Activities as ways to engage with original works of art

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Wednesday 20 November 2015
Selina Anderson

Experience of teaching Landscapes to Year 5 students

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The motivation for this blog comes from a recent observation that was done as part of our professional development here at the gallery. My manager sets up a camera and films my teaching session, while taking notes about how I ask questions, use content, and scaffold the session. After talking about this in a meeting, I noticed that I have been grappling with a constant tension within working in such a unique environment. Once I had got over the shocking reality of what I look and sound like on camera, I had a mission!

To give some background and context, the purpose of our programmes in the Gallery and the studio is to encourage critical and creative thinking, through engaging with original works of art. We try to cater for different learning styles, and engage students in different ways as much as we can, given we don’t know the students and only have them for one hour. Although lessons inevitably lean towards the oratory and visual learners (the nature of visual arts perhaps), it is important we give space for those who learn more kinesthetically for example. It is also important that all styles of learners, experience learning something in a new way.

So my tension was this: how do I focus on the original artwork in front of me (the whole reason for being in this space) while using activities as a way to make meaning, and interpret this original artwork? The activities are there to support the artwork, not detract from it. The artwork is not there to support the activities. Even as I am writing this my brain is starting to get tied up still! Deep breath.

The way we had written the current Landscapes programme gave space for multiple embodied learning opportunities (a current focus within our Educator team because of a past enquiry by a colleague). There are touch boards, sketch activities, standing up and pretending to ‘make’ the artwork…however, why was I doing these activities? Was it to fill in time? Was it to give children a chance to move for the sake of moving? What they were not doing was encouraging close looking – but the activities were not the problem, it was how I was (or wasn’t) linking them back to the artwork meaningfully. Another ‘light bulb’ moment came to me when my manager said that exciting and engaging conversation can be an activity in itself.

So something had to change.

Armed with new purpose and determination I taught my next group of students the same programme.