Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Reflecting against inquiry goal: 'To develop reflective capabilities in visual art students'.

I can't believe how quickly a term has just flown by. I haven't worked on this goal as much as I would have liked to, as during the lockdown to an extent it was just about making learning work for the situation we were in, inquiry to an extent got pushed to the side.

However, what I have discovered is that my students can reflect well on their work, the important thing is a well-worded template or prompt that asks students to justify their work. If they are saying that their work was successful, they need to say why this was.

They also need to have a good understanding of our learning objectives - in short, where are we headed. When students understood what I wanted them to be doing (big picture wise) their reflections were deeper and more meaningful. For some students who think a bit more deeply it actually helped to have an authentic text to draw upon in their reflections. I recently experimented with giving students a text 'what makes a good artwork'. This was an interesting exercise but a bit rushed as this was at the end of time we were pushing to get artworks finished in time. Also I would need to search for a range of texts potentially so that this task was more accessible for different levels. 

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Reflecting against inquiry goals: 'To develop reflective capabilities in visual art students' & 'To use a knowledge building approach to engage online learners'

At the moment I am working on developing template that give students prompts for reflection, as I found students wrote well about their work when there were scaffolds around the reflection to guide them.
I think this is necessary, it is quite a skill to reflect about your thinking or your progress.
I know that I need guiding questions for inquiry.  My entire Master's thesis question and methodology set out the plan for my inquiry and gave me a set of criteria to reflect against. This took a large chunk of time and stress to develop and I am an educated adult.
I think inquiry and reflection need to be taught and supported. If I throw my students into an inquiry with no/little guidance, this is like putting a kid on a bike for the first time with no training wheels. They are going to fall over.

Ultimately I want my students to have epistemic agency - but there is a lot of learning and development to get to that stage. This is a goal that will sit over multiple years of inquiry.

Relecting on my experience of teaching during Covid-19

I've had a bit of time to reflect on the impact of teaching during the age of Covid-19

Some students have found this time to be really empowering. They have had the flexibility to organise their learning in a way that suits them and the support that they need to support this - through weekly video meets and also through one to one.

Some have struggled with the whole thing, but I feel with those who are struggling it is an amplification of issues/struggles they might have had face to face. It's important to point out that these students have still had support via one to one video calls which has helped them to move forwards a bit. I guess a positive is that it is easier to organise a quick video call after school as I have far fewer meetings and it is really easy and natural at the moment to set up a quick call.

And then there were some students who really surprised me in the way that they flourished during this time. Some of these students had struggled in the traditional face to face environment, but have been on top of their learning every step of the way during covid-19. Every class, every drop in tutorial, every check point - they were there.

The learning is super visible. I thought that I was doing a good job of making the learning accessible to student previously, but really there was a lot that happened face to face that wasn't recorded in any form. I have been super deliberate with the way that I organise the learning sequences and tried to make examples for each thing I am asking students to to do. I have been making far more rewindable clips. If I am asking students to do something I want something that they can go back to again and again for guidance.

It has also been easier for students to ask questions and share with me what they are working on outside of our scheduled times. This has come in a variety of means: google forms to take the temperature of students' mood and needs, padlets to ask questions, padlets to share work. This has also been quite spontaneous - it is very easy for students to ask a quick question about their work using google chat, get a quick reply, and carry on with their work with confidence.

Learning and surprises:
In my online class, everything we do is centered around community and connections. I  have been working on this with my WHS classes online. Juniors and Middle School responded really well to this. Many of them are really missing their friends and missing school in general. They lapped up the chance to share how they were going at home, to show off their work and just connect with other humans.

Senior students were a different kettle of fish. Not all, but a number of them were anxious about interacting in class, which I had not been expecting given that they all know each other and have been to school together for several years. Some wouldn't turn their cameras or microphones on. Sigh. Part of this was just the personalities in the class and part of it was that this was a cohort that started at WHS before we were fully immersed in the learn-create-share pedagogy of Toki Pounamu. It is a little bit telling that they were so apprehensive about sharing.

However, this led me to think about how I could best use the time with them. They are for the most part really diligent, hard working kids. What was successful was to organise my calls with them in a different way. I have started doing the following in our weekly calls: Checking in on how we are doing as humans (maybe a good thing and a tricky/challenging thing), sharing a quick presentation of anything I want the whole class to know about or be focusing on, then in a google doc students book 5-10 minutes to converse with me about their work. Students have really bought into this and taken it really seriously. It is keeping them accountable and giving them timely support. I'm thinking about how I can transfer the learning from this back into the face to face context. Perhaps I could do a google form at the start of the week to see how students are with their work. Then triage who needs to talk to me first and have a couple of periods set up purely for consulting with students about their art.

I'm also thinking that I also need to look at my learning design and devise some subtle, gentle ways to get students to share their work more often, in a way that doesn't make them feel too whakamā. I am trying to develop a visual arts community, not visual arts student silos.

And of course there are things that I am looking forward to when I get back to the classroom .My printmakers have been having a tough time of it for instance without their press. Juniors and middle school classes have been hard work with students having variable and often limited supplies at home.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Teaching art in the age of online learning

My previous reflection had been musing on the possibility of working from home should the covid-19 situation escalate.

This is now a reality.

While I am still committed to developing reflective capabilities in my WHS students,
I have been thinking a lot about how to keep everything manageable.

For my juniors
I think it will be important to keep the teaching and learning simple, as not to overwhelm them.
There is a lot that is changing for students right now, adapting to it all takes up energy and cognitive space.
Now is not the time to be throwing lots of new technology and tools at them.

I have also been thinking about how I can teach art to students who have very limited resources available at home.
I think this will be the time to leverage on what they do have.
We are lucky enough that our students have chromebook and a webcam.
My plan is to use this technology that the students (mostly) have at their fingertips for their learning.
This can be quick and relatively low-tech. e.g.
  • Make a colour wheel with things you have around the house and garden and photograph it,
  • An alphabet challenge find shapes that look like letters and see how far you can get through the alphabet - photograph these and post them to our class padlet.
  • Make a flipbook on a google slide.
  • Set up a scene for a photo that creates forced perspective and see who can create the wackiest scene.

For middle school
I have been thinking about how to balance the limited art resources that they may or may not have at home with them,
with the wet and dry media skills I am trying to develop in them to prepare them for level 6 of the visual art curriculum.

This has involved really going back to basics and thinking what can be done with pencil, pen and paper, and possibly what might be lying around in the pantry.

I am really, really grateful that I had the foresight to purchase some art making kits from Joe at HomePrint in Fielding.
This was initially for me to get through some stressful times, but has turned out to be quite fruitful for coming up with ideas for middle school art (and possibly even year 11, if the student hadn't retrieved their art kit from school in the days leading up to the lockdown).

A really simple, yet effective idea is cutting a paper stencil, taping this to another sheet of paper and drawing into the negative space.

Students could use this technique to zen doodle and de-stress or share with the class what is happening in their bubble.

Another neat idea I pinched from a colleague of mine was a food colouring and drawing exercise. All students will need is paper, something to wet the page with, a few drops of food colouring, and something to draw into it with once the food colouring has dried.
The first step would be to wet their page. If they have a brush, this is great, otherwise they need to find some other way of wetting their page so that they have a regular shape on it (perhaps over a sink, hold a piece of paper firmly over a mug of water. Quickly flip it over so that the paper is wet in a circle shape and then back up the right way). Then while the page is still wet, drop a few droplets of food colouring onto the damp paper. The food colouring will mostly just stick to the wet page.
Then leave the page to dry (with something heavy at either end of the page to stop it from curling up).
When the page is dry, doodle into the spaces where there is less colouring. This could be a zen-tangle and quite abstract, or it could be a more organised doodle landscape. For an extra challenge try drawing something you can see in your bubble into the artwork.

(acknowledgement given to M Timutimu, who made these artworks)

For my senior students, it has been a good opportunity to put together some art history tasks that relate to their portfolio work, as many have their art kits but are needing to ration what they do have.
Students get extra literacy credits in a time where their teachers might be pushed to get them through their useful programme of learning and I have come to realise how practical and useful the art history standards can be for visual art students. Win, win.

I'm not going to lie. It has been a lot of work to tailor the art history standards to all the different levels and fields that I teach and their interests.
This was my life last week. I feel like it will be really beneficial in the long run though.

I've also had to rethink my tried and tested painting & printmaking programme for level one students. It's a bit hard to make this happen when there is no printmaking press! Fortunately at level one, students can do printmaking, painting, sculpture, photography or design - they are assessed against general visual art making principles. It really has been a case of trying to put myself in my students' shoes and thinking, what can I do given the resources that I have at hand.

Time will tell, the impact that this has on students' learning.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Setting the course for my 2020 inquiry journey

Teacher inquiry is a funny thing isn't it. For many teachers it is the thing that they love to hate, an exercise in compliance.

But for me I think I would be reflecting on my teaching whether it were a part of my appraisal or not. Since undertaking a Master's study in 2018 I see the value of practitioner led inquiry. I think that is the key. Practitioner led. If I were to be told what my goals were, or have parameters placed around what my goals could and couldn't be, I would quickly rebel.

For me inquiry needs to be timely and relevant. It needs to address authentic issues within my context, not create layers of extra work and bureaucracy.

Earlier in the year I set my professional inquiry goals, thinking back to last years' inquiry and the needs identified.

For my face to face class, I decided that it was important to develop reflective capabilities in my junior and middle school students, and as I reflect on this goal amid schools put together plans for how they might deal with covid-19 should it develop in our community, it seems more relevant than ever. 

If my students aren't able to be in class, or if indeed the school is unable to be open physically, I need to ensure that my students are able to continue engage with their learning and take ownership of their learning, without their teacher in their faces telling them what to do.

For my online class, my goal is to use a knowledge building approach to engage online learners. This has the potential to be quite a challenging goal, if students join my online class for a period of time while they are unable to access their face to face classes. This is a possibility if their school isn't equipped to deliver curriculum digitally and engage with their students by distance. I would have to think quite carefully about how I manage this, as there is a whole lot that I weave into the background of my online class to ensure that students are connected as a community and engaging with each other in and out of our scheduled VC time. Creating a safe space to work as a class, takes a fair bit of intentional learning design.

I also think that there is a great deal of potential to model and share quite innovative practice to a wider 'audience', there is potential for online teachers to be leaders in terms of pedagogy, here

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Looking back to look forwards

Now is the time to reflect on how I progressed against my goals.

1. To use a knowledge building approach to engage online learners

Looking back at this goal, I wonder how exactly do you measure engagement? There are all kinds of analytical tools I could use in Knowledge Forum (our online Knowledge Building environment) to measure the quantity of posts, the frequency of posts, the amount of times that a student has read a post, or edited their own. However, it is my feeling that a quantitative analysis does not necessarily answer the question of 'Does this engage learners?'. All that would tell me was that they have used the tool. 

To know whether students felt that Knowledge Building was valuable for their learning I think it is important to go to students   “If you want to know how people understand their world and their lives, why not talk with them?” (Kvale & Brinkman, 2009).

The anecdotal evidence from students was that Knowledge Building was in fact very valuable for them and a key part of coming to a higher more perceptive understanding of issues in art history. It was vital for students have dialogue with each other, as shown by these reflective statements from my students:

"-Knowledge forum provided me with insight into other peoples thinking and ideas which I
perhaps would not otherwise thought of and was also able to reflect on my own thinking.
 ... Questions such as ‘How can media impact on meanings in artworks?’ posted by XXXXXX XXXXXXXX  helped me to explore areas and thus form my ideas for this assignment while the post by XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX ‘process impacting meaning’ helped to clarify my ideas as well as being useful to refer to."

"Being able to communicate and read my classmates contributions on Knowledge Forum helped to deepen my understanding of how theories influenced the artistic style of the Renaissance. ... Having access to another perspective helped me gain an overall deeper understanding and helped me consider aspects of Humanism I hadn’t considered before."

Students considered the diversity of thinking that a knowledge building community provides as vital to their ability to come to a really considered conclusion (an important skill in art history).

I think that the achievement data I have to hand so far also helps to triangulate the validity of the knowledge building approach. The students that really dug deep into the knowledge building process saw an improvement in their results from level two art history and similar subjects, going from Achieved to endorsed with Merit and Excellence. The knowledge building process seemed to naturally provide evidence for things like 'critical thinking', 'come to an insightful conclusion'. 

 A particular success was a student who went from simply getting achieved at level 2, to achieving the majority or their internals at excellence and even sitting the scholarship exam. This student remarked that dealing with ideas the way that we did in knowledge building worked for them.

 After completing my Master's thesis, I realised that there was a need to contextualise Knowledge Building ideas and approaches for NZ.

Essentially, I discovered when reviewing literature, that where classes had principles broken down into terms or explanations that they understood, and used those principles to guide their knowledge building and reflect on their progress and success as a knowledge building community, they were much more likely to experience success than students who had been ask to knowledge build ad. hoc, with little guidance.

This led me to try to develop resources which align Knowledge Building Principles with concepts within NZ education and concepts in Te Ao Māori. This took the form of poster explaining how knowledge building can align with concepts within Te Ao Māori for teachers and a 'Knowledge Building moves' info-graphic which teachers and learners could use to guide their next Knowledge Building moves, assess their progress and determine their next steps.

These resources are definitely just prototypes with much room for improvement. I think next year I would like to explore using them with a class and get students to feedback on them. How useful are they, what else could be included, what else are they thinking about during the knowledge building process?

2. To use 'assessment for learning' to leverage engagement in junior and middle school classes.

This was an inquiry goal that I was very intentional with and that I feel a lot of progress was made within a short year. I am quite proud of this considering that I have 2 hours a week with my junior class, and 3 hours a week with my middle school class.

The hunch or reasoning behind this goal was that traditionally the feedback, next steps and general drive for the work has come from the teacher, which gets a bit unmanageable when dealing with a class of 20 - 30 students.

I really wanted to instill a sense of ownership for students over their work and for them to get to a place where they felt capable to determine their next steps.

The first step, as I have talked about in previous blog posts, was to make the learning more visible.
This involved the students creating their own visual diary online. I wanted to  keep this manageable and easy for students, so this was just a Google Slide in the folder that they share with me. Initially my aim was simply for students to record their work in progress, so that they were able to get a sense of what was happening over time with their art. This was also useful for instilling a growth mindset (which was something that was discussed in class, regularly) in students.

I found that students really enjoyed seeing their work change, and that this was not something I had to labour to make happen. 

The next step was to try to develop reflective capabilities in students. This was and is an ongoing process and needs to be quite deliberate. I found that it was necessary to schedule time for this as it really didn't happen so organically. I didn't need to put a lot of time aside, just 5 minutes at the beginning and end of most weeks for reflection and goal setting.

I discovered that while students were quite happy to go through this process, they tended to write quite generalized goals and reflections e.g. 'my goal is to draw better'. 

This prompted me to think about scaffolds. I found that when students had a prompt they wrote really great reflections and questions to themselves about their work.


A recent discovery in the past few weeks, which happened mostly through luck and intuition, was peer feedback. I had decided part way through a double period to break up the session with a bit of feedback. After showing and talking with students about what good quality feedback looks like ('helpful', 'supportive', 'specific'). 

I asked them to give good quality feedback to two other students using a post it note. They left work they needed feedback on, and gave them two post-its with the instructions to share the love around the whole class, not just the art works they were most wowed by. The students really got it, and interestingly it was the boys that took their time to think about what the other person needed to hear and how to frame that in a helpful and supportive way e.g. 'I like the details in this drawing, but I would like to know where the light is coming from'. I think this was a hit for a number of reasons. I was not asking for a lot of writing. It was for a purpose. And I was not asking for feedback out loud (which I had tried previously with little success) which was important because our West Coast students can get a bit whakama about standing out. 

It was so lovely to see the students really treasuring the feedback that they were given and carefully placing their feedback notes in to their art books.

Interestingly it has been the students who have asked to repeat this exercise. I had a gorgeous moment today where one of my boys asked if we could do the 'feedback on our drawings thing' as he had some work that he was really proud of. 💗

This is definitely something that I want to build on next year, how I can develop self and peer reflective capabilities. When I reflect on where I started, I have definitely seen an increase in engagement and ownership. Students are happily documenting their work, and putting it out their in a supportive environment for others input. It really feels like a learning culture is starting to develop and that ako - the learning from and teaching each other is being embodied in small ways.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

NCEA review

It is sounding like the review of NCEA might result in more generalised programmes of learning. e.g. A many-faceted learning area like social sciences, which currently consists of the likes of history, geography, etcetera, would become social science. 

While this fills me with a lot of stress in terms of writing entirely new art programmes, I am also heartened. 

This opens up opportunities in terms of place-based learning and dealing with wicked problems through a knowledge building lens. It also makes a lot of sense in terms of aligning with arts pathways, with most art schools in New Zealand taking a multi-disciplinary approach and many contemporary artists working across the traditional art disciplines.

While there is still much to be worked out, I am excited about the implications for broadening learning opportunities for our rangatahi.