Critical studies

Over the last term I’ve been focused on teaching S4 & S5 at NPA, National and higher level. I am area cover for Clydesdale, but have remained in my base school and I’ve been helping to cover the head of faculties’ teaching commitments.

Pupils have been working on their practical folios in art & design and I’ve also been teaching photography at NPA level. They spend 5 periods a week in class, which equates to just over 4 hours a week or half a day, as well as studying 5 other subjects. The higher exam has changed quite a lot this year and that’s meant I’ve developed revised study and revision notes, attempting to respond to pupils’ level of ability in writing critically – to make a point, explain where in a piece of art or design this occurs and to justify and explain why that’s relevant enough to get them a mark. Many pupils were writing biographically or descriptively only, but not critically using analysis, reaching conclusions or being concise enough in their answers.

In the short term that’s one period a week on critical studies, with me rolling out notes and responsive scaffolding as we go through. The term ‘you can lead a horse to water’ applies. You see the kids eyes glaze over and the discussions where you ask them to go through a piece of work with you prompting them for answers seems to work best. There’s additional support needs to consider where pupils might need a scribe in class as well as in an exam to make notes. The easiest, most accessible way then was to type up notes or ‘the answers’ so all pupils have access in a readable and legible way. That involves doing so much of the work for the pupils and trying to ensure you’re not going beyond their comprehension levels.

It will be interesting to compare prelim results to the previous year and on an anecdotal basis to see which pupils there has been any impact for. The pupils you would expect to do well, tend to excel as they are keen to apply and improve based on feedback. There is such a big gap to fill in literacy and art vocabulary, particularly for pupils in S4. I’ve also introduced the use of Google classroom, though pupils aren’t predisposed to use it, particularly those in S5. Assignments aren’t necessarily handed in that way for commenting, if handed in at all. Photos of artwork put up with as assignments to mark complete if downloaded, seem ignored or pupils are loathe to put any onus on themselves. Then there is the fact any exam answers are hand written anyway, which is a different skill to typing & editing.

As an art teacher you spend so long at the critical level expected of S3-6, then switching back to masters level or indeed finding time for your own practical work, becomes difficult as you spend so much time teaching and often thinking for others, or modelling the very work and responses you would like them to emulate and incorporate. I guess the difference is the little differences you might make to them and how that ultimately increased individual and collective attainment. It feels very anecdotal when you are dealing with 3 sets of 10 pupils, but even then trying to define and respond to their learning needs, while encouraging engagement. Saying that, at least I’m in a school where a printing budget isn’t a barrier to educational accessibility.

The other thing I’ve started to realise is that rather than there being a disconnect between a creative teacher’s personal practice and discourse, there should be more of a responsive relationship back and forth between practice and pedagogy. The identity as an art teacher and as an artist or designer can and probably should be more symbiotic, rather than separated entities or egos.