art education

The Art of Questions

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This article appeared in NSEAD’s AD Magazine January 2016

The Art of Questions by Paul Carney

When planning and delivering lesson content teachers are continually striving for a balance between ensuring their pupils achieve the intended learning objectives and maintaining their motivation. We can’t place enjoyment above the need to deliver good content, but in we can’t ignore it either, because creativity is dependent on motivation.
Now of course many art teachers build creative opportunities into project learning stages to facilitate personal interpretation and so improve motivation. Whilst this usually reaps considerable rewards in terms of the quality of pupils’ output, it’s still very teacher-dependent. All those long nights planning lessons and making resources, select appropriate images, objects, themes, topics, artists as starting points etc. are often counter-productive to good learning. They usually end up making your students dependent on you. Our well-intended, conscientiously over-planned projects often kill the very thing we are striving for. We dull creativity and teach learning by imitation. Pupil motivation can be lost if the teacher has done all the thinking beforehand. Sometimes all that is left is a series of instructions for students to follow. In their book Questioning in the Primary Phase, Brown and Wragg say the ability to ask intelligent and searching questions and to use questions that stimulate complex reasoning, imagination and speculation are crucial to teachers of all ages and subject groups. Research by Professor Steve Higgins for the Sutton Trust bears out the potential gain of metacognition as being equivalent to eight months academic progress, which is the most effective way of raising attainment and the cheapest.
In her book ‘Principals and Student Achievement: What the Research Says’ Education Researcher and author Kathleen Cotton says that Primary children and less able children learn when lots of lower-cognitive questions are asked that build gradually to higher cognition. In the Secondary sector she recommends you show students how to answer higher cognitive level questions and increase the frequency you ask them in order to attain higher pupil performance.
Virtually every thing you do in your classroom, every skill, every technique, every knowledge finding, idea developing, project making, material exploring thing you do can become part of a question-based model instead of a teacher-led model. If you want to transform your teaching you will need to switch your mindset away from delivering content to facilitating investigation, problem solving and inquiry. You will become someone who stops answering questions and demonstrating learning and starts helping people to find the answers themselves.
Essential questions are questions that evoke curiosity, deep thought, enquiry and reflection. They make us focus on core knowledge and values, and ensure we consider alternative options, provide evidence to support our ideas and provoke discussion. They are the driving force behind any intelligent thinking person; ‘Why am I here? What do I want to do with my life?’ and so are integral to Art and Design, because artists have struggled with similar themes throughout time.
Writing Essential Questions isn’t easy. It requires a lot more thought from the teacher at the planning stage for one thing. Even then, pupils need to be taught how to respond to a question like this, how to present an argument, show evidence and persuasion. That’s where the Foundation Questions come in, because they help to develop the pupil’s understanding of the big question and steer the outcomes. Without the supporting questions the students become confused and the outcomes chaotic. The skill with the Foundation question is to write them so that they support and steer but don’t dictate obvious outcomes. Think of them like giving clues to the answer.


Here is an example of an essential question I have written based on Arte Povera:
Is the world’s greatest art just a product for rich, intelligent people?

Supporting foundation questions:
Why is some art worth millions when other art is not?
What effect does this have on artists?
What makes some art great and other art not?

✴ The Arte Povera artists in the 1960’s made art out of rubbish to attack the snobbery of the art world and the high prices of art. Many artists to this day make art from rubbish and unwanted objects and their art is worth a lot of money. How should we value art?

✴ “You owe the companies nothing. You especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.” (attributed to) BANKSY.
However, Banksy’s art is now so valuable that people actually want him to graffiti on their building, so when is graffiti art good and when is it vandalism?

✴ Can beautiful art be made from rubbish?

This type of approach not only brings more interested curiosity from your pupils, but they have greater autonomy to work in ways that interest them.
Once ideas and responses begin to flow you should find an increase in eagerness to get started and this is where you need to balance the amount you hold them back with the need to think about what skills they have, what criteria their idea needs to be successfully executed and what the project learning objectives are, so that you don’t stifle that enthusiasm. This is where further questions come in and in fact, they should support every step of the process:

• Which materials will you need to make your idea?
• Have you used these before?
• How successful were you the last time you used them?
• Where can you get the help and support you need to practice the skills and techniques you need?

Throughout the process you will need regular evaluations to ask; ‘Do you need to alter and adjust your idea in light of what you’ve just done?’

You might use supportive comments from other pupils for improvement. ‘How might this person improve their work?’ Or to focus the group on something you know needs improving, direct the question thus: ‘What do you think might improve this work’. Again, the emphasis is on steering and guiding not dictating. You are supporting, showing and helping them to self-analyse through dialogue, evaluation and collaboration. Making art in this way is very different to the standard process model you may be used to. It takes time for pupils to be able to achieve the same standard of outcomes you may be used to, but it’s more exciting, dynamic and ultimately less stressful for you, because you are putting the responsibility for learning back onto the pupil where it belongs.

‘The Art of Questions’ is available from Paul’s website, and explains in more depth the theories and techniques of using questions in the art room for projects, exploring materials and developing autonomous learners.


Primary Art teaching course

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Primary Art

My Primary Art course is now being run by Osiris Ed, so book now for dates in

Birmingham 1st March 2016

London 15th March 2016

Teach like a specialist

  • A busy teacher’s guide to exciting, yet simple, provision
  • Action-plan high-quality art to ensure:
    • continuity of skills
    • pupil progression
    • resources are available
    • confident assessment
  • Effective ways to secure high learning outcomes

I hope to see you there! Follow the link for booking details

More details here

Key Stage 3 Art, Craft and Design Progression

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Key Stage 3 Art & Design Progression

Much of what we define as progress is smoke and mirrors. You can’t always demonstrate progression, because more often than not, it isn’t tangible. Often, I’ve spent two hours wrestling with an idea or a thought in my head, and how can you evidence that to an Ofsted inspector? The answer is that you can’t evidence every type of progression, but then the Ofsted inspector isn’t expecting to see it either. There is often a panic or a misguided belief that the teacher has to continually assess every mark the student has made in order to demonstrate progress is being made, but this is wrong. Assessment should be a silent friend, intervening only as and when appropriate, to enhance, support, motivate and guide the learning, not throttle the life out of it.

Progression in art seems obvious enough. Just doing art provides visual, tangible outcomes, but it is actually a lot more complicated than that. Take a look inside most art sketchbooks and it’s a horror story of badly drawn, unfinished experiments and unresolved ideas. The thing is to bear in mind is that this is normal. It’s ok, it’s what you should expect, because that’s what most of our thoughts look like, mine included. An artists working process is usually a working, rough collection of scribbles, diagrams, unfinished maquette  drawings and experiments, and this is what it should look like.  Some people produce achingly beautiful sketchbooks where every page is a work of art, but I would argue that this isn’t the way everyone should work and shouldn’t be the norm, merely one way of working.

AS David Didau says in his blogs, much learning is liminal, that is to say it is undeterminable. It is between stages of the known and unknown; it is woolly and vague to coin a phrase. But this is what you have to evidence to those inspectors; how to bring clarity in the fog of learning. It’s quite a challenge but rest assured, one of the most significant points I’d like to make about identifying progression is that it isn’t your problem; it’s your student’s! It is for THEM to demonstrate what they have learned and to clear away that fog, it’s not your responsibility to continually mark the life out of their work to find it. Your role as the teacher should be to provide a framework of possibilities for them to demonstrate what they have learned. Then you can make judgments as to what degree of confidence you have about the evidence they present.


Art behaviours In order to identify key stage 3 progression you should identify what it is you feel are the most important learning attributes, behaviours and knowledge that pupils need to learn or demonstrate. These aren’t just generic learning objectives that mean little to the pupils but should be deep, focussed behaviours that you want them to evidence. They need to be able to demonstrate that they can do these, or that they have understood them, which may be in the form of a conversation or activity they have taken part in, rather than nailed on, concrete evidence.

Pupils should not only be able to read and assimilate these objectives (with help) but understand that they will take time to achieve, they aren’t just a tick list. If the pupils understand these well enough then they can form the basis for all of your future assessments. Because the key point is that the pupil must understand and take ownership of the learning objective. They have to not only understand it, but also want to do it! They should understand that they have to demonstrate to you that they have successfully achieved that objective, then your role is to judge to what degree they have achieved it.

So the first step is to identify what the important things are that you want the pupils to learn over the key stage. In core subjects the curriculum is prewritten, they don’t have to design the content, it’s all mapped out for them, but in art this is a blank canvas and as we all know, a blank canvas can be a nightmare for many artists. So you should identify not only what the key learning is, but also the behaviours you want your pupils to exhibit, the knowledge they should have and, just as importantly, the application of that knowledge. Art skills are important too, but not in the way you might expect. There is no expectation for any student to have a set of art skills based on drawing ability or in fact anything resembling traditional art skills. Contemporary art shows us that conceptual art is king and therefore art can be an idea, it can be music, performance, film, text, found objects and even thin air! It may seem like the emperors new clothes, but what this approach shows us is that art can be inclusive for all. You don’t need to have skills, you need good ideas.


Progression as Learning A while ago I developed this rubric based on Krathwold’s; ‘Blooms Revised Taxonomy 2001’ for developing learning targets in art and design. It was based on a similar thing I’d seen developed at Ohio State University for their Science students.

Table Blooms

This sets out the development of learning and progression in the subject in increasingly complex and more challenging targets from the Factual Remembering cognition in the top left corner to Metacognitive Creating in the bottom right. I believe it’s based on sound science and indeed it relates strongly to the GCSE Assessment Objectives for the subject. It isn’t Key Stage related either, so it’s perfectly able to be adapted to any educational phase perhaps with some modification, though I doubt many teachers will use it in the Primary sector. Nor is it linear either, so you might access the ultimate goal; ‘Create’ at any time and still need to constantly revisit ‘Factual Remembering’. The four Knowledge dimensions relate strongly to the requirements of the new curriculum for art and the NSEAD’s Competencies, but I would argue that these are more succinct and flexible. Whilst the Cognitive Process dimensions are all very familiar to us educators, here each one is defined in four ways, to the four knowledge strands making them I believe more useful. What appeals to me also is that a Metacognitive strand is prominent, replacing and improving the evaluation targets that many art teachers struggled to facilitate effectively. Here, metacognition is embedded in such a way as to make understanding a recognisable aspect of attainment. These learning goals are a very useful working tool for you to identify the key aspects of the art understanding that you are trying to deliver.


Progression related to GCSE assessment objectives So all of this leads me to my next point, that many Subject Leaders for art are being asked to define new progression models for Key Stage 3 in light of a renewed drive by Senior Leaders to Assess without levels. But as I’ve outlined earlier, progression in art should clearly identify starting points and then signpost learning behaviours rather than be simply the completion of projects assessed to the skill level attained. These behaviours in art are outlined in the National Curriculum to some extent, but then the National Curriculum for Art in the UK is so poor that you ideally need more than this. The NSEAD of course produce an excellent set of Competencies (which I helped write) and these are great too, and I fully endorse the four attainment targets they promote Making skills, Generating Ideas, Knowledge and Evaluation. However, what I’d like to suggest is that some vital components of art education aren’t mentioned anywhere until you study the GCSE guidance documents (e.g. AQA’s; Interpreting the GCSE Art Assessment Objectives).

The exam boards provide explicit information about what the assessment objectives mean and how best your students can evidence them. This is not to be confused with teaching directly to the Assessment Objectives for GCSE because you shouldn’t do this; the Objectives aren’t meant to be evidenced as separate entities. They are supposed to be evidenced holistically or partially, integral and interwoven. The guidance documents for best practice at GCSE are rich in language such as ‘realising personal intentions’ ‘exploring possibilities’ ‘learning journeys’ and ‘unresolved outcomes’ and they make it clear that art should be a personal journey of investigations and informed practice, not a series of fully resolved projects directed by the teacher to fulfil constraints of assessment objectives. So when planning Key Stage 3 content, your projects need to reflect this. What I’m advocating is a key stage 3 revolution! Throw away all of those teacher-led projects based on an artist you love or think the kids will love that succinctly last a half term or full term. Fill your curriculum full of personal choice, different approaches, provide opportunities to express in different ways, make significant reference to contemporary artists, make your curriculum about personal freedom, choice and exploration.

Principle learning behaviours for Key Stage 3 So the trick to good Key Stage 3 Progression is to study the understandings that lie behind high attainment in GCSE and work to build these into your key stage 3. Ideally what you should try to provide is a very flexible curriculum that builds skill and confidence of course, but also it should facilitate;

  1. INCLUSIVITY for pupil’s of all abilities, to show them that you can be good at art regardless of traditional art ability.
  2. PERSONAL interpretation that allows pupils to investigate the visual world that appeals to them most and isn’t too teacher directed.
  3. ART SOURCES that inspire personal outcomes and that aren’t just traditional art or artists work but cover a diverse references from the arts and contemporary society.
  4. RESEARCHING as a complex skill that needs to be taught directly, so that pupils are able to find, filter and utilise only what they need.
  5. EVALUATION as a constant, ongoing thinking process that informs every decision, and that other’s opinions can really help them to develop and grow.
  6. METACOGNITION as a means for pupils to confidently explore and identify personal preferences, develop understanding and complexity of thinking and approach.
  7. CREATIVITY as a diverse and valuable skill that can be applied in many different areas outside of art.
  8. IDEAS generation, from the use of direct purposeful solutions through to the understanding of deep, complex, metaphors and symbols.
  9. PRESENTATION as a personal and diverse process that can be tailored to suit learning styles.
  10. PROCESS when making as a complex, often unresolved, exploratory, non linear, experimental thinking journey that may or may not result in final outcomes.
  11. ANNOTATION as a means of adding something extra, for understanding, or for explaining choices, influences or how problems have been overcome.
  12. APPRECIATION and understanding of visual culture without it being attached to a bigger making process.

To translate these into the MIKE Key stage 3 learning targets might look like this:


Skill & Confidence: Make the best progress you can from your starting point and according to your ability. Try to develop confidence by doing the things you enjoy when making art.

Develop Personal Learning Style: Develop a personal learning style by using own tastes & preferences, and building on strengths

Creativity: Develop ability to draw in a chosen style; realistic, graphic, expressive, abstract, sculptural, pattern, digital, text based. Draw on different scales, surfaces, using different tools and media, for different purposes and in different places. Learn a range of new approaches to making art

Choices: Develop independence and ability to make own, effective choices when making art.

Explore & Experiment: Experiment with, explore, try out, discover, learn; new techniques, processes, media and ways of working in order to solve problems and realise intentions.


Range of Ideas: Use art to invent, imagine, record ideas, design, thoughts, opinions and for pleasure.

Sketchbooks: Develop a personal means of recording thoughts, ideas, observations, workings and explorations, either using a traditional sketchbook, a journal, a scrapbook, in sheet form, in a folder or through digital means.

Complexity: Become more thoughtful, complex, original and sophisticated when expressing and forming ideas. For example learning about the use of symbolism and metaphor.


Art Sources: Learn that art sources can be the traditional ones of natural forms, paintings, sculpture, design, craft, photography etc. but that they also might be; buildings, magazines, films, computer games, character design, car design, clothes, fashion, make up, theatre, music, set design, illustration, poetry, literature, song lyrics, interior design, internet pages, apps and lots of other aspects of the visual culture around you.

Art Knowledge: Discover how and why different artists work, gain a general understanding of the progression of art through time, Develop personal tastes, preferences and opinions on art. Identify, use and apply aspects of artists work in your own.

Research: Acquire an increasingly competent ability to research, find information independently, then be able to filter, sort, select and discard, adapt and refine what is relevant to support, improve and influence own art.


Language: Gain an increasingly sophisticated language when discussing art

Feedback: Learn to use feedback and constructive critical opinion to gain confidence, overcome fears and to provide clear direction.

Annotation: Learn to make brief, annotated notes to explain choices made, decisions taken, show how problems have been overcome, how things have influenced you NOT to simply describe what is obvious and apparent.

Metacognition: Identify your own tastes when making and looking at art, develop personal opinions and preferences.

Understand that there are different ways of approaching and answering tasks and problems.

Learn to make appropriate choices when making, based on your experiences, preferences and that suit the demands of the task.

I’ve developed these targets further, into Year by Year targets that not get progressively more complex but are also tailored to three ability stands. You can download these for a small fee of £6.99 here


Developing different approaches to Art

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Developing different approaches to Art


It’s important, when teaching art to understand that there are many different approaches to the making process. More often than not, art teacher lean towards a ‘Teacher-led’ approach, where they plan every stage of the learning out. This is fine in many cases, but creates very dependent pupils over time. By the word approaches I don’t mean techniques, such as painting, drawing or print etc. What I’m describing is the type of activity you create.

For example you could just pick up a pencil to draw something, but draw what? If you simply copy a picture you like then we’d call that a direct approach, which means just getting on and doing an art activity. A more complex form of this approach is called active learning. But there are also other ways to approach this drawing activity. If we photograph the drawing we could import it to a computer and use software to create digital art. We could draw something from observation or we could invent an imaginary picture. All of these are different art approaches and by knowing a wide repertoire of them you can make your art lessons much more fun and exciting. In fact, you can take the same theme and adapt it in many ways simply by altering the approach you take. It really is key to improving the kind of art you teach.

And rather than reinventing the wheel when thinking of ideas for art projects, you can just adapt and refine the art activities you do already to make them fresh and interesting. For example; let’s say you are doing a project based on puppets. You might typically approach this activity like this:

  1. Research different puppet designs
  2. Create an idea for a puppet
  3. Make the puppet

But by applying different approaches you can really add some excitement:

  • Stimulus – instead of simply showing puppet pictures, use drama and physical movement to act and move like a puppet, then make studies and drawings of these movements and poses.
  • Questioning – What were some of the different reasons people made puppets? By knowing the reasons why people made puppets your pupils have a greater understanding to be able to make more meaningful puppets of their own.
  • Pupil led – How would you make a puppet if you had no teacher input? This could be assemblage, where you provide a range of scrap, found objects and challenge them to make puppets from them.
  • Design – ‘Design a puppet for . . .’ but add design constraints such as; ‘you must use these shapes or objects, you cannot use colour etc.’
  • Artist  led – Research some different puppet designs to use as influence for your own design.
  • Ideas – Develop an idea for a puppet using a tennis ball as a starting point.
  • Observation – Simply draw a puppet from observation, using first or second hand sources.

Do you see how it is the approaches you take that create interest, variety and stimulus? When you become familiar with different approaches you might begin to add some more of your own because there are even more than the ones I’ve mentioned here!


The eBook I’ve created describes twelve different art approaches you can use in your teaching. They will help you to redefine what you do to make it much more exciting.

Buy the eBook here for £4.99

The Negative Impact of Assessment

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Negative Pressure of Assessment
the Negative Impact of Assessment

Assessment does as much harm as it does good. Overtime you labour over those purple pen comments or tedious rubric boxes that you have slavishly produced, please bear in mind that from the pupil’s perspective you have as much chance of damaging their learning as you do enhancing it. Creativity is such a soul bearing, anxious process that you have every chance of damaging their will to keep wanting to create.

Pupils assess themselves more than you ever will. They put themselves in boxes of ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I’ll never be able to’ and at the same time they elevate everyone else to high plateau’s. In Early Years education, pupils have a habit of assessing themselves as brilliant at everything. They seem to have such a pride and excitement at what they’ve made that they can’t help themselves. Fast forward to Secondary and the picture is almost entirely negative. It’s as though school is teaching them that they CAN’T do things rather than the opposite. For all your high impact learning resources and dynamic lessons, that have taken you yonks to produce, the majority of pupils feel frustration, doom and despondency. Add to that the plethora of targets, grades, levels or whatever your school enforces on your students and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

The most important aspect you have to address is confidence. You have to work hard from about mid-primary onwards to really address the creative frustration that builds up inside their heads. Pupils have a strong tendency to compare themselves against others and when someone pulls out a brilliant piece of work the whole class can be left feeling completely useless. Creativity is like that, so you have to make it clear that we don’t compare ourselves to others in art, we focus on our own learning journey. This takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.

I’ve written much more about this in my Art Teacher’s Handbook, available from my website at but essentially the message is clear. You, the teacher, have to shelter your pupils from the wealth of negativity that fills their headband surrounds the learning process in order to make it a positive, enriching experience. You should use assessment to:

  • Apply meaningful praise
  • Inspire your pupils to want to keep learning
  • Show them pupils they can improve with constructive advice
  • Recognise the personal attainment and progress that has been made from their own starting points


Durer Drawing and Printmaking

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(Albrecht Durer | Draftsman Drawing a Reclining Woman | Woodcut | 1525)
In the Durer illustration above, you can see how he has created a vertical window onto which he has drawn a grid which corresponds to a grid on his paper. He uses this as a kind of real-time tracing method which really helps improve observational drawing for the less able.
My Method:
I devised a simple, modern version of this exercise and adapted it for print.
It requires a thin piece of clear perspex about A3 in size which may or may not be divided into squares using red or blue permanent marker (the squares are great for the less able). The perspex is fixed vertically to the desk using generous blobs of blue tac, but if you are of a technical nature you might create a more sturdy frame and stand. The window is positioned in front of the item to be drawn from observation and the student draws it. You can draw it in two ways;
1. Draw directly onto a sheet of paper and simply use the grid on the perspex to help you divide the object into smaller, more manageable shapes.
2. Draw onto the perspex using a whiteboard marker and create a print. Once the drawing is complete, the perspex is flipped over and placed marker ink side down onto a piece of white paper (so you can see the drawing clearly) and fixed in place with tape.
Next, use printing ink (not paint) and a brush, to build layers of coloured onto the perspex. Be careful not to make the ink too thick and not too light or it won’t print properly. You can now can print a few mono prints from the perspex. Once dry, you can work back into the print if you like.
Acetate printing
Example of acetate print block produced from observational still life
If you wish, you might just want to use the perspex image to make a drawing, rather than a mono print. You can do this by placing the perspex marker side face down onto a piece of paper. The paper is then rubbed gently and the board marker ink is lightly transferred to the paper. If this method isn’t successful, you can trace it and transfer using traditional tracing paper methods or use a light box. From there you can begin drawing over the transferred image.
Example of a print made by the photo method


You can use this printmaking method to create prints from photos. Just place the photo under the acetate and paint the printing ink over to create your own version of it.

You can also use a digital method. Just take a photo of the still life then trace it using an app such as Tracing Paper, Calrisketch, Explain Everything etc. But its much more fun the Dürer way!

This lesson was designed and developed by Paul Carney. Visit for more exciting lessons

Baseline testing – Benchmarking in Art

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Screenshot 2015-11-02 12.50.41

Download the test

Art teachers, like all teachers have to demonstrate that their students are making progression under their tutelage. This implies that you need to define a starting point for your students and this is good practice since you can’t teach anyone anything unless you identify what they know and can do already. Traditionally, art teachers use an introductory project, executed over the first term and assess that. The problem with this method is that your introductory project will inevitably vary from year to year and teacher to teacher and in doing so, so will your assessments. Also, school leaders often demand a much faster snapshot of pupil ability for their data records, so the teacher may not have the time for a full assessment to be made. Now, many teachers find the notion of testing students unsavoury, but I never told the pupils I was delivering a formal test, I simply did the exercises with them in class.

I developed this baseline test over several years, with many trials and errors, until I had one that was quick, effective and that could be done (and marked) in class with the minimal effort on my part. This test takes about an hour to perform and mark, but the additional homework activity is carried over to the following week.

Baseline testing in art Any baseline assessment you use should identify the pupils current starting point in the areas of the Programme of Study you are going to deliver. In the Uk, the curriculum expects its pupils to learn to

Improve their skills at making art 

Generate ideas for their art

Extend their knowledge of art and artists

Evaluate their own and other’s art.

So this implies that I need to measure the pupil’s starting point in these four areas. So I designed classroom exercises to identify the pupil’s:

  1. Basic drawing skills
  2. Level of imagination
  3. Literacy level
  4. Ability to find and interpret information independently.

Basic drawing skills

I ask the students to draw a cube from a given starting point. All pupils learn to draw 3D shapes from a young age (usually about seven years) so this shouldn’t pose a problem. However, in my many years as a teacher of maths, I noticed that many students struggle with spatial awareness and 3D problem solving. In addition, I noticed a direct correlation between this spatial problem and drawing ability because drawing depends on 3D spatial awareness. So I don’t need to spend time doing a full drawing exercise to draw something from observation and shade it, because I can establish drawing ability much more quickly and concisely through the rendering of 3D shapes. So i provide a simple diagram of the beginning of a cube and ask the students to complete it.

Screenshot 2015-11-02 12.50.22

Drawing test (ten minutes): Draw or show the arrow diagram below on the white board. Get the students to copy this onto A4 paper. Do not allow students to use rulers and leave space at the top of the paper for further drawing.

Task 1:. Turn this diagram into a 3D cube (10 minutes approx.) note: It is important that you don’t help the students to do this.


  • Advanced spatial awareness – potentially has exceptional drawing skills. Draws the cube quickly and/or with skill and accuracy, using perspec- tive different to the one suggested (might even ignore the whiteboard diagram)Screenshot 2015-11-02 13.26.16

  • Confident spatial awareness – High/average ability. Constructs a cube in the correct perspective, connects all or most corners correctly and lines are approximately parallel. Can draw lines freely without using a ruler.

     Screenshot 2015-11-02 13.26.25


  • Struggling with spatial awareness – Average/Lower ability. Numerous ef- forts to attempt the task fail to completely convince or there might even be an adaption of the task to suit an easier method, such as front view perspective where two 2D squares are overlapped and the corners are joined. A cube might have been completed, but the lines are not parallel and deviate considerably from the correct angles.

    Screenshot 2015-11-02 13.28.19


  • Weak spatial awareness – Low ability. Unable to complete the task with- out assistance.

Usually, about 5- 10% of eleven year old students draw the cube using advanced perspective, (less in Primary). The remaining students will usually be spilt between typical and struggling spatial awareness, depending on the ability of the class and a tiny proportion will be unable to do it. What this reveals is that those who draw the cube correctly will be able to access most or all of your curriculum and will generally do well in art. Those with spatial awareness problems by ten or eleven years old are usually going to struggle with realistic drawing and will need more specialist help. 

Level of Imagination – To look for this I developed variations on a traditional psychometric test, the paper clip game (another variation of this is a drawing of a assymetric shape on a piece of paper). Participants must think of as many uses for a paper clip as they can. In my variation, rather than simply rewarding the pupil’s ability to think of multiple responses, many of which might be vague, I extended the exercise to examine the pupils’ ability to apply their imagination to a drawing.

Imagination test part 1 – On the reverse side of the drawing, set the pupils the task to list as many objects they can think of that the cube could be turned into. Note: It is important that you don’t help the students to do this. For example: You could turn the cube into a TV, a House or Dice, (15 minutes).

Marking this section is always done as peer marking in lesson, where we swop answers and typical scores are usually similar to this:

  • 0-10 = below average imagination.
  • 10-20 = average imagination.
  • 20-30 = good imagination.
  • 30 or over = very good imagination.
  • 40 or over = exceptional imagination.

Eliminate any answers that are wrong, duplicated or completely random or unclear. These results give you a good idea about a person’s ability to think visually and the breadth of their visual literacy. The higher the score, the more visually literate they are. Quite astonishingly, very highly skillful artists often struggle with this task.

Imagination test part 2Imaginative realisation. Draw a new cube of any size onto a fresh sheet of paper or you can draw on top of the first cube drawing. Now, look at the list of objects you have just made. Create an imaginative picture from the most original and interesting object on your list. Create a whole scene, including background, there no rules to this except that you should be able to make out where the original cube was. For example: You might have written TV on your list, therefore you might create a picture of a TV in an interesting and unusual scene.

You begin to see patterns emerging when you look at whole samples. One idea might have ‘caught on’ and spread around the class or you see repetitions of X-Boxes, Playstation’s, CD players, Houses and vehicles. When you get original ideas they stand out. Clearly, some people might be weak at drawing but have original ideas and vice versa. Many of the most talented artists in my classes have very weak imaginations and this test brings this to light. When a student has added rich details, back- grounds, perhaps even colour and have cleverly adapted and manipulated the cube you should score highly.

It is fairly straightforward to separate the outcomes of this task into these ability strands:

  1. Highly Skillful and Imaginative. Creates a highly imaginative and skillful picture that is original and well executed. The picture makes use of space, considering background, detail and perspective.
  2. Confident level of skill and imagination. A good outcome has been pro- duced that adapts and manipulates the cube to suit the student’s inten- tions. There is evidence of consideration given to background and de- tail, though some of the quality of the execution might be a little lacking.
  3. Developing level of skill and imagination. The drawing is highly depend- ent on borrowed ideas or there might be a considerable lack of skill in outcomes or little evidence. There is evidence of a clear struggle to achieve the class standard.

In the imaginative realisation drawing you should give consideration to:

  • Adapting and manipulating the cube to conform to their own idea.
  • Using multiple and repeat cubes to create more complex ideas.
  • Consideration given to background to make the cube part of a scenic composition.
  • Creation of depth, perspective and spatial awareness.
  • Consideration of the whole drawing.

I usually mark this in class with the pupils in a discussion/peer/self informal manner. Then I would record only one mark in my marks book from an average of the two test scores as exceptional, high, middle, low, SEN.

Evaluation test – Literacy Level: This is easy because I simply ask the English depart- ment for the pupil’s reading age. This gives me vital information about the literacy level of the pupil (and the class) that tells me how able they are to access my teaching materials, how good their written and verbal responses will be and in short, how effective their evaluation skills are. I’ll record them again as; exceptionally high reading age, high reading age, normal average, low and very low SEN.

Knowledge test – Ability to find and interpret information independently: The pupils are given a question on the board which they must write down then complete at home. The question is: “Who is the mysterious stranger in the painting ‘the bar at the Folies-Bergére’ by Edouard Manet 1881”. Present your answers in the most creative manner you feel appropriate.

What I’m asking my students to do is to find out what this painting is (a quick browser search), read about it, identify that there are many different opinions on who he is but no one really knows and then present this answer creatively in their own manner. Yes they can ask their friend in form time but they’d still score low/no marks because the quality of their response is poor. The ability to do this is crucial to the type of work they will need for GCSE. You are testing their ability to work independently and form critical opinions about art. I mark mine as a simple; exceptional, high, middle, low, SEN and no mark.


So now you will have scores in four areas of making, ideas, knowledge and evaluation and it’s only taken one quite interesting lesson and we’ve marked it in class. I’ll get the homework scores the following week and add the reading ages later. You can see now that I have very informative data to inform my planning and teaching. I can see who is skilful but lacking in imagination and vice-versa, I know how literate my classes are and how independently they can find and interpret information. I know who is potentially Gifted and Talented and who is especially weak. 

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