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
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)
- “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”
- “In this work we can see that Picasso was experimenting in the way he was painting, but there are definitely still Cubist influences”
- “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”
- “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….”
- “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”
- “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.