Seven Questions about Starting to Teach the Course

In recent category 1 visual arts workshops I have been asked some great questions about our subject; for example, what to teach, how to balance the things we teach, how much time we should have to teach in, how to connect to other subjects, etc.

Here are the questions with my answers.

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There are 36 visual arts workshops between now and December.

1. “Do I teach about techniques or about artists? I know I can teach them new techniques that can help their skills, but I am not sure if I should be teaching a certain artist or content. How do you start?”

There is no “certain artist or content” that you should teach, although the guide refers to diversity of cultures, so try not to just teach about one art culture/period/movement.

Teach to your strengths, and remember the importance of the visual arts journal, which should link all three components.

My course usually changes from year to year but I generally start with a gallery visit. My school is close to London – so there is a range of world-class galleries and museums to choose from – but even without this, providing students with opportunities to encounter ‘real art’ in whatever context can be a stimulating experience.  The gallery visit could inspire a variety of art making and art researching directions and is also the  ideal place to get some comparative study ideas and activities started.

I also usually have some life drawing sessions for students, working from the model, and again, work based on the human form can lead in multiple creative directions both practically and conceptually, and reflect both contemporary art ideas and more traditional  art ideas.

One of the joys of being an IA Moderator is that every school has a slightly different approach and the artworks are always different: there is no single ‘right’ approach.

2. “It does seem difficult to balance the need to teach the elements and principals and the need to encourage innovative thinking. Having not experienced the using the IB rubrics, I am interested to learn how they balance this in the assessment process, for I too do not want to discourage students who may not have the same technical skills as their peers.”

This is a concern of many art teachers. The visual arts course provides a clear distinction between process – where a teacher would encourage innovative thinking primarily through experiments and explorations in the visual arts journal – although these could also occur on a large scale and do not need to be in a book – and final works the exhibition.

In assessment terms both (process portfolio and exhibition)
are equally weighted.  

The main concern of the process portfolio is for the student to work across in a variety of media and forms, demonstrate sustained experimentation and manipulation of a range of skills, techniques and processes, and selecting materials to be consistent with intentions.

This is where we would hope to see innovative and creative ideas – as opposed to predictable and obvious ones – appear and develop. It’s often the case that sustained experimentation leads to innovation as more possibilities and ideas become evident.

The resolved outcomes would appear in the exhibition, where technical skills are rewarded but so also is the “selection and application of materials” and the “realization of function, meaning and purpose”.

3. “One other issue that I have is balancing time between developing skills and developing ideas. It would be great to discuss how others manage this.”

I think there is a lot of overlap in these areas. Students experimenting with a particular technique (skill development) may simultaneously be exploring ideas.

Both skills and ideas could be built into an assignment by the way you structure the assignment – for example, discussing and expecting that an idea will be developed and depicted through a technically competent final resolved work.

The visual arts course does not specify recommended times for any of the components because it is acknowledged that these things can go on at the same time.

4. “I am concerned about only seeing my students for 55 minutes a day for 5 days a week.”.

The recommended time for HL is 240 hours over two years (150 for SL) but it’s up to schools if they follow this recommendation.

You get 275 minutes a week but I don’t know how many weeks you teach, so I don’t know if it’s enough. If you don’t get enough time tell your administration.

Art needs time.

5. “How much time should I give them to work on a project before assigning a new one?”

It depends on the project. I try to vary the time allocation – sometimes I give a week for a relatively small and fast assignment, other times six weeks for more complex/demanding ones.

6. “The teacher before me said she gave a month, however I looked over the student work and feel that a month was too long for the quality of work I was seeing.  I feel that had too much time and have been playing around.”

So give them shorter projects – or demand more within the month?

7. “I would like to ask how important and/or hard it is to find connections between Visual Arts and the other subjects from different groups.

There’s no simple answer to this one. Sometimes students learn, discover or are inspired by something in History or English or Theory of Knowledge (etc) and that might be the starting point of an artwork or some investigation in the visual arts journal. It’s not hard, but it can be important if the startling point leads to some exciting and successful studio work or investigation.

It’s not a requirement but as a teacher when it happens I am generally pleased – it shows that the student is able to work in an inter-disciplinary way and transform learning in one area to learning (and creativity) in another. 

(On the other hand, it can also be a blind alley: sometimes just discovering some injustice – for example – in History does not inevitably result in successful creative process or a strong final piece about injustice.)

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