Vacancies, vacancies and still more vacancies

In education there is always a certain amount of roundabouting. Teachers leaving one school and moving onto another.  The Dutch secondary school where I teach is no different in this regard.  Most years we wave goodbye to one group of colleagues only to say hello to another.  This year is a continuation of this pattern, and maybe a few more than we are used to are making this changeover. 

Are we unique in seeing a larger than normal switch around of staff looking for pastures new to explore?  Well, if I look at the number of advertisements for teaching posts in circulation my conclusion would very definitely be no.  Maybe even more indicative of a more general change are the number of art teaching vacancies that are passing through the Dutch art teaching Facebook groups I am member of.  Art teachers are used to having to wait and be patient for teaching opportunities.  The odd teaching posts that come by are often temporary, small in the number of hours offered and hugely oversubscribed for.  This year though is different, there is a positive deluge of vacancies!

What is going on?  What has changed this year?  Dutch education in general has a personnel shortage.  The work can at times be very challenging and the hours are long with a tendency to spill all over your life.  Added to this the classes are getting bigger, the administration workload more far reaching and the demands from government, parents, and the pupils themselves at times, is more pressing.  Getting new people into the profession is a constant necessity.  Or should I say, getting the right, talented, driven people into the profession is a necessity.

But the general shortage of teachers is a longer running problem.  This end of year, job circus feels different.  Like I said at the start, it feels like a roundabout, a game of musical chairs is perhaps also a good metaphor.  Most years it feels more like a situation of more mature colleagues leaving the profession at the top end, to be replaced by recent graduates joining it at the bottom end.  This year though, teachers at all stages of their working career are on the move, and as soon as one makes the switch it opens up another space that needs to be filled.  That will in turn perhaps tempt someone else to make the jump from another school, and so the rotation goes on.  This certainly seems to be what is going on amongst those much sought after art teaching posts.  The way new vacancies are popping up with just days to go until the end of the school year are evidence of this.

Is this all perhaps a consequence of the Corona years?  Are teachers less likely now to just stay put and make do?  Have the Corona years lead to an urge to work closer to home?  Were tough years of online, hybrid and generally chaotic education the final straw in a decision to leave education and head off in a different direction?  Or is simply a case of hoping that the grass will be greener on the other side of the fence?

I’m really not sure where the reason lines, one thing is sure though, I’ll have quite a few new colleagues on the other side of the summer holiday.  I will also be missing a few others who have been familiar and much valued faces in the staffroom.

Art lessons, homophones and Ukrainian homophones

It’s a bit of an end of year project for me with the 13-14 year-olds that I teach.  A short, essentially creative graphic design assignment with a language twist.  In short, we take homophones (a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning), and design pictograms that illustrate the two different meanings.

I’ve written about the activity before, and that post can be found here:https://petersansom.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/homophones-clil-art-and-english-assignment/

This year I did much the same again, asking the pupils to produce a pair of matching pictograms that illustrate the contrasts in terms of language and meaning.  This year I offered the possibility to produce a handmade drawn result or a more graphic digitally made result.  Below you can see a few of the results.

All well and good you might say.  But for the last few months I have had two new additions to the class, Ira and Iryna from the Ukraine.  They’ve been two fantastic additions to the group.  Despite all that is of course playing out in their lives, they have been enthusiastic and extremely creative members of the class.  They have enjoyed the freedoms of the art lessons, that were rather different to the style of teaching they experienced back home.  I should also add that their level of English has allowed them to slip easily into the bilingual class that has been their educational home since arriving.

When I explained the homophones project to the class and set them to work on an initial bit of brainstorming and sketching out of possibilities I turned to Ira and Iryna, had they understood the project?  Had they grasped the eccentricities of this particular corner of the English language?  I didn’t have to worry, with an excited look on their faces they announced that they wanted to do the project using Ukrainian homophones, and off they went making plans for the illustrations for examples from their own language that they were able to share and explain to me and others in the class.

As it turned out there are homophones that the two languages share, such as organ (the musical instrument) and organ (the part of the body), but there were others that in English showed absolutely no connection at all!

World CLIL Conference, The Hague

Conferences are back on the agenda, and I am ending the school year in The Hague for two days to attend one that has been in the pipeline for more than two years, the World CLIL Conference.   CLIL, content and language integrated learning has been the main stay of my type of educational practice for the last twenty plus years.  Yes, I’m an art teacher, but in the bilingual educational context that I work in, CLIL is my methodology, combining the teaching of art with the intensive and immersive use of a second language teaching (the use of English when teaching Dutch children art in my case).

That sounds quite simple, a different language of instruction during the lessons.  It is of course that, I speak only English with the Dutch children I teach, and the language of the classroom is English.  But good and slightly more complex CLIL teaching goes several steps further, and it is this that the conference this week is about, and what the consequences are of this approach.

I gave a workshop as part of the conference but have also dosed up on CLIL input that hopefully should give me ideas and angles to explore in my teaching next school year.

I don’t attend a great many conferences, certainly not in the last couple of years, but it is so good to escape the humdrum classroom life.  These are the battery recharge moments that I’ve missed immensely. The chance to listen, hear new and different perspectives and simply just to reflect a bit on what we do and perhaps what we could be doing is something we don’t get the opportunity to do enough in educationland.

Particularly for those who attended my workshop during the conference, below there is a link to the PowerPoint that I made use of.  It is not completely ready-made lesson material, but it is certainly enough of a reminder of the content we covered and offers the necessary basis material that may be of use to you.

A proper open day at last

Open days at school have been a bit of disrupted business over the last two years.  A chance for a school to show potentially new pupils what the school is all about, the atmosphere, building, and of course the staff.  For the first time since January 2020, we invited both parents and their primary school aged children into the school yesterday evening.

For the art department it’s a chance to show just what we are about and stage an extensive display of the pupils’ work, from the youngest in the school (aged 12) right through to the oldest (aged 18).  During the five hours of the open day, we welcomed around 300 ten- and eleven-year-olds into the main hall to show them round. 

But an art department wouldn’t be an art department if there wasn’t something to do and participate in.  Not an insignificant challenge when they are coming through in groups of up to twenty-four children every ten minutes or so.  The resulting activity is kind of formulaic, and maybe lacks a bit in the area of creativity, but it certainly had a good groups participation factor and a wow effect at the end!

For step by step instructions on how to carry out a similar large scale, pixelated portrait click on the link below to download the .pdf file.

Its a simple idea…..using photopea.com to look at colour and tone

Getting children to understand a bit about how areas of tone and colour can work to create form is a central task for most of those working in art education. The pupils generally get the idea of how line has a part to play rather quicker than these other two might combine to occupy the areas between the drawn line.

Also increasingly central to activities, at least in my art room, is how digital tools can also have a part to play and can be combined with more traditional approaches.

The following short assignment played very much into these areas, focusing on how form can be created using surfaces of colour, colour mixing and becoming familiar with how a few digitally editing tools can be used.  Those tools can be found in most editing software, and we were using the excellent (and free!) open source software offered on the photopea.com website.

The contextual background for the project that I did with my class of 12-13 year olds was transcriptions in art.  We had looked at a variety of artists’ work, but had paid particular attention to Velazquez Las Meninas and Picasso’s numerous interpretations of it.

Our focus was subsequently on the work of Vermeer for our own remakes.  The working process was reasonably simple and worked as follows:

  • Import the image that you want to remake into Photopea.com
  • Create a new layer above the image
  • Look carefully at the image and try to identify areas of colour that whilst not being identical are at least very similar
  • Use a selection lasso to trace round the area
  • Sample the ‘average’ colour in the selected area and fill the whole area with just that colour
  • Then proceed onto the next area

The pupils find this quite fascinating to do and work in an increasingly focused way, gradually building up their own image.  The result look a little like vector drawings that might have been created using a inbuilt filter, but it is very much a question of look, analyse and then carry out the digital steps.

For a group of 12-13 year olds the results have been excellent and has resulted in a feeling of considerable pride in the group.

The second phase was to use carbon paper to transfer the ‘vector’ drawing structure onto paper and then to paint or colour (using coloured pencils) the resulting simplified linear drawing.  At this point it becomes very much a colour mixing exercise where the subtleties of the digital image are transferred into a handmade version.

This part of the project is still at a relatively early stage, but the signs are good for some well made results.  But of course the real proof of the pudding will be in seeing whether pupils are able to take the lessons learning into future work, but hopefully without the digital step always having to be used.

Below is a link to a short PDF booklet that explains how the part of the project done using photopea.com works. It is written about portraits, but the principle and process is the same.

More playing and language integrated learning (PLIL/CLIL)

A couple of blog posts ago I coined the acronym PLIL, a variation on CLIL.  I make use of CLIL (content and language integrated learning) in much of my teaching, where I lead my art lessons with classes of Dutch children in English.  They receive the art and the second language content simultaneously and in doing so pick up the language acquisition at a hugely increased pace.

PLIL is similar, but the content is simply replaced by play.  There are plenty of situations in education where you are not directly involved in content from one of the subjects that you may be teaching in a school context.  Play, and simply messing about with the children can equally be twisted and turned to increase the language learning opportunities.

Simple word games that I dip into at the end of a lesson fit into this area.  For example, you pick a theme, ‘animals’ for example.  The first child says the name of an animal, ‘tiger’ for instance.  The second child has to pick another animal that begins with the last letter of the previous animal, so maybe ‘rhinoceros’. Then we get ‘snake’, ‘elephant’ and ‘tarantula’.  You’re not allowed to repeat an animal, and you are not allowed to hesitate/think for more than a few seconds otherwise you are forced out of the game.  It’s play, fun and laughter in the last few minutes of the lesson.

Fridge poetry tiles

I have more of these sorts of activities that I draw on from time to time.  Sometimes though, unusual situations throw up new possibilities. A case that illustrates this was a couple of months ago when five colleagues and I took ninety twelve-year-olds on a four day excursion to the coast.

The days were filled with all sorts of activities. Games, walks, playing on the beach, eating together, sports and so on.  I’ve been on such trips often enough and know that on occasions you want to offer small rewards for winning, participating well, being especially helpful, maintaining a tidy room or even complimenting a teacher on how young they look!  (That last one didn’t ever happen until we started playing this game!).

The idea grew out of the fridge poetry sets that you can buy, where you have an assortment of words stuck on your refrigerator door that you can rearrange from time to time to create poems.  I wondered if we, as teachers, could have a pile of printed out words in our pockets and bags that we could hand out when a reward was needed?  Would the pupils want to collect them to be able to play the word game that we would announce at the end of the week?  It was an experiment, but it worked exactly as we hoped. These random words on little pieces of blue paper became ‘collectors’ items’ and were rapidly hidden away when handed out.

The pupils were sleeping in rooms of four or six generally and we instructed them to pool their words and together to puzzle out the most imaginative, poetic, surreal or simply strange sentence or sentences that they could form from their words.  And surreal they were, as they stretched sentence constructions and grammatical knowledge to squeeze out the best possibilities.

Below are a couple of the ones we liked the most (Maasland, is the name of our school!)

The idea was simple. It served several purposes, but most of all, it offered the chance to have fun and be creative with language.  We’ll be repeating the idea.  Maybe our basic collection of words needs to be fined tuned a little here and there. The little linking words, the likes of or, and, then and is are perhaps less fun to ‘win’ than a fought or swallowed, but in the end every bit as important for making a sentence that hangs together well.

JR, street artist in Groningen….and the frustrations of the art teacher

Every art teacher has had this experience I think.  You visit a museum or art gallery and find yourself wishing you could take your pupils to see this particular exhibition. 

Today was one such occasion for me. The artist involved was the French street artist JR and the place was Groningen in the far north of the Netherlands. It’s a two and a half hour trip on the train for me to get there, and if I was traveling from the school where I work it would be more than three hours. With such a time frame, a school visit, no matter how appropriate the exhibition isn’t going to happen.

In the case of the JR exhibition the ‘you just must see the real thing’ sort of recommendation isn’t really relevant. The exhibition doesn’t actually have the ‘real’ artworks. They are out on the streets in cities around the world interacting with the contexts and locations in which they are placed. In JR’s case the work is often on a huge scale and in places with serious political or social tensions. What we see in Groningen is documentation and museum installations that help give a feel for the scale of the work and includes supporting films that document and interview the participants involved. Together, multiple narratives are presented, the life and development of an artist, and the aims an objectives of each individual project.

When seen as a whole, this large scale presentation of the Frenchman’s work, has an effect that I know would have been so interesting to show my pupils. We’ve recently been talking a lot about street art and in doing so have also looked at JR’s large scale photographic work. Whilst in class at school, we have so many possibilities to look at art, a large lcd screen at the front of the class for images and films and pupils have their own computer screens to carry out further web-based investigations. But a walk into a museum, even if it is only to see this sort of documentation does bring other benefits and a chance to reflect and discuss in different ways than in class.

As I said at the beginning, we won’t be going to Groningen.  Maybe I’ll share someone the photographs I took today with my classes.  But there will be other museum visits at other times that are more feasible. It is crucial to those of us in education to continue making such visits when we can, to give a non-screen based experience of art and culture to our pupils.

 

 

An unfinished CLIL plan, or is it PLIL? With thanks to Bruce Springsteen

I call it PLIL, because this is more like playing and language combined, rather than pure content as we are more familiar with from CLIL (Content and language integrated learning).

I’m always interested in finding new ways to combine a little extra culture and language into my lessons.  This is an idea that arose kind of by accident in an online exchange of messages a few weeks ago with a couple of friends.  The messages ranged through various themes, but as I remember it, Bruce Springsteen was mentioned, Cathy, one of those involved in the discussion is a big fan.  Also, rather randomly, a woman riding a horse was also mentioned……and that was, as it turned out, not an unimportant point.

To amuse myself and, I hoped, the others in the discussion, I decided to write a short fictious exchange between me and an imaginary stranger (the woman on the horse!).  The challenge I set myself was to try and squeeze in as many Bruce Springsteen song titles as possible into my short text.  I am reasonably familiar with Springsteen’s body of work, but after Googling his musical biography I was surprised by the sheer amount, but also the number that were going to be useful for this challenge.

The titles available dictated to a large degree where the narrative headed, but in a way that was the fun of this word puzzle.  It is all about playing with language and in my art and culture CLIL classroom that is very much the sort of area that I like to search out and make use of.  In this case selecting out the words and phrases that are loaded with possibility and then working out ways to link and connect them without altering any grammar or phrasing in the existing titles.

The result of my own puzzling went as follows:

I saw a woman on a horse yesterday,

I asked were you ‘Born in the USA’?

Yes, she said, in the ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’

And ‘Growin Up’ I asked

Mostly near ‘Harry’s Place’ she replied

So this isn’t exactly your’s or my ‘Home Town’ I remarked

No, not ‘This Hard Land’ she said, ‘I’m working on a Dream’

You ‘Walk like a man’ she went on,

I’m ‘Outlaw Pete’ I said as threateningly as I could

Am I being ‘Held up without a gun’?

I was hoping for some ‘Easy money’ I said

Go and jump in ‘The River’ she replied……and rode off.

I haven’t actually tried this activity in class yet, but I plan to soon. I’m not a music teacher, but within my broader culture lessons this can certainly find a place.  I think my third years (aged 15) could have a pretty good go at this.  We will doubtless end up in discussions about which artists and musicians are the best to use.  They’ll have their own favourites.  But it will be interesting to see if they offer such content and grammatically rich pickings.

In my work as an artist, I spend a lot of time playing with images and forms, working out ways to combine and connect them.  It is an approach I love to make use of in the classroom too.  It maybe with paint, collage or other materials, but I really don’t see this form of play with words as being so very different to that.

A classic poem in a CLIL context in the art room

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

Combing content and language in the learning process

For a while now monsters of one kind or another have been a feature of the lessons that I give to my groups of twelve-year-old pupils.  We’ve done various drawing assignments, made clay gargoyles, and dipped into art history by looking at the work of the likes of Hieronymus Bosch.

With these classes, being bilingual learners (Dutch children, being taught across their timetable in English in order to super-charge their acquisition of the English language), I am always looking for ways of enriching the practical lessons with elements of language beyond simply using it for instruction.  For example, recently I have had the class writing haikus that were inspired by the clay heads that we made together.

This year though I decided to branch out in a slightly different direction and make use of Lewis Carroll’s poem The Jabberwocky.  The monsters connection was obvious, but how to work with it with these children who are only eight months into their experience of bilingual education was the question.  Would they be ready to deal with this curious piece of literature?

I needn’t have worried; they were up to it.  When I asked them to read the poem for themselves and underline all the nonsense words, they were able to complete this first challenge without any problem at all, their vocabulary being sufficiently developed to spot the words in amongst the text.

Next, we spent time thinking of alternative words that could be used to replace the nonsense in the middle section of the poem.  Again, no real problem.  An occasional grammatical error or slip in the spelling perhaps, but they were definitely onto it, and understanding the intention completely.

The fun and laughter really started when I asked them to come up with their own nonsense words for the first and last verse.  At this point I wondered if the imaginary words they created might end up having an English or a Dutch feel to them.  It was of course all nonsense……but to me, the words that they were coming up with did have a distinctly English twang to it and they generally nestled perfectly well into the context of Carroll’s poem.

The link below allows you to download a step by step guide to the language part of the lesson.

With this language component of the lesson series complete, we moved on with enthusiasm to work on a more than five-meter-long group drawing of our own Jabberwocky.  The result of the drawing project can be seen here, but how exactly we arrived at the composition and in what order we did things, are details I’ll save for another post.