When students discuss work
When art, design or media practitioners talk about sharing ideas, it seems perfectly natural. Yet for students moving into Level 2, Level 3 or even Level 4, the idea of sharing ideas can be completely alien. Some of the students will only ever have had the teacher as their audience. The only feedback they have ever received on work may have been one way – from the teacher. Students might have worked huddled over their sketchbook and the only discussion that they get about their work comes from the teacher suggesting formative ideas and a little summative feedback at the end. No wonder they may be sceptical about the benefits of working in groups or in partnership.
Even students that have had exhibitions and small class critiques can be suspicious about learning from others in the studio. They think that it could be deemed as “copying” and that they will be penalised for it. I have even seen some students on a Level 3 course refuse to emulate a process because they felt that wouldn’t be “their” idea.
Getting students to discuss work
Moving on from this can be difficult. It isn’t enough to just tell students that talking about their work has benefits. They actually have to try it repeatedly. Some students are so unconfident that they don’t like to talk at all, so having a structured approach to sharing and building up little by little can assist these the most.
Frequently, if students can’t see immediate impact then they tend to regard a practice as unfruitful, but this has a real bearing on how to promote sharing, because it isn’t something that can be developed instantly.
Most of all, students find it really difficult to say that they have gone wrong. Some don’t see the creative process as something that requires mistakes. For example, think how many times have you seen a students want to get it “right” first time?
In the long term, being able to communicate verbally with others, whether it is other students, friends, peers, teachers or professionals, is one of the most important factors in maturing of concepts behind work. Realising this can be difficult for students, who tend to focus primarily on production.
Focusing on the outcome
If the teacher wants learners to produce an outcome at the end of a lesson, they are different ways this may be achieved. They could do an introduction and demonstration and then give lots of time for students to explore, giving formative guidance on a 1 to 1 basis until the learners manage to create the outcome. This allows for lots of individual guidance, but can be tricky with large group sizes, yet it is possibly the most common method of teaching used by teachers.
An example of this might be to ask learners to make a tonal study of a still life. The teacher demonstrates different methods of creating tone through mark making such as dots or hatching and then sets the students off to complete their work, giving pointers along the way.
Another method would be to break the exercise up into components. This could be done by considering different approaches that students might take to the final product and asking all students to try each before achieving the outcome. Each task will build on the previous, becoming more advanced as the exercise progresses.
Using trial and error
Take the same tonal exercise as earlier, but this time the teacher breaks it up into more bite-size chunks. Students are asked to produce three rough sketches or thumbnail crops of the still life to get a feel for the kinds of mark making. Each of these uses a slightly different process and are done in quick succession. Only once they have tried all of these processes do they get to embark on a full-scale study.
While the first process may allow for more individuality, it doesn’t guarantee that students have tried a wide variety of approaches, which would allow them to compare and contrast these and make educated personal choices.
Feedback from many teachers suggests that building on smaller tasks in a systematic way ensures a higher level of productivity within the lesson. Even if the outcome isn’t that strong, students will still possess a range of experimental work in their sketchbooks, which contribute to their development of ideas and investigations.
The second approach with smaller tasks also affords learning from mistakes within a short period of time in a more favourable way. However, neither of the approaches gives the students that much opportunity to learn from others as they are all working on the task at the same time. Of course, they can look at others working close to them and see how they are managing with the task, but this can be limited.
Three different approaches to paper manipulation following the bite size idea.
Trial and error with discussion
Take the second bite-size task, but this time divide the class into three groups and ask each group to try different tasks. Once they have completed give them the opportunity to communicate to the rest of the class the pros and cons as well as the difficulties they encountered while doing the task. Then rotate the groups through the tasks, repeating the process until they have finished all of the tasks.
Discussion and time constraints
Of course, each time they have to stop and discuss means lost lesson time, but this is actually outweighed by the increase in quality of the work because of their ability to share learning.
Having clear time constraints on tasks really focuses students’ attention on what they are doing. It is easy for students to spend time within the lesson socialising and produce most of the work within the last portion. There is an online resource with a large stopwatch that will count down or up. The size of the characters really emphasises the need to knuckle down and get the taskdone. The link is: http://www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch/
It is also possible to inject a little competition into proceedings by asking students to improve on the last groups’ achievements. This increases students’ motivation and brings creative innovation within the constraints. Students will learn from others’ mistakes and want to try something slightly different and to generate their own particular version that is personal to them. Being able to see a range of outcomes before starting on their own will enable them to have a springboard for ideas.
At the end of each timed task students have the opportunity to give feedback to the rest of the group. Yet, if they are new to art and design and are less confident then they will need some coaching into using discussion and sharing as a means development. The following are some variants on feedback methods that a rotational lesson could include.
A simple starter for sharing is to give each station related to different tasks a feedback board. Once the students have completed the task within the given time, they use post-its to answer a couple of key questions. The first is about what they found more difficult than expected. The second question was devised in a way to encourage students to think about a time when they have to help others to learn. As such, it asks them to consider their best friend was embarking on learning the same task. If they could give them one bit of advice, what would it be? They then leave these post-its on the board for the next group in the rotation.
A formal method of considering work would be to give students a proforma that has specific questions relating to the task. The group could then complete this as a team and leave it for the next group to learn from (you can find a resource on reflection here: Reflective practice for creative students).
The class could also score the different teams on terms such as the quality of craftsmanship, innovation and completion so that students knew how well they were producing outcomes. Each team would have to discuss the outcomes and score them according to the criteria. These scores would then be discussed in the reflective log at the end of the lesson.
If they were a more confident group then they could simply present their work and discuss with the rest of the class, making note of the kind of evaluative feedback they get.
Feedback board – where students leave comments for the next group to learn from. Students are expected to note these comments down in sketchbooks before embarking on the exercise.