Written by Judith Briggs, Associate Professor in the School of Art at Illinois State University
I received SoTL travel funds from the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL to present a best practice lecture at the National Art Education Association Convention that was held in Chicago, Illinois in March 2016 in conjunction Karen Profilio, Head Visual Arts Teacher, North Sydney Girls High School (NSGHS), Sydney, Australia, and Sarah Schmidt an Illinois State University (ISU) art teacher alumnus who participated in in the 2015 ISU Art Education in Australia summer course that I taught. This presentation is summarized below.
Students’ Out-of-Class Learning Opportunities
Within this course ISU art teacher candidates (TCs) visited the visual arts departments of nine New South Wales (NSW) secondary schools, attended a Visual Arts and Design Educators Association workshop that focused on educating students about Aboriginal art, attended a graduate visual arts education class at the University of NSW, visited galleries and places of interest, and reflected on the effective manner in which NSW visual arts educators incorporated art historical and critical study and contemporary artists’ practice into their art classrooms. NSW visual arts educators demonstrated techniques for analyzing and asking in-depth questions about artwork, writing informed reflections, and developing guided student inquiry within art production. They shared curriculum and teaching practices. Profilio tutored the ISU TCs in recognizing big ideas within contemporary artwork and in seeing art as a transformative medium that can address social issues. ISU TCs watched North Sydney girls in action within lectures, digital media performances, and artwork critiques. TCs viewed student work and student visual arts process diaries. Profilio suggested ways that U.S. art educators could work collaboratively to explore new art forms, such as installation and relational aesthetics.
Within the conference lecture Profilio detailed a Year 7 unit “The Artic Pops!” that asked the overarching question, “Is art transformative?” to highlight the qualities of resilience, connection, and innovation, which shape aware, effective global citizens. The ISU TCs saw all elements of this unit in progress when they visited North Sydney Girls School in 2015, and came to understand that a unit of lesson plans should have depth, discuss the meaning behind artists’ work, connect this meaning to the world, include writing and reflection, and enable a class to work collaboratively to develop ideas. Profilio shared unit materials with the ISU TCs, and TCs recorded their observations in visual process diaries and through photographs.
When TCS returned to ISU, they reflected on their experiences and collaboratively developed the following observations concerning the NSGHS approach to visual arts education:
- The NSGHS visual arts teachers collaborate to create rich, multi-layered units, especially for older students.
- At NSGHS there is an emphasis on the transformative nature of art and on its ability to speak to wider social and cultural concerns outside of the art classroom.
- At NSGHS there is an emphasis on student research and on an understanding of the concerns that drive the artists whom the students are studying.
- At NSGHS there is a push to move outside of the classroom and into the wider world through the study of diverse artistic practices, such as installation art and relational aesthetics.
- At NSGHS there is a focus on student empowerment, especially concerning girls.
- The NSGHS visual arts educators use innovative artistic practices, such as time-based work, that are inspired by contemporary artists’ practices.
My students and I concluded that the NSGHS visual arts educators and students practiced arts-based research (Marshall & D’Adamo, 2011; Rolling, 2011) that stressed the creative process, rigor, concept, research, and technical skills. This research has student autonomy as its goal and encourages interdisciplinary thinking and making connections across disciplines. Arts-based research encourages critical thinking while engendering a range of experiences, and it depends upon visual arts teachers, who act as guides, to channel students’ interests.
Operationalizing Students’ Reflections
I incorporated the following ideas from student reflections of their NSGHS experience into the curriculum of the ISU art education methods courses that I taught the subsequent semester:
- I changed the curriculum from being theme-based to one that stressed the big idea.
- I stressed that TCs could convey the message that art can be empowering and transformative.
- My curriculum stressed that investigating artists and artwork was a way to interpret and to understand contemporary society.
- I emphasized that artistic practice was an intellectual practice that taught students to think.
- The curriculum drew attention to the fact that TCs and their students could be both artists and researchers, and emphasized researching artists and their practice to ask critical questions for higher-level understanding.
These changes to my approach to this class led to a curriculum development project for students emphasizing research-based approaches to pedagogy. ISU TCs, consequently, created art education curriculum units that:
- encouraged transformative thought by questioning racial stereotypes, using the artwork of Kara Walker and Kehinde Wiley as examples
- used a NSGHS unit of study to explore the painting of artist Marlene Dumas, who questioned societal notions of race and appearance
- engaged students with the community via message boards, post-it notes, sidewalk chalking, and house painting and led her students out of the art classroom in the process, following the work of Candy Chang
- focused on girls’ and women’s empowerment and taught a unit based on the work of artist Verimus who altered public magazine advertisements of models to question the media ideal of perfection
- featured the work of artist Nina Katchadourian and helped students decode artifacts for their cultural resonance.
All ISU TCs created curriculum, using constructs from the NSW Visual Arts Syllabi, the Frames and the Conceptual Framework, along with the U.S. National Visual Arts Standards that promote creating, presenting, responding and connecting, to guide question creation and investigation of artists’ practice.
Overall, the conference lecture emphasized that global teaching and learning connections could be forged over continents to broaden teaching and learning possibilities. NSW visual arts educators’ practices informed those of ISU and helped to broaden teaching practices through reflection, integration of in- and out-of-classroom learning, and collaboration.
Board of Studies NSW. (2013). Visual arts stage 6 syllabus. Retrieved from http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/syllabus_hsc/visual-arts.html
Marshall, J., & D’Adamo. (2011). Art practice as research in the classroom: A new paradigm in art education. Art Education, 64(5), 12-18.
National Art Education Association. 2016. Convention resources. Retrieved from https://www.arteducators.org/learn-tools/convention-resources
North Sydney Girls High School. (2015). Year 7: The artic pops!
Rolling, J. (2011). Art education as a network for curriculum innovation and adaptable learning. (National Art Education Association Advocacy White Paper for Art Eduation). Retrieved from National Art Education Association website: http://www.arteducators.org/advocacy/whitepapers