For something different I thought I would post a reflection I wrote from one of my university classes on teaching art to primary school children.
Firstly I found participating in the art lessons was fun and relaxing. Activities such as Paul Klee’s blind contour drawing possessed an almost meditative quality, as you were required to focus intently on one thing. Many of the activities were eye opening, as I came to realise that visual art practice is so often limited by mindsets. On my table, several people voiced fears of inadequacy but once we completed many of the activities we saw that we had all been ‘successful’. Paul klee’s blind contour drawing activity was a particularly effective example, with our eyes closed we all produced something that looked like a face you’d find in a modern art gallery.
The cartoon drawing was really inspiring. It was amazing to see how we could all draw the cartoon people and the Einstein looked like Einstein. I was a little nervous using marker pen for it at first. I was worried I make a mistake and want to re-draw a line. The lines for the neck on one of the characters practically touches and could definitely but improved, but it doesn’t take away from the drawing at all. Durer’s Rhino was fun but completion time varied a fair bit. Some were done sooner than others. Partner drawing was really hard and I found my language limited without gestures and pictures. Similes of things my partner knew were very useful. I was reminded of the surrealist game from the first lesson. The image my partner drew was a symbolic version of my original drawing.
I have always had a love for the arts and I am no stranger to a paintbrush. Over the course of this semester I have realised that I have neglected the arts in my teaching. Over this semester I have seen how simple, effective and enriching visual arts can be to the primary curriculum. Reflecting on each activity and thinking of ways to incorporate them into the curriculum taught me there are so many opportunities for creativity. I have come to see that an artist is not just an alternative with smock and a paint palette in some dirty studio, but an artist is something that anyone can be at any time. Artistry is creativity, and since everyone is born with both logical and creative sides to their brains, everyone is capable in applying both sides to their lives.
I have found over the course of this semester that I have seen more opportunities to use art in the generalist classroom myself. In writing, we used pictures as a source of inspiration for writing descriptively. I wanted to use the Durer’s Rhino paired drawing activity, as part of a lesson about descriptive writing. I found describing a completely mythical creature was very difficult for preps to communicate. Instead I simplified the activity for students to simple objects that the students recognised and could describe easier. This simplification did lose some of the impact that the original activity has, but the simplification was better suited for younger years.
The primary arts module as a whole has given me more confidence to use the arts in teaching. I had to teach a lesson about the school values, before I would have just discussed scenarios as a class. After having gone through the dramatic process in drama, I decided to have the class split into groups and act out scenes exemplifying courage. I would have thought this took too much to do before, but after experience in drama I came to see that it’s possible and effective.
I always used to think that the arts were something taught by specialists not in a generalist classroom. I used to think drama was just for end of year Christmas plays. Over the semester I’ve come to see that drama provides an outlet for students of all ages to experiment and learn in a safe environment. Just as reading literature is said to allow one to live multiple lives, drama allows the exploration to be physical as well as mental. I understood before that visual art could be used to help stimulate student’s writing (Mackenzie, 2011, p.328). I came to see that visual arts can be used to enrich and show maths, such as tessellations in Notans. I even came to see how the visual arts blended with the other arts, as I learnt that notation of music could be more than just formal notation.
Reading about negative experiences students have in art lessons leading to negative feelings about one’s art abilities appeared to be very prevalent. Many of my peers voiced similar experiences to those described by Smith-Shank (2014, p.151). However, as we completed the activities in the first lesson we all found satisfaction in our drawings and had a positive experience.
The act of learning to draw characters by learning to draw people like Graham Shaw (2015) reminded me of Gombrich’s conventional strategy (Duncum, 2000, p. 19). We learnt to draw faces that looked by people not by looking at people but by learning to draw a drawing.
Dweck is the classic literature that comes to mind when thinking about art and the challenges that come with mindsets of people who are fixated on drawing realistically (Mangels, Butterfield, Lamb, Good & Dweck, 2006, p.75). Feedback seems essential when teaching and encouraging students in the visual arts. Validation shouldn’t encourage students to not progress their skills (Mueller & Dweck, 1998, p. 33). Encouragement should be given so that students keep drawing. From this I was lead to think about the correct forms of feedback that one should give. Constructive feedback recognises the positives that the student has done and gives direct specific feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, p.81). The only challenge with the arts is unlike maths, there is no exact right or wrong.
- Duncum, P. (2000). Primary art pedagogy: Everything a generalist teacher needs to know. Australian Art Education, 21(3), 274-282
- Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.
- Mackenzie, N. (2011). From drawing to writing: What happens when you shift teaching priorities in the first six months of school? Australian Journal of Language and literacy, 34(3), 322-340.
- Mangels, J. A., Butterfield, B., Lamb, J., Good, C., & Dweck, C. S. (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 1(2), 75-86.
- Mueller C. M. & C. S. Dweck (1998). ‘Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 75 (1), 33-52.
- Shaw, G. (2015, April 13). Graham Shaw: Why people believe they can’t draw – and how to prove they can
- Smith-Shank, D. (2014). Dragons and art education: Pre-service elementary teachers’ memories of early art experiences. International Journal of Education through Art, 10(2), 149-162.