Early on in my work in schools I was mentored by a wonderful Deputy Head who would greet my every plan with the question 'Where's the learning in this?'. I am so grateful to her for lots of things - her time, her expertise, her patience - but mostly for keeping my eye on the learning.
You see, I love art in all its forms, I VALUE art in all its forms. I'm in no way snobbish about it - making your mark however you do it is of almost limitless value. But for lots of us involved in Primary Schools, Art just doesn't seem to be about learning. It's about refining motor skills,or 'mindfulness'; it's about consolidating or rewarding 'proper learning'. Often, it's about just having fun.
But is it about learning? Now, I don't want to imply art shouldn't be fun. I have LOTS of fun with art. But the reason it's stayed fun for me over a number of years is this: I love a challenge. I love to be given a brief that takes what I already know and stretches it, a brief that gives me the chance to make something I can really be proud of. A brief that lets me learn.
I'm not always sure we deliver that to our kids. I'd say without doubt we deliver it in Maths and English. In those 'important' subjects we structure, we co-ordinate, we consolidate, we observe and we assess. and, as a result, we co-navigate the type of sophisticated learning in which progress is a given.
But in Art? In Art, we often create a brief that is fleeting, a Friday Afternoon time-filler. It might connect to another area of study. It might connect to a specific cultural event. It might even involve the critiquing of the work of a deceased European male. But do we actively seek to make it connect to previous briefs in a way that promotes progression? Do we answer - or even ask - the question 'Where is the learning in this?'.
I'm not sure we do.
So how do we make learning in Art Lessons intentional as opposed to optional? Well, we start by doing what we do so well in our 'proper' lessons. We identify key skills. We make them our focus. We link them to a wider learning, but more importantly we link them to each other. We watch for gaps and make sure we plug them. We review and revisit our progress every time we open a sketchbook. In short, we structure, we co-ordinate, we we consolidate, we observe, we assess.
That, you might be thinking, does not sound like fun at all. But - it really is. Diving head first into a creative challenge knowing you have the skills and vocabulary to create something amazing is so much fun. Seeing artwork from all over the world and realising that everyone has a voice - that's such a great feeling. And looking through your sketchbook to see just how far you've come? That's fun too - believe me, I do it all the time.
Please don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting we take the fun out of Art. I'm not advocating a blanket ban on colouring in. Our fridge-front galleries rely on it. I'm simply suggesting that if we want to create a culture of intentional artistry in an inclusive provision that celebrates mark-making in all it's forms, we have to start out the same way we start out everywhere else in the curriculum, with the question,
'Where is the learning in this?'
With thanks to Mrs. Magic, Mrs. C., and everyone at Team Heys.