Developing Independent Artists

After a whopper of a post last week on the Cramlington Teaching and Learning Model we’re now into the June 2009 issue proper.  After this article we’ll be taking a break for Easter, but posts will start again on the 15th of April with ‘Kagan Structures’. In the meantime enjoy this insight into how to inspire young artists! -Ed.

–  Independent students create their own resources for inspiration

When was the last time you had a great idea that you found the time to actually implement? One thing that I know bothers many art teachers is frustration at this ever expanding bank of ideas that seem destined never to be anything more than just that, an idea.

Often our ideas for resources, schemes and activities demand significant time and effort before they can make that progression from idea to reality, and this demand is one not met easily. I am about to tell you a tale about one idea that made it, and it made it because it required only a minimal input from me.

In GCSE Art lessons we spend a lot of time supporting individual students in their creative process; encouraging, feeding back and steering them towards the kind of creative output that we know will meet the coursework assessment objectives. We often face a small queue of students who “can’t think of anything”, “don’t like it” or don’t know how to start a task.

At the start of Year 10 GCSE Art students have to very quickly get into the habit of not only producing quality work, but presenting that work in a creative, visually effective way in their sketchbooks. It is these sketchbooks that form a large part of their GCSE coursework. They tend to begin the year enthusiastic and keen to impress but one long term later, the honeymoon is over and their motivation drops.

They feel that they have exhausted all their ideas and often begin to dislike their own developing style. Concerned that this was happening to one of my groups, I wanted to create a resource that would stimulate their enthusiasm and encourage them to try new methods of presentation. The idea was there, now if I could just find the time… One day, as I reached the end of a lesson and realised that the timing wasn’t right for the homework planned, in a “what the hell can I give them for homework” moment of panic, I released my little idea into their hands.

As their homework task I asked each student to create one A4 page, front and back, showing in a visual way some of their own tips for sketchbook presentation. I explained that I would bind all of the pages they created into a book of tips that they could consult when in need of ideas, and that they would be helping each other out and getting a really useful resource out of it. I think the task appealed to their sense of pride in their own ideas as they all contributed at least a page filled with examples of their unique style of presentation along with tips for success such as “use bold colours and fonts”.

As far as the demands on my time and energy went, I took in the homework, made a quick front cover for the book, punched some holes in the side and bound it together. The students were thrilled to see the finished product and were keen to point out their individual input. Ever since, the book of tips has hung on the wall as a supportive resource made by the students, for the students. I often see the kids pulling up a chair to have a browse through when they are having trouble getting started or are looking for some new ideas.

Following the success of this book, I realised the basic idea could be tweaked for different purposes so I later used a similar process for another resource. This time, I wanted the students to be very familiar with the necessary ingredients of a successful

Applied Art GCSE project, from start to finish. It is crucial that they know the specific requirements for a project in order to reach each of the assessment objectives of the GCSE course, and they should be able to check that they have done this with some degree of independence. I decided to dedicate a double lesson to involving them in a collaborative task that would give them this knowledge.

Firstly they were asked to list the different tasks that they knew were usually part of a project, such as “researching a relevant artist” and “experimenting with different techniques”. Then, in pairs, they were allocated responsibility for 2 or 3 particular tasks. First they had to turn the required task into a specific question, for example “Have you researched other artists who use the same techniques that you do?” and “Have you proved that you know how to use the equipment safely?” which they had to present in a lively way on a page.

Armed with a digital camera, they had to go in search of successful examples of this being done, and these examples were to be found in one another’s sketchbooks, which were placed on desks around the classroom.

They photographed the relevant pages; these were printed off and bound, with the question pages acting like dividers between chapters. This book hangs on the wall beside the other one, and also is used a great deal by the students to check up whether they have done all the required tasks, or to get ideas how to tackle or present a particular task.

The success of these books as useful learning resources lies in the fact that I wasn’t providing a resource that too prescriptively modelled success, but that the students were all contributing towards a collection of examples of success. Both books have allowed the students to be more independent even during moments of frustration and insecurity with their work, and have been a welcome addition to my lessons, especially when that queue starts to build up.

Naomi Hart

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