Practitioner Enquiry – Colour Theory & Visual Elements

Description: 140 S2-S3 BGE pupils took part in a series of colour theory and the visual elements lessons. The intent was to see the impact working individually, in groups or in cooperative groups had on learning outcomes and retention of learning through a process of formative assessment and review, concluded with a final summative test.

Qualitative and Quantitative Approach: Art and design relies heavily on a formative approach, being a highly subjective subject with a high degree and variety of creative differentiation based on capped ability (ie. pupils and students peak in art and design at different SCQF levels). In senior phase, critical and historical studies accounts for 20-40% of final grading (N5 20%, Higher 27%, Advanced Higher 40%), with design and expressive portfolios accounting for the remainder. Art and design theory is an area of the curriculum that is more suited for quantitative and summative assessment. At BGE level, this means introducing areas such as colour theory, the visual elements and art and design vocabulary as related to EXA 3-07 ‘I can respond to the work of artists and designers by discussing my thoughts and feelings. I can give and accept constructive comment on my own and others’ work’ and the benchmark ‘shows understanding of how visual elements and visual concepts can be combined, for example, to create mood and atmosphere’. I aimed to evaluate an area that was curricularly relevant, at the appropriate BGE level, using a balance of formative and summative assessment, while providing a learning scaffold and a potential basis for transition to EXA 4-07a ‘I can analyse art and design techniques, processes and concepts, make informed judgements and express considered opinions on my own and others’ work.’.

Method: The lessons were taught on a formative basis over 3-5 lessons, marking progress made at the end of each lesson. Pupils were given an A3 worksheet to complete which included a section on colour theory and a section on the visual elements. Each section accounted for 20 in-class marks, with each question showing the marks available. Pupils were given the opportunity to review and revise their work or finish anything incomplete during lessons. Pupils worked either individually, in groups, or in collaborative groups. For S2 classes only, colour theory and visual elements lessons followed on from a series of art and design vocabulary lessons and resources, either working individually or cooperatively. Scores were reviewed and marked at the end of each lesson and scored feedback provided. Because of the individualised nature of the worksheet, the difference between group work and cooperative work was not explicit, other than 2x S2 cooperative classes (34 pupils) and 3x S2 individual classes (52 pupils) having prior scaffolding on art and design vocabulary, critical analysis and mark-making. The S3 pupils were added as a comparative control, with 1x S3 class working individually (19 pupils) due to behaviour constraints and 2x S3 classes working in groups (35 pupils). This was partly due to timetabling and overall project planning as an added factor.

The colour theory section comprised of colouring a colour wheel split into 12 sections, providing visual examples of complementary colours (opposite colours on the colour wheel) and analogous colours (similar colours), describing warm or cold colours and showing examples of hue (pure colour), tint (adding white), tone (adding grey) and shade (adding black). For those that advanced further, as an extension task and for additional points, pupils could also include split complementary colours (the two colours adjacent to the complimentary colour). The visual elements section explored the visual elements (line, tone, colour, shape, form, pattern and texture) and drawing basic 3D forms (sphere, cylinder, cube, cuboid, prism and pyramid).

Pupil Feedback: Pupils received formative feedback through the scoring of their in-class work during and after lessons. This encouraged pupils to correct and update their work for any work not yet completed or any mistakes made, while also highlighting productivity and progress. Different pupils worked at different paces, completing work at varying times, based on varied effort, differentiation of ability or differing levels of attention to detail. The final summative test feedback was delayed over the Easter holidays and due to timetable changes, so feedback was outstanding for the final summative test of 6 out of 8 classes.

Pupils were given a feedback form to fill in based on the first lesson, allowing them to self-reflect and provide feedback. This allowed them to specify on a scale of 1-6  (6 being highest) subject confidence / insight, art vocabulary knowledge, creativity / imagination, work quality, responsible learner, working on task, participating, working hard / well, motivation / effort, achievement, engagement / interest, being positive, teamwork, helping others, attentive / focused and behaviour / respect. Averages for pupils working individually or in cooperative groupings gave marginally higher feedback overall than those working in groups, with any particularly low feedback either working individually or in groups. Pupil feedback is highly subjective, however, as is pupils’ perception of their progress. Confidence and pupil perception of effort can vary from a teacher’s perspective or comparatively from pupil to pupil. Pupils also gave ‘2 stars and a wish’ style feedback of what they enjoyed about the lesson or what could be improved (Harris, 2007). Feedback from pupils reinforced the benefits of promoting a social constructivist approach (Powell & Kalina, 2009), where 5% of pupils specifically commented positively about working with their peers and 7% who were working individually, requested group work or indicated group work would be more beneficial and engaging. 11% of pupils commented positively on material choice, with this being strongly correlated to the cooperative pupils given the opportunity to explore a wider range of materials. 5% commented negatively requesting more exciting materials. 20% of pupils commented positively on the lesson tasks, with 14% providing negative feedback for task improvement. Again, there was a correlation between negative feedback being linked to a more individualised working approach and positive feedback towards group and cooperative work.

Analysis and Conclusion: As you would expect, there was a strong correlation between the level of effort and final grade achieved. This correlation applied most strongly to pupils working cooperatively, then pupils in groups, who were both more likely to gain a higher grading than those working individually. Within groupings, the level of effort increased overall in cooperative groupings. For pupils working individually there was a greater spread of high and low effort pupils, which reflected in their attainment. This correlates with previous research on differentiation, whereby higher attaining pupils being mixed with lower attaining pupils provides benefits for all, whereas streaming benefits individuals who are more likely or more predisposed to attain (Ireson & Hallam, 2010).

Additional considerations that may impact results include pupil absence, pupil and class behaviour, class dynamics, balancing formative and summative assessment and the level of interactionist classroom management (Martin and Baldwin, 1993). The final test was completed by submitting a google form where pupils submitted their answers, which were then reviewed. Out of 140 pupils, 1 asked permission and then used google to check and verify her answers. There had been no suggestion or indication that pupils could not do this. They were not explicitly told not to, other than being told they could not vocally discuss their answers with each other during the final test. This was an interesting creative initiative by the pupil when considering Bloom’s digital taxonomy (Churches, 2010) and the idea that information is at our fingertips, therefore we should question which information or knowledge we ought to know by rote, rather than by reference. The biggest variable, with the greatest impact was pupil effort irrespective of groupings, however, there was a correlation indicating that cooperative groupings motivated pupils more highly in general. Effort, in turn, relates to motivation on the part of the pupil and is impacted by classroom management on the part of the teacher.

The focus of the lesson sequence was on formative assessment of BGE curriculum content that lent itself best to a concluding and comparative summative assessment in order to provide quantitative data. This corresponds similarly to portfolio development at senior level, where pupils are reviewed formatively on a period by period basis and internal summative assessments and estimates are made before submission to SQA for summative grading. As an art and design practitioner and teacher, my qualitative gut feeling and professional opinion is that practice-based research would be more beneficial for practitioner enquiry over a longer duration or variety of creative formative projects and exemplars through arts-based research (Leavy, 2017). As much as the graphic designer in me enjoys the visual communication of a spreadsheet and graph, there is nothing particularly expressive or creative about either. A summative approach that incorporates formative development provides an overview of general trends, where we can drill down evidentially on a pupil by pupil basis, based on individual or common learner needs (Gilchrist, 2018). However, I would expect to find more opportunity for process-based, procedural learning and creative output with practice-based practitioner enquiry and arts-based research. This could relate to teacher creative practice, pupils’ practice and output or an approach that links together teacher and pupil creative practice, formatively and reciprocally.

A formative-led, summative approach works as an evidential indicator. However, we must not lose track of pupils’ creative output, outcomes, process based learning or ‘aha moments’. These higher order learning moments can’t easily be recorded or shared summatively or when we view pupils and their outcomes as data, rather than using creative outcomes evidently in a qualitative way. In an art and design context, we run the risk of undermining creative learning and output of both teachers and pupils by relying on rote based quantitative data and analysis rather than qualitative and formative feedback of learning and progress. Teacher professional enquiry can better provide a growth mindset ethos that promotes pupil consolidation, by using a formative approach within an adaptive practice-led context. The difficulty is that there is a proportion of the art and design curriculum built on rote learning, visual and written literacy (including IDL) and curricular knowledge, that goes beyond generalised 3rd and 4th level Es & Os or benchmarks. To support learning, we must balance formative and summative assessment for learning approaches, ensuring positive impact based on learners’ needs. We must do so without negatively impacting process based learning or altering teaching due to a demand for data, particularly if this compromises learning impact and the demands and requirements of the art and design curriculum.


Creative Taxonomy – concepts & ideas

One of the areas I want to explore is looking at the differences and similarities between digital and traditional media or looking at where they can converge and cross over well. I’d like to link this into theory and Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy. It’s something I come back to in more depth, but just now I’m looking at my own practice and planning in how I can integrate digital and traditional media and outcomes. To do that I need to optimise my planning, materials and hardware, workflow and workspace.

When teaching in school we are teaching digital natives. The kids in S1 were born around 2005. The iPhone came out in 2007, so it’s now been a decade of smart phones. These kids don’t know life without this sort of technology and they wander around with a computer in their pocket or often in their hands. Yet for the most part, we are insisting they don’t use their phones in class due to distraction. There is social etiquette that can be taught including children’s ability to moderate their own digital lives – whether that be what they share about themselves, what they spend their time on or how they communicate with others, both online and offline. We can (at times) be too quick to shut pupils down and see their affinity with their phones (and social media) as a negative thing.

There is a contradiction in education with regards to phones and ICT. Computer systems in Scottish schools are fairly badly set up. Just getting kids to go through a file path and save a file is arduous, particularly at S1-S3 stage. Younger children will probably have more of an advantage here as they are more likely to be exposed to ICT at primary level. Secondary pupils don’t have any space to save and they don’t have access to up to date creative applications. Accessibility is an issue and that’s partly down to economics. There’s not only a social focus on traditional mediums of communication, but a systematic and economic bias towards those with access to creative technology. By the same token, there is a lot that can be done with a pencil and piece of paper.

I took my iPad and Apple Pencil into school for a portraiture lesson as in ProCreate you can play through a drawing speeded up. It was a good way to show an example and had just been a quick sketch from imagination. It was interesting to see pupils reflect that they couldn’t draw on paper, but that they would be able to on the iPad. It’s almost like they are coming at smartphone and tablet technology from the opposite angle. Pupils are digital savvy with smart phones, not particularly savvy with computer ICT and the debate runs about smart phones, social media and txt speak damaging literacy, productivity and the ability to self-moderate. One of my Art Teacher colleagues made this point, about how frustrating both the ICT systems and pupils’ shortfall in ICT knowledge is.

What I’m getting at is the contradiction between technology as a creative tool and technology as a barrier. How digital media can often be seen to contradict traditional media in negative ways, when there should be so much to positively utilise in an objective and beneficial way.

What if instead of a focus on educational or digital taxonomy, we consider and build on a creative taxonomy like Frank Williams’ 1969 ‘Models for encouraging creativity in the classroom by integrating cognitive-affective behaviors’. One that transcends media type, technology levels and to a certain degree subjects, but with an inclusive focus on differentiation?

Williams’ Taxonomy

A taxonomy of creativity combining cognitive and affective thinking.

Cognitive – Intellective

Fluency – Fluent Thinking

Brainstorm, generate lots of ideas, associate, list …
Can you think of MANY ideas and answers?

Flexibility – Fluid Thinking

Classify, rearrange, reorganise, manipulate, categorise, group …
Can you think of ALTERNATIVE ideas and applications?

Originality – Original Thinking

Invent, make up, change, write, develop, form, compose, create …
Can you come up with NEW ideas and processes?

Elaboration – Elaborate Thinking

Compare, attribute, organise, deconstruct …
Can you IMPROVE an idea, process or object?

Affective – Feeling

Risk Taking – Courage

Predict, suggest, experiment, explore, defend, hypothesise …
Are you CONFIDENT to deal with the unknown or uncertain?

Complexity – Challenge

Design, restructure, evaluate, examine, explain, model, justify, improve …
Are you logical in creating structure and order from a problem?

Curiosity – Willingness

Wonder, discover, question, seek, investigate, research, ponder …
Are you INTERESTED in what could be done?

Imagination – Intuition

Imagine, create, day dream, pretend, visualise, fantasise, empathise …
Are you DREAMING of better possibilities, beyond the limits of the practical?

Ebb and Flow

We had NQT literacy training with South Lanarkshire Council and one of the starter task suggestions was 5:5:1 – to narrow a piece of text down to 5 sentences, 5 words, then 1 word. The longer version is further below, so this is the 5 sentence version…

Picasso was quoted as saying ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’.  Balancing and prioritising creative time is important to allow inspiration an optimal climate to create. However, inspiration cannot always be forced as creativity ebbs and flows, meaning your muse can be skittish, yet still needs fed. Defining and falling back onto process led art can be useful, while allowing patience for creative inspiration to flourish through processes that stem from creative research. This, in turn, can help promote a cyclic or self-sustaining system of working.


Ebb & Flow

Process based




One of the things I’ve been stressing over a bit is managing workloads and priorities. Because I’m a newly qualified teacher, that is taking precedent, whether lesson planning, working on exemplars or targets for full teacher registration with the GTCS (interim profile has been approved -Yay!). Within my own creative flow there are also peaks and troughs in productivity. From the last week of November I’ve had multiple colds or flu for about 4 weeks on and off and noticed a big lag creatively from the end of November partly due to this.

I’d ordered a new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil and a Canon Legria HF G40 before mid-November, but haven’t had a chance to use them properly yet. That was my last creative peak. I want to set up timelapses, taking photos, but also taking straight video at the same time. I also want to use an iPad and Procreate, but combine this with traditional media to explore drawing over frames or making more abstracted still paintings based on each timelapse. Similarly, photos with a long exposure would be interesting to play with – exploring moments, movement or segments of time in various ways and mediums. I am also inclined to work and draw in pen, pastel, paint and oil stick.

The course handbook says that modules can roll over to the following year and that flexibility is built into the programme to allow participants to adjust the duration according to their needs, preferences and other commitments. The work I want to do is over different seasons based on the light available. I see it being a project that stretches out, also partly based on what my circumstances will be in 2018/19, depending on where I’ll be teaching after my probation year. One idea is filming or timelapse photography of a tree or location with trees at various times of day and year. The premise could be applied to multiple locations or scenes – a beach or shoreline in relation to seasonal tides. So I need to define processes and procedures for the visual outcomes or research visually what (or, who, what, where & when) I want to explore and develop work around. Themes that can be investigated in a process led way.

Previously with my own productivity, I’ve been of a mind to develop process based work that I can then procedurally fall back on when I’m feeling less inspired. This might be the technique and process I use to make a painting or processes for timelapse and editing. When I feel the creative sparks that signal a flurry of inspiration or productivity then I can take advantage of it. From a project management perspective I’ve begun to plan out blog posts, reading and project based work, but looking at things with quite a long term view based on both circumstances and research aims.

I find that when I start typing, reading or thinking in depth about my own creative work, this is sometimes when creative sparks are more likely to happen, but often in quite an undefined way that can be tricky to pin down and apply. It’s a balance between setting aside, prioritising and proceduralising time, compared to letting creative sparks fly. A balance between inspiration instigating productivity and creativity because you get excited and feel creatively inclined, compared to putting yourself in a position or situation where inspiration is more likely to get a hand hold on your process and work.

I think creative flow can be linked to mood swings as well, where if my mood is subdued I’m less likely to feel productive or creative. When I feel productive and creative I can border on being a hypomaniac or have peak creative rhythms, association and triggers. When feeling more level or subdued afterwards, I can’t quite appreciate the creative heady heights. Those creative sparks are like being creatively drunk, then having a hangover. This is where I would speculate about mental health, mania & bipolar disorder being linked to creativity. I would say your muse can’t always be forced. There is an ebb and flow to it, yet creativity can be as much a fostered skill as a process or a spark. Teaching and even parenting ties into this too, because of the varying emotional demands when you are dealing with behaviour management or additional needs of varying degrees – that there is only so much left of yourself, for yourself or your art.

It’s understanding the ebb and flow that ought to allow you to harness your creativity, but at the same time, life, schedules and commitments expect us to turn creativity on like a tap and to a certain extent we need to allow ourselves the motivation and incentive to do so. It can also be a 13 year old quietly providing you with creative insight by sharing his sketchbook with you and insisting you take it for a few days to look through properly. Creative sparks need to be fostered. They can be quiet and easy to miss under all the information and noise, especially given the ebbs and flows of ourselves, our lives and the things around us.

Watching the world go by

My Dad was and has always been an advocate for watching the world go by. I guess it is its own form of mindfulness.

I’ve had quite a lot going on conceptually this week behind the scenes, besides day to day school and lesson planning. Part of that is working out how to use timelapse and video as a basis for mixed media work, including considering locations, hardware and software.

I enjoy working with timelapse, but also I want to record video at the same time and I very much want to explore environment or create work that is environmentally based. Work that watches the world go by. I’m intrigued by change in light and by sunrise and sunset, but also momentary snapshots. There was a point before sunrise on the train this week where it stops to wait just before Carluke. A pinkish sky with windmill silhouettes slowly turning and bird silhouettes flying past. Those sorts of moments are meditative. I know it is that kind of meditative outcome I am looking to create, with a little more atmosphere and expression. The funny thing was, I didn’t take a photo – I just watched. I’m of the opinion there can be as much power in not taking a photo and enjoying the moment, as in snapping that moment. I also appreciate the contradiction there.

I have my Canon D600 DSLR, my Canon Legria G40, a couple of light weight tripods, my alarm clock and an iPad Pro on the way with an apple pencil. All of which are feeling decidedly digital. It will be interesting to see at what point I feel the need or appropriateness for more tactile options, like paint and pastels.

Painting (with) light

I keep coming back to the idea of working with and painting light or painting with light. Whether I start off with traditional media, I imagine any final outcomes being of a digital basis and viewed on some sort of screen or VR, which means using light as a medium through a RGB display, projector or similar.

I think taking a painting or drawn piece of work into a digital form lends itself to an altering of medium and outcome, but also means an outcome can exist in multiple media forms or outputs of expression. If you bring time into this as well, then light can and will change or animate. Our perception of time or even of our current reality or mind space can be a snapshot, momentary, retrospective, seem to slow down or even speed up.

I find photography and video particularly exciting mediums, because of the way as mediums they dictate outcomes and visual expression. Putting a camera on bulb and holding the shutter down or playing with the aperture and ISO to control the amount of light or exposure. What happens when you combine mediums and express moments of time, mood or atmosphere in a way that is deterministic of the mediums or message and just how much of it is intentional, rather than a learning process or a happy accident?

If you are outside in the dark, your preview image makes you think a lower ISO is optimal. Yet when you get home, you find it needed or wanted to be higher and where you thought light was flooding in, it was actually hitting an optimal top threshold. That,  in itself, becomes procedural learning (that becomes easy to forget in retrospect).




Process & Practice

I’ve been considering my planning and production and also creating a rough editorial here of areas and topics I would like to cover, consider and explore through visual practice.  I need to consider the different mediums that I want to combine, which include drawing, painting, photography and video. I also want to give context to my work and consider location or place. I find it easier to work in both virtual or digital contexts as well as physical, handwritten, hand-drawn or painted output. I feel there is a sense of irony and juxtaposition when switching between these types of mediums.

I’m beginning by working in sketchbooks with a smaller sketchbook for notes, ideas and sketches, then a larger sketchbook to consolidate and combine ideas. Contexts might be a day in the life or based on a place or moment. Given that we should make stuff we care about and that the visual process is privileged and prioritised, the context and concept behind any outcomes important.

Tentative Ideas

I’ve been mulling over the type of work I want to create and keep feeling drawn to mixed media, but mixed media in the sense of a combination or hybrid of traditional art with digital art and animation. When I asked pupils what they thought mixed media was, they began discussing social media and digital viewing of media, which I felt was very telling.

I’m imagining the idea of a digital paint, that moves and animates. Where the light can change or where painted frames or drawings can be merged with video. Or where an outcome can change based on time of day or based on user interaction. I really am at the stage where I need to get into a sketchbook and thinking through visual communication and experimenting through practice.

Conceptually, I’m considering a landscape scene, which could be urban or rural. Building on work I’ve done with time-lapse before, but also considering real-time video footage and how that might be reflected on an ongoing basis or as a snap shot or moment in time.

I keep going back to the ideas of the impressionists when they began to look at different light. Monet light studies of haystacks and cathedrals or Turner studies of sky and sea. The other thing I am considering is landscape, urban icons or the idea of moments in time and what they might mean.


cf6bec9e3f8f94a3c26e3723bece972cI’ve also been following the landscape and environmental work of Nathan Fowkes, who does environmental work for Dreamworks (@NathanFowkesArt). His work interests me because of the way he works both traditionally and digitally, but how the medium often become transparent in his hands, as to whether he is working in traditional media or on a digital canvas.

Going back 20 years when new media was new, I would have referred to Nicolas Negroponte’s ‘The medium is no longer the message in a digital world. It is the embodiment of it.’ He re-wrote McLahan who said ‘the medium is the message’ in his book Understanding Media: Extensions of Man (1964). Now I am not sure that either make sense to me.

The medium and message potentially combine and create something far bigger than the sum of their parts. We’re perhaps getting to the stage where we are going beyond mediums or where medium can become transparent and far more intermixable. For the medium to embody, gives the medium too much dominance over form or shows literally how medium defines form and output. Perhaps creative process and method are more appropriate exemplification when an end outcome or creative expression comes from this? It’s what you do with the medium that counts, as can be illustrated through impressionist painting.

I’m not looking so much for a sense of realism, but a sense of mood and expression. I also like the idea of a piece of work being able to be broken down into a series of parts, where a painting could still work as a stand alone piece, even though it is part of a wider piece of work to tell a story of sorts – or only part of a story based a mediums limitations.

I think I am coming back to an idea or question that asks what if paintings could move? That links back a decade to some older creative writing and how you might express an environment in 3D, but now I am more interested in.

There is the Van Gogh film and animation, but I am more interested in semi static scenes based on a merging of photography, film, sound, drawing and painting; with the context and concept defined on my own production or conceptual terms.

I don’t want to animate a painting. I want to make individual paintings that move and change, but that can work both (or differently) as digital or traditional expressions.

I think beyond sketchbooks, much of that would stem from deciding on locations and having photography and video as reference images or by working plain air the same time as taking timelapse or video of a particular location.

The other idea I had was introducing a sense of citizen journalism, public or social commentary, given my creative context. I am loath to make overt political commentary through my work, which would be another avenue or one that could perhaps be applied in a subliminal or more subtle way.