Just how bad were you at French?

Well the answer to that is really pretty bad. Mrs Hunt did her best, but for me in the flatlands of the Fens in East Anglia it just wasn’t happening.  I was generally a pretty good pupil at school but languages (even English, where I was a particularly slow reader) weren’t my thing.

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The irony is, I’m now bilingual, read a great deal, and although first and foremost an art teacher, I am also a language teacher…..specialised in CLIL (content and language integrated learning). With the CLIL approach my art skills are combined with my language knowledge in helping my Dutch pupils learn about art and the English language simultaneously.  How did that occur? It wasn’t a great plan, it just kind of happened and I’ve found great enjoyment in it, to the extent that, CLIL Magazine asked me to explain my perspective on this strange turn of events!

CLIL Magazine 2016 (Page 10)

The Dutch like to talk about a ‘taalknobbel‘ (a language bobble/lump??!), something that people who are good at languages are supposed to have and others (like me) don’t have.  When I was a teenager nobody would have said that I had a taalknobbel, yet here I am writing about language learning strategies and using them constantly in my art lessons with 12-17 year olds.

So what is the lesson here?  I would certainly start by saying that just because you struggle with language when you are 12 it doesn’t follow that you are a lost cause. To be honest, and I know that many will disagree with me, I think the way languages are generally taught in schools is where the problem (at least for me) lies.

The structural deconstruction of language in order to learn vocabulary, grammar and other elements of language simply made it too abstract and confusing for me.  Essentially the way I learnt Dutch was through immersion and being constantly surrounded by it.  It became a more real thing and learning to speak it became a more intuitive issue.  It is in this area that the CLIL approach to language scores, and it could also be the very reason why I seem to be quite good at it.

 

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Contentious Quotations – a CLIL assignment

Stimulating a point of view is important in an art lesson. I guess I would often say that in a way having a point of view or and opinion is almost as important as the opinion itself. In this regard maybe my subject area is a little different to many others, being in absolute agreement with the ‘right answer’ is not normally the main aim in the art room.

But even in the ‘hard’ science areas there is room for discussion and opinion, certainly when exploring a new area or theme and when you are trying your best as a teacher to unlock pupils’ prior knowledge and intuitions. This can be done in a number of ways in the classroom, a group discussion, a brainstorming session on the board or individually or something as simple as providing pupils with key terminology and asking them in a group to discuss what they think the words might mean.

The following activity is designed to:

  • Allow space for diverse opinions from everyone in the group
  • Encourage an awareness that different people have different ideas that can be expressed in different styles and terminology
  • Encourage an awareness and analysis of others opinions be they from their peers or ‘experts’ and accept their validity
  • Encourage the viewing of a subject from multiple standpoints
  • Encourage an understanding of differences in standpoint and why it happens and why it might actually be useful
  • Encourage the understanding that the context of a statement might be important. The when, the how and the why behind the statement
  • Stimulate verbal engagement

guernica

How it works

The instructions below are for how this assignment might work in my art lesson, but by switching the artwork image for a different sort of image, diagram or film with different subject matter the basic principle should work across most subject areas.

Select the artwork. For the purpose of this example let us use the example of Picasso’s Guernica. If you’re not sure about the history and importance of this artwork take a quick look at some background information here.

  • At random hand out a sheet of paper to each pupil in the class. On each sheet the image of the artwork (Picasso’s Guernica in this case) is at the top and one of the numbered quotations below underneath it. (I should add that the ‘quotations’ used are fictitious ones that you the teacher should formulate in order to take the lines of thought of the pupils into desirable areas)
  1. “the Spanish town of Guernica was bombed by the German Condor Legion on Monday 26 April 1937. 3000 bombs were dropped killing more than 1600 people”
  2. “In this work we can see that Picasso was experimenting in the way he was painting, but there are definitely still Cubist influences”
  3. “After standing in the queue at he museum in Madrid I was finally able to get in, I was shocked to see just how big the work actually was”
  4. “Everything about this artwork is focused on destruction, the broken bodies, buildings and spirit of the people is clearly what the artist has focused on. There is just one small sign of hope….”
  5. “For me the real problem with this art work is how unrealistic it is. I get that it is about destruction and death, but I don’t get why the artist has painted it in such a basic way”
  6. “This image is absolutely at home in the UN headquarters in New York, it is exactly the sort of place that this image should be hung so that everyone can see what it is about”
  • Ask the pupils to think entirely for themselves (and without discussion) about the image and the quotation. They need to focus on their reaction to the statement. Do they agree or disagree with it, why that might be? What sort of person might have made the statement and why do they think that? When do they think that it was made and under what circumstances? Plus other comments they have, reminds me of…. Etc.
  • Encourage the pupils to look up words that they don’t know or facts or content in the quotation that they don’t understand.
  • When the written reactions are complete ask those with quotation number one to go and sit together, quotation two form another group, and so on. Within the group ask the group to explain their thoughts to one another and discuss the reactions, observations and thoughts that each had. Whilst doing is ask the pupils to discuss their observations and then to write down the areas of agreement and where the differences lie.
  • Subsequently ask a spokesperson from each group to present the quotation and the groups thoughts to the class as a whole.
  • The discussion phase can then be broadened out a step further by allowing the discourse to become class wide, with individual standpoints that they can articulate to the class.

The overall benefit of this structure is that it allows you the teacher to steer the engagement with the lesson material into desired areas though careful choice of the ‘quotations’ that you present to the class. However it requires the pupils to do the work in these areas as they engage with, and reflect on the different perspectives that can be taken in relation to a single subject.

The results of the assignment could easily be taken further and used as the basis for a more extensive written exercise relating to the theme.

3d Printing in the classroom

I don’t normally write a post that is not much more than a request for information, but……

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Along with a couple of colleagues, I am looking into the viability and practicalities of running some new projects that will involve some three dimensional design elements and (we hope) some 3d printing.  My own experience with 3d printing is minimal, but I’m sure that with a little research that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

However I am very interested to hear from others about the practicalities of 3d printing in a classroom context.  The pupils involved would be in the 14-15 year old age group. If you do have some experience in this area, positive or negative I would love to hear feedback on points such as:

  • favourite printers and why?
  • running costs
  • favourite software
  • potential technical ‘issues’
  • the practicalities of a large class and a single printer

Any thoughts on whether to ‘out source’ the actual 3d printing to commercial companies rather than doing it ourselves would also be interesting to hear, although loosing the ‘magical’ quality of doing it in the classroom would of course be lost.

 

 

 

Hieronymus Bosch, Chris Berens and Oss

The southern Dutch town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (or Den Bosch) there is currently a large exhibition of the work of the town’s most famous son, Hieronymus Bosch. Works have been gathered for around the world to be displayed in the Noordbrabantsmuseum to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. For Den Bosch the exhibition really is a big deal as there are normally none of the town’s hero’s works found there and for a few months at least they have been able to amass a considerable set .

Hieronymus Bosch is a much loved artist in art rooms around the world. His complex compositions are filled with endless detail, fantastic places, the most curious creatures, pleasure, suffering, heaven and perhaps most of all, references to hell.  There simply is so much to see and explore.

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Den Bosch is about tens west of where I teach, in the small Dutch town of Oss. Our local museum, the Jan Cunen, is a whole lot more museum than you might expect to find there. They are savvy enough to know when there is an opportunity to ride someone else’s wave of publicity and that is just what they have done by choosing to align their own programming to a degree with the major event in the neighbouring town. They have even been able to do this by inviting an artist with his own roots in Oss.

The artist concerned is Chris Berens, and has been presented and promoted as an artist drawing on Bosch’s work from 500 years ago. Berens’ work uses some of the visual qualities found in Bosch’s work, an eye for detail and at times huge complexity, but in a more contemporary manner. I have visited the exhibition twice this week with the groups of fifteen and sixteen year olds that I teach. The work is rich in fantasy elements but misses the background religious messages that lie under the surface in Bosch’s work. Technically the work is also rather different being built up of multitudes of manipulated computer prints and hand applied ink work that bring a considerable intensity to the finished work.

For more of Berens work visit his website:

Chris Berens website

The link below gives a little insight into his working practice:


chrisberens2My pupils have enjoyed their visits this week and once again have been quite surprised at the cultural offerings that the local museum can offer. The complexity and rich fantasy element in Berens’ work is particularly engaging in the eyes of the pupils, at least when they pause long enough in front on a single work to give themselves time to unpack some of the riches to be found there. It is no secret that patience not the strongest point of an average fifteen year old!

Bosch’s work is accessible to children and young people on several levels and will continue no doubt to be drawn on by art teachers around the world. In this context, and as an interesting contemporary parallel, Chris Berens’ work is also worth a visit. The technical approach in his use of collage and mixed media is an aspect I will be drawing on in the coming weeks with my classes.

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