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Angela Lo

Art & Literacy: An Exploration of English Proficiency Skills And Identity
Development Through Art Making

Photo by Angela Lo, Examples of student artwork

       My personal perspective about the English language is based upon my pragmatic experience of having been born and raised in Hong Kong, speaking Cantonese at home, English at school, and Mandarin through immersion.  Hong Kong has a complex Colonial history due to its highly coveted location as an international trade seaport and doorway to commerce in Southern China.  I began to learn the British form of the English language in kindergarten.  It became clear to me, as a young child, that mastering the English language was important to most of my future endeavors.  After my family relocated to Toronto, Canada, I had to re-learn English skills.

Photo by Angela Lo, Examples of student artwork

            Although English has become my second language, I am not confident in the proficiency of my reading, writing, and speaking skills.  Many aspects of British English differ greatly from the form of English practiced in Canada and the United States, often making interpretation difficult, resulting in misunderstanding and loss of meaning during translation. 

            My personal experience has led me to focus upon the role that literacy plays in a person’s understanding of themselves and the world.  Language is an integral part of life.  It enables people to communicate and interact with one another.  The number of languages that a person speaks greatly informs the development of their individual identity in relationship to a particular culture and/ or ethnic group.  Language also greatly effects the development of a person’s values and the ways values are communicated through society–at-large.

Photo by Angela Lo, Students participating in the Jacob’s Ladder Project

            One in five students in U.S. is an immigrant, like myself, who struggles with acclimating to a new culture and learning English as a second (or third) language, without losing their language and culture of origin. Out of necessity, these students often become English language translators for their families, and speak their original language in the home. As a person of multicultural background, I have found ESL educational support to be better in theory than in practice.  By separating new language learners from their English-speaking peers within an immersive language-learning environment, students are prevented from effectively becoming competent in the new language.

Photo by Angela Lo, Student finishing the Jacob’s Ladder

            The purpose of my thesis is to research the experience of students who are new to the United States and to develop pedagogy designed to strengthen their sense of self through linking English competency skills with art-based cultural production. This project involves ninth grade students from two different high schools in Chicago who are primarily new immigrants or first generation Americans, currently in the process of making a transition between cultures.

            Knowing from a first person perspective that these students are in a critical point in their identity development, I worked with them to produce meaningful art activities that document their individual personal histories, both past and present, and foster their sense of belonging and ability to envision a future in their new community.


         Angela Lo received a BA with Honors in Arts Management and Visual Arts Studio from the University of Toronto, Canada. She worked with students between the ages of 2 – 18 in various settings, from day camps to art classrooms.  Before attending SAIC, she worked at a touring ballet company in Toronto.  While at SAIC, she worked with ESL high school students at two Chicago Public Schools on projects relating to identity and literacy.


Thesis Advisor: Drea Howenstein, Associate Professor, Art Education

Thesis Reader: Tammy Ko Robinson, Assistant Professor, Art Education

Second Reader: Lisa Hochtritt, Assistant Professor, Art Education


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