Fine tuning and improving – a creative language and art assignment (clil)

You learn a lot from trying something for the first time with a class. An idea that was so clear in your head seems to create confusion or uncertainty in those of your pupils. Or something that you planned to fill just a couple of lessons takes three times as long to complete. This was one such assignment, one that has many good aspects to it, but when I experimented with it for the first time two years ago, I knew afterwards refinements had to be made.

The project is a really nice blend of language and imagery that comes together to produce a final piece of work that has considerable space for the pupil’s own ideas, has strong compositional challenges and can be completed with figurative and/or abstract elements. A full description of the working process can be found here.

The problem I had with the results last time was the language element. I remember at the time perhaps being in a little bit of a hurry to get onto the practical work. As a result, the language part (that comes first) didn’t get enough time and, dare I say it, a not critical enough push from me. The results were in the end reasonable, but the language output simply wasn’t as poetic, imaginative or grammatically fine-tuned as I had hoped. So this time, these were the areas for focus.

It’s an interesting challenge for my groups of fifteen year olds learning in English (their second language). I delivered them each a page of Wuthering Heights ask them to create something new with a selection of the words that are on the page that they have been given and obliterate the rest, or at least cover them over with their design work. It could result in a new and very concise new narrative, it could be a collection of phrases that read like a poem or the lyrics of a song, it could even result in a series of profound statements. But whichever direction they choose the text should be clear, make sense and be grammatically correct.

I did hammer on a bit about the grammatical criteria, but it did pay off. The results this year are definitely stronger in this area. Emily Brontë’s pages have been turned into something really quite different. The visual design is eye-catching, but the textual puzzle of sentence creation using limited means has produced some intriguing results.

 

I used to love him I cried heartbroken. 

I guess he would rather have her arms round his neck. 

I know he will never like me. 

Will I miss him? I asked myself half angrily. 

 

She, a woman, our mistress had said, it was nothing less than murder in her eyes, she kept aloof, and avoided any alliance with him.

Three years subsequent to my inclination, I was persuaded to leave, but tears were more powerful when I refused to go.

He wanted no women he said, no mistress.

I kissed good bye and, since then a stranger I’ve no doubt.

 

Those you term weak shall fight to the death. 

Have faith I advised her, value him more, melting into tears and delighted she replied. 

I wondered what he had been doing, how he had been living. 

He is too reckless, doesn’t trouble himself to reflect on the causes. 

 

Enough complaining, look at the evenings spent.

See the good.

Talk about anything, amuse me.

Talk is agitation.

Express feelings beautiful and sweet.

Pronounce words softer.

 

The accursed boy’d never know a dark absence would lavish the whole place in words of silence. 

As it persisted he cried, oh friends run away from me.

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The frustrations of an art teacher…seeing it for real

You hear it often enough, ‘You have to see the real thing, it so different’. As an art teacher you know this well, the days of scratchy slides in a half darkened room may be long gone, replaced now by large scale digital screens at the front of the classroom.  The possibilities on offer to an art teachers (and all teachers of course) have improved enormously during the last decade. But still, the chance to see art, design, architecture, theatre, dance, music and other cultural forms for real, first hand, offers so much more.

A fabulous case in point is an exhibition of the Dutch fashion designer Jan Taminiau that I have visited today.  I’ve referred to his work in my lessons at school in the context of a fashion design assignment that I use with my groups of 15-16 year olds. Examples and cultural references are important in my work as a teacher. Not in the sense of showing pupils what I expect them to do. It is more a question of firing the imagination and showing them the possibilities; possibilities that often go way beyond their wildest imagination. There is so much that I’d like to show and share with them.

But the limitations of the classroom, even with its generous display screen at the front and pupils with tablet, laptop or phone screens available to them, can’t match seeing the real thing.  What it would mean to be able to bring my groups of budding fashion designers to the Centraalmuseum in Utrecht to see Taminiau’s exhibition?

The exhibition oozes qualities that grab your attention. The elegant silhouette’s that he creates, the rich use of colour and the, quite literally, dazzling textures and structures of the surface of the fabrics. This would have been the most amazing teaching aid to the above mentioned assignment.

I have photographically documented as much of the work as I can.  I’ll be using it next school year I’m sure.  Teaching fashion design is just a little outside of my comfort zone, but I do like to do it once in a while.  But oh, how I would like to let the pupils see such an exhibition. But then the same is true of so many of the shows that I see.  The museum world in the big cities, certainly in Europe, is booming. The challenge is finding a way to be able to get pupils to visit them in the context of the educational programs that they are following.  More often it seems to  happen in a rather detached sort of day out to the city that often seems to have rather vague educational aims……the fully focused and contextualized field trip is a sadly underused and rather squeezed out aspect of contemporary education. But the detail of that is a post for another day.

Feeling a bit like an artistic magician…..

It’s sometimes nice to make a big statement. To remind a school of the presence of the art department. It’s also nice when a relatively simple assignment catches the imagination of a whole class, both the ones at the artistic top of the class and the ones who generally find the creative lessons more challenging.

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This particular lesson idea sets out to make a whole wall of art in the end. It is, if I’m honest, not the most creative assignment to offer a group of fifteen year olds. It kind of sets them on a line that of production with, for a part at least, a clear set of instructions to follow. But having said that, it does give opportunities to learn about a highly graphic way of working, layering and spatial relationships in drawing and the significance repetition can have in design. I was also able to add some Pop Art references and study and introduce the class to one of my favourite British artists in Michael Craig-Martin.

The work process involves filling an A4 with line drawings of a collection of the objects being taken as the theme of the work, importantly without any of them touching the edges of the paper. Then a careful cutting and reassembling of the pieces, before a little more drawing. Then it goes onto the glass of the copy machine and six (or many more!) copies are made before the copies are joined together in a completely repeating pattern. I promise you, the first time you show this to the class, you will feel like some sort of artistic magician!

This all sounds a bit complicated perhaps, watch this film and it will become a lot clearer!

Then a little colour work and very rapidly the wall filling work is complete. The front entrance of our school is currently being rebuilt, the wooden screens that have been put up offer that perfect location for the big statement.

Digitalization – finding the right fit

Forcing digitalization into education can be a painful affair. Some people might say ‘yes, that’s what they’re trying to do to the education situation that I work in!’  But that would be to misunderstand what I mean by forcing digitalization. I am absolutely for the use of digital technologies in education. What I mean though is that the use of computers, laptops, tablets and indeed phones have a place, of that I’m sure, but exactly what that place is may take time to find.

The school I teach at took a decision a few years ago to move to a form of computer aided education where every pupil works with their own iPad. I’ve been teaching art lessons with the possible digital dimensions that this offers for two and a half years now. Despite being one of the most progressive minded in the school when it comes to the iPad, I would also say that I am still finding my way with the device and uncovering the possibilities. It’s a fascinating process for me, and I think for my pupils.  Searching out for the opportunities where it offers extensions to a project, or perhaps simply something new and previously unconsidered.

A few of these curriculum enrichment situations have been exactly what I have been experiencing in the classroom this week and observing in the pupils results.

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Last year I worked for the first time on a children’s book design project with the fourteen to fifteen year olds that I teach. In short, the pupils write and make an illustrated story book in which an artwork that they have previously researched plays a starring role.

Last year, each group of three produced and entirely handmade book. Illustrations were made, text was added either by writing it out by hand or printing it out on the computer and collaging it on to the illustrated pages. The results were satisfactory and in some cases good, but the problem we encountered in integrating the text was a bit of a puzzle. The classes worked well, but without the luxury of having the iPad to combine the language element with the illustrations.

This year though the situation is different and it is fascinating to watch. Groups are sharing tasks, stories are being written, handmade illustrations are being produced using the traditional materials, the artworks are being photographed, digitally enhanced where necessary before being inserted into page layouts and finally the text from the story is then laid on top.

I’m not quite finished with the assignment yet, but I’ve seen enough already to know that this is an example of digitalization extending a project into new areas. Groups are working genuinely as groups, sharing tasks and discussing what they are doing and working with a high level of engagement to produce and end product.  What was a good project has become an excellent one through a well-fitting digital extra element.

For those who are interested, the app we are using for the layout is the excellent Design Pad By Quark.

A rebus as a CLIL (content and language integrated learning) activity

rebus
ˈriːbəs/
noun
1. a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters; for instance, apex might be represented by a picture of an ape followed by a letter X.

I’ve been experimenting with a short language and design assignment recently with my two classes of third years (14-15 years old) that I teach. As is often the case with a new idea or assignment, after the first use of the idea a little refining is necessary, but I think there is enough of a finished idea to share it here.
As the definition above a rebus is a mixture of images and text (often in the form of loose letters) that combine to represent a new word or phrase. The most surprising and satisfying rebuses are often those that make unexpected use of the phonetic sounds of particular sections of words.
The assignment was simple; create and illustrate your own rebus. This could be done as either a straight forward black and white, ink on paper illustration or made digitally on the pupils’ iPad or computer. I made a couple of clear requirements for the finished piece of work:
• The rebus itself must contain a minimum of at least two pictorial elements
• The rebus should be placed in front of an appropriate background
I offered an example of the word acrobat to illustrate the sort of possibilities I saw.

The language part of this assignment comes first in the working process. It is very much about opening your mind up to the way words are constructed and thinking about what visual possibilities may be on offer. You want your pupils to think hard and experiment for themselves. My suggestion is to do this part of the the work in class and under almost exam-like conditions. Do not allow your pupils to use their phones or other online devices. Typing ‘rebus’ into a search engine will throw up countless examples that the pupil most likely won’t be able to resist….and the language challenge in the assignment will as a result be largely lost. Instead you could perhaps give them all a dictionary to help them along!
Try also to encourage pupils away from the most simple, unsurprising and illustrative combinations. The word football illustrated by a foot and a ball is unimaginative and obvious. Elements that play into the phonetic sounds of parts of words or phrases are much more fun to play with an deliver a final artwork that becomes a sort of visual and language puzzle.
I chose to set the design work/illustration of the rebus as a homework assignment and gave the pupils a choice of what sort of materials or approaches to use. As I said at the beginning it is still a bit of a work in progress, but below are a few examples of my pupils’ work.

If you are not sure, the three above, in no particular order are ‘electricity’, ‘fireflies’ and ‘beliefs’.

If you are interested in more CLIL related activities click here.

 

One letter switch – language and graphic design, a CLIL (content and language) assignment

Studying a little graphic design is part of the broad art and culture course that I teach my classes of fifteen and sixteen year olds. Their world is full of this type of visual material in the form of websites, magazines, posters, packaging and video.  However it never fails to surprise me just how little they have actually stopped to think about it and how good design can influence them.

With this in mind I have constructed a series of lessons that explore various forms of graphic design it features interviews with designers and analysis of their work. I like to support this sort of theoretical work with a practical assignment that encourages the pupils to try and get to grips with design issues themselves. It’s a kind of ‘doing is the best form of learning’ approach, a standpoint I am definitely a supporter of.

The assignment

I wanted to set the pupils the task of designing a movie poster. It’s an area of graphic design that they are all familiar with and one that by and large has a number of design elements that come back again and again, ones that they could also be applied in their design work.

The image part of the poster I decided to turn into a small photographic assignment. All photographic imagery had to be made by the pupils themselves, nothing was to be sourced from the Internet.

The language challenge

However before any photography or design work could be started the language element was going to be crucial in determining the direction that the final design would take. The rule I imposed for the fictitious film that they were to design a poster for was simple; they had to take the title of an existing film and then create a new, and completely different direction for it by switching just one letter in the title for a different letter. No other variations were allowed, it was just one for one.

brotherbearI gave a couple of examples to get the ball rolling a little, Pirates of the Caribbean  could become Pilates of the Caribbean or Saving Private Ryan could become Raving Private Ryan. One letter in each case, resulting in film titles that head off in completely new directions and would produce very different posters.

This sounds too simple to be much of a language challenge, but when I watched the class engage with the challenge it soon became clear that it offered more than I expected. The pupils searched through countless film titles on their phones seeking out word and letter switches that could work. It almost reminded me of a classroom of pupils trying to puzzle out crosswords as they juggled with letter and word combinations.

For most there seemed to be two pressing criteria that developed.  Firstly and perhaps most obviously, that the new title had to produce an idea that could also result in a photographic image that they felt that they could actually make, but also the presence of humour seemed important.

I realize now that in terms of creativity I should have shown them one of my favourite, crazy film related websites, Cardboard Box Office. It doesn’t exactly play along the same language related lines, but it is not far off.  In terms of taking a film related image and theme and twisting it in a wonderfully creative way there are few sites to beat it!  I think it would have almost certainly lead to greater creativity in arranging the photographic material. A note to self……next year make use of the cardboard box office!!

setpostersOn the level of extensive content and language integration (CLIL) this is a fairly modest language assignment. But it was a language element that was certainly enjoyed by the pupils. It engaged them and caused a form of creative play that was a positive diversion from the more standard report writing that they are more often involved with.

I’ll be posting a second assignment that continues, in a slightly more complex way , in this direction in a week or two, follow the blog if you’d like to hear about it.

Priceless moments in education – the Jean Paul Gaultier dress

Once in a while something in the classroom happens that is just priceless. It might be the timing of a joke, throwing a ball of paper over your shoulder and across the classroom straight into the bin or a truly insightful comment of a pupil. Yesterday produced such a moment…..

It concerned a fashion assignment my fourth year pupils (15-16 year olds) are working on. A number of the girls were sitting at computers doing some preparatory work by researching nineteenth century fashion and contemporary designs. I don’t have any fashion orientated training, more a passing interest that has recently been stimulated visits to a number of museum fashion exhibitions. To my pupils, I think I am very much their art teacher and one with a particular interest in painting and sculpture.

As I walked around watching the pupils trawl through hundreds of photographs on a variety of sites one of the pupils stopped me and pointed to an image of a model in a dress on the screen.

gaultier“Do you know by any chance know who designed this dress sir?” she asked.

I looked over her shoulder, I could hardly believe the coincidence, it was one of the gowns that I had seen last year in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague last year, and better still, I did remember who’s it was!

I paused for a moment and said, “yes, that’s by Jean Paul Gaultier”, carefully saying nothing more, and definitely not referring to the source of my knowledge. A couple of searches and clicks later and the pupil concerned had double checked my identification and found it to be true.

The best bit though was when the girl sitting next to her (and a bit of a fashion expert herself) slowly turned and looked up at me and said, “and you can tell that just by looking at the dress?”

“Yes” I said and walked away. As I moved on I glanced back, the look of dumbfounded amazement on the second girl’s face was truly priceless!

They say that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but equally, a little knowledge , used sparingly can be a truly wonderful thing. You can walk away appearing to be, if not a genius, at least a contemporary fashion expert.

Further fashion related posts:

https://petersansom.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/is-fashion-becoming-my-thing/

https://petersansom.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/fashion-and-storylines/

“Design, design, did someone say design?” – what the art department did

This has become a bit of a joke at school. I said it once in an email in relation to a comment from a colleague when he provocatively said something like “what we need is someone who could design us a good poster”.

tshirt

My “design, design, did someone say design?” mantra is often thrown around now at school whenever there is something visual to be made. I didn’t train as a designer of any kind, I did fine art and to be specific painting. But like many a fine art graduate I like to turn my hand to anything creative. Schools benefit a lot from their art departments  and their creative teachers. One of my deputy heads (a physics teacher) at the school where I teach recognized this when he said that “alle scholen hebben creatievelingen hard nodig” (Dutch for, every school needs creative minded spirits amongst it’s personnel). However the reality is, that often the specialist skills they bring to a school are not always given the acknowledgment they deserve, or alternatively hugely and unrealistically overestimated.

Another former colleague used to observe how other staff seemed sometimes to want to hijack her art lessons, “can you just quickly use some of your art lessons to design and build the scenery for the school play?” Like the art department doesn’t have plans  of its own for lesson content! Maybe the English department would like to try writing the school play with the cooperation of sixty of its pupils, that should produce an interesting evening of entertainment. Or what about a geography class and a French class taking charge of the next exchange with a school in France?

I’m joking of course, and actually I really like the extra creative tasks, if I have the time for them I really like doing them and I do feel appreciated too. In the last couple of years I and my art department colleagues have designed and built websites, produced artworks for departing school heads, exhibited pupil work inside and outside of school, produced publicity material for school, designed school t-shirts and hoodies (the actual t-shirt in the picture comes from www.teespring.com and seemed to fit this post so well – hope you don’t mind guys!) and even repainted part of a wall where ink had been spilled and nobody else could manage to match the colour! Many of us also keep our own studio practice running alongside the school work as well.

There is a certain irony here too.  I often find myself explaining at school that there is work and careers to be found by those who choose the art and culture route at school (contrary to what a few colleagues might suggest to pupils). Within a school context there is actually a lot of work to be done! People seem to quite like calling on us for extra assistance and help in any number of creative areas. I sometimes wonder whether the physics department have to help with the electrics around school, or the economics department with the school budget? I suspect not, I guess the truth is, we’re just a little different in the art department, but then I think most of us knew that already.

Gender roles in the classroom

Sexual stereotyping, and a tendency to stay within the most expected of role models it would seem is alive and well in the classroom. Or at least it is amongst the fifteen and sixteen year olds that I teach.

For several weeks now I’ve been working with them on a module about architecture.  It has been largely theoretically based focussing on contemporary buildings in our locality and via the internet, around the world.  All ninety two of the pupils I teach have completed this part. To add further depth to the assignment I include practical assignment at the end of the project. This involves producing an architectural design, firstly for the interior layout of a building (done on paper) and then for the exterior (done on the computer using Google Sketchup). I’ve done this assignment a number of times and know from experience this somewhat technical challenge is not everyone’s thing. So I have started to offer an alternative assignment in the form of a fashion design assignment. An architecture/fashion choice is always going to split pupils along a bit of a boy/girl sort of axis I suppose, but this year it is particularly pronounced. In the overall group, which is probably pretty close to 46 boys and 46 girls, just one boy (well done for being up for it Daan!) has chosen to do the fashion assignment and the number of girls selecting the architecture assignment can be counted on the fingers of one hand. I can’t recall ever seeing such a uniform division of my groups.

gender

It is all pretty anecdotal evidence of sexual and cultural role models in the classroom, but does perhaps hint at greater and more significant imbalances. This particularly the case when you look at both the pupils who choose to study art and culture as an exam subject in the upper years of school, and (not insignificantly) the teachers doing the teaching in schools.

I work in an art department of eight members. It is a group of diverse ages from mid-twenties up to colleagues in their fifties. Within this group of eight, I am the only man.

I am also the national arts subject leader for bilingual education in the Netherlands. In this role I regularly chair meeting for groups of art teachers. At such meetings the female/male balance is often of the order of 80/20 at the very best. A further observation and confirmation of the ‘female heavy’ nature of the sector was made clear to me last year when we were interviewing for a new department member. As I sorted through the pile of application letters and CVs I was desperately hoping that after thirteen years working in an art department of only women I might actually be able to turn up a male colleague at last. But there simply weren’t any such candidates to be found.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with female colleagues, I enjoy working with them. Where my problem lies is what image this sort of situation presents to the pupils. It cannot be unconnected with the classroom observations that I started with. We really seem to have our work cut out in trying to persuading teenage boys in particular that creativity and artistic flair is something they could aspire to wanting to be successful in. It’s a bit of a paradox really, within school male artistic role models are at something of a premium, outside of school in the art, music, film, photography, theatre, design and architectural worlds there is an abundance. You could even argue that the situation somehow reverses itself, a problem that has often enough been addressed by women artists in the past.

Self-Promotion

websiteSelf-promotion is not my strongest side. I prefer to just get on with things. But if you are active in the creative world it is difficult to get by without some sort of website. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was busy giving my website a makeover.  Thinning it out here and there and hopefully making it a little easy to find things when looking for specific detail.  Well after a couple of weeks of work in odd moments the result is finished, well kind of, it is difficult to know when this sort of project is actually finished.  I’ll no doubt continue to find things that need attention.

What in particular has been changed, apart from the way it looks is the section for my own paintings (the ‘studiowork’ section). I’ve created a series of galleries for various themes in the work. Maybe the next step is to write statements to accompany these galleries.

Click on the image to visit