An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Portarlington, Co. Laois.
Roll No. 68068R
Date of inspection: 11 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Íosagáin, Portarlington, Co. Laois. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Art and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The art department is valued by management for its contribution to the life of the school, and to the education of its students. There is one permanent members of staff assigned to the art department, and one RPT teacher. The art department staff work closely together and there is good co-operation between them. Art is a popular subject choice and classes are relatively large. There is a high degree of professionalism and a working atmosphere of enthusiasm and commitment in the department. Art is affirmed by management for the educational opportunities it offers to students, as well as for the good examination results that have been achieved.
Facilities for the subject are good. The art rooms are spacious and well furnished, with storerooms attached, and there are pottery kilns in situ. ICT equipment for teaching and learning is very good in the main art classroom and it is understood that, as resources become available, the situation will eventually be similar in the second. There is a high standard of order and method in the organisation and maintenance of the art rooms.
An annual subject budget is available to the art department. On the day of the inspection there was evidence that a range of materials and tools is available to facilitate students’ learning, and these are very well managed. Timetabled access to the subject is satisfactory and students’ needs are well supported by the provision of a range of educational programmes.
It is recommended that the excellent learning conditions that exist in the art department be further developed in a number of ways. Crafts not at present practised should be introduced to allow students added choice, both for personal artistic development and SEC examination candidature. The present crafts should be reviewed in order that further development might be planned for them in terms of resources. ICT, as a learning and teaching facility, should be further integrated into the day to day work of the art department. In order that the cultural and aesthetic aspects of the subject are more easily and completely delivered, it is recommended that an additional small, dedicated budget be assigned to the art department to build up pictorial resources for display in the art-rooms.
Planning for the specific classes observed was good, and documentation is clear and concise. There is a good, well thought-out plan for the Identity module for the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), with strong, educationally valuable experiences inherent in it. The planning for Leaving Certificate is well done and meets the needs of the students on the programme. In the other art and design planning seen aims, objectives, and methodology are included.
A year plan was available for inspection. It gave a clear overview of what students had been doing during the current academic year. It is recommended that the learning aims and objectives for students of high motivation and aptitude be included in the planning in future, as well as those for students with low motivation and aptitude, so that the differing learning needs of these groups can be catered for in a differentiated way, as far as possible.
Preparation is always important in a practical subject, and on the day of the inspection there was a well-managed supply of the materials necessary for the learning activities to be undertaken during the classes. Impressively, the planning documentation had been computerised and palmtops were in use for this.
Much good practice was seen in the art department, which has two large classrooms and a storeroom at its disposal. One of these rooms is the LCA room, which has been customised for the learning needs of this group, and it has facilities for art, metalwork and woodwork. There was a good learning atmosphere in the art department and the students were well managed. They were engaged in their classroom assignments, contributed openly to discussion and were attentive and co-operative. There were clear ground rules for all aspects of students’ roles in the art department. The interaction between teachers and students was enthusiastic and positive. There was a good spread of participation by students in their contributions to the discussion and in giving feedback about the learning and activity in which they were engaged.
Very good teaching and learning in decorative /sculpture jewellery was observed in LCA. Design and construction of jewellery pieces were covered in this class. Students were given an image-rich presentation which featured examples of contemporary jewellery design in a wide variety of materials and relying on varied techniques for their visual characteristics. It was valuably pointed out to students that these designers/makers of jewellery were using similar materials and techniques to those they were themselves using in class. Students had chosen from a vide range of materials: these individual choices were then supported by a presentation of examples from the internet in the same or approximate materials. Because the range of materials was varied, so too were the craft techniques required to manipulate and use them. Very good demonstrations of techniques were given to small groups of students who shared an interest in the same family of materials.
There was an emphasis in the jewellery design class on exploiting the visual qualities and physical characteristics of certain types of materials, and this was a correctly pitched strategy for the students involved and a very good approach to delivering the class. Explanations of the design and craft processes involved were excellent and students were engaged by this, and by all other aspects of the introduction and demonstrations. Language and delivery were clear, and the approach was to make it as interesting and motivational as possible for students. There was a very professional approach to all aspects of the delivery of the learning activity; everything proceeded seamlessly from demonstration and execution by students of the day’s task to a very affirmative and encouraging conclusion at the end. There are not inconsiderable challenges in having all the students doing different crafts and tasks all at the same time, but the situation was managed very well. There was good communication between students and teacher; this and a sense of mutual respect made for a very good learning environment.
The task in jewellery design and construction was a progression from what students had done previously, and the next batch of lessons were planned to lead from it. This is good structuring of students’ classroom assignments. During the jewellery class LCA students worked with confidence at their tasks. High levels of engagement and concentration were evident and students derived benefit from the instruction given.
The hands-on approach to teaching design and technical skills was excellently supported by back-up research, which gave the students a directional lead, and also provided stimulating general information about the genre of non-functioning jewellery in contemporary crafts. The techniques they were shown in the manipulation of materials were both appropriate to their manual dexterity and empowering in that these, without too much difficulty, allowed students to make significant progress on their personal project.
The LCA classroom environment also supported visual arts learning. Work from previous assignments was on display, along with very useful charts that supported study of the Arts Elements. It is recommended that, in both rooms in use by the art department, more reproductions of art, design and architecture should be hung , and regularly changed, in order that the wider visual art and design appreciation of all students is carried forward simultaneously with their practical art learning experiences. To strengthen the cultural experiences of the LCA class by following practical tasks with visual materials about art, design and architecture would enhance the already good learning opportunities provided for LCA.
It is recommended that from the start of first year and throughout all the years that follow a programme be planned that presents the duality of the subject, that is of ‘making’ art and design artefacts on one hand, and of ‘receiving’ art and design, through the development of appreciation skills, on the other. This is not to say that the receiving art and design aspect is absent at present. On the day of the inspection it was apparent that the history of art and design is referred to and used in the teaching and learning of the practical course components. It is recommended that this practice is extended to be more comprehensive and more widely integrated. This can be supported by planning for the use of the largest possible variety of art, design and architectural imagery, and by ensuring that resources are in place to provide materials such as books, periodicals and reproductions of artefacts for frequently changed and rotated display on the classroom walls. There are impressive possibilities for the use of ICT for the delivery of materials in one of the classrooms, and this facility should be further integrated in to the delivery of the appreciation of art and design into all courses and programmes.
In the main art room there was a range of student artwork displayed which revealed that a very educationally good breadth and balance of media, techniques and themes were being developed in 2D and 3D artwork. These were well mounted and displayed. Of particular note were repeat patterns where design and technique were very good. There were also good displays of life-drawing. Serigraphy, weaving and batik were also represented, and the creative use of these, as well as the grasp of the techniques students had attained, was impressive.
An example of monoprint was also seen. The use of this is commendable, because, as a hybrid of drawing and printmaking techniques, it represents an opportunity for the creative use of these disciplines. The life drawings seen on the day of the inspection indicated that good didactic approaches to this art, which can be challenging for some students, were in place.
There were some good examples of 3D work on view, and it was impressive that in certain exercises the use of colour in sculpture had been explored. It is recommended that the good work being done in this area be extended to include the making, from life, of small maquettes in pottery clay and /or plasticine based on the human figure as part of students’ training in life drawing, in order to help them to depict the 3D form on the 2D drawing surface.
Good vocabulary was used throughout the classes. It is recommended that charts of art- and design-specific words are made up on an ongoing basis, being constantly added to as the work of the day requires usage of new words and terminology, displayed in the classroom and frequently referred to in order to help students learn these words and concepts. This method of constant referral to concepts and terminology is also recommended for the history and appreciation of art course component of the leaving certificate programme.
In general it is recommended that the use of secondary sources is kept to a minimum and that primary sources are used by students, especially those of high aptitude and motivation, as a basis for generating imagery and ideas.
The Arts Council offer outreach programmes, and these should be explored to see if any of the initiatives they promote could be dovetailed into the school programme. Similarly the Laois County Council Arts Office service should be targeted to provide an input of some sort.
A combination of assessment procedures is in use in the art department including continuous assessment based on classwork and invigilated examinations. There are written examinations for the history and appreciation of art component of the leaving certificate programme. Students show good levels of achievement in the state examinations. A strong consciousness of SEC assessment criteria, and of the associated practical requirements, informs the work of the art department. There are systematic records of students’ during-term, end-of-term, and end-of-year assessment/examination results. End of term and end of year results are communicated to parents and guardians. Regular parent–teacher meetings are held and the art department provides discussion, feedback and advice at these meetings.
Also observed was a most impressive self-assessment session by students of their own work. They were also given information about upcoming tests and were thoroughly briefed about what would be expected of them in that assessment situation. This is very good practice. The feedback given to students on their work in progress in all the classes visited was very effective as assessment for learning. It might be helpful for the art department to look at more assessment for learning strategies on the NCCA website, email@example.com in an effort to extend their good practice in this important teaching tool.
It is recommended that the aims and objectives for learning become the basis for assessment criteria. It would be valuable to include these in the planning documentation. Criteria for the attainment levels expected should be more fully outlined, particularly in the case of students of high aptitude and motivation and for their less artistically effective peers, as well as for individuals with special learning needs.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of art and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.