Nurturing student talent in Art at Key Stage 3 in preparation for the challenges of GCSE

An Action Research Project by Tanya Owen (Art & Design)

As Van Gogh once wrote, “…one must never let the fire go out in one’s soul, but keep it burning.”

I began this research project as a direct response to teaching 4 out of 5 Art and Design groups in year 8. This particular year group has an extremely wide ability spectrum, a number of pupils with behavioural issues and one lesson a week to teach them Art in. I felt as a teacher I was not spending enough time with the higher achieving pupils. Even though I would differentiate the work, by the time the rest of the pupils were focused I would only have a limited amount of time to support pupils in developing more technical and refined skills.

I understand implicitly how to teach a pupil at GCSE level to achieve an A*. A lot of one to one work and time inside and sometimes outside of normal lessons is needed; discussing ideas; teaching technical skills and instilling the confidence to experiment with materials and make mistakes. This year, my A and A* students spent a lot of extra time after school or at lunchtimes working though these criteria and stretching their ambitions and creativity in a relaxed and supportive environment.  A trusting and positive relationship was developed with these individuals, which helped them to feel safe and to succeed.

As a response to this, I decided to begin a Year 8 Art Club for pupils who aspired to be talented artists so that they too could have a relaxed space in which to be creative and where I could teach them to a higher level, spark their creativity and tap into their imagination.

What does a talented Artist look like?

  1. They think and express themselves in creative and original ways

Pupils want to follow a different plan to other pupils and have strong personal ideas. They often challenge the tasks given and can extend the work in a fantastic direction.

  1. Have a strong desire to create in a visual form

They are driven by their imagination, flights of fancy, humanitarian concerns or personal issues/subject matter. They persevere with resolving visual problems and complete tasks successfully.

  1. Push the boundaries of a normal process

They test ideas and problem solve. They explore ways in which to depict ideas, feelings, emotions and meanings. They are excited by new ideas and ways of looking at their work and are not frightened by it.

  1. Show a passionate interest in the world of art and design

They are often interested in a particular art form, contemporary culture or youth culture.

  1. Use materials, tools and techniques skilfully and learn new approaches

They are keen to extend and explore their technical ability and can sometimes become frustrated when their skills do not allow them to do what they would like to do initially but they persevere.

  1. Initiate ideas and define problems

They can explore ideas, problems and sources on their own and collaboratively with a sense of purpose and meaning.

  1. Critically evaluate visual work and other information

They make unusual connections and links with the work of other artists. They can apply the ideas/techniques to their own work in a non-linear and innovative way.

  1. Exploit the characteristics of materials and processes

They use and understand materials well and even invent new ways of using them.

  1. Understand the ideas and meanings in their own and others’ work

Their work has meaning and a narrative which they can talk to you about on a very personal level.

As a visual person, I find definitions in words quite difficult and find the use of concrete examples much clearer, such as in the following examples of a current GCSE pupils’ work:

Fig 1

Fig 2Fig 3

Leading ultimately, to the completed project.

Fig 4

So, having clearly defined what a talented Artist’s work looks like I decided to take a very small part of this to tackle with the year 8 group. For me, it was important to inspire and excite the students about the subject. I began by running workshops for the pupils outside of lessons. Although the pupils seemed to be quite happy with this, there were not many participants and they lacked enthusiasm. So I decided to let the pupils take the lead…

Although one or two found this freedom a little difficult, we talked individually about what they wanted to do and came up with some themes and concepts. Most pupils, however, brought in their sketchbooks from home; drawings they had already done and artists’ work they particularly liked and were very excited to show me what they really enjoyed. This brought a whole new energy to the group and many more joined. Many of the pupils were very motivated by Manga Images. Pupils need to have a certain technical aptitude to draw these figures and faces accurately and many were doing this very skilfully. They are nevertheless, quite flat drawings and could be made a lot more exciting by adding various techniques and contexts to them. I did not want the pupils to just continue with creating pastiches of the artists’ work.

The Manga drawings are quite flat and cartoon like….

Fig 5

Other pupils within the group focused on various things from cake prints to make Birthday cards as well as continuing to explore classwork, to which they were be able to add some of the new techniques explored.

Fig 6

I did two weeks of each workshop demonstrating techniques and trying to get the pupils excited about applying more exciting patterns and textures into their drawings and artwork.

Fig 7

The pupils did enjoy this but seemed to do it a bit reluctantly, as most wanted to carry on with and develop their own pieces of work.

I then began to look at evidence about creativity.

Fig 8

‘The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself.’ (from an article in the Guardian)

First, creativity, like learning in general, is a highly personal process. We all have different talents and aptitudes and different ways of getting to understand things. Raising achievement in schools means leaving room for these differences and not prescribing a standard ‘steeplechase’ for everyone to complete, at the same time and in the same way.

Second, creativity is not a linear process, in which you have to learn all the necessary skills before you get started. It is true that creative work in any field involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. It is not true that they have to be mastered before the creative work can begin. Focusing on skills in isolation can kill interest in any discipline. The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself. When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand.

Third, facilitating this process takes connoisseurship, judgment – and, yes, creativity, on the part of teachers. For creativity to flourish, schools have to feel free to innovate without the constant fear of being penalised for not keeping with the programme.

So, although teaching pupils new skills is effective, it would be more effective to get the pupils to answer technical  questions about their work through a desire to create a piece in a certain way.  As a teacher the challenge then is to facilitate this vision…to answer and give options to creative questions.

How do I give this creature an eerie texture?

Fig 9

How do I make this hair look more lively?

Fig 10

How do I make the paint more dribbly and random on my flowers?

Fig 11

This process has had a powerful effect on the relationship I have with those pupils. There is a greater trust that they will be able to succeed with me as their teacher, which for me is very important, as I feel it has been this group of students in particular who can be marginalised in lessons. They also have a greater confidence in the art classroom as they have a greater ownership of it. Independence and confidence has risen. I am trying to use the club as an opportunity to talk about classwork in a non-formal way so that I am able to have a bigger input into stretching their abilities and ambitions inside and outside the formal setting.

Ultimately, I want pupils to have more ‘attitude’. When I consider what is different between my most able pupils at GCSE and this group in year 8; it is that the GCSE candidates are argumentative, protective and almost stubborn about their ideas. This ‘attitude’ gives them resilience in resolving their own creative dilemmas.

As a consequence of this research I intend to proceed as follows:

My Action Plan

  • Encourage pupils to integrate new techniques into their own ideas/work to make it visually richer and craft a creative final piece.
  • Try to give them the confidence to deal with mistakes. It could lead to a new idea and the pupils may have the courage to go down a creative journey in which they do not know the outcome.
  • Add links on our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to various pencil and paint techniques so pupils can access them and learn how to do these at home;
    • Watercolour – salt technique, texture and cling film, blurring and wash on wash
    • Creating texture and collage – using tissue paper, glue gun, pva, pulp, newspaper, magazines
    • Pencil techniques – realistic drawing, creating texture using a pencil, portrait drawing
  • Plan an art trip for year 9 next year to raise aspirations further and run another art club based on this.

Featued image: Wallpaper Geometric Art Abstract Waves Background  Creative Commons Zero – CC0

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Nurturing and Developing Artistic Creativity at KS3

An Action Research project by Matt Hodge (Art & Design)

Aim of the project:

The aim of this project is to develop strategies for developing individual creativity on male pupils at KS3.

Objectives

  1. Examine where the differences lie between the theoretical art education and actual art education in England.
  2. Investigate the nature of good practice from the perspective of creativity and compare to good practice under the current framework for high schools.
  3. Develop a strategy for increasing creativity in schools within the current framework.

Context

In 1999 John Swift and John Steers wrote A Manifesto for Art In Schools. The paper called for a new form of Art education in our schools that promoted difference, plurality and independence of mind. These desires and thoughts have been echoed by others interested in the study of Art education and justification for the inclusion of Art education in National Curriculum, for example Burgess and Addison (2000) and Siegusmund (1998). Many issues raised in the manifesto have already been addressed, specialist teachers appear at primary level and the previous National Curriculum for Art primarily addressed creativity, confidence and cultural awareness (The National Curriculum, 2007). Whilst Art education may have appeared to move towards a freer model, the reality painted by teaching colleagues is different.  The limiting assessment criteria, that pupils and teachers have to abide by prevents true creativity and relies upon formulaic progression of activities (Hardy, 2002) and evidenced by the current GCSE assessment criteria. In order to achieve good grades, teachers put pupils through a tried and tested formula with minimal room for individuality.

Findings

Initially the project was to focus on boys’ progression but engagement in the project through the originally planned extracurricular clubs after school was minimal. The club was attended by a handful of pupils but they soon dropped off. Opening the club to male and female pupils saw numbers briefly increase however these numbers soon tailed off. The open nature of pupils finding things they were interested in may have been too challenging. Pupils would easily find an image they wanted to turn into a piece of Art but struggled to consider technique and methods. This is where pupils needed much tighter instruction.

To adapt the project to produce viable outcomes I adapted my teaching strategies to focus on assessment rather than instruction at KS3, taking the role of ‘facilitator’ rather than front and centre teacher. Initial direction and themes for projects were given to pupils of both sexes but from this point the majority of instruction came through assessment rather than teacher led direction. This allowed pupils to complete work at a pace they were comfortable with, which in some cases, particularly among female pupils, has driven up quality. They still seek guidance and help but this has become much more of a two way conversation about ways progression is possible rather than what do I do now.

Photographs and commentary

Pictures 1,2,3

Outcomes from a project based on Harry Potter Death Eaters. Pupils developed individual ideas in response to a field trip, using generic instructions for what is expected to be seen in a design task. Pupils were required to gather their own resources and develop their own ideas drawing on a number of sources. Pupils were given basic instruction in how to construct the mask but once completed had to develop their own methods for adding details.

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Picture 4

Pupils independently chose and studied a variety of Artists before being tasked to appropriate techniques to a portrait of a member of staff.

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Pictures 5,6,7

The same generic task assessment sheet was used multiple times to familiarise pupils with the expectations of the assignment. This allowed pupils to best explore their techniques and methods as they knew the framework they would be assessed against in detail. The process allowed pupils to manage their own time and expectations of progress between tasks.

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Picture 8, 9, 10

Resources and initial design ideas produced by pupils to inspire their Harry Potter Death Eater masks.

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Picture 11

Clear and explicit outcomes requirements allowed the pupil to find a personal hook to maintain their interest. The pupil was able to succeed as they could pick their own topic / theme within the intended outcome.

Next steps

  1. Develop a foundation based curriculum to build initial directed skills in early KS3 covering basic needed skills and techniques.
  2. Develop further independence, confidence and resilience in self-directed study.
  3. Offer pupils a range of starting points for projects (artist or subject based) to allow them to develop their own course of study, fitting assessment criteria into the tasks, not the task into the assessment criteria.

References

Burgess, L. and Addison, N. (2004, 2nd ed.) Contemporary Art in Schools: Why Bother? in R. Hickman, (Ed.) Art Education 11-18 – Meaning, Purpose and Direction. London: Continuum.

Hardy, T. (2002) AS Level Art: Farewell to the ‘Wow’ Factor? Journal of Art and Design Education. Vol.21 No.2

QCA (2007) The National Curriculum. London: QCA

Siegesmund, R. (1998) Why Do We Teach Art Today? Conceptions of Art Education and Their Justification. Studies in Art Education. Vol.39 No.3.

Swift, J and Steers, J (1999) A Manifesto for Art in Schools. Journal of Art and Design Education. Vol.18 No.1