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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Primary Network Meetings

We held two (twilight) network meetings for primary art co-ordinators last week. These meetings are open ended and provide an opportunity to share ideas and information. They are free. One was held at Sir William Ramsay School, the other at Waddesdon C of E School. Both of these schools are Specialist Arts Colleges and the high quality of the work on display was an inspiration to all who attended.
The two meetings covered many issues, too many to record here, and many of those present will have found ideas to take forward in their own school, or perhaps in partnership with colleagues they met at the meeting.
Key features of the meeting at Sir William Ramsay School included:
  1. Opportunities to see and hear about the work of Annie Hearn. Annie is an AST for art, and manages the outreach work of Sir William Ramsay School. She shared some of the excellent work she has done with primary schools on drawing and sketchbooks . This was informative and inspirational and primary colleagues were pleased to discuss ideas about how Annie might work in their schools. Annie explained that she currently has many commitments but will be willing to discuss ways in which she might be able to support schools. It was noted that Annie is one of several AST's and that information about them and their work can be found on the Bucks Grid for Learning (Arts Team). It was also noted that the Bucksgfl included further information and resources about drawing.
  2. We talked alot about the QCA units of work. These were being followed by many but without enthusiasm. I made these points:
  • The QCA units of work are not statutory, they were written before they were taught and almost certainly contain too much material for the time specified. Once plans for Christmas, Easter and Mothers Day art activities are added to the mix the timing becomes really difficult and nothing is done well.
  • However, as an example of a purposeful planned sequence of work in which children are given opportunities to generate and research ideas, experiment with materials and apply what they have learned - and talk about art, they are quite good. And certainly better than what tended to happen before the national curriculum which often included an ecclectic mix of one-off craft activities.
  • There is now clear evidence that, at every level, schools are being encouraged to take ownership of their curriculum. QCA is supporting this process through its 'Futures' debate. This means that teachers should feel able and competent to amend and change their art programme of study to match their own interests, expertise and resources. This would include the recognition that a 'unit' of work does not have to last a term. Ofsted no longer reports on the curriculum and the fear that QCA units will be expected by Ofsted is no longer the case - in fact it never was.
  • However, schools will have invested considerable time and resources in creating a programme of study using the QCA units and it is indeed true that this investment will sustain their use for some time to come - and there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Art co-ordinators who wish to make changes are tending to develop their ideas in partnership with their colleagues by amending and adapting existing units. It is anticipated that as they gain in confidence momentum, ownership and enthusiasm will grow.
  • Another way to develop the programme of study is to recognise that there is more to it than three termly units. Christmas could become a planned unit as could Eid and Mother's Day.
  • It was noted that drawing has suffered through the termly unit structure because there is not an opportunity to draw regularly. It was noted that the best way to raise standards was to create a 'drawing unit' or entitlement. This is simply an agreement that children should draw regularly and to build into planning an opportunity for children to draw seriously once a fortnight (or whatever). This may be in the context of art but could be related to work in other subjects. Incidentally seriously does not mean realistically see the campaign for drawing.
Key features of the meeting at Waddesdon school included:
  1. An opportunity to talk to Clare who is the artist in residence at the school. Clare has a small studio space in the classroom. Disussion noted that a key feature of using an artist is to look over their shoulder at their creative process - to recognise that it involves, play, risk and lots of cups of coffee. This is perhaps more important than a simplistic quick workshop in which the artists teaches a single skill to a group of children who she has never seen before.
  2. An opportunity to hear from Marc Berrett (Curriculum Leader) about the work of the art department as a specialist arts college - and an opportunity to look at and be inspired by the work on display.
  3. An opportunity to hear from Katie Bowness about the work she does as an AST for art. Katie is part of the Arts Team and has some time when she is able to work with schools.
  4. Ideas were shared about arts weeks and drawing (again). You can see more of Katie's work by watching this online presentation.
  5. There was relatively little concern about QCA Units at this session as co-ordinators were already making changes and amending the programme of study. Others recognised the investment of time and the fact that this sustained standards and confident teaching.
  6. I spent time showing the resources available on the art pages of the Bucks Grid for Learning. In particular:
Both meetings were well attended and all involved valued the opportunity to meet and share ideas. It was felt that a meeting each term would be helpful. dates for future meetings will be published in the schools bulletin, on the Bucksgfl and probably as a comment on this blog.
Our thanks were given to Annie and Marc for hosting the meeting and for the hospitality and support of the two specialist arts colleges in Bucks.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Writing in art - why, who for?

Recently I was involved in a whole school training day about literacy across the curriculum in Key Stages 3 and 4. More explicitly it was about writing. This is sometimes a contentious subject in art and design, especially where teachers' feel pupils are not strong academically.
There is a recurring argument that, the examination criteria and the implicit expectations of moderators, requires candidates to exemplify their knowledge and understanding of art, artists and the relationships with their own work, through writing. It is claimed that this disadvantages less able candidates who may be good at art but not at writing. Awarding bodies counter the argument by claiming that writing is not a requirement and that candidates can record, video or illustrate their knowledge through their work: although such recordings and videos are unheard of in practice.
Or at least they were until recently. I know that Chalfonts Community College is using pupils ideas, as captured in their VLE, as a record of candidates knowledge. They are also experimenting with podcasts as a way of recording ideas and responses.
But what was interesting about this training was that the art department had left this argument behind and were fully committed to developing writing skills. They were already talking about and modelling appropriate writing with students. Some of the writing seen in sketchbooks was genuinely perceptive and indicated a personal involvement with works of art. There was little vacuous labelling (ie writing 'a green frog' next to a picture of a green frog) and students presented their written work carefully.
In our discussion about ways to further develop students writing and raising standards further we refered to 'Literacy across the curriculum materials' - in particular to the unit on 'writing non-fiction'. It raised questions that we had not considered before. It had not occurred to me before to explore the particular purpose and audience for the writing students do in art.
The unit maps out some possible categories of non-fiction and, although there was no obvious single category, it was interesting to recognise that students' writing may have different purposes and different audiences and that each of these has an impact on the nature and conventions for their writing. This realisation gave another dimension to our attitude to students' writing and how it might be supported. We did not find all the answers but it did raise new and interesting questions. It helped give a sense of how we might explore the difference between - say 'personal note taking' and and writing to 'explain'. Key questions were:
  • What is its purpose?
  • Who is it for?
  • How will it be used?
  • What kind of writing is, therefore, appropriate?
The teachers decided they wanted to invite an English teacher to an art lesson and to discuss their approach to supporting different sorts of writing.
This was one of those occasions where I genuinely found an interesting and new set of ideas. It was an enjoyable and positive discussion and I am grateful to Geoff and Sally for sharing their ideas and work with me.

PS. There is a very good National Strategy publication 'Literacy and Learning in Art and Design' which is subject specific and considers literacy from the point of view of learning in art.

The unit 'writing non-fiction' identifies the following as a favourable context for writing.
1. Establishes both the purpose and the audience of the writing.
2. Ensures that writers have something to say.
3. Gives writers opportunities to develop, sharpen and revise ideas.
4. Encourages collaboration during planning, drafting and proof-reading.
5. Gives pupils access to references materials to support writing – eg word banks, dictionaries, thesauruses, etc.
6. Provides feedback both during and after writing of writing strengths and of ways to improve weaknesses.