Sunday, July 13, 2014

Experimenting with Art History Teaching

My school has allowed me to experiment with my teaching this year, which is great, I'm really thankful for this. For one trimester (thirteen weeks), I'm teaching a middle school art history class. Its a small class of six, an absolute luxury. Two year nine students, and four year ten students. We are about halfway through the course now. I've discovered that when I consider the design of a course through the lens of technology, I get a lot more creative and imaginative now. This has happened since my engagement with Knowledge Building Communities theory and pedagogy - this learning has helped me 'integrate' elements suited to 21st century or modern learning practices.

We've decided to learn how to write an art history essay, and to make stop-motion animated art history timeline movies over the thirteen weeks.

Students started selecting art works of their choice and storyboarding ideas for their movies. They asked for plasticine and had a play with that too. I've encouraged them to think about hand-made as well as digitised settings for their movies, and we've seen how simple it can be to make a movies - for example, a white board and marker... while looking at some examples of stop motion animation from the web.

I set up a Weebly site for the class with some starter resources, also with the goal of 'publishing' their essays on it, as well as their movies, once completed. The only challenge is that I don't want to pay for Weebly, which means that students can edit anything on the entire site, so we had a discussion about that, and all is well (though the title of the site keeps changing into random cheerful messages...). Having the website served a number of purposes:

  • An accessible place to access resources anytime, at school, and at home
  • Create authenticity for the work done in class - it will have a public audience
  • I'm working away from school regularly - students can still access me and their work
  • The assessed work will be digital and in one place, accessible for external moderation
Student have almost finished their essays, and the quality of the work is high. Because of lack of computer access, I ended up having to make way too many decisions about our work for the students. I don't like doing this anymore - I want learning centred on students ideas, not my ideas. However, I just need to 'lump it' till the digital environment at school improves.

We looked at the choice and application of media and processes in the work of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. Students had a template to help focus on what information would be needed to structure their work, and we shared reading tasks, feeding back to each other about key ideas, and filling in templates with notes and ideas. This worked really well, and was a compromise I could live with. It turns out that this group has sound literacy skills; they were able to read unfamiliar texts and gleen meaning, doing a great job of targeting their reading to find particular content. They were able to discuss what they learned articulately with each other, and their reading enabled them to generate great questions. I was really impressed, and this raised the question for me about why students can't work at the level they are at, for example, there is a year none student in this group who is clearly capable of completing year 11 work... 

I'm looking forward to a time when schools are able to leverage technology to put students at the centre of the learning process, to truly meet their learning needs, to give them much greater agency, meaningfulness, and authenticity... I can also see that this will make teaching so much more authentic and meaningful for teachers, as well. Its frustrating having to wait for existing 'ways of educating' to shift, but I'm determined to support the process.

I'll reflect on this class again at the end of the trimester, to see where we got to. There are challenges to face yet to make the whole stop-motion animation idea fly... not enough technology to use at this stage, but the students are positive, so I'm sure we'll end up with some interesting movies. Something I've noticed already is that students are forced to 'contextualise' their choice of art works against relevant 'backdrops' in their movies, inviting students to question and research more authentically and responsively.

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