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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Creative and innovative practice

Spent really exciting evening at a GCE, GCSE art exhibition at Chalfonts Community College. Above there is part of a students contextual study, all printed on cans which was a brilliant idea. The whole thing is set in an abstracted display cabinet (it relates to Pop Art). There was some excellent painting with real sensitivity and maturity in the use of the oil paint and some really excellent drawing and illustration and some very clever digital art installations.

The digital art work was particularly interesting as the school has pioneered a GCSE course in digital media (under the unendorsed art and design GCSE specification). There are now students at AS level with three years experience of digital work having completed the two year GCSE digital art course in KS4. You can get a sense of the work being done by looking at Ben's video blog on YouTube. It is genuinely intriguing and revealing. The video blog shows how the ideas developed, some of Bens references and the final animations (these were shown projected onto a very large gauze screen in a dark environment with loud music so the YouTube version is just an approximation of the actual installation). What is perhaps more important is that it demonstrates a genuine partnership between Ben and his teachers as Ben is encouraged to take risks and experiment with a medium and grammar which is demonstrably his own, rather than that of the school. So Ben is taking ownership of his own independent practice encouraged and supported by his teachers - it can only happen with trust on both sides.

As Stephen Heppell has said "all this has been changed by the ability of modern computers to allow expression in a wide variety of media: speech, sound and aural ambience, text as labels or prose, symbols, animation, music, video, diagrams and more. And all this can be individual or collaborative, in public or private, at school or (for many but not all) at home. Obviously this broadens the corridors through which learners might evidence their success", Stephen Heppell

The evidence of trust was evident in many other students' work as well. digital animations dealt with intensely moving and personal themes which could only have come about in an atmosphere of mutual respect between students and students, and between students and their teachers. In a sense it reminded me of the way that good drama is always predicated on genuine trust within the group which allows personal expression to be shared and celebrated. It is almost always a characteristic of work which is most exciting - where students are able to use their art to explore issues and ideas of personal significance to themselves and their lives.

As a postscript I have just posted a first video to YouTube. It is a short film made in partnership with the school about an introductory visit to Sweden to develop ideas for working with the artist and designer Andie Cowie. We intended to use the Chalfonts Community College VLE to explore the option of having an artist/designer from another country contribute to the VLE based course.

Assessment burdens

A visit to the GCSE exhibition at Sir William Borlase's Grammar School included an interesting discussion on the amount of work students do in art. We came to no clear conclusions but felt that the assessment burden on teachers and students for GCSE/GCE examinations does seem excessive in art. But it was harder to identify precisely where the pressure comes from. To a certain extent it is self imposed, the examination rubric talks of a 'selection' implying that not everything the student sdoes should be selected. We have also invented an evidence trail which consists of highly contrived and carefully executed works of art in the form of 'artists books'.

The question posed by the head of art was quite simple. "Are we asking them to do too much and what are other schools doing?" I guess the answer to the first question is 'probably' and to the second it is 'the same as you'. It is interesting to compare the sketchbook/journal approach with that used by Ben from Chalfonts Community College. The evidence for his development of ideas and research for his AS this year is given simply on YouTube as a video blog. Other work in the same school uses a narration over a slide show to present ideas rather than a sketchbook (using relatively simple software).

This year I worked with QCA to revise the subject criteria for art and design GCSE examinations. I wrote the initial working paper proposals which went to a consultative group. Part of the brief was to seek ways to reduce the assessment burden on pupils and teachers. One of the stumbling blocks was that all 4 assessment objectives are assessed in both coursework and externally set test. Which means that the same objectives are met twice. It also means that the externally set test has the constraint of requiring evidence for each of the 4 assessment objectives - which are equally weighted. Hence the evolution of a particular pattern of response which is virtually identical from school to school. There was a brief moment when a new pattern began to emerge but consultation forced it back to the status quo. However, exam boards are likely to be charged with seeking to reduce the assessment burden by defining more carefully what might constitute evidence for assessment.

However, perhaps the question has two perspectives. From the simple perspective of producing evidence, for assessment, of the ability to research and develop ideas students probably spend too much time illuminating sketchbooks. However, from the perspective of producing works of art which are illuminating, expressive and often deeply personal it is hard to regret the time and effort. Indeed these are often the most exciting and creative outcomes of their course.