art teaching

Key Stage 3 Art, Craft and Design Progression

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Key Stage 3 Art & Design Progression

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Table Blooms

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Language: Gain an increasingly sophisticated language when discussing art

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

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

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

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

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

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



Durer Drawing and Printmaking

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


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

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

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

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?

Creating creative lessons and happy, independent students

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Creating Creative lessons and happy, independent students

by Paul Carney


                      When PLANNING AND PREPARING for creative lessons consider:

The creativity you want to tap into
Is it a new experience or a new way of seeing, is it relative to their interests or does it feed into their imagination? Is it to discover new forms of expression with new or familiar materials? Will they express opinions about the world they live in? How will they do that? How can you maximise the criteria of success so that the maximum number of students succeed? Make CREATIVITY your focal point NOT quality of outcomes.

You are restricting creativity if you write projects based on copying artists or movements
Whenever you deliver a project through a single artist or art movement you are narrowing the range of outcomes so that they all resemble each other. Nor should you begin a project by studying an artists work. The study of an artist should be purely to help solve a problem or look for possibilities. You may think the artist you have chosen for them to look at is very relevant to their learning needs, but they are bombarded with images every day. Chances are they will think your great artist is at best ok, but more often than not dull.  

Art isn’t a production line there shouldn’t be only one style of outcome
If all of the outcomes of your project look similar then it is likely that your students have merely followed a step-by-step learning route carefully laid down by you. You may have a high standard of outcomes and the students may have improved their skill, but this has come at great cost to you. Your students now feel that they need you to show them what to do and that they cannot learn things by themselves. They wait for you to show them what to do next. If you define the outcomes of the project too clearly you remove possibilities because the students will merely imitate what you have shown them. 

Teach skills for life not just learning in parrot fashion
If you only teach skills and techniques by teacher demonstration then the students feel that if they cannot mimic you they have failed. The internet is awash with web sites and videos on art techniques. So why not Flip the Classroom? If you show them how to teach themselves and they fail they will accept help more readily and feel less of a failure. Teach them that their failed efforts are important to learning.

Don’t do displays of grades or show samples of completed work, encourage possibilities
If you show samples of successful outcomes or exemplar project material on walls, then most students will copy what you have shown them and do no more. These lovely outcomes and displays actually restrict creativity and limit possibilities. The unknown may be daunting but this uncertainty is what will lead to creative outcomes. Don’t be frightened of it!

Encouraging enthusiasm is more important than insisting on quality
By holding your students back to complete each stage of a project to a high standard then you might as well destroy the project now, because your students will lose all of their enthusiasm. There is a balance here that the teacher needs to gauge using formative assessment. Not too fast that they haven’t thought it through, not too slow that the idea dies. You may lose this battle in terms of high outcomes, but with enthusiasm you will win the war. 

You’re not in a race, so there isn’t a single starting line
Good assessment involves knowing individual starting points. So if you don’t allow for different starting points then you are selling your students short. What do they know about this project before you begin? Where do the less able begin and is it the same place as the most able? Should they all be doing the same tasks at the same speed if the ability is so different? 

Grades are gross
Research has shown that teaching to grades means all you do is label and categorise your students. They see the grade then they stop wanting to learn. You may motivate the competitive, determined minority but you demotivate and kill the enthusiasm of the majority. By stipulating: ‘this is what you need to do to be successful’ or a get higher grade you risk turning them off with ‘I can’t do that!’ By reminding your students of their strengths and clearly identifying their starting point and a goal, they are free to enjoy their learning experience and focus on tangible goals not grades. E.g. “My goal is to create a detailed drawing and apply shading” not “I have to do a good drawing to get a good grade.” In the exam world you have to play a game of providing the grade targets the managers insist you give out whilst undermining their importance and relevance in the classroom. This sounds controversial, but labelling children like this leads to student anxiety, stress and demoralisation, rarely to aspirational ambition. Having a focus and set of standards is one thing, but you can do all of that more effectively without branding young people with a grade before they’ve even started.

Don’t use your student’s ability as an excuse for limiting creativity
You might feel that tightly controlling the outcomes is the best way for your student’s to make art and perhaps it is. You may feel that your students aren’t the sort of students who can work more freely and need structure. This is often true but you don’t have to spoon feed them either. How will they learn anything? Less able students often prefer to work in smaller, easily achievable stages. Short learning stages don’t necessarily mean being short changed on choice. More able students should be learning the techniques of the very highest standards. Questions can be easy or hard, therefor they can be differentiated. You may ask one student: ‘How can you make your shading appear more smooth and even?’ yet ask another ‘How can you shade large areas quickly and more easily without having to use a pencil point?’ These questions require very different skills sets and they take the teacher time to develop, but they are worth their weight in gold.

                                  When DELIVERING projects you should:

Remind your students of the creative thought process:

1. I’m excited about my idea

2. My idea isn’t going well

3. I hate my work

4. I’m proud of my work, I did ok.

5. Next time I need to….

1. Begin lessons and projects with questions
Good questions are very hard to write, but unlike schemes of work, once written they never get stale. They also remove the need for you to provide lots of reference material. No more printing out thirty copies of an artists work. Write questions that strike a chord with your audience, relate them to the interests of the group or issues that affect them. Pitch your questions just right, not too easy, not too difficult but ones that can’t be answered easily. Raise curiosity, allow thinking time, support the question with visual prompts and discussion. Give further questions that expand on the original, that provide focus and platforms for further development. Encourage diversity of response, show them that success can be attained in different ways, using a range of skills and outcomes. Eliminate the ‘do as I show you’ path to success. Teach your students that success can have many faces.

2. Open minds
Foster opportunities, encourage possibilities, germinate the seeds of interest whilst steering the group into recording their ideas and trains of thought as sketches, observations, photos or words. Don’t kill their excitement by demanding fully resolved ideas at this stage. If you make your students spend ages creating beautiful ideas pages they will almost certainly be bored with the idea. However do insist on ideas being fully thought out. Encourage identification of personal strengths and working to those strengths, developing on what they can do, rather than trying to learn things they can’t do. Students will develop if and when they have confidence to try something new. But give them that confidence first.
Student questions: how will I make it, what colour will it be, what materials will I need? what size will it be, do I need to find things for it? 

3. Get them to scrutinise the quality of the idea
Use peer assessment or circle time to challenge the ideas. Build confidence whilst ensuring the students have realistic expectations. 
Student questions: How original is it? How feasible is it to make? What is good, what could be improved? Should I revise my idea? What problems am I likely to encounter and how can I overcome them? Will this idea be too easy or too hard? 

4. Teach them where to find a helping hand
The primary focus of this stage is to get the students looking for ways to help them realise their idea more successfully. By focussing them into identifying what materials they want to work in, they can then find others who are experts using this material so that they can learn from them. This isn’t a single process, it can be revisited if the student is struggling at any stage.
Encourage the students to find artists that can support and strengthen their idea and do not to provide solutions for them. Be wary of providing the artists names because you are doing the thinking for your students and removing the ownership. Instead, direct them to a bank of sources, a place where you keep lots of relative source material. Only use this as a back up when you see failure to identify supporting sources or where you want them to expand on what they have. Don’t spend too long making your students create beautiful pages of artist study. Focus purely on what they need to support and develop their idea and no more. Anything less means your students won’t have learned what they need, anything more and it is counter productive to creativity.
Student questions: Who has done similar ideas before? Are there artists who work in a style or material I want to learn from? What sources or images do I need and where can I get them from? 

5. Give them a bank of skills and techniques to access whenever they need it
Have they correctly identified what they need to realise their idea? Do they know what they need to develop? Have they found the most effective and creative materials to realise their ideas?  Place the emphasis on the student looking for places where skills and techniques can be learned rather than providing them. There is a huge web of resources where students can learn new skills, share this knowledge with the group.
Student Questions: What skills and techniques will I need to realise this idea? Do I have the ability to realise the idea successfully? What will I need to learn or develop? Where can I learn these skills and techniques from? Is the teacher the only source for learning these skills? 

6. Let them get on with it
Don’t hold them back any longer or the idea will die. It is better to keep the idea alive and let them get on with it than holding them back with process that will destroy their enthusiasm. Agree to begin a first draft, trial maquette, test piece, or experimental section. 
Student questions: Evaluate. What is working, what problems need to be overcome? Do I need to revise the idea in light of the test piece? Do I need more source material or to develop my skills more?

7. Make it on your own
Each session should begin with 5 minutes planning and prep time. They must write down what they need for the lesson. You get what they need then after that the shop is shut, you will not provide them with anything else. They must not ask you for help in the making session either. No shouting out, no tugging at your clothes. If they want help they write their name on the board and wait until you can get to them. You will find making a lot less stressful! You will be freed up to give quality advice and support. .
Student questions: what is working well? What do three people in class think of my work? What advice have they given me to improve it?

8. Consider my success, learn to improve
What worked well in my final piece? What do others think of it? What can I learn from this to take into my next piece? Why should I be proud of what I’ve done? 

Hang on mate, there’s one thing you’ve glossed over here. You’ve told my students that they don’t have to have fully resolved ideas or neat pages of artists work. They won’t get the grade with this standard of work!
Well, your coursework only has to show samples of work doesn’t it? Can’t you do an artists study piece in isolation of this project? Couldn’t the student select an artist they admire at random and make a personal investigation into their work? As for ideas pages, I’m not a fan of working over completed work so you may need to prepare for this beforehand. Make some pages of prepared grounds such as spattered watercolour, coffee or charcoal. This will make weaker ideas look stronger. If you must work back into things then I suppose you must, you can always get your students to glue photographs or extra source material near the half drawn ideas.


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Creativity is a profoundly important topic, not only in art, but in many other areas of the curriculum. You would think that creativity is to be found in abundance in an Art room and yet all too often nothing could be further from the truth.

It is very common to see ‘recipe’ art being taught. This is where every student in the class comes up with a variation on a single theme that the teacher has prescribed. For example: everyone makes an African mask, or a ceramic vase, or a cubist painting, or a flower picture. The same materials are used by everyone and the same skills incorporated. I see this type of art in every school I visit. It is very sad to see and nowhere is it to be found more than in the secondary school. I’ve done it myself for many years until I realised how much I was cheating the students. Art should be about personal expression. THEIR personal expression not yours!

Their artwork should reflect their ideas, thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes. Their imagination should be stimulated and above all, their work should look like children’s art work, not a pale copy of an early twentieth Century Cubist painting or a Georgia O’Keeffe flower. Teachers (especially art specialists) have a habit of removing creativity and taking over control of the making process to raise the quality of outcomes. This especially true of teachers who are teaching GCSE courses, where the emphasis is on getting results. Teachers have been forced down this road by the demands of schools senior management and the pressure of A*-C GCSE Grades.Recipe art raises quality of outcomes but kills creativity. It’s no good saying: “Once they have the skills they can be creative” because that doesn’t work. Creativity needs to be fed regularly from an early age or it drowns in a sea of process-led anxiety and despair: “I can’t do it! It’s too hard! Her’s is better than mine!”

And to add to all of this, the students don’t even get to select the art THEY like. Many GCSE courses are made up of: Still Life Projects, Cubist Projects, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pop Art (Roy Lichtenstein) and pattern making. This does not, in my opinion reflect anyone’s art let alone that of a 16 year old!

Creating anything in art takes imagination, but art can really challenge how people think and has the potential to make powerful statements about life and the world we live in. Children’s imagination is simply wonderful and the trick here is to create projects that encourage the use of imagination and how they can develop it. So the first thing we have to do is to get all of you lovely, hard working teachers to BACK OFF! I’m serious.

Teachers kill creativity. They strangle self-expression with good intentions. They over plan lessons and are terrified of losing control and letting go. From the minute they were in teacher training college they created lesson plans on a minute-by-minute basis, devising every stage of learning with military precision, catering for G&T, SEN, progression, objectives, PLT’s, APP you name it they plan it.

However, if you want to teach art then you are going to have to work differently. Because if you don’t then you will kill the very thing you are trying to teach: Creativity. If you want to develop creativity then look closely at the big issues that artists, engineers, mathematicians, scientists over time have struggled with. Don’t just look at what Michelangelo painted for the Sistine Chapel or even how he painted it, but try to get your students to understand what he was trying to depict. Instead of only getting your pupils to copy sections of his work, ask them to try to depict their own interpretation of heaven. These bigger issues or creative struggles are what define greatness. I have attempted to write some of my own big questions based on the great artistic struggles.