No more boring art analysis

 “… individuals are intrigued or even inspired by different topics or issues, and that curiosity and inspiration are powerful catalysts for learning.” (Carol Ann Tomlinson – Differentiation in the Classroom).

Tomlinson’s statement resonates deeply for me as a teacher of Visual Art, because Art as a subject attracts a broad range of students with various learning styles and abilities. However, most chose the subject to make art, with the theory component often being viewed as difficult or of low personal interest or value.

Therefore, why do we have to do it?

Understanding art gives perspective and highlights the important role the artist plays in helping us to understand the world and our place in it. Artists are our story-tellers and the what, how and why of art can provide insight to students for them to create a framework for reflection on the world around them, as well as make informed decisions about their own art making. While a student’s ‘curiosity and inspiration’ to want to know more should exist, contemplative analysis for many is not easy or intuitive, it not only requires concentration but sustained effort and practice which can dampen enthusiasm and confidence.

In thinking about this dilemma, I was faced with two issues. How to make Art theory more inspiring and how to make it more accessible. The first part of Tomlinson’ quote reads:

If we elect to use what we know about learning, and, in fact, about ourselves, as we craft classrooms, we acknowledge that students learn in varied ways – some by hearing, others by doing, some alone, others in the company of peers, some in a rapid-fire fashion, others reflectively.”

With that in mind, I am implementing a differentiated approach to art theory with my current Year 9 Art and Design students, creating a learning scaffold with levels of progression that I hope will lead to broader understanding, enjoyment and proficiency in the analysis of artworks. The scaffold creates an effective measurement for me to develop directed learning strategies for students and allows students ownership and control of their learning at their own pace. This in turn should harvest further development of self-efficacy and self-confidence which can have positive implications across other disciplines and beyond the classroom.

Scaffold levels for measuring student proficiency:

5. Students can objectively evaluate the impact of the work.

4. Students can explain what the artist was trying to do.

3. Students can discuss the arrangement and use of Elements and Principles.

2. Students can identify the Elements and Principles in an artwork.

1. Students can look at an artwork and describe it. What are they actually looking at?

The differentiation model should also help enhance the already safe, inclusive classroom environment that exists for art making by encouraging open, freewheeling dialogue and discussion around meaning and interpretation amongst the entire class and not just the few more confident or articulate students. This can be supported by teaching practices adapted to activate ‘prior knowledge’, ask ‘higher level’ questions and use ‘cold calling’ techniques that produce deeper levels of learning without the risk of alienation.

Ongoing assessment to evaluate the impact will be vital for measuring the individual growth of student ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’. Personally, the best outcome will be when any student, despite exam results, demonstrates control of their own learning and successfully articulates and applies that to the actual ‘doing’ process of their art making.

Nothing boring about that!

Ms Kimberley Mannix

Art Teacher


Evidence Based Practice and Evaluating Impact. St Catherine’s PLT. 2017

Kristy Forrest for helping me realise and create a workable scaffold. Thanks KFo

John Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers

Carol Ann Tomlinson, Differentiation in the Classroom

Patrick Griffin, University of Melbourne

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