic instead of a powerpoint presentation. In the age of digital, this gave the students something tactile to work with, and requiring them to think through how they would communicate their topic through the printed page. As a practice run, I had the MS students make a zine about spreading joy and encouraged them to hide them around campus to bring joy to those who found them.

As we wrapped up these collaborations and presentations on zine making, it was encouraging to see all of the learning opportunities that came out of it. The benefits of collaboration not only include social and emotional learning but it helps to "develop a culture to manage emotions and resolve conflict, encourages empathy by working in each other’s shoes, builds trust in a team or classroom, grows new ideas, and allows alternatives without fear of failure." (artofeducation.com) As I look at my curriculum for next year, I look forward to including more of these learning experiences and challenges for our students.