This (TEDxExeter) talk by Simon Peyton Jones is about the brand new subject of ‘computer science’. Nothing to do with art, craft and design then. But he talks about: too much focus on technology and not enough on ideas; about children becoming imaginative creators of technological things; about being creative writers as well as appreciative readers; about being engaged, curious and playful. I can’t help feeling it could have something to do with us.
I am writing something about creativity and for background texture thought it would be interesting to see how often the word ‘creativity’ was mentioned in the National Curriculum for KS 1-4. Well it’s just 13 times and only in the subjects of art, history, computing, design and technology, and music. So no creativity in English, science, maths and the other subjects? Furthermore the word ‘imagination’ is used only 5 times, ‘judgement’ only 3 times and ‘originality’ not at all. Unsurprisingly the word ‘facts’ is mentioned 28 times.
Art Foundation Diploma tutors at Loughborough University have produced a really interesting report describing the way they encourage students to use sketchbooks. It is also a critique of the way that they feel sketchbooks are used in schools. Their expectations are presented as a contrast to the ‘A’ Level sketchbook.
I am not sure it is as simple as that but it is interesting to hear the views of the next set of teachers to encounter our students and to hear what they think about school practice. It is hard to disagree with the approach that they adopt and most teachers would have a very similar attitude. The paper is an opportunity to reflect, yet again, on the way that examinations tend to define and constrain practice in class rooms. It is surely the case that the subject is grossly over assessed with every page of every sketchbook being used as evidence for grading rather than as an opportunity to think and reflect.
“Many students come to us with sketchbooks which are more like “presentation books” rather than a real record of their exploration, or a source of personal visual reference. The emphasis on good presentation means that students often have to un-learn habits they have developed before coming to university, such as decorating pages, making elaborate backgrounds and titles, rather than focusing on first-hand visual research, developing and working up their ideas, which is what is required on a foundation course. The sketchbooks which we see at interview for are often superficially attractive and colourful, but this can be at the expense of real content and substance. The expectations of annotation at A level often lead to students writing at length in these books, but the writing is often too descriptive, rather than analytical or evaluative.”
Carl Silvester, Course coordinator – foundation diploma course.
The Paper is an Ofsted good practice publication ‘Individual and exploratory sketchbooks: Loughborough University’. It was published in February 2014. Click here for a copy of the paper.
I like the idea of being a craftsman. I enjoy purposeful play with materials and skills and don’t particularly aspire to inform through my personal creative work. I came across this TED talk about craft by Jogge Sundquist who works with wood. It reminds me that art education should not just be about ‘working in the style of‘ an ‘artist‘. There are other pedagogies and practices and we should be concerned that they can be discouraged by our current examination assessment system.
I have been doing some background reading for a couple of meetings next week and have been looking at this ‘Note’, or briefing paper, for a House of Lords debate on the case for arts education in schools. It really is very good and provides an impartial summary of much that has been happening alongside references to original sources and research. It is worth a look for the links alone. I found it really helpful so am passing on/recording the Link.
It was good to attend what became the inaugural meeting of a new art teachers network group based in Bucks (BATN I think). The best point of the evening was made by Marc who said that an important feature of networks was that they gave us permission to change and experiment, or rather that we gave ourselves permission.
We discussed assessment and agreed that we should share work and assessments in future meetings. It seemed that all schools present had continued to use ‘levels’ as the main assessment currency in KS3. This, of course, included all the pseudo scientific, dark art of pretending to measure progress in terms of, frankly meaningless, numbers called ‘levels’.
It was disappointing, but not surprising, to note that the demands of whole school assessment/marking policies continued to inhibit good subject assessment. In this case marking policies seemed to demand single grades rather than assessments which took account of the profile of assessment objectives. I think there really is a need to construct a firewall between the demands of school marking, recording and reporting policies (which invariably only work from a single grade) and internal departmental assessment (which to have integrity needs to present a profile across different assessment objectives). We considered the option of following the school marking policy but making sure a single assessment was limited to just one of the assessment objectives. This does not seem impossible – just tedious.
Students always make you think and usually about important things. It was really interesting to be invited to talk to students on a PGCE course last week. It was impossible to avoid taking a sideways look at changes since I started teaching. It probably made the talk far too self indulgent but it did reaffirm the fact that teachers probably have more freedom to decide what to do for themselves than at anytime in the last two decades. This is probably a good thing and I am rather surprised by how comfortable I feel with it. After all much of my post teaching career has been about telling (advising) teachers the answers to questions they didn’t know they had asked. When I started teaching there was virtually no information about what I should be doing (I took over a room equipped just for bookbinding). I had lots of questions but had to find my own answers: it was what made it enjoyable. I owned my own practice.
I hope today’s students will find more information available but are once again free to find their own answers.
it was always the case that we learn best from our peers, which is why networks are so important. It was good to join SEAD network meeting recently. These meetings are so very different to normal CPD where the dynamics of expectation and responsibility overlay proceedings like a professional duvet.
As always you come away richer and more informed at the end. One thing I found noticeable was the fact that no one seemed to be asking what they HAD to do. The assumption of governmental prescription which has shaped the last couple of decades of professional development seems to be fading. Teachers talked readily of what THEY were going to do. I was also surprised by the fact that subject leaders in both primary and secondary sectors seemed to have a degree of autonomy that I had not expected. I had assumed that school leaders would by now have begun to reinvent systems and spreadsheets that would constrain subject development.
Perhaps it was the people who choose to come to network meetings, or perhaps it is still too early for the systems to start to spread like wildfire; but it did remind me that when I started teaching it was possible, and expected, to make most of the decisions about how and why you taught at for yourself.