An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Mountmellick Community School
Mountmellick, County Laois
Roll number: 91426A
Date of inspection: 27 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mountmellick Community School. 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.
There is one full-time art teacher assigned to the art department, and also a teacher from another discipline who teaches Art to two of the class groups in first year.
The art classroom is well lit, laid out and has an adjoining storage room. Very good kiln equipment is available in the art department. The subject is adequately funded to support a range of art and design activities, and some improvements have been made to the art room since the last subject inspection of Art some years ago.
The timetable adequately supports learning and attainment. There is good access to the subject, and students are also able to take up art and design ab initio for Leaving Certificate.
One of the teachers teaching Art to first-year classes is from another teaching discipline. The head of the art department plans the course content with this teacher, helps to monitor the progress of the students, and works out the details of the assessment and examination of the subject. This collaborative approach helps to ensure the comparability of learning experiences across all four first-year classes. Team teaching occurs in two of the first-year classes and this is commended.
Planning documentation was viewed on the day of the inspection and time, topics and media were all integrated into this for the different year groups.
Skills building in both the perceptual and technical aspects of art and design should be more strongly emphasised through the inclusion of aims and objectives for this in the planning documents.
From the very beginning of first year a variety of tools and media for drawing should be fully integrated into the students’ assignments, and planning for the next academic year should include this aspect of course delivery as a priority.
Although differentiation is part of informal classroom practice, it would be given even greater practical emphasis if it were included in the planning process. In planning for the delivery of art and design there is also a need to develop strategies to cater for students’ different learning needs. Planning should take into account students who have a real interest and aptitude for Art and are strongly motivated to achieve well in this subject area. It must also take into account those who have less motivation or the skills to meet the most basic requirements of the subject. Therefore, in planning provision for art and design minimum attainment levels for learning outcomes should be defined as clearly as possible for each year group. In addition, individual classes and extra expected outcomes for students with higher motivation and artistic aptitudes should also be included. It is also recommended that more should use be made of information and communication technology (ICT) to provide access for students to art and design, architectural imagery and to visual culture generally.
On the day of the inspection second-year students were working on very large oil-crayon compositions. They had achieved a good deal in terms of both technical and artistic skills. They were clearly motivated and engaged. As it was very evident that students had made such a success of a challenging task, this proved that when given the right opportunities and support, students will become engaged and will develop well artistically. This is the central premise of the art courses and programmes on offer in post-primary schools. The development of artistic skills and of bringing visual ideas to life and encouraging individual expressiveness through art and design practices and processes should be the foundation of all teaching, planning, preparation and assessment of art.
The reduction of the dependence on secondary sources in both junior and senior cycle is also necessary particularly where students have high levels of motivation and/or aptitude. There should be an increased and enlarged emphasis in teaching and learning on drawing from observation. The reduction of the use of secondary sources should be an immediate priority now, and the systematic development of skills of direct observation is one approach towards achieving this necessary shift.
In teaching and learning the principle that students can be brought to a well-developed examination readiness by focusing teaching on the development of creativity and expression needs to be embedded more strongly into current practice. An emphasis too early in the art courses on the state examinations, and the adoption of narrow strategies to prepare for these does not favour optimal creative development of all students, particularly those with good aptitudes and high motivation. To get students fully engaged with the true nature of art and design, it is necessary to place greater emphasis on supporting the development of their individual technical, creative and perceptual skills which they can then bring to the examination centre at the end of their courses with genuine competence and confidence.
In general, students need to be empowered to move away from the use of pencil as their habitual drawing medium and to develop familiarity, skills and competence with a wide range of other drawing media and tools. From the very beginning of first year a variety of tools and media for drawing should be fully integrated into the student’ assignments including charcoal, pastel, oil crayon, pen-and-ink, brush-and-wash and felt-tip markers. Some of these media are being used at present, but need to be more established as the norm in drawing exercises and assignments in all classes and year groups. It is recommended that a wide variety of drawing media are emphasised in the teaching and learning of drawing.
Much good work is being done with first years, and they were fully engaged by their classroom assignment on the day of the inspection. First years would benefit from the outset of their course by having the appreciation of art, design and architecture intertwined with their practical studies. This provides a strong foundation for expressive and artistic responses throughout the five years of the second level curriculum. In the main art room, there were lots of reproductions of artefacts from art history displayed. This is good practice and should be continued and extended in the next school year.
The school has good pottery kilns and ancillary equipment and it is strongly recommended that these should be brought into full and constant use for the educational benefit of all students who study art. Authentic pottery clay is a much more expressive medium for learning in three dimensions (3D) than the clay-based branded modelling product currently in use in the art department, and with which most students made their junior certificate examination clay piece. Modelling and construction of pieces with genuine clay is less challenging technically and its use empowers the development of 3D skills. Firing and glazing artefacts should be a focus of work in the art department in the coming academic year.
Continuous assessment based on class work and formal examinations are the main assessment modes in use in the art department. There are written examinations in the history and appreciation of art component of the leaving certificate programme. There are good levels of achievement in the state examinations.
There is good systematic recording of students’ outcomes during term, end-of-term and end-of- year assessment/examination results. Results of these examinations are communicated to parents and guardians. Regular parent–teacher meetings are held and the art department provides discussion, feedback and advice for parents.
Feedback is given to students as part of the assessment process. There were useful and helpful comments written on the students’ mock examination sheets. This provision of feedback is an example of good practice. In addition to this, it is recommended that a breakdown of marks should be given in reference with the Leaving Certificate marking scheme which should also be included in the post mock examination feedback. This information about Leaving Certificate marking schemes is available on the State Examinations Commission’s (SEC) website www.examinations.ie. In general, it is recommended that students should be made fully aware of the assessment criteria that are being applied to their work. It is also recommended that the Assessment for Learning section of the National Centre for Curricular Assessment (NCCA) website www.ncca.ie should be accessed for information about how individuals’ learning can be enhanced through the assessment process.
It is suggested that some form of self assessment by students of their own work, perhaps in the form of a questionnaire should be developed and put into widespread use from first year onwards. This would assist students to focus on the areas of their work and skills that require attention and improvement, and they would thus be enabled to engage in a fuller way with learning. Self-assessment strategies should form a bridge between the delivery of courses by teachers and students’ learning outcomes.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· A good learning atmosphere prevails in the art department and students are given a lot of encouragement and support. Students are working well towards their Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations.
· There are good facilities available to the art department and students have access to a wide range of materials and media.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the use of ICT should be developed for the delivery of the history and appreciation of Art in senior cycle, and for support studies at junior cycle from first year.
· It is recommended that a wide variety of drawing media should be emphasised in the teaching and learning of drawing. Planning to ensure that these media are embedded in students’ artistic practices should be undertaken for the next academic year.
· It is recommended that planning be undertaken to provide differentiated learning aims and objectives for the different levels of motivation and aptitude amongst students studying art and design.
· The school has good pottery kilns and ancillary equipment and it is strongly recommended that these be brought into full and constant use for the educational benefit of all students who study Art.
· It is recommended that Assessment for Learning on the NCCA website should be accessed to facilitate enhancement of individuals’ learning.
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.