An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Buncrana, County Donegal
Roll number: 71140Q
Date of inspection: 28 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Crana College, carried out as part of a whole-school evaluation. 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 art department at Crana College is very well established and is operated by two specialist art teachers. It was reported by senior management that the art department is very dedicated to ensuring that Art plays a positive and vibrant role in the school as a whole. The department’s active support for the general activities of the school is testimony to this. Also, in Crana College myriad excellent art works are displayed around the building. Such displays are most effective in making Art become part of the educational experience of all learners. These student-generated art works are of varying scale, mediums and subject matter. They are very well presented and are a superb way of enhancing the school’s built environment.
Commendably, teachers from the art department support students with their art work outside of timetabled class time. This support is generally given to students who need particular help with certain aspects of Art and to other students who are preparing portfolios for third level. To keep the department informed on current issues, trends and resources, members of the art department are members of the Art Teachers’ Association of Ireland. Teachers are regularly involved in workshops and other art-related programmes and they engage in their own personal art work; these activities enhance their teaching of Art and help to keep it fresh and motivating for students. A volunteer is appointed to co-ordinate the subject and it is reported that collaboration between department members is regular and fruitful. Commendably, collaboration takes place with other departments in the school to benefit teaching and learning in a variety of disciplines and topics in Art.
Wide-ranging extracurricular and co-curricular activities are undertaken by the art department to augment the work in the classroom. To date, these have included designing bins for the local ‘Tidy Towns’ committee, entering art competitions and designing Christmas cards and a logo for the local GAA club, and mural painting in the college. The department has provided students with opportunities to access animation and digital and media workshops, and to design and exhibit their work in Junior Certificate exhibitions. Students are also brought to heritage sites, such as Newgrange, and to galleries and museums. Teachers prepare specially tailored worksheets for students on these outings so as to optimise the learning potential of the experiences. This is very good work.
Whole-school support for Art is good. This is evidenced in the timetabled provision for Art and the financial support for the subject. The co-ordinator of Art generally orders materials once per year, aside from examination materials which are ordered when needed. It is reported that this system is satisfactory.
All of the class groups for Art are mixed ability. A taster programme, which generally lasts for two months, is provided for first-year students, giving them a chance to experience subjects at first hand. This helps students to make informed subject choice decisions. However, the number of girls studying Art is higher than the number of boys in both junior and senior cycle. It is suggested that this imbalance be monitored and that the taster programme be reviewed to ensure that it fully portrays the subject as an appealing option for boys.
There is one art room in the school but, due to the large numbers of students taking the subject, another room is used when necessary. The school is commended for providing the subject for the maximum number of students who desire to study it and also for creating the necessary space. However, the second room being used is some distance away from the art room and this necessitates much carrying of art materials and students’ work, a factor which gives rise to logistical problems. These, combined with the fact that the room is unsuitable for a lot of general art activities, have potential to impact negatively on the quality of students’ educational experiences in Art. To improve the situation, it is recommended that the timetable be examined to find an alternative room nearer the art room. In this way, organisational difficulties could be reduced and a wider range of art education activities could be conducted. It is further recommended that the school should explore ways in which a greater number of art lessons can be conducted in the art room.
The art room is a big, bright, room with ample natural light. The room is well decorated and the collections of students’ work, exemplars, important images and interesting objects make the room a most interesting visual space. A large, beautiful, mural behind the teacher’s desk provides a focal point for the room. As part of the provision for Art, the art room has a lockable store room, storage units and a kiln as well as other items. The kiln is situated in the corner of the classroom near a window and does not have a canopy or a fume extraction system. To avoid the gathering of fumes and hot air in the classroom, it is recommended that the kiln be fired only when students are not present.
Commendably, an Apple Mackintosh computer with internet links, a laptop computer and a digital projector is situated in the art room. These are used by teachers for research and also for the production of lesson materials using PowerPoint. This good practice is commended. Senior management stated that an objective of the school is to increase the level of information and communication technology (ICT) use in classrooms. It is suggested that ICT developments in the school should prioritise the development of the art department’s expertise and motivation in the use of ICT for teaching. It is also suggested that, as the department develops in the future, students’ practical work should be recorded and stored using ICT so that it can then be available as exemplar material during practical lessons.
Planning documentation was available on the day of the evaluation which outlined the policies and procedures which govern the art department. Commendably, the art department has its own mission statement which aims to ‘develop the sensual, mental, emotional, and creative life of the student’. From the evidence gathered on the day of the evaluation this mission statement was lived out in the activities of the art room. This plan clearly outlines the operations of the art department and the responsibilities of members. This is very good work.
A good number of craft topics are planned for in the art department including calligraphy, fabric/stencil printing, clay modelling/pottery, puppet-making and lino printing. Curricular planning for lessons displays a good understanding of students’ developmental stages and of the particular needs of students at each stage. The work planned for first-year students is particularly noteworthy as it makes clear the department’s approach of encouraging students to enjoy and have a sense of pride in their work and it includes an introduction to art history and the modern art movements.
The completed students’ work examined as part of the evaluation shows that there is a high level of teacher planning activity taking place. In order to orchestrate this high level of work teachers are using a planning system which is focussed and specific. However, the written plans available did not reflect this level of activity. It is therefore recommended that the existing curricular plans be developed further to itemise the types of skills being addressed and the learning outcomes expected. It is further recommended that assessment should be focussed and planned for in detail as part of the process of planning for lessons and schemes of work. This style of planning is very useful for all involved in the teaching of Art and it can be particularly useful in the event of a new teacher taking over a class group. Special attention should be paid to specifying the time frames involved in projects so as to avoid projects which are too long for students. Where projects have run over-time, a series of short-term focussed projects with quick outcomes should be provided for students to rebalance their motivation.
Two lessons were observed during the evaluation, one from junior and one from senior cycle. Although very different in terms of their objectives, both lessons were very well planned for, structurally sound and logical. The atmosphere in both classes was good as students were enjoying their work and engaged in the given tasks. Also, respect was expected from, and given to, all parties. Discussions with students found them to be confident and proud of their work. One of the lessons involved a lot of movement around the room and required a good deal of self-discipline on the part of the students. It was obvious from the good behaviour observed that they were familiar with this level of responsibility.
Planning for individual lessons was good. In both cases, beautiful visual aids were used to very good effect to inspire and enthuse students. The lessons were targeted appropriately and specifically tailored to the particular needs of the class groups. In both lessons the learning objectives were shared with students at the outset and an expectation of progress was created. In one of the lessons, team-teaching took place where another teacher with specific skills was introduced to help students with the dramatic characterisation of puppets they were making. This excellent work helped students to understand fully how a puppet can be made and then used to create a character within a performance. A full-sized ‘puppet theatre’ in the classroom enabled students to practise their skills and to watch others thus allowing them to really enjoy their work whilst learning.
A lesson showing students how to interpret a brief for a craft piece was skilfully addressed by using visual aids to show students how to develop visual and contextual research. The visual aids used included brainstorming notes, visual notes, collected images, studies in monochrome and colour and a collection of developed solutions as well as plans for the final piece. This was all the more impressive as the teacher involved had identified students’ pre-occupation with producing a finished piece to the possible detriment of the initial and essential research work. The teacher addressed this effectively and unobtrusively.
Student attendance is checked in each lesson and a record is kept by the teachers. All students’ work in the art department is assessed whilst work is in progress; this encourages the learners to evaluate their own work on a regular basis and to reflect on how it can be improved.
The art department at Crana College has its own detailed homework policy. This policy outlines for each year group the frequency and recommended time per task for topics. Detailed plans are in place to specify how homework and school work are assessed and recorded. This is very good work. To further develop this good work, it is recommended that the frequency of assessment should be increased so as to enable the creation of more comprehensive student profiles. In addition, assessment for learning principles should be employed on a regular basis to further focus the students as masters of their own progress.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The art department is very well established and it makes a very valuable contribution to the whole school community.
· A comprehensive array of co-curricular and extracurricular activities that relate to Art is provided for students.
· A very useful and detailed set of plans for Art was presented.
· The lessons observed were structurally sound, targeted appropriately and logically presented.
· Students’ behaviour was good in the lessons observed.
· Relevant, beautiful and inspiring visual aids were used to support teaching and learning.
· Students’ completed work was well presented and of a high standard.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Efforts should be made to find an alternative room nearer the art room for art lessons and the timetable should be explored to find ways in which a greater number of the art lessons can be conducted in the art
· The kiln should be fired only when students are not present.
· The existing curricular plans should be developed further to itemise the types of skills and expected learning outcomes being taught. Assessment should be planned for in more detail as part of this process.
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.
Published November 2008