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.


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 www.paulcarneyarts.com 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 http://www.paulcarneyarts.com for more exciting lessons

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!


Memory Art

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Memory Art
I learned this exercise from a session i did at the Baltic Quays gallery, Gateshead. It was in a session done by art teacher Elinor Brass so it isn’t mine, but I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing it on my blog. It is a beautiful exercise that I loved doing a lot.
First, spend ten minutes writing down your memories of childhood play onto a sheet of coloured paper using a black pen. It doesn’t have to be this theme, you can alter it of course, but be careful to choose something that evokes powerful feeling or strong memories.
I spent ten minutes writing my childhood memories of play. It was very emotional!!
Once you have completed the ten minutes (I found it very emotional and inspiring) you need to cut the written text up into smaller chunks of text, perhaps selecting word relationships deliberately, or randomly cutting or tearing them. Next, arrange the word pieces onto a sheet of A3 white paper (or whatever really) into an interesting design, thinking of your word combinations and patterns.
I cut around certain words that I’d selected with interesting interplay
Now study what you have made. What stands out for you? Which word relationships are the most powerful and why? Discuss your thoughts in a small group or with a partner.
Now you should select a word or words to create a piece art in any style you wish. You might use paper techniques to depict your words (perhaps shine a torch on what you make for added dramatic lighting) or you might produce a drawing from memory in charcoal on large sugar paper. It’s up to you, what materials are available or what your artistic stregths are. I’d just keep the materials restricted at first. You can work representationally, abstract or through shape, pattern, texture, graphics, digital, photography. I chose to represent something that meant a great deal to me as a kid and still does as an adult. Me and my mates always tried to make our own goals as kids. I decided to add my word play memories as the net. It was great learning. The people created entirely abstract art, some produced patterns of flowers and one girl made a kitchen!!!
I made my goal from drinking straws and coloured paper.

Assessment in Art CPD courses

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I have a couple of teacher training courses coming up for Osiris on Assessment in art:

18th November in Manchester
2nd December in London

Full details here http://osiriseducational.co.uk/paul-carney.html

I try to ensure that the assessment techniques I demonstrate are practical, classroom based, easy on the teacher but informative for the pupil.
I was lucky enough to work with the NSEAD advisory group that worked on the art subject competencies.

I can promise you a great day that you should get a lot out of!