You don’t have to be an artist (but you are!)

Designing an Art & Design Curriculum Pt 1 – thoughts, ramblings and useful tidbits from our redesign journey

Over the next few months, I hope to share some of the processes we went through in developing our school’s Art & Design curriculum. It might interest you, it might save you some time, whatever it does, I hope it will inspire you.

So, I’m an artist?

I would not have naturally thought of myself as an artist before beginning this curriculum redesign journey and yet I would have expected every child in my class to do so!

We define an artist as someone who uses their imagination and creativity to express themselves and to communicate with others.

That meant a shift to considering ourselves as artists – even if I might describe my own style as naive!

Start with what you’ve got

The existing Art & Design curriculum had some great points: staff loved the fact that it had a PowerPoint for each lesson and a clear lesson plan; there was a progression of practical skills and vocabulary (though this was not explicit and rarely discreetly explored); and teachers knew “their” units well. Children were generally positive about Art & Design too and many would point to it being a favourite subject.

There were a few issues though that we wanted to tackle:

  • There was a lack of diversity among the artists we studied (an example that comes to mind is a unit studying Aboriginal journey art featured Paul Klee as its focus artist). We wanted our children to have a carefully curated, diverse selection of artworks and artists.
  • Our children and staff have a passion for the environment and we wanted to make sure that the resources we use are well-selected and not wasted.
  • We wanted to have a clear understanding of the disciplinary and theoretical knowledge of art and design that children will acquire during their time with us, as well as the existing progression of practical skills.
  • We’d become a little tired of having 30 “cloned” artworks at the end of each unit, which whilst looking alright didn’t display the individual creativity of the children – more divergence was needed.

The importance of working with others

Our curriculum preparation for Art & Design took a three-pronged approach. What do our staff say, what do our pupils say and what do the experts say?

Colleagues are the best! Going alone in creating a curriculum isn’t going to help anyone and thankfully I have a wonderful (and truly creative) team working with me! Conversations about what currently works and what doesn’t had to be the starting point. I also wanted to ask my colleagues, “Well, what would help you to teach Art & Design?”.

We had a brilliant staff meeting where we explored the existing curriculum, highlighted concerns and shared our ideals: some clear points were raised about the level of support that would be provided to teach units (guides should be clear, concise – one page – and include vocabulary); exemplar PowerPoints were still desirable; an idea was shared about children building a portfolio of portraits during their time in school (something that would become a cornerpiece to our new curriculum); and a brilliant discussion where staff talked about the art elements they missed from previous curriculums (e.g. pottery when learning about Ancient Greece in History).

When we spoke with children about art, a lot of them talked about how they wanted to get “better at drawing”, that they “like to practise before doing the real thing” and most were proud of the contents of their art journals but “never got to show it off”. These would all be key considerations moving forward.

Finally, some key research and texts were identified that we agreed would be useful to look at as we embarked on this curriculum journey. This included the OFSTED subject review, Emily Gopaul’s Teaching Primary Art & Design and a mass of curriculum documents from other schools that inspired and/or challenged us.

The importance of working with others

This wasn’t a quick process: reading, research, discussion and exploration take time. It can be tempting to rush this part of the process and yet so many of the things that we are now really proud of in our curriculum came out at this stage. As the curriculum continued to develop it would be shared and discussed with staff (sometimes just as a WhatsApp message – what do we think of X?) We’ve got a curriculum that now not only reflects the latest research but also supports all staff in teaching and gives children exposure to a diverse range of artists whilst allowing them to create and display their own artworks.

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