The homework issue

Some of my first years (aged 12) have truly transformed their artistic ability this year. It is almost like they’ve developed a completely different artistic soul……which may well turn out to be an extremely accurate evaluation of the situation.

The pupils concerned handed in a homework project yesterday that they had been working on for the past month or so. I was an assignment that involved a little internet research, writing a short text and producing two drawings.  I flicked through the folders afterwards and two in particular caught my eye.  I’ve watched the two boys concerned struggle with their drawing capabilities over the last year.  I’ve pushed and encouraged, there has been some progress, but generally quite small steps. Below are two drawings that the pupils made while we were working on a monsters and gargoyles project earlier in the year.  The paper is filled, the drawings quite unrestrained in their character and the shading is, well lets be positive, quite expressionistically done.

Perhaps I should also mention that the drawings were done in class.

So back to the project.  The main drawing assignment was to take a flower or small branch from a tree and lay it on a sheet of white paper and make a pencil drawing of the plant form and shadow.  We didn’t spend time practicing this sort of observational drawing in class, although I did give a little instruction about filling the sheet and trying to make full use of the range of greys that your pencil offers.

The same to pupils from the drawings above produced these drawings:

Something quite remarkable seems to have occurred.  As the art teacher, I would like to claim that my pupils have suddenly become so much more sensitive in the use of their materials.  But the truth is of course, these drawings are not made by the pupils concerned.

Now there is nothing new in parents or older siblings helping with homework.  Generally, a parent who helps and explains with a difficult piece of maths should be applauded.  It is also true to say that the same parent who goes that little bit further and fully solves that especially tricky equation for their child will generally pass by unnoticed. But with art homework it is all rather easier to see.  The question to those who have helped here is simple, do they really think that I can’t see this?  I feel a comparable drawing assignment that we will work on in class may be the way to resolve this, maybe there will be a third pair of drawings added to this post later……….


3 thoughts on “The homework issue

    • Hi Rosie, I have watched the film before, but it is certainly nice to see it again! The process of clear instruction is of course crucial here, but perhaps even more important is having the patience to listen and make multiple attempts…..this is often the area where teenagers fall down, either they become discouraged or they settle for ‘nearly OK’ and lack the will to keep pushing to improve. It is of course at this point that you have to do your work as a teacher.
      I think what is also interesting from the Austin’s butterfly film is the way the activity is broken up. Certainly in the art room (but probably elsewhere too) the challenges can at times feel overwhelmingly complex. Initially the result of this is that first drawing where Austin withdraws into concepts that are familiar and safe. The result is the archetype ‘children’s butterfly drawing’….but that could just as easily be an an architype house, face or bird. By breaking the challenge down into smaller parts, first basic shapes, then detail and then colour, progress can be much more refined.
      If I’ve learned one thing about creating successful assignments, whether they are creative or written work, it is all about how you frame it up and present it to the class!

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