art curriculum

Progression in Art & Design using revised Blooms

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Bloom’s Taxonomy is probably the most used taxonomy of learning in the world. It’s success is phenomenal and primarily due to it’s simplicity, relevancy and progressive, logical approach. However, Bloom himself said that his research was the most used yet least read research ever. He admitted it wasn’t complete and in truth, the almost fanatical zeal with which teachers use it belies the fact that they only usually use one area of its whole approach. Teachers who still use only the six strands of the single cognitive domain will find only limited success with it because it is lacking in key other learning domains.

Revised Blooms

Bloom’s model was revised in 2001 by a group of educational experts spearheaded by David Krathwohl (who worked on the original version) and Lorin Anderson. The revised version is simpler than Bloom’s three domains of learning and the cognitive domain is modified:

  1. Knowledge becomes REMEMBERING (recognise, remember, recall)
  2. Comprehension becomes UNDERSTANDING (illustrate, explain, trans- late, compare)
  3. Application becomes the verb APPLY (Carry out, execute, use, implement)
  4. Analysis becomes the verb ANALYSE (select, organise, deconstruct, discover, focus)
  5. Synthesis becomes EVALUATING (check, decide, test, monitor, make choices, modelling, appraising, critiquing)
  6. Evaluation becomes CREATING (design, make, construct, generate, produce)

This cognitive stage (which is where most schools stop using Bloom’s) is, in the new model, under-pinned by four different types of knowledge; factual, conceptual, procedural, metacognitive. The four stages increase in complexity from concrete factual knowledge to abstract metacognitive knowledge.

Four types of Knowledge

  • Factual Knowledge – what you need to know to do the task, terminology, details, facts.
  • Conceptual Knowledge – knowing how things work, so you can re- assemble them into different orders, principles, theories, behaviours.
  • Procedural Knowledge – the skills and techniques of doing things.
  • Metacognitive Knowledge – being aware of one’s learning abilities, past experiences and general cognition, understanding, strategy.

The four types of knowledge underpin all learning and if correctly applied there will be twenty-four separate and distinct learning objectives, six for each of the knowledge strands. I’ve created a table from these twenty-four learning areas so that you can readily interpret them and use them in your teaching. The learning objectives increase in complexity and demand from the concrete thinking skill of ‘Factual Remembering’ (in the top left corner) to the abstract thinking skill of ‘Metacognitive Creating’ (in the bottom right).

Revised Blooms Table for Art & Design by Paul Carney
Revised Blooms Table for Art & Design by Paul Carney

Download it here: Revised Bloom table Art & Design

The table has learning objectives that develop in complexity, cover the full range of art learning skills and which you can modify and adapt to schemes of work over the course of a few years. I think it could be simplified and used in Key Stage 1 where it will guide teachers to deliver important skills in practical subjects. It could certainly be integrated into Primary art, technology and with some revision, science too. And remember, I’ve adapted this to suit art (from a science model) so it could easily be adapted back again for other subjects.

Using this model I can easily see if a pupil has strengths or weaknesses in any of the four knowledge domains and much they have progress they make in the six learning strands. What’s important to bear in mind for the teacher is that just because the six learning strands increase in complexity it doesn’t mean that they are placed in sequential order. For example, you might teach procedural analysis before procedural application, i.e. you might try out techniques before you apply them. Besides, some creative tasks are so complex that they require the application of multiple facets of the learning model. What is interesting is that the model says that trying out different techniques is harder than applying them. I think this is correct because experimentation is very challenging.

Primary Elementary Art Progression using the table

I’ll show you an example of how these learning areas relate to aspects of the NSEAD progression model and how they relate to GCSE so you can be certain that by using it you are covering the requirements of the curriculum. In the table below you can see that the NSEAD’s Year 2 Making skills target is: ‘deliberately choose to use particular techniques for a given purpose.’ This target is exactly the same as metacognitive application in the revised Bloom’s model I’ve developed. Also: ‘develop and exercise some care and control over the range of materials they use’ is procedural understanding in the Bloom’s model.

Relating Primary NSEAD targets to my revised Blooms model
Relating Primary NSEAD targets to my revised Blooms model

Secondary Middle, High Progression using the table

You can track the whole NSEAD progression model and the curriculum (what there is of it) to this model. But it goes one step further, because for those of you teaching GCSE art, the model also ensures you are teaching your students the essential components for exam success, because Assessment Objective 1 demands the ability to develop conceptual work using factual creativity, assessment objective 2 is looking for your pupil’s ability to conceptually create using procedural analysis and assessment objective 3 is really just metacognitive evaluation for procedural application.

Relating GCSE targets to my revised Blooms model
Relating GCSE targets to my revised Blooms model

So with the Bloom’s revised model you are covering the essential components of art education from the very beginning years to the final years, with one simple and focussing set of learning objectives.

What’s more you can group objectives together into projects as you move along the diagonal to unsure continuity and progression. In this way, you will be able to pick out selected targets that you feel you need to focus on and group them together. Here, I’ve grouped targets along diagonals because this is where linear progression exists, but there’s no reason why you can’t select targets at levels of varying difficulty according to your student’s ability.

grouping targets

I think what I’ve produced here is concise, relevant and logical. I hope I’ve interpreted the work of the Revised Blooms model into one that you can adapt and adopt to suit your own school. It shouldn’t matter which key stage or age group you work in, the skills are the same, the table can still be applied.

Paul Nov 2015


Does anyone know of an artist who does . . . ?

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This article was modified on 30th Jan 2016
Does anyone know of an artist who does  . . . ?
If I hear another art teacher uttering these words during the UK Externally Set Test, art exam I think I’m going to scream! It is seriously bad practice and what’s more, it sails very close to the wind of breaking UK art exam rules. And by providing all of these elaborate, sophisticated references to your students you are giving them an unfair advantage. 
Exam rules state that: “students should produce their own, unaided work.”
Now you could argue that simply providing a name of an artist is within the rules and you’re probably right, but when I see subject leaders providing powerpoint presentations full of artist references, links and images I doubt this is fair. To be honest, the boundary between simple guidance and what falls foul of exam rules is blurred, even for moderators, but in 2014 the exam board did warn that centres using Pinterest boards for the test was breaking the rules. It staggers me that some wiley teachers are selling Powerpoints for the EST on TES resources! IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE AN EXAM!!!!!!!
I just think that if you’re doing your job right your pupils should know and understand how to answer the Test paper without too much input from you. And that’s my point. It isn’t your exam it’s theirs. The exam is meant to be a test of their abilities and you providing them with the answers is, in my opinion cheating. A tell tale sign of too much teacher intervention is when you see identical artist sources used repeatedly through multiple sets of work. Now some students share sources and this is fine, but when you see a whole set of work from a centre having a particular style then you know the teacher is too controlling and has too much input. Because lastly (and more importantly) the pupils aren’t learning anything meaningful. All they are learning is how to mimic you.
I often see websites and facebook resources of artists grouped by style or theme with little or no underlying explanation of the meaning behind the work. It’s so shallow and fickle and it robs the student of the true value of the learning. The student may use these high quality sources in their own research and it could be argued that they are learning visually. This may be true but wouldnt it be far more effective if the pupils were taught the deeper understanding as well as just the aesthetics?
For example, if you stop simply providing students with pictures of ‘artists who painted ‘reflections’ and start asking the students to identify what it is about ‘reflections’ that they want to portray then use this as your artist focus, you get higher quality understanding and in turn, much more diverse outcomes. Instead of simply focussing on pictures of reflections they might concentrate on the use of colour, geometry, symmetry or light for example.
Day of the Dead colouring bookFor me this gets at the heart of what I dislike about the GCSE exam in the UK. It isn’t the exam boards fault, nor the teacher’s I suppose. It’s the relentless pressure teachers are under to get good results and this takes precedence over good learning. Too often it’s; ‘fill in the blanks’ style education and it is poor. It shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be like this. 

Teachers usually focus on artists who produce work in relation to the theme they’re working in but this teaches the student very little. The real skill of the teacher is to support the deeper learning that they wish to bring out in the pupil. But too often what the teacher actually does is to provide their pupils with artists on a theme. So the teacher plans a project based on Day of the Dead for example and everyone studies artists who have depicted skulls in their work (God help me) usually Mexican, Tattoo or graphic artists etc. This methodology is repeated over and over with different themes and different artists but they principle is the same; teacher decides the theme and researches the artists who worked in this theme. But it’s just wrong! By doing this the teacher is removing all of the thinking and killing the creativity, because personal interpretation is lost. What happens when pupils don’t like the theme? They are stuck for ages (usually a whole term) studying skulls, they get bored and often cause trouble for the teacher.

The key to it is this: ‘personalised projects create opportunities for personalised study’.
The teacher could save themselves a whole lot of research time, printing costs and preparation by working a little smarter. If they simply investigated what Day of the Dead was; ‘a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and in other cultures around the world that focuses on the spiritual journey of people who have died.’ This could lead to activities of a very personal nature; ‘In what ways have artists through time tried to represent the spirit world or afterlife and how might the ways in which they tackled the theme of death inspire you to make art?’ The emphasis now is on a much broader theme; students are free to use any of the previous Mexican influences but now they are free to discover art from a much broader, more exciting and personal range. What’s more you aren’t restricting the style of outcomes to graphic, skull drawing you can open it up to abstract, semi-abstract (Picasso’s final painting is hauntingly spiritual, as is L. S. Lowry’s Obelisk Self Portrait done at the end of his life) digital, film, painting, drawing, print, pattern, the list is endless. v0_master
So by working in this way pupils find their own influences and they should relate these influences to the aspect of art that they want to learn or improve. If Pupil A is interested in graphic drawing then they might study graphic interpretations to try to learn their methods and approaches but they might also learn a great deal by studying the way in which the great masters used colour. If Pupil B favours pattern then they might study the spiritual nature of Islamic pattern but they might also study the spiritual aspect of mathematical geometry and try to relate this to their own work etc. In this way, teachers use artists to develop students own technique, the pupil’s own use of the media or the meaning behind the work in order to improve their own personal skills and interests. Good practice comes from the development of planning that opens minds.
Study other artists’ work to uncover information about technique or process that might inform students’ own practice
You might still have banks of data on artists, but instead of grouping according to theme, group according to technique, formal element or process. It is better if you have lists of: artists who explore bright contrasting colour relationships, artists who use geometric, mathematical approaches etc. rather than simply: ‘artists who painted landscapes.’ So that when a pupil is struggling to create a complex picture with lots of elements to it you might support them like this: ‘Investigate how Leonardo made studies of elements that were going to feature in his paintings, how he taught himself to paint hands, feet, folds in fabric etc.’ In this way the students can learn to break down difficult parts of their work into separate studies. Similarly, if a pupil’s use of colour in their painting is weak you might say; ‘Deconstruct the colours in a Rothko painting to learn how to layer paint, to overlay contrasting colours and sythesise the relationships between the areas of colour.’
By using artists in this way, as a means of ‘study that informs’ you will be using artists’ work more effectively. Methods such as these defy time because the way in which Cezanne distorts the subject with angular shapes can be easily applied to the way in which a graffiti artist applies paint and the way in which Leger uses line might apply to a digital, graphic artist.
Study the process of how other artists interpreted themes, concepts or ideas to help the students develop their own approaches 
Often, the student is seeking artists who worked on representing an aspect or idea that relates to what they want to achieve. I’m sure you are fully aware that it very limiting to show artists who have worked on similar themes BEFORE they tackle it themselves because all you do by showing examples is invite mimicry. So you want to let them really struggle with it first, and steer them into trying a range of approaches and techniques. When you see a style or approach beginning to manifest itself THEN you might provide them with an artist movement/name or names to search themselves, but again you want to direct that search with statements such as; ‘look at the range of colours Oskar Kokoschka used to paint skin tones in his self-portraits, might you adapt some of his methods yourself?’ 
Oscar Kokoschka
Arrange your resources of artists work by the way in which they used the media
The teacher should help the student to ascertain what medium they are most successful with: pencil, paint, clay etc. Ideally you want them to work in the material they are best with and their problem solving, experimental phase should be trying to resolve their idea using this medium first before moving into other areas if or when required to. I don’t see much point in spending time doing one version in marker, one in pencil and one in paint in fact the exam boards frown on this practice. Why would you do this? It’s shallow and meaningless. The student should be developing their own technique, working the media to try to render it in the most skilful way they can. There is a fear that the student loses marks for sticking with one material and not diversifying but this an old, outdated notion. Exam boards don’t stipulate that students must try out lots of materials just that they should explore possibilities. Who were the masters of line? Who were the experts of light and shade? Who were the experts at applying subtle layers of washed out hues for mood and atmosphere? It’s in your interests to know, understand and group artists in ways such as these, to arrange them according to the learning objectives of your students rather than simply theme.
New approaches to artist links
Ways of Looking by Ossian Ward
Ways of Looking by Ossian Ward

Since the Eighties, contemporary art has centred more on meaning and the intellectual thinking behind the work rather than the skill or aesthetics of the medium. This implies that You as the art teacher should learn about new ways of looking and thinking about the ways in which artists make art. Apart from anything, it opens up your classrooms to enable students to make art who might not previously have been successful at art because of a perceived lack of skill. It rewards thinking and intelligence as much as anything and in doing so it implies that you, as the teacher need to know and understand contemporary art in order to use contemporary artist links more effectively. Ossian Ward’s excellent book ‘Ways of Looking’ is great place to start and he uses a system of looking at art he calls TABULA (Time Association Background Understand Look again Assessment). For me, contemporary art should the exciting focus of art in schools because it makes art inclusive, rewards thinking, metaphor, expression and innovation instead of pure skill. Skill will always have its place in the art room of course, but the best art teachers utilise a wide range of approaches to making art. They know that they have to open projects out and diversify them, not constrain them. They understand that by allowing pupils to work in a style that suits them they will thrive and achieve much more than if they constrain them.

Less able?
Those of you who teach a cohort of pupils with lower academic ability may be quite cynical about much of what I’ve written. You know that pupils with less ability need tighter margins in which to work, they need greater direction and support and too much freedom and choice can have disastrous consequences, especially in exam. I agree with all of that, but that does not mean you have to limit choice entirely, nor does it give you permission to deliver those ‘Day of the Dead – colour in a skull picture’ type projects. Less able pupils have just as much opinion about key issues as more able ones, they just may need platforms and scaffolding of skills to express them as well as they’d like to. Providing literacy frameworks can help enormously, as will a ‘road map’ of possible routes in to the topic, support and guidance at each stage without doing everything for them, pointing them to places of support after they have been allowed to struggle a wee while. I’m not advocating everyone is plummeted straight into a world of autonomous, self-directed learning, but i am saying that levels of ability and intelligence should not be an excuse for delivering lazy, straight-jacketed teaching that limits artistic freedom.

Idea Mining

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Idea Mining

copyright paul carney arts
copyright paul carney arts

Download the Pdf

Ideas are often very difficult to find. You often end up staring frustrated at a blank piece of paper, wondering where on earth the inspiration will come from. So try Idea Mining the next time you’re stuck. This exercise involves applying the objective or purpose of the idea to different thinking strands, thereby simplifying it or increasing its complexity. I’ve compared these different thinking strands to layers of rock that you have to drill down to, to access. The deeper you go down, the more complex and sophisticated the idea should be.

  1. Surface Mining: These are the first ideas you think of. They are usually literal, obvious ideas, but they can also be observational, i.e. inspiration by seeing something. Examples: Realist observation
  2. Picture Bands  – Pick out and select parts of the theme of the idea you identify with. Simplify and isolate elements, then stylise your ideas. Examples; Cartoons, graphics, printmaking, batik, street art.
  3. Composition Veins – This is where you compose more complex ideas using more than one element. Consider the relationships between aspects of the idea, to develop subtle and intricate ideas. You might use composition to create a tension in your idea. Examples: Collage, good quality photography, design
  4. Symbolism Seams – Develop symbolist ideas by substituting the more obvious solutions with metaphors or symbols. Bury the immediate meaning under analogy or allegory. Examples; Surrealism, Symbolic art.
  5. Deep idea tunnels – Create complex, personal, unique and often introspective interpretations, not immediately obvious. These can be attained through abstraction or the use of more complex symbolism, juxtaposing opposing ideas, using personal experience, creating or using codes or associations. Examples: Abstract art, good Contemporary art.

Let’s apply some examples to Idea Mining to see how it works. Say you are trying to think of ideas for art based on football:

  1. Surface ideas – images of people playing football, supporters, images of people celebrating a goal or representing the human form in motion literally.
  2. Picture Bands – Club graphics and badges, football strips, comic strips, ball design
  3. Composition Veins – collages based on football images, personal photography, point of view drawings of the game, depicting past or current players, the songs and banter on the terraces or the history of the club.
  4. Symbolist Seams – Portraying the emotions of victory or defeat, examining loyalty to a team, growth and/or decay of success.
  5. Deep Idea tunnels – Depicting the speed and movement of the ball, abstracting the human form in motion, looking at the colours, patterns and shapes on the pitch.

Or the emotion sorrow:

  1. Surface ideas – images of people crying or in sad situations.
  2. Picture Bands – a single eye crying, a tear, an agonised face.
  3. Composition Veins – a scene of a solitary person on a bench with an Autumnal backdrop. An image of a gravestone or a funeral, a broken love affair.
  4. Symbolist Seams – A dead bird, a wreath of flowers, black edged sympathy card, a wedding ring in a gutter, old photographs.
  5. Deep Idea tunnels – decay, the earth/soil, colours associated with death/decay, personal objects associated with sad meanings.

Cliché potholes – Be aware though, as there are some pitfalls lurking here and called clichés. I would suppose you want your ideas to be unique, fresh and interesting, so ideally you want to avoid these. But coming up with truly original ideas is virtually impossible, so if your idea is a bit well worn, you might need to give it a fresh twist. Think of how you might adapt or change your idea slightly to add an original slant to it. The rule with cliches is; ‘avoid them or own them.’ Which of my example ideas would YOU describe as cliché and how would you take ownership of them?


Lesson idea

Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Place a number of words or phrases into a bag then ask one person in each group to draw a few out, (depending on the time you have). Now the group have to think of ideas related to the words they have picked in each of the idea strands. 

Share and feedback the lists to the whole class. It is interesting to compare how different groups have represented the same word. 

Identify where the clichés might be and discuss how you might depict them in a more original way. 

Do this exercise regularly as a starter or warm-up to big thinking sessions.

Of course, the examples I use for Idea Mining infer that these ‘strands’ or idea types need to be taught. You should teach pupils about symbolism and how artists (and writers) use it in their work. You should also teach pupils about the principles of abstraction, how to compose pictures for dynamic effect, using the formal elements in their work and how contemporary artists relate deep meanings in their work.

But then you knew that anyway didn’t you?

Baseline testing – Benchmarking in Art

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Screenshot 2015-11-02 12.50.41

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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. 

 Screenshot 2015-11-02 13.49.37


Creative Lesson Planning

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One of the ways I see creativity being stifled is when well meaning teachers plan their lessons. Instead of planning for freedom of choice, they plan very controlled experiences. Instead of encouraging risk and exploration they limit the materials to keep outcomes high. Teachers develop ‘tricks’ of the trade: i.e. how to get good outcomes, instead of focussing on which method has the most learning value. Becoming experienced at teaching shouldn’t mean only making high quality art, but rather what learning is the most valuable to the pupil and that sometimes means making some horrid art! 

Many teachers work long into the night (I’ve done it myself) planning and providing everything; stimuli, visual sources, artist references, they plan every stage of the making and carefully ensure that everyone’s ability range is catered for. All that remains is for the children to turn up, behave themselves and do the art they are instructed. But planning lessons should focus on creating rich, challenging, diverse and personal learning experiences, NOT how to get the best outcomes.

Let me show you what I mean, the following lesson is an Illuminated Lettering lesson I taught to year 5 many years ago. I was really proud of the standard of outcomes and everyone congratulated me. I thought it was a good lesson for many years until I learned what I was doing:

illuminated letter

Illuminated lettering

  • Pupils studied illuminated lettering making copies in their books. DESIGN INFLUENCES ARE LIMITED AND RESTRICTIVE
  • They learned the history of why and how the letters were made. INTERESTING BUT IF THEY HAD CHOICE HERE IT WOULD EXPAND CREATIVE OUTCOMES
  • They used a black fineliner to copy decorative patterns and details from the letters. GOOD BUT AGAIN LIMITED TO ONE METHOD
  • They used plastic stencils to draw letters of the alphabet then coloured them using paint. INCREASES QUALITY BUT LIMITS LEARNING
  • The teacher showed the group how to use the colour wheel for complimentary and harmonious colours and there was a strong emphasis on carefully controlling the brush and colour mixing. VERY GOOD SKILLS LEARNING (BUT THERE ARE BETTER WAYS TO TEACH SKILLS)
  • They were given photocopies of illuminated lettering that they stuck to card. SO MUCH LEARNING HAS BEEN LOST HERE. RAISING THE STANDARD OF OUTCOMES IS KILLING CREATIVITY.
  • They then glued small pieces of precut card onto their letter to create a 3D raised effect. SELF EXPLORATION OF 3D WOULD BE MUCH BETTER & ALLOW THEM TO EXPLORE & DISCOVER
  • They then decorated them in an illuminated style using paint and coloured paper and added patterns with black pen when dry. THIS COULD BE MADE MORE CREATIVE BY EXTENDING THE RANGE OF LETTERING AND PATTERNS.

Whilst the outcomes of this project are of a high standard, my issue with this project is that so much creativity has been lost. What is required through the whole project is that the pupils mimic the teachers’ expectations. They all desperately want to do their work ‘right’ and be neat. In addition, they haven’t learned how to draw a letter on their own or how to adapt lettering to creative intentions. It surely is better for them to draw a letter poorly than to merely work over a template or photocopy? I would want pupils to learn how to draw letters independently, whatever the standard. I’d like them to get an understanding of different letter designs and how lettering can be used as a powerful way to illustrate mood. Why can’t they explore methods of making letters look 3D themselves? It’s better fun and they learn more. It’s still good to learn those colour relationships but maybe they could decorate them after looking at a range of patterns. Above all what I’d like to see is a range of outcomes in a variety of styles. I decided to rewrite the project to try to inject more creativity. This is what I came up with:



Activity 1: Let’s investigate lettering 

Magazine sources, newspapers and computers.

Discussion: Why are there so many different styles of lettering?


Using the sources provided, try to answer some or all of these questions: Are some styles of lettering more suitable for different kinds of text?  What is it that makes letters look different? How many different styles of lettering can u see in the sources provided? Make a collage of your favourite lettering styles. Copy your favourites into your books and colour them in your favourite art materials. Working with a partner, compare two or more different letters. Now try to describe the differences between each.


Can u show feeling and emotion with letters? 

Dictionary: learn the word Font.

Type the word WORD three times into a computer programme. Using ONLY the font tool, try to make each word show these moods: Crazy, angry, clever. Next, can you create more emotions with fonts? How might you now draw the following words freehand without a computer? Shy, funny, silly, loud, happy,  sad. Add colour and some detail if you can.

Plenary recap: Discuss: What have we learned about lettering?


is it possible to design original fonts of our own?

Let’s see what you know already. How would you draw your name if you were asked to draw it using lettering?

Let’s look at your results as a group and talk about them.

(Teacher assessment of ability)

Activity whole class: use (5mm) squared paper to help you design a lettering style (a font) Is it possible to make round letters and corners on squared paper? Can you still draw diagonal lines for letters such as A or W?

Less able tracing easier single sans serif letters on a scale more suitable for accuracy ie A5, then shading or colouring. More able to design higher level outcomes eg with serifs, adapting and manipulating the grid or perhaps not even needing a grid. When u finish designing your font you can name it and start using it. Write some words by tracing or copying your font them colour them with felt pens.

Plenary evaluation if outcomes where pupils suggest ways to improve designs.


Let’s investigate how artists have used lettering to create art: discuss a range of lettering from illuminated lettering to contemporary in table groups to identify: What features stand out the most? Which do you think would be hardest to draw? How has lettering changed over time?

Activity: Record by sketches and/or notes anything in the study of the lettering that you find interesting and that you might use in your own design. Would you want to change anything about your own lettering design after you have seen the artists work? How might you decorate your lettering? Reconsider the design and/or practice writing it in freehand. (Notice I haven’t asked them to make copies of other lettering styles, write about them, write personal opinions of them or stick them in their books? Everything I’ve asked them to do is related to informing their own designs and nothing more!)

Activity 5: TACTILE CREATIVITY (the best way to teach boys anything!): making a 3D version of their letter

Quesion What is the difference between a 2D object and a 3D object? Which material is best for making a 3D model of your letter? Problem solving. Have ready an assortment of card, polystyrene printing tiles, plasticine or modelling clay etc make trial versions of letters and discuss results. Share success and knowledge learned amingst the group. What worked best and why?

Activity Making 5 part 2. Now draw a 2D letter that you have designed and glue it to a card background. (Teacher may need to dictate a size and demonstrate safe card cutting techniques.) Intervention to support less able by assisting with cutting for example may be needed. More able might make a sign for their bedroom or school for example.  The letters should be A5 approx in size. The outcomes should vary enormously in quality but that’s ok. Tell them it might take several attempts to get right. Would simplifying the design help?

Activity 6: DECORATIVE & COLOUR CREATIVITY Painting the letter. Look at the colour wheel and identify three colours you might use. Two must be complimentary (opposite on the wheel) harmonious are three adjacent colours. Some investigation of patterns might be made. Techniques to paint using side or tip of brush should be shown. Decorate using your own preferred techniques learned from lettering study.


 In this way I had a wide range of outcome and experiences. pupils had a lot of choice within the exercise and could adapt the outcomes at each stage to suit their own tastes and preferences. They learned from each other and collaborative experience was evident. Pupils took immense pride in what they had done, they brought additional materials in from home such as metallic spray paint and had a real sense of ownership. They couldn’t wait to take them home and I was unable to make a wall display because none were left! By contrast; back to my illuminated lettering display. I announced in assembly that I was taking the display down and pupils were free to come and collect them. Not one person did.


Graffiti Lettering