A Student Shares a Detail in the Artwork with His Friend
Image courtesy of Ingrid Damiani.

Improving reading and writing through art critique

MOCA Jacksonville's Voice of the People is an innovative, literacy-based educational arts initiative that hones critical thinking and communication skills as it develops a deeper understanding of contemporary art. Voice of the People serves fourth-grade students at Title I schools throughout the school year, and has now been adapted for virtual learning to serve grades 3-12. For fourth grade students, during several visits to MOCA, students are introduced to the Permanent Collection, from which they select works of art that speak to them. The students analyze the works, prepare descriptive narratives, and create recordings that serve as part of the Museum’s audio guide, accessible to all those who visit the galleries and view the chosen works of art. In addition to gaining familiarity and comfort within the Museum setting and a greater appreciation for art, Voice of the People improves critical thinking skills, encourages participation, develops creative writing and verbal presentation skills, and enhances self-esteem. It also has quantifiable, proven results: Children who participate in the program exponentially improve their reading and writing scores, year-over-year. 

virtual learning

We have adapted Voice of the People for arts integration remote learning for grades 3 -12. Please click the links above in the navigation menu for Elementary, Middle, and High School virtual learning curriculum. 

listening in the galleries

Look for Voice of the People on audio markers throughout the second floor. 


Voice of the People is a singular opportunity that helps these underserved students to shorten the achievement gap and build confidence and momentum as they pass various milestones within the curriculum. Following all of the preparation and work, audio guides are made available to students, teachers, staff, and family in the Museum setting at an opening reception, and the accomplishments of the students are honored and celebrated. Participants often lead family members through MOCA with a sense of ownership and understanding that culminates from their work in the Museum setting and familiarity with the art.

The level of excitement around this initiative fosters youth leadership in an educational setting, which comes through on the recordings. Consider this example from Tenisha:

“This amazing artwork is thrilling!  When I visited MOCA, my eyes grew wide. I noticed this gorgeous work of art. The first thing I noticed was the colors popping out like a 3D movie. The colors remind me of yellow tulips in my grandma’s garden.

The masterpiece is called Aizan, Velekete, Govis. The amazing artist’s name is Edward Duval-Carrie. The masterpiece’s medium is fiberglass and resin. Those are toxic and you need to wear a mask when spraying.

When I look at this artwork I see the color spicy orange. I spotted shapes like stars and circles, but there are no patterns. My emotions are happy and I think the artist's emotions were too. I think this is a sculpture of an Indian and the two things on the side look like sticky birds. I see dozens of movements. When I look at this work my eyes move up and down and left to right.

Now you know why I like this masterpiece. Thank you for listening and make sure you come back to MOCA. Bye!”


The program objectives for Voice of the People are:

  • Improve critical thinking skills through facilitated observation based on the Feldman approach—using description, analysis, interpretation, and judgment of select pieces of art;
  • Encourage creative interpretation of contemporary art through access to art subjects that grow individualized perspective and foster an understanding of contemporary ideas through personal study and response;
  • Develop creative writing skills through the honing of interpretive art responses in the form of written audio scripts; 
  • Improve verbal presentation skills in a clear and well-articulated manner through the production of digital audio recordings made available to all Museum and website visitors;
  • Encourage cooperative learning in small groups through the shared production process of writing and producing audio guides for contemporary art;
  • Enhance self-esteem through tangible accomplishments in written and spoken products, and ultimately in showcasing this work in the Museum setting;
  • Improve self-awareness for participants through group work where the voice of every participant is valued and rewarded and the ultimate product of the program comprises  individual efforts that create a cohesive and unified presentation.


One of the most important measures of success for Voice of the People has been the increase in scores for participants for assessments administered by Museum staff before and after the program. This strong evaluative component, given through student and teacher questionnaires, has consistently shown increases in all areas of targeted objectives for this program.


When children live in poverty, the odds are stacked against them starting at birth. Sad statistics chart the achievement gap that begins during infancy and widens throughout childhood. The larger the gap grows, the more difficult it is to close.

A major contributing factor to this disparity starts at home. Research at the University of Kansas by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, who in 1995 published a book, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” studied how parents of different socioeconomic backgrounds talked to their babies. They documented a staggering difference in the number of words heard by children in low-income versus professional families. By age three, a poor child might hear thirty million fewer words at home than a child from a professional family.

Oral language and vocabulary are inextricably linked to reading comprehension, putting most disadvantaged children at a huge deficit when they enter school and start to tackle reading and writing. Hart and Risley also wrote that children’s language development starts to level off when it matches their parents, passing down a language deficit through generations.

About 55 percent of students in Duval County Public Schools receive free or reduced-price lunches. Duval County has more than one hundred Title I schools where at least 40 percent of the students are from low-income families.

Voice of the People serves Title I elementary school students at a time when the achievement gap still can be addressed by focusing on expository writing, critical thinking, and verbal presentation skills as it develops a deeper understanding and appreciation of contemporary art. 

Art education provides indispensable creative and critical problem solving and a primary pathway to higher education and income. It is essential, not supplemental, to scholastic success. Children who participate in Voice of the People tackle art and academic subjects simultaneously with the personal attention of educators. Instead of feeling like a chore, students have an experience they will remember forever. Voice of the People gives students the tools to close the achievement gap and the self-confidence to face academic challenges in the future.

This program is supported in part by the Winfield A. Gartner Memorial Fund for Children's Programs.




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