The Creative Showdown

20170128-020716-7636638.jpg

One of the things I love most about working in my current school is the fantastic house competition. It really feeds into almost every aspect of school life in much deeper ways than I am aware of in other schools. There are competitions virtually every week, some relating to subjects, others to extra curricular clubs, with some just for fun. It really brings students together and adds to their identity & sense of belonging. In many schools, it’s mainly sports competitions that dominate a house competition. While they still play a large part in ours, there really is something for every student.

A couple of years back whilst reflecting on our annual school film with a parent, they remarked to me how they would like to see a higher presence of non sport competitions. This was mainly down to logistics around documenting events, but it got me thinking. The ‘carrot’ of the house competition holds tremendous sway with us, so I was intrigued as to how this would influence a competition for the Art & Design Department. Up to this point there were competitions for anti-bullying week posters, photography, dress the guy & house films which are all still a big part of the annual calendar. But I wanted to look into launching an event that could ‘rival sports day’ in scale, and thus “The Creative Showdown” was born last year.

In the first year students (Yrs 7-10) had 3 weeks to produce Art & Design work in the following categories: Drawing; Painting; Mixed Media; Textiles; Film; Photography; Animation; Sculpture. The response was fantastic with over 250 entries. The scale of the competition was reflected in the overall points that contributed to the house competition. We launched a re-vamped KS3 January Art exhibition to include the Showdown entries which worked really well. We also joined forces with the Performing Arts departments at Expressive Arts Evening to combine their performances with ‘Creative Showdown’ prize giving & an exhibition opening.

This year the competition went fully cross-curricular with all departments having categories. The idea being for all students to have opportunities to showcase their talents. It was fantastic having the opportunity to discuss what creativity meant and looks like in each subject area with staff from each department. We gave students longer to work on entries, launching the competition with assemblies on ‘creativity’ (a great opportunity in themselves) in October, with hand in early January. Most departments had entries, with those that did not keen to develop approaches for next year. We had over 250 entries again which was fantastic, even after leaving Yr 10 off the bill so as not to distract them from other commitments (this will be reviewed again next year).

On Thursday night we had this year’s Expressive Arts Evening / Creative Showdown Awards & Exhibition launch. It was a fantastic event with a school hall full of proud pupils & their families. Some of the winners were spotted wearing their medals around school on Friday, and the follow-up conversations were fantastic. The confidence that events like this can give to students is immeasurable. We have all been buzzing today, and I wanted to share the story (which we look forward to building upon next year) along with some of our students work:

Exhibition boards:

20170128-020134-7294424.jpg

Photography:

20170128-020202-7322010.jpg

Art:

20170128-020309-7389337.jpg

Textiles:

20170128-020515-7515275.jpg

There were also entries for Media, History, English, Dance, Music, Food, Maths & PE which I hope to share once I have documented the content.

Differentiation in a Choice Based Cirriculum

20160602-084943-31783063.jpg

Waking up to discover a follow from @cherrylkd and the subsequent blog reading that followed, reminded me of the current focus for our choice based curriculum. Her post differentiation is not ‘teaching all kids badly’ particularly struck a chord with me.

Over the last 18 months we have been on a fascinating journey developing our ‘Art Explorers’curriculums at KS3. As with any new curriculum it needs to run through three or more times to get right. Tweeks and re-vamps a plenty, lots of reflection, student feedback, meetings & discussions with colleagues… The list goes on…

Student enthusiasm for the choice based approach has been resoundingly positive throughout. We recognised that we had to take a ‘hit’ on the technical quality of outcomes initially. This was something that Katherine Douglas (@twoducks) had laid bare from the outset. With so many different projects going on in the same class it is not always possible to give thorough technical guidance to all initially. Have we become too accustomed to protecting our students from failure? Trial and error being an essential approach to learning, right?

It’s more complexed than that. There is no doubt in my mind that opportunities for students to choose, work independently and try things out for themselves are essential in modern education. But students respond in vastly different ways to choice and error. Some with too much choice can struggle to make decisions,  others thrive. Some relish the challenge of a trial and error approach and keep going until they master a skill. Others become despondent and switched off by their first unsuccessful attempt, some even fear failure so much that they don’t want to start, others become easily bored… Which is where differentiation becomes so important.

It’s been an uneasy realisation that our approach has not been as differentiated to meet the needs of all learners as we initially thought. With students free to choose their own project stimulus, I had subscribed to the notion that there would be plenty of opportunities for them to find and be guided towards projects that suited them. I still stand by this, but it is not the only factor at play.

Our curriculum is not a complete ‘free for all’ where students do absolutely what they want. The choice elements come from the artists, themes, materials, media, techniques & processes they decide to respond to. We have however implemented common project structures for them to follow, which has been led by the creative processes students need to adopt at higher levels. We came up with the idea of ‘creative loops’ to structure projects around.

20160602-080510-29110741.jpg

Each phase of the loop requires different tasks to be completed. We wanted it to be ambitious and challenging, which it certainly has been. Essentially it requires good project management skills and provides plenty of opportunities for all students to develop such skill sets. The most organised and resilient students have really flown with it, but many have become overwhelmed and confused. This has required simplified approaches and a ‘crossing out’ of some tasks on their ‘to do’ lists.

It seems obvious to say it now, but it was slowly dawning on us that we were entering a new phase of differentiation within the projects. As experienced teachers it has been a bit of a kick yourself moment, but ours is a profession where often it can be hard to ‘see the wood for the trees’. It has however been a liberating realisation which has re-invigorated our enthusiasm for the project. It has also been very timely for us with our school’s new ‘life without levels’ framework coming in. We have an opportunity to blend success criteria with differentiated tasks matched to higher, middle and lower order thinking skills.

Where previously our approach was to typically ask all to complete the following project tasks:

1. Create presentations on your favourite 3 Art movements from the specified list.

2. Use the differentiated writing frames to research & analyse your favourite artist found.

3. Create a project plan.

4. Produce some observational drawings & photos relating to your ideas.

5. Produce a series of experiments in your chosen media.

6. Produce your final piece.

We now have the option for some to take a simpler route:

1. Find a picture by your favourite Artist from the given list of Art movements & talk about it with your teacher.

2. Produce a final piece that is your own interpretation of their work (in a technique demonstrated to the class by your teacher)

This being an example of ‘entry level’ tasks which give students the opportunity to build confidence through success. Once these tasks are complete they can look to see which tasks are required to reach the next level. Not a new approach by any means in the grander context of the differentiated educational history, but one that now blends well with our choice based approach we hope.

We have still a way to go before the curriculum is where we want it, but it feels like it’s moving in the right direction.

STEM + Arts = STEAM

 

My best research usually takes place in the school holidays when the mind has time to wander. Fresh from a bit of down time with family and a ‘semi’ digital blackout (I avoided work related screen time at least!), time spend with my 11 week old nephew got me thinking. Clichéd though it may be, the now classic ‘shift happens’ videos came to mind. Fuelled by eggs benedict and a cafe latte in a very ‘on trend’ Bristol eatery, my morning online strolls found me exploring  recent interest in STEM + Arts = STEAM (STEM to STEAM & Putting the ‘A’ in STEAM).

  

The roots of this interest go back a while now, some retweet or another earlier in the year from a research thread for my ‘Choice-Based Art Curriculum’ development (which I’m long overdue a blog update on). The  curriculum is developing really well, but will probably take another year to 18 months to get right. The STEAM approach is now something  I’m keen to build into this in some way. Colleagues across various curriculum areas are enthusiastic about the concept, some outside the expected subjects. English for example are keen to explore the lessons learnt from the industrial revolution via a photoshoot, which will then spark some creative writing that can then be thrown to traditional STEM subject areas to work their magic. The idea that any ‘Arts’ subject (i.e. those that you can get a ‘Bachelor of Arts Degree’ in), could be involved in STEAM  hit me at this point and has prompted me to contemplate whole school cross curricular approaches.

Though my agenda may initially seem bias towards the Arts, ‘STEAM’ rolling (proud of that analogy!) all over other subject areas, I believe there is far more at stake here. The value of Arts and Culture to people and society (Arts Council UK 2014) highlights most of the main arguments I seek to put forward. The video ‘Why are Arts graduates under-employed’ (School of Life) fantastically exemplifies the opportunities available if we can find ways to harness them. Back to the Future day (21/10/2015) for all its fun, shows how creatives can contribute to innovation with ‘blue-sky thinking’.  Leonardo Da Vinci was also years ahead of his time with many of his concepts, like countless other innovators. Essentially we live in a results driven world, such arguments are not always so easy to put across unless there are quick successes to report (which does not always leave room for trial and error approaches). The ‘Contribution of the Arts and Culture to the national economy’ (Arts Council UK 2013) report highlights the many successes of the UK creative industries as does the UK Government’s own press release in Janurary 2015 : ‘Creative Industries now worth £88 million an hour to UK economy’

 
I’m constantly trying to seek out new ways to succinctly put these points across at all levels, most importantly in the classroom. Sadly the messages do not currently seem to be registering with the policy makers that matter, though it is good to hear that the DfE have begun to engage. Since the introduction of the EBacc in 2010 by the UK Govenment, the value of the Arts and other subjects has been slowly eroded nationally. The recent articles ‘How Art in schools is being painted into a corner’ (Time Educational Supplement) and ‘GCSE Stats: what’s the real picture for the Arts in schools’ (Cultural Learning Alliance) show that the issue is a very real threat.

Could embedding Arts, Culture and Humanities within STEM be part of the solution here? Would a cross-curricular approach provide students with deeper learning opportunities and society with greater innovation leading to more robust and sustainable economies? 

Art Explorers & The Art Index

Our ‘Choice Based Art Curriculum’, which we are now calling ‘Art Exporers’, kicked off last week by introducing three driving questions:

2015/01/img_0465.png
Week 1 focused on the first of these questions ‘what types of Art are there?’ through the launch of ‘The Art Index’ which generated lots of excitement!

2015/01/img_0454-0.png

We are lucky enough to have virtually 1 to 1 iPad use in our school, so the students then broke off into research teams to explore the list of Art movements and identify their favourites. Homework was to produce presentations on their favourite 3 movements, describing them in the form of a ‘tweet’. The thinking behind the ‘tweet’ was to avoid copying and pasting from Wikipedia, encouraging succinct answers in 140 characters. It was amazing to see faces light up at the mention of a hashtag with my example :

“#PopArt celebrates and questions popular culture, advertising & the media. 3 key artists are: @AndyWarhol @RoyLichtenstein @PeterBlake”

Looking forward to seeing the results.

Why switch to a ‘Choice Based Art Curriculum’?

2015/01/img_0455-0.jpg
This term in our department we have switched to a choice based Art curriculum for Key Stage 3 students, which we are very excited about.

When training as a Teacher, I was intrigued by alternative, liberal, democratic & choice based models of education, as a means of engaging students and giving them more of a stake in their learning. This led me to discover examples such as Sumerhill School in the UK, Waldorf/Steiner Schools, the Montessori method, Sudbury Valley School in the US and a host of other examples in Denmark, Germany & Finland. One that really captured my imagination was Ny Lilieskole in Denmark, which John Holt wrote about in “Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better” (1976), there is a quaint old black & white film about it here: http://youtu.be/VKcHsKBkhN4. Mixed responses and the lack of main stream conversion to such methods dampened my initial enthusiasm, but I have always tried to incorporate a large element of student choice into my practice.

My time out of a full time position last year, following the big move from London to Bristol, offered plenty of time to reflect on my teaching practice and approach. I visited around 20 different schools, colleges & educational establishments in a variety of capacities: supply teacher, casual lecturer, volunteer, artist & consultant. What really struck me was that there are a lot of establishments out there not making the most of the Arts. There are various arguments I have heard put forward for this, “government funding cuts”, “E-BAC”, “Teachers’ workloads & moral” etc… all worthy debates, but these I feel sidestep the main issues.

I attended a fantastic #openspace event in September 2013 organised by @situationsUK, @_SpikeIsland & @ArnolfiniArts hosted by @paintworks_ called “Visual Arts Bristol: What future do we want?”. Meeting with creative professionals, educators, curators, artists and alike, there was a general air of self-determination to proceedings in a move away from ‘top down’ approaches. This I found really refreshing, it was a penny drop moment, of course Artists should be leading new ways of thinking & working! That’s the whole point right? The full report from the event is well worth a read: http://visualartsbristol.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/visual-arts-bristol-what-future-do-we-want-discussion-reports.docx and further discussions can be followed under #visartsbristol. Whilst there I convened a meeting about the engagement of young people in the Visual Arts where I was asked “Is Art at school too prescriptive?”. My response was:

“The curriculum is not really (It’s worth reading the national curriculum if you are not familiar with it: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-art-and-design-programmes-of-study), but teachers’, departments’ & schools’ interpretation & delivery can be. It all depends on the culture, history and ideology of Teachers, departments and schools. The busy nature and pressure on staff in schools can often inhibit the scope to which teachers work. Quality, resourcefulness, energy, creativity, experience & skills vary hugely between different teachers and schools…Opportunities to regularly re-energise, train, support & inspire teachers are one of the most useful areas to focus on…(there is also) a need to communicate what Art can lead to in more exciting, relevant & engaging ways.”

These notions were strengthened by my visits and work last year and prompted me to search for solutions. The discovery of Twitter as a professional research, ideas sharing and networking tool lead me to:

Tony Wagner’s (@DRtonywagner) ‘Creating Innovators’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creating-Innovators-Making-People-Change/dp/1451611498;

Katherine Douglas (@twoducks) & Diane Jaquith’s ‘Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom’ http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_2?ie=UTF8&field-author=Diane+B.+Jaquith&search-alias=books&text=Diane+B.+Jaquith&sort=relevancerank;

Diane Jaquith & Nan Hathaway’s ‘Learner Directed Classroom: Developing Creative Thinking Skills Through Art’http://www.amazon.co.uk/Learner-Directed-Classroom-Developing-Creative-Thinking/dp/0807753629/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419938419&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=The+Learner-Directed+Classroom%3A+Developing+Creative+Thinking+Skills+Through+Art+%5BPaperback%5D+Diane+B.+Jaquith+%28Author%29%2C+Nan+E.+Hathaway+%28Author%29

Jim Smith’s (@thelazyteacher) ‘The Lazy Teacher”s Handbook’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Lazy-Teachers-Handbook-Independent/dp/1845902890;

Zoe Elder’s (@fullonlearning) ‘Full On Learning; Involve Me And I’ll Understand’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/Full-Learning-Involve-Ill-understand/dp/1845906810

These experiences, discoveries and learning journeys, combined with constant challenge of making our curriculums relevant to students’ futures, have prompted my full switch to a choice based approach at Key Stage 3. Key Stage 4 & 5 courses naturally use many these approaches, some more fully than others depending on group dynamics. That said, I’m really interested to see how the students who experience the fuller choice based approach at Key Stage 3 impacts our approach to Key stages 4 & 5 when they get there.

There are all sorts of interesting debates and discussions to be had around these ideas, and I look forward to being part of the conversation. In my next post I will talk more about how we are implementing this approach, for now you might like to explore some of the links below, from educators in the USA who have been using these approaches for a good while:

2015/01/img_0397.png

http://www.theartofed.com/2014/12/19/where-are-you-on-the-choice-spectrum

http://teachingforartisticbehavior.org

– Teaching art or teaching to think like an artist? | Cindy Foley @CindyMFoley | TEDxColumbus
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcFRfJb2ONk

– Creating Authentic Studio Experiences | Andrew McCormick @aojomccormick | AOE Conference
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=h1poHRAqDnY

#2015

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/6f6/71310938/files/2014/12/img_0399.jpg

What a year in prospect, every new thread of online discovery adds more fuel to the fire. The big developments in 2014 for me were discovering Twitter (as a professional research, CPD, ideas sharing and networking tool) and preparing for / starting a new job.

I can’t wait to get stuck into our new ‘Teaching for Artistic Behaviour’ (TAB) approach and ‘Choice-Based Art Curriculum’ with Key Stage 3 next week (Find out more at #TABchat & http://teachingforartisticbehavior.org/ ). I’m in the middle of a longer blog post about this, which will go live in the next few days, the aim is to regularly blog about this as it develops. In short, the aim is to better equip students for an ever evolving world by using growth mindsets and making the most of flipped learning opportunities. Through choice we hope to more deeply engage students with their work and better connect them to shifting trends and approaches. We are also hoping to use augmented reality to grow student production of online content, which should enhance peer to peer learning and leadership skills.

With all these new discoveries and the time that can be absorbed researching / developing, I also aim to be mindful of the right life balance. My family would probably say that I spend too much time reading from a screen outside of work, so I will be subscribing to #teachers5aday http://martynreah.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/teacher5aday/.

That said my mind has just been blown by @CReAMfp7 #creJAM who’s report is full of exciting things for the future http://t.co/EC0f9bksvT.

Thankyou for everything 2014… here’s to an amazing 2015!

Classroom / Lesson Music

I’m a big advocate of using music as a teaching tool. It constantly surprises me that more teachers don’t use it. I can understand the fear that it will excite pupils too much thus distracting them from work, but with a little experimenting it can have a fantastic impact.

Perhaps as an Art teacher the practical nature of most classes lends itself more readily to background music, but I’d be amazed if it did not have a positive impact in other subjects too.

Granted, I have had lessons where the music becomes too much of a focus, but once you find the right approach the impact is usually impressive. Not only can it calm and focus classes, but more pupils enjoy and look forward to lessons because of it. You’ll also probably find that you are calmer and enjoying lessons more too.

The best approach I have found is to play full albums or long playlists so that less time is wasted selecting songs (YouTube, Spotify and iPods work well for this). With loud classes I select the music, usually something very calm like ‘Enaudi’ or ‘Cafe Del Mar’ then as they improve they are rewarded with more choice.

Playing with the volume is a good way to control class noise. If things get too loud, a short sharp increase in volume grabs attention before turning if off to reinforce expectations. It’s important also to explain that music is a privilege, not a right, so that the idea of reward for positive responses is encouraged.

When more choice is introduced explain that the environment should be considered ‘we are not in a dance club on a Friday night’, ‘I like loud excitable rock and dance music as much as the next person, but it’s probably not appropriate for the lesson’. Explain that inappropriate language is not permitted and the general vibe of the music should be calm or purposeful, a ‘beats per minute rule’ can also be useful. Explain the idea again of full albums or a pre-setup playlist and that work should be the focus. Eventually you can get all students to write one album each on a slip of paper that is put into a hat. You can then check out the music ahead of future lessons, removing inappropriate choices and confidently select from the hat.

YouTube I have found to be the best tool to use so here are my current top recommendations to get you started (note the mixture of old, new and multicultural):

1. Bob Marley (brings great vibe to class) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrU5i_ikS3Q

2. Jack Johnson (calm singer songwriter / surf) http://www.youtube.com/watchv=GLYpcQ37yYE

3. Ludovico Enaudi (very calming piano) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqczMg8bGcY

4. Ed Sheeran (calm pop) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hpiu2rrZH8U

5. Ben Howard (calm folk) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDOh754QPFU&list=PLeYjRN8bBm8_rCUOWfPV6DnLPFDJP3yyG&index=9

6. Fat Freddies drop (calm beat music) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNefL4q0k5E

7. Flume (calm’ish beat music) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpyDJWxCep8&list=PLfk_Bv3x7xZLaDTrnJwvsJwQD_qJ2PmZ-

8. Van Morrison (calm easy listening) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJjCaEkcXCY&list=PLGmkETWhsiEbEj4NI-n6JPU2fw6zyg_aQ

9. Bastille (calm’ish pop) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvSsbW3cq54

10. Café Del Mar (beach chillout beats) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tJTKG5wR2k

Calm Japanese compilation (3hrs) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgjmhbkPVAI

Calm Piano Compilation (3hrs) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNYcqj8A1Tg

ZEN: (8hrs) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrx1vyvtRLY

Buena Vista Social Club (calm Cuban) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp6h6EY7XOU

First Aid Kit (calm modern folk) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AplhZ3Dpcwc

London Grammar (calm modern alternative) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQof6hbbXuQ&list=PLfimnwaZdumgCl_AQYyPZFSAwsx5cj-2e

Feist (calm upbeat pop) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4yOdGs88Mo<a href="http://

<

Encouraging, inspiring and poignant reminder, “He’s just one of those kids who, if modern education allowed it, would be doing practical stuff all day”.

The reason I am starting this blog today is in actual fact due to an email I received this morning (and no, it is not relating to Mr. Gove’s departure, the timing is purely co-incidental). It really struck a chord with me and I realised that I did not have the appropriate forum in which to share it. The story inspired me in many ways and reminded me of many pupils I have worked with. It may inspire others the same as it did me or in different ways but I don’t think that matters… This is what I wanted to share (all names blanked out & permissions gained to publish):

From: ****
Sent: 14 July 2014 16:59
To: ****
Subject: All teachers of ******, please read

Hi everyone,

If you teach ******, I just thought I’d share some of his skills with you. I mentor ****; I know he can be a difficult and distracted student at times and therefore it’s easy to forget how engaged and grown up he can be. He’s just one of those kids who, if modern education allowed it, would be doing practical stuff all day, working with his hands, preferably outdoors.

Pictures taken at The ‘Cherry Wood Project’ near Bath last week show him 1. Catching grasshoppers; 2. On the pedal-lathe. ***** has attended a course there over the last few months learning to concentrate on skills and focusing on practical goals. He loved it and the staff there think the world of him – “He is our best student; really talented, grown up and focused,” said one of the staff, for instance. He’s incredibly skilled on the lathe, at green-woodworking, at music (guitar and drums) and bike mechanics, all skills that are easily forgotten outside of specific lessons.

So this really is just a friendly reminder that he has great talents, and, when encouraged and engaged in practical projects and tasks, he can excel. Please give him this chance by acknowledging his successes and offering practical tasks where appropriate.

Thanks all.

******

I Teach Art and was inspired to start blogging today…

I have been involved in UK secondary Art (with a CAPITAL ‘A’) education now for over 10 years and now find myself starting this blog.

As a Fine Art graduate returning from a stint of traveling in South-East Asia, I decided that I wanted to do something ‘Ethical’ & ‘Transformative’ with my creative skill set. Luckily, through a friend who worked as an Art Teacher, I secured an Art Technician job in a London secondary school, which set me on the path to becoming fully fledged Teacher. Quickly progressing to Head of Department then Head of Faculty in a challenging environment, I had a sharp learning curve. I’m lucky to have been amazingly mentored, trained and supported by colleagues and will forever be thankful for the time others invest in me. Teaching is not always easy, far from it in fact, as I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone. No matter how tough things can be, it always remains a hugely rewarding job. Thankfully, now with the most challenging early years in the profession navigated, I am a confident teacher with a decent track record. Hopefully this leaves me in a position to contribute in more far reaching capacities to ways forward in creative education and connected fields.

Last year I decided that after 14 years living in the capital it was time to move on. It’s hard to leave a school and department in to which so much time is dedicated (9 years), but it proved to be a hugely energising move. I now live and work in the Bristol area, a perfect fit for an arty outdoors lover like me. My first year out of London flew by, but I now feel more inspired and in love with my vocation than ever before.

When I left my post in London I did not want to rush a job application at the first schools that had openings. I decided supply work would enable me to gain experience of a wider variety of settings, get to know my new area and make a more informed choice about the next move. This proved to be a fantastic option, not only did it enable me to experience life in different schools, but it enabled me to free up time to delve into the world of online research and networking.

The discoveries I made in my year out of a permanent post have me as excited about my work as when I first started out. I feel a little late to the party (online ideas sharing) in some respects, but I’m here now and happy to be!