Ten tips for improving the quality of your Art & Design teaching by @paulcarney700

It’s very easy to get lost in the frantic world of teaching. You get caught up in the day to day and sometimes you forget what is at the heart of good learning. Here are some suggestions that I feel will help focus your teaching to create more effective students.


This is a re-blog post originally posted by Paul Carney and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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1. There isn’t a mysterious set of art skills that define a pupil’s art ability

  • It’s easy to get caught up in the mistaken idea that pupils come to you with inherant art skills that define their ability in the subject and this in turn shapes your exam results. You only need to take a look at the Turner Prize to see this is wrong.  Creativity takes many forms, there are a wide array of ways into art and you can be a successful artist without having the ability to draw traditionally. The key point to deliver here is that pupils need to understand that art is many different things and that you as the teacher have to provide the means for them to find their own way to make art.
  • The art content that is taught should not be merely a reflection of the teachers tastes and decisions about what should be taught, but be a product of the pupils own tastes, interests and inclinations.
  • Pupils should regularly have the opportunity to make art that is a reflection of their own tastes, interests and preferences with minimal direction from the teacher in terms of content. The teacher might direct the pupil to demonstrate a particular learning objective, but still keep the focus for demonstrating that learning open.

2. There are many different approaches to making art

  • As well as the traditional, teacher-led, observational or the familiar design and make approaches your pupils should understand and become familiar with other approaches such as direct, questioning, cognitive, sensory, imagination led etc. these should be explored fully. Teachers need to learn these themselves, in order to make their lessons more exciting and interesting.
    These aren’t the type of materials your pupils use or even a process such as exploring, but a different way in to making art.

3. Teaching pupils to be able to create original, exciting ideas does not come from direct instruction, it is a cognitive skill that has to be taught

  • You can’t just instruct your students to think of ideas, you have to teach them how! Creative thinking skills can be taught and your teaching should deliver exercises that provide challenge, reward and improve innovation and originality. Ideas can be surface ideas or they can get progressively more complex and you should show pupils how to be increasingly sophisticated to reflect their thoughts. They need to understand different ways to stimulate the grey matter, where and how to find inspiration and how to present it once they have found it.

4. A sketchbook isn’t always a book and you don’t always have to sketch in it

  • Sketchbooks can and should take many forms and be presented in personal ways that might be built out of the advice of best practice as illustrated by the teacher, but they should not forced upon the pupils. A sketchbook might be traditional and strategies to improve presentation might be taught but again; possibilities should be offered not dictated. A sketchbook may be also be more of a journal; part written, part drawing. It might be a digital folder in a piece of software that can capture ideas, thoughts, pictures and drawings on a smart phone such as Evernote or One note. A photographer might use an app such as Instagram or Flickr. Another method may simply be to present rough investigations and sketches on a sheet or in a decorative folder. The key is to allow pupils to offer pupils possibilities to explore and find the most suitable method for them, then show them ways to present these as successfully as they can.

5. Artistic influences should be the pupils’ not the teachers

  • Don’t even get me started about teachers controlling art outcomes with THEIR influences and direction. It angers me so much that their pupils whole art experience is controlled by what they deem to be ‘good art.’
    Pupils should build a visual scrapbook of their own artistic influences and sources that are shaped by their personal interests not merely reflect sources that the teacher has deemed to be inspirational. The teacher might provide places for pupils to look; Colossal, Pinterest etc. as a way of supporting, but there should be minimal influence from a teacher. If the pupil fills a book full of Hello Kitty images then so be it! The teacher might use this interest to develop deeper appreciation of more sophisticated and relevant sources (such as Takahaski Murakami) but the skill is in building on pupils own interests and offering possibilities, not forcing ideas onto people.

6. Use artistic sources for real learning not for surface decoration, book and page filling or for objective meeting

  • Pupils should learn how to select from the work of other artists in ways that are appropriate to their intentions. It is pointless to simply ask pupils to research artists without there being a focus for the investigation. If this is simply; ‘find artists who have worked on a theme’ then the responses will be merely surface responses. The focus should be more insightful and related to a technique or process that is being learned that in turn, improves the pupil’s own skills. It could be an investigation of the interpretation of an idea, exploring different ways in which artists have executed the same thing, looking at the messages and meanings behind what they’ve done.
  • Pupils should become familiar with reading and using subliminal, hidden and symbolic meanings in art, in much the same way as they learn about metaphor, simile, analogy and allegory in English.

7. Good researching skills need to be taught, they don’t come naturally to pupils

  • When researching, pupils should learn how to find and locate information on the internet, in libraries and in books. Most will learn some of these skills in other subject areas, but it should be reinforced and built upon in art so that transferability is ensured. Besides, you want to ensure that pupils can identify the credibility of the pages they are looking at, how to identify the key words and phrases they need to input to identify particular information in a browser. They should know how to find, locate and validate the sources they find, filter for image size, date produced, country and other search tools and how to give credit for the work they have found. They should know how to read text in different ways, to scanning, skimming, extensive etc. how to locate and identify only what is relevant to them then discard the rest, recognise, validate and give suitable credit to the original writer. They should know how to adapt and reinterpret what they have read and written to show understanding and so that they can reapply new meanings to it.

8. Presentation should be personal interpretation, not a barometer of your expectations by which to measure people

  • When presenting investigations, pupils should understand how to skilfully present information in different ways, not only to present it for personal preference but for suitability to the task or the audience. If you direct the outcomes of presentation to meet your own expectations then you invite failure, because not everyone will be able to meet them. But if you offer a more diverse range of ways in which pupils can present work to suit their own learning style then you invite success.

9. Learning to evaluate is more important than learning to draw

  • Evaluation should be seen as a constant, ongoing process that informs every decision, not just a summary process to record the learning journey. Pupils should learn how artists critique their own work, learn to utilise other’s opinions and use critical opinion as a positive springboard for future directions. Not everyone will learn to draw well but they can and should learn to evaluate because they can apply evaluation skills to their whole life; choosing which dress to buy, how to decorate their room, which girl to date, it’s all evaluation!

10. Assessment should be a positive, happy, classroom learning experience

  • First and foremost, assessment is a process for the benefit of the pupil to help them to improve and to motivate. It should build and develop skills and confidence. It might indicate possible future directions, but it should reward and praise where possible it should make pupils feel good about what they have done and make them want to try again, to keep learning and participating.

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