Knowledge first, then skills, then creativity?

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Knowledge first. Then skills. Then creativity?

This makes no sense to me. What knowledge do you refer to? Which skills and what form of creativity?

There are different knowledge domains according to the taxonomy you adhere to but these are commonly agreed:

1. Factual Knowledge – facts information.

2. Conceptual Knowledge – Ideas, concepts.

3. Procedural Knowledge – procedures, tasks, skills.

4. Metacognition – the Me of knowledge, knowing how when where and why I need to use the knowledge.

For each domain there are a series of applications such as remembering, analysing, applying, evaluating and creating. Some see these as hierarchical others don’t.

So knowledge isn’t only a series of facts you get your students to remember. It can be but it can also be an idea you have or a skill you’ve learned. So to say knowledge comes before skill is like saying knowledge comes before knowledge. It makes no sense.

It is the word creativity that baffles many since it is a very difficult thing to define. But saying it comes only after knowledge makes no sense because it is knowledge too! You may think that since creativity is a higher order taxonomy application that this proves it comes after factual knowledge and you may be right. It can. But leave the application of your facts too long and they become just that. You get quiz masters, adept concert pianist who can’t write their own sonatas or people who have climbed the academic ladder without creating anything original. People with high factual knowledge aren’t always the most creative and vice versa. That’s because creativity runs through knowledge domains like marble and needs to be taught as such.

Show a baby a crayon then let them draw with it, teach a child letters then let them write a story, explain how a Raspberry Pi works then let them apply it for a purpose. Creativity is constant and ongoing. Creativity IS knowledge and it needs to be used consistently not after facts but sometimes before or during!

The way we teach is context dependent too. For example: I want my pupils to draw a portrait. I can do this several ways:

1. Factual – pupils learn about great portraiture, then learn skill by copying artists style, then apply to own work creatively.

2. Conceptual – We think about different ways to represent a face, we try out some experimental ways, then learn how great artists did it.

3. Procedural – I teach the skills of portraiture which they try to learn, then we study portraiture through history and they apply to a creative outcome.

4. Metacognition- we begin by discussing past experiences of drawing portraits, we identify anxieties or find out what they most want to learn about portraits. Then we tailor lessons to their needs making sure they learn great portraiture and new skills along the way.

Which is the correct way? Which is the best? Is it knowledge first, skills second, creativity third? No! It’s:

1. Knowledge first

2. Knowledge second

3. Knowledge third.

Just don’t make it all factual knowledge and make it creative!


Are you teaching art all wrong?

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Ok I accept this may be a fairly contentious blog post and that not everyone will agree with me, but here’s my two penneth worth.

Outcome driven art
Most of the art in schools I see is outcome driven. In Primary schools it is the corridor display that determines the kind of Art that is taught. It used to be that ALL students would see their work displayed but these days it is more common to see only the best work shown. Art projects at this phase are topic driven and so usually the art is also taught in a very limited range by a non-specialist art teacher. By and large art is judged by how good it looks on a wall with very limited understanding of the learning processes behind it or even how much of it is actually the pupils own work. There are some wonderful exceptions in Primary of course and so this post isn’t addressed to them.

Exam driven art
In Secondary and Further Education art is predominantly taught by expert art teachers and as you’d expect the quality of outcome improves. Yet larger forces are at work that are even more powerful than the primary display. I’m talking about exam art of course and exam expectations pervade almost everything students are taught from year 7 onwards regardless of the fact that a large percentage of students will never study art to exam level or indeed never have another art lesson in their lives. 
So the GCSE and A level exam criteria mould and shape the art teachers thinking, their ideas of progression and ability. The projects they design explicitly attempt to make students more able to succeed at exam and in this way, quality of outcomes, presentation and organisation  dominate our success criteria. Four assessment objectives and an assessment rubric make up what for most of us is our professional working lives, yet are they any good? I’d say they are partly successful but also damaging in equal measure.  

Despite the best efforts of the exam boards they still reward realistic technical mastery and good presentation and punish failure. A sound accomplished still life drawing is still worth more marks than a promising idea that didn’t come off. The assessment rubric encourages teaching to specific goals and checkpoints in order to measure success rather than a holistic learning experience. 

Recipe Art

And so recipe art becomes the norm, teachers teach projects they know will reap the best results and outcomes because the exam system determines that they daren’t fail. Is this good Art? I’d say not. I’d rather a pupil draw a picture of his favourite car and be proud of it than make a lame copy of a Picasso painting (or even paint his car in a Picasso style). 
What it all comes down to is planning. Where planning dictates and controls the outcome you can artificially improve the quality of what the pupils produce but you are impeding their ability to imagine, invent, create and more importantly, you are quashing their motivation. 

Good Planning

With good planning you can have it all; confident intelligent young artists who know their strengths and work to them. (The side effect of this is that you also get some pupils who confidently assert that they don’t like art, but I’ve always found photography my get out clause here because everyone takes photos these days.)  

Art teachers, charged with teaching contextual studies will often design projects around an artist, where pupils learn about the artist then adopt some of their techniques into their own work. This has only limited merit in my opinion. Apart from the fact that it excludes those pupils who don’t like this artist it also eliminates the potential for the student to select their own artist and so help them develop their own style and technique. Whenever I see Cubist, Impressionist, Warhol, Liechtenstein projects (and I’ve taught them myself) I see limitations being set by the teacher. Even when the artist selected is a cool, trendy contemporary artist I can guarantee that only a minority of the class are genuinely inspired by them. Pupils are learning art through mimicry, learning to copy and to imitate the ideals and expectations of the teachers. As I’ve wrote many times before, look for the deeper meaning behind the art movement and make that your learning objective, not an artists style. 

Skills first, creativity second?
So do we (as is often taught) become more able to express our own creativity by being taught skills and techniques first THEN developing unique thinking processes? I would say no. Visit a nursery reception class and talk to the children about their work and they’ll usually have bold imaginative ideas attached to a barely recognisable image. Most people have ideas floating around their heads about all manner of things that can’t or won’t express. So ideas, imagination and thinking come first not skills. The moment you begin choosing the skills the pupil are to learn you are restricting the potential of what could be learned and replacing it with mimicry. Pupils who can replicate what you have demonstrated will have done well, those that can’t (in their mind) have failed.
In an ideal situation pupils should be developing skills appropriate and relevant to their own intentions. They should understand that they don’t have to master realistic drawing and painting skills to make art. They should know that neat, colourful presentation is not as important as the idea itself and they should know where and how to look for artist sources that truly inspire them not you. Above all they should acquire a repertoire of ways to express the ideas that permeate their minds. 
“In what different ways can I say that?”
“How can I adapt and develop my idea in unique and original ways?”
“Who has thought of similar things before and how can I learn from them?” 

Good art teaching should plan for possibilities and open, diverse responses not duplication or replication. Pupils should be able to work in ways that suit them and build skills in areas of their own interest. This sounds daunting for the teacher but it doesn’t have to be. I used techniques of classroom management where all my pupils (from primary to secondary) produced art from sculpture, to textiles, to photography and printmaking all in the same room with minimal disruption. In fact, they became more independent and less needy.  

Pass Notes: Art Attack!

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Superb political summary of a thoroughly depressing scenario for the arts that also impacts other subjects such as DT. Thanks

All Change Please!


What? Has someone had a Heart Attack? Quickly. Call an ambulance!

No, no, no! Though you might have one after you’ve read the latest NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design) survey. You can download a pdf copy here. It’s the teaching of Art & Design in our schools that’s in critical danger and may not survive much longer.

Ah. But I keep reading that the Department for Education say that the numbers taking Art GCSE have risen by as much as 1%, so all this whining about children not being allowed to take creative subjects at GCSE is really just a lot of fuss about nothing. 

Well, for a start you shouldn’t believe DfE political propaganda statements, just as you’d be advised not to take a headline in the Daily Mail at face value. The problem is that the DfE’s figures don’t include the large numbers…

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Have your students got the G Factor?

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General Intelligence or g and it’s impact on education

The pursuit of intelligence in education is extremely important to us as educators. SAT’s GCSE’s, A Levels, Degrees, are all barometers of our pupil’s intelligence and thus, our performance as teachers. How much have our pupil’s progressed under our tutelage, how effective are we as professionals? There is an abundance of information about this on the web, on Twitter etc. and lots of stuff on multiple intelligence, Blooms, learning styles and much much more, all aimed at helping you to be able to improve the cognition of your students. But what do the scientists say REALLY works? Writing in New Scientist magazine, Linda S. Gottfredson, professor of education at the University of Delaware and an expert in the social and cultural implications of intelligence, outlines what the current scientific understanding of intelligence is.

This article is my own summary transcript of her article.

g intelligence

The notion of ‘g’ (or general intelligence) prevails as the primary label by which scientists measure a persons ability to deal with cognitive complexity. This idea was first outlined by Charles Spearman in the early Twentieth Century and resulted in ferocious debate ever since. Spearman and his supporters on one side, who defend the power of his general factor of intelligence and on the other hand, supporters of the multiple intelligence abilities such as verbal, linguistic and spatial. Both sides eventually conceded that both had merit and in 1933 John B. Carroll published his three stratum theory, a pyramid in which the general intelligence ‘g’ factor rests on top, a middle layer comprised of ‘Broad abilities’; fluid intelligence, crystallised intelligence, processing speed, retrieval ability, cognitive speed, visual perception, auditory perception, memory an learning. A bottom level is composed of ‘Narrow abilities’ which are sixty four specialised aptitudes or skills that each relate to the broad abilities on the layer above. The Broad abilities are all composed mostly of g but each containing a different additive that boosts performance in the broad domains. The broad domains contribute to the sixty four narrow abilities, which are a complex composite of g and the broad domains.


This structure enables measurement of intelligence in multiple domains without compromising the notion of g intelligence. This multi-facetted approach, where all intelligence is underpinned by ‘g’ makes the notion of multiple intelligence implausible. However romantic it might seem to our inclusive education policies to attempt to assimilate different types of learners in our lessons, it appears that they don’t exist. All aspects of intelligence are driven by the g factor. This notion has been repeatedly tested and found to line up with diverse features of the brain, from relative size to processing speed and to defy cultural and species variance. Most cognitive variance comes from a variation in g.

But whilst the g factor as an indicator of intelligence is accepted, finding it in the brain is more difficult. Where is g in the brain and how do we get it? That is not certain but most likely, g comes from the actions of hundreds of genetic variants and environments which result in the brain’s overall efficiency. Higher g is useful for complex cognitive tasks such as school and for being associated with lower levels of damaging behaviour such as substance abuse, chronic illness and even premature death. It seems higher g is a real advantage, however it is not an indicator of emotional well-being, happiness or conscientiousness.

So is intelligence inherited?

The answer to this questions is that heritability of intelligence rises steadily with age, from thirty percent in preschool until by adulthood it is around eighty percent. This indicates that we cannot boost low intelligence, even into the average range, but we can add knowledge relative to the individual, to help them to know more and achieve more with the intelligence they have.

How does the home or school environment alter a person’s intelligence?

The answer is surprisingly little. Test on identical twins adopted into different homes with identical genes but with different environments show that IQ closely lines up with genetic similarity. In fact, these tests show that they answer IQ tests almost as if they were the same person and adoptees in the same household as if they were strangers. This indicates that most family environments are equally effective at nurturing intelligence regardless of where they grew up. This might be very frustrating for teachers trying to shape their pupils in particular ways and in any case, as people age, they tend to seek out the environments that suit their own cognitive complexity. But don’t despair teachers! These tests simply measure general intelligence, they don’t factor in aspects of education that define success in tests, such as method, discipline, rigour and learning approach. You can’t alter a person’s intelligence, however hard you try, but you can increase knowledge in the individual and create an environment conducive to more effective acquisition of the skills and habits of success.

Fluid intelligence versus crystallised intelligence

Some researchers distinguish between tests of fluid intelligence (gF); on-the-spot learning, reasoning and problem solving and crystallised intelligence (gC); broad cultural knowledge, prior intellect and vocabulary. During youth they rise in tandem but after that gF abilities decline whereas gC abilities remain constant. The implications of this are that the gC intellect buffers the decline of the gF fluid intelligence. Older people are generally less able to solve novel problems but compensate by being able to draw on their wisdom and experience. The most effective way of slowing down these losses in cognition is through physical exercise, which protect’s the brain by improving the body’s cardiovascular health. Also important is the avoidance of smoking, drinking and head injuries etc. Mental brain training has limited effect in boosting only specific skills.

Effects of environment and other factors on intelligence

Also of significant effect on our intellect is the natural variations in our cognitive ability caused by sleep deprivation, hunger, sickness etc. all of which cause significant fluctuations in our intellect over the course of a day or week. So when schools start too early, or when they fail to recognise the environmental needs of their pupils, these all affect performance. Of significant importance to educators is one that we have known for some time; that different levels of intelligence require different types of support. Educational and Military psychologists have shown people of below-average intelligence learn best when given concrete, step-by-step, hands on instruction with lots of practice, whereas people of above average intelligence learn best when allowed to structure their own learning. A one-size-fits-all approach stunts the learning of both types. Schools can get far more out of pupils by educating them to their personal potential. In fact cognitive overload is of particular concern in modern life. Medical trails have shown that there is a significant need to simplify the management of medication, especially in patients with a lower IQ. Schools might do well to heed this advice, when greater demand is being placed on pupils for higher exam results.

In the drive for increased success in our schools there is a thirst for a cognitive enhancer, a magic bullet that will provide the g factor for all, but this is a long way off. The most effective solution to date seems to be meditation. Evidence suggests that mindful meditation provides measurable cognitive improvement including attention and memory. In her final paragraph Linda addresses the ‘Flynn effect’; the idea that humanity is getting progressively smarter, since each successive generation is scoring on average 3 points higher per decade on IQ tests. This is unlikely a factor of cultural environment and the increasing complex world we live in since it is established that IQ is not affected by environment. It may be a side effect of increasingly better public health and growth. Also diversity of marriage and population may result in increased vigour of genes. More likely is that certain biologically rooted cognitive abilities related to IQ tests are improving. In short, we are getting better at passing the tests, rather than our whole cognitive ability improving.

From an article in New Scientist – 15 ideas you need to understand 2016,

by Professor Linda S. Gottfredson, University of Delaware, Newark.


Linda focusses on the social implications of intelligence including how cultural institutions are shaped by the wide variation in human cognitive capability. 

Ten tips for improving the quality of your Art & Design teaching

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Ten tips for improving the quality of your Art & Design teaching

It’s very easy to get lost in the frantic world of teaching. You get caught up in the day to day and sometimes you forget what is at the heart of good learning. Here are some suggestions that I feel will help focus your teaching to create more effective students that are prepared for exam art.

1. There isn’t a mysterious set of art skills that define a pupil’s art ability
and get you good exam results

• It’s easy to get caught up in the mistaken idea that pupils come to you with inherant art skills that define their ability in the subject and this in turn shapes your exam results. You only need to take a look at the Turner Prize to see this is wrong.  Creativity takes many forms, there are a wide array of ways into art and you can be a successful artist without having the ability to draw traditionally. The key point to deliver here is that pupils need to understand that art is many different things and that you as the teacher have to provide the means for them to find their own way to make art.
• The art content that is taught should not be merely a reflection of the teachers tastes and decisions about what should be taught, but be a product of the pupils own tastes, interests and inclinations.
• Pupils should regularly have the opportunity to make art that is a reflection of their own tastes, interests and preferences with minimal direction from the teacher in terms of content. The teacher might direct the pupil to demonstrate a particular learning objective, but still keep the focus for demonstrating that learning open.

2. There are many different approaches to making art

• As well as the traditional, teacher-led, observational or the familiar design and make approaches your pupils should understand and become familiar with other approaches such as direct, questioning, cognitive, sensory, imagination led etc. these should be explored fully. Teachers need to learn these themselves, in order to make their lessons more exciting and interesting.
These aren’t the type of materials your pupils use or even a process such as exploring, but a different way in to making art.

3. Teaching pupils to be able to create original, exciting ideas does not come from direct instruction, it is a cognitive skill that has to be taught

• You can’t just instruct your students to think of ideas, you have to teach them how! Creative thinking skills can be taught and your teaching should deliver exercises that provide challenge, reward and improve innovation and originality. Ideas can be surface ideas or they can get progressively more complex and you should show pupils how to be increasingly sophisticated to reflect their thoughts. They need to understand different ways to stimulate the grey matter, where and how to find inspiration and how to present it once they have found it.

4. A sketchbook isn’t always a book and you don’t always have to sketch in it

• Sketchbooks can and should take many forms and be presented in personal ways that might be built out of the advice of best practice as illustrated by the teacher, but they should not forced upon the pupils. A sketchbook might be traditional and strategies to improve presentation might be taught but again; possibilities should be offered not dictated. A sketchbook may be also be more of a journal; part written, part drawing. It might be a digital folder in a piece of software that can capture ideas, thoughts, pictures and drawings on a smart phone such as Evernote or One note. A photographer might use an app such as Instagram or Flickr. Another method may simply be to present rough investigations and sketches on a sheet or in a decorative folder. The key is to allow pupils to offer pupils possibilities to explore and find the most suitable method for them, then show them ways to present these as successfully as they can.

5. Artistic influences should be the pupils’ not the teachers
• Don’t even get me started about teachers controlling art outcomes with THEIR influences and direction. It angers me so much that their pupils whole art experience is controlled by what they deem to be ‘good art.’
Pupils should build a visual scrapbook of their own artistic influences and sources that are shaped by their personal interests not merely reflect sources that the teacher has deemed to be inspirational. The teacher might provide places for pupils to look; Colossal, Pinterest etc. as a way of supporting, but there should be minimal influence from a teacher. If the pupil fills a book full of Hello Kitty images then so be it! The teacher might use this interest to develop deeper appreciation of more sophisticated and relevant sources (such as Takahaski Murakami) but the skill is in building on pupils own interests and offering possibilities, not forcing ideas onto people.

6. Use artistic sources for real learning not for surface decoration, book and page filling or for objective meeting

• Pupils should learn how to select from the work of other artists in ways that are appropriate to their intentions. It is pointless to simply ask pupils to research artists without there being a focus for the investigation. If this is simply; ‘find artists who have worked on a theme’ then the responses will be merely surface responses. The focus should be more insightful and related to a technique or process that is being learned that in turn, improves the pupil’s own skills. It could be an investigation of the interpretation of an idea, exploring different ways in which artists have executed the same thing, looking at the messages and meanings behind what they’ve done.
• Pupils should become familiar with reading and using subliminal, hidden and symbolic meanings in art, in much the same way as they learn about metaphor, simile, analogy and allegory in English.

7. Good researching skills need to be taught, they don’t come naturally to pupils

• When researching, pupils should learn how to find and locate information on the internet, in libraries and in books. Most will learn some of these skills in other subject areas, but it should be reinforced and built upon in art so that transferability is ensured. Besides, you want to ensure that pupils can identify the credibility of the pages they are looking at, how to identify the key words and phrases they need to input to identify particular information in a browser. They should know how to find, locate and validate the sources they find, filter for image size, date produced, country and other search tools and how to give credit for the work they have found. They should know how to read text in different ways, to scanning, skimming, extensive etc. how to locate and identify only what is relevant to them then discard the rest, recognise, validate and give suitable credit to the original writer. They should know how to adapt and reinterpret what they have read and written to show understanding and so that they can reapply new meanings to it.

8. Presentation should be personal interpretation, not a barometer of your expectations by which to measure people

• When presenting investigations, pupils should understand how to skilfully present information in different ways, not only to present it for personal preference but for suitability to the task or the audience. If you direct the outcomes of presentation to meet your own expectations then you invite failure, because not everyone will be able to meet them. But if you offer a more diverse range of ways in which pupils can present work to suit their own learning style then you invite success.

9. Learning to evaluate is more important than learning to draw

• Evaluation should be seen as a constant, ongoing process that informs every decision, not just a summary process to record the learning journey. Pupils should learn how artists critique their own work, learn to utilise other’s opinions and use critical opinion as a positive springboard for future directions. Not everyone will learn to draw well but they can and should learn to evaluate because they can apply evaluation skills to their whole life; choosing which dress to buy, how to decorate their room, which girl to date, it’s all evaluation!

10. Assessment should be a positive, happy, classroom learning experience

• First and foremost, assessment is a process for the benefit of the pupil to help them to improve and to motivate. It should build and develop skills and confidence. It might indicate possible future directions, but it should reward and praise where possible it should make pupils feel good about what they have done and make them want to try again, to keep learning and participating.

Stop Grading Art

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Superb thoughts on art assessment from across the pond. I especially love the rubric that highlights ‘look for’s’ and in turn teaches students good working practices


Last year I had the brilliant idea to give a presentation to art educators called Stop Teaching Art. Classy, right?! This year, I presented the sequel: Stop Grading Art!


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Picasso Drawing exercise

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Whilst looking at Picassos lovely sketches of animals in a single continuous line, it occurred to me that this would make a lovely drawing lesson.

Create your own animal drawing using a single continuous line.

Lots of art teachers do continuous line lessons but this goes one step further: the children have to reduce a complex image by simplifying it and they are learning that lines can be fluid and have rythmn. As if that wasn’t enough learning its also challenging and fun!