Theoretical, disciplinary and practical knowledge in Art & Design

Designing an Art & Design Curriculum Part 2 – thoughts, ramblings and useful tidbits from our journey

Right at the start of our journey our leadership shared a Pablo Picasso quote that they wanted to be the intent for the curriculum, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” This quote encompassed our dual desire for our children to understand art and become proficient at it. With our discussions with artists, we identified four areas (pleasingly all beginning with E) that we felt were vital:

Explore, Experiment, Express and Evaluate written on brushstrokes of paint
  • EXPLORE – enabling children to build their theoretical knowledge of art, exploring art history and art culture through the lens of a carefully curated, diverse selection of artworks and artists.
  • EXPERIMENT – giving children a chance to gain proficiency in different areas of art including practical knowledge about different methods, techniques and styles related to the artworks/artists explored.
  • EXPRESS – providing children with an opportunity to create their own divergent pieces, applying the knowledge gained through EXPLORE, EXPERIMENT and EVALUATE. They also have time to problem-solve, review and refine their work.
  • EVALUATE – encouraging children through each stage to EVALUATE their own work and that of others, asking the kinds of questions that artists, critics and scholars ask (disciplinary knowledge) and identifying their own next steps.

The OFSTED research review into Art & Design arrived a few months into our curriculum redesign journey and confirmed many of the thoughts that we’d had. They specifically highlighted the disciplinary, theoretical and practical knowledge needed in art.

It is important to note that these three types of knowledge are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are often interrelated and the best way to learn is through a combination. By studying art history, theory, and criticism, our children can gain a deeper understanding of art. By learning about the techniques and skills of artmaking, our children can develop the skills they need to create art. And by practising artmaking, our children can apply their theoretical and disciplinary knowledge in a real-world setting.

Our four Es have become the building blocks for our Art & Design units, and as we mapped out our curriculum they were key in considering the progression of the different knowledge types. We started to identify artists/artworks and movements to EXPLORE, mediums in which we wanted children to EXPERIMENT and open tasks that gave children the opportunity to apply and EXPRESS their learning. Through each of these three Es children would have the opportunity to EVALUATE.

A little bit more about how we EVALUATE…

An example of an evaluate slide used with children at the end of each lesson

This started as a trial in one of our classes and children/adults loved it so we quickly rolled it out across the school.

  • We use a PowerPoint slide with three questions that change ever so slightly each time, example above
  • Children open their sketchbooks on the page they have been working on
  • We encourage children (and all adults in the room) to walk around the classroom looking at each others’ books using the slide prompts to frame their discussions/comments
  • All of this is accompanied and timed by music: The Noveltones Left Bank Two (inserted below for your listening pleasure). It’s not long, but long enough 🙂

Our EVALUTATE is simple but has become a really lovely, affirming and reflective time to end each lesson. There’s also a bit of nostalgia in the music for a number of our teachers and TAs!

A few design notes

For those interested, no fancy graphic design software was used to create the slides/graphics above (nor has it been for any element of our Art & Design Curriculum). We use a subscription for the Noun Project (the best £15 of any budget ever!) for the icons/graphic elements and the fonts used are Steppes and LunchBox. The curriculum documents are made on A3 page size PowerPoints – this meant easy sharing with colleagues using a shared, collaborative document space in the cloud, as well as simple exporting to PDF and PNG.

(I was asked why A3, not A4 – one reason is for printing: It is easier to reduce an A3 document to A4 (no loss of quality) whereas when you enlarge documents they become pixilated. The second reason is that colleagues have been pinning up the A3 poster-sized teacher guides on walls / in cupboards and referring to them adding annotations/highlighter – It wasn’t something I originally foresaw but I love it!)

One Comment

  1. Robin Lomax
    July 19, 2023

    In the Evaluate stage, you mention the Disciplinary Knowledge as per the new review: exploring art judgement, value, criticism; artists culture etc; pathways and industries linked to art; purpose, users and environments. How do you cover this? Especially at primary level? Thank you!

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