The Development of a Collaborative PBL environment in Visual Arts reflective documentation part one

Collaboration is about doing stuff together. A partnership. It is an expectation that students will work this way in PBL environments and likewise staff will have to also.

We have been working on how we manage our senior courses. For the last two years, instead of Level one Art, Level 2/3 Painting, level 2/3 Design and level 2/3 Photography, I asked if we could change things up. We always bang students in the back of level 2/3 Design when they cannot fit into level one Art. Likewise, designers end up in Painting classes when they cannot fit in Design. It's considered a nuisance, something in Art departments that we are meant to fight against as it hampers the growth, the validity, realness, ultimate truth that our course is far-far superior than our senior managers see our courses as, and our ...egos I think if we are honest.

2015 numbers rolled in, as they always do around October. We had 39 students listed for Year 11 Art. We were asked to cull at least 10 of those. 10 is not such an accidental 'I had no other option' number sitting there. Whereas in Photography we had 15 students. Enough for a legitimate class. Likewise in Paint and Design. Really good numbers.

I knew full well that there was an Art teaching colleague at another school on the west coast 'doing it tough' in the opinion of some of the bigger school Art depts here in chch. She had only one senior Art class, one of her students had down's syndrome and she had written up what she was doing for her students for TKI as a planning resource for smaller departments. It was all about going with the mixed discipline/level approach and embracing it, leaving things open for students to come back and complete level one over two years and it all focused on concept as the driver, over a whole class approach.

Little nagging thought in my head: We always taught our level 2/3 students from that position anyway. Why would it be different for level one?

When we went to Tamaki College for Manaiakalani professional development, we saw this cool thing in English where they didn't teach academic, vocational and communication English from level one upwards. They took the labels of smartness/dumbness away and had theme based classes. What do you really care about? What makes you think, be passionate, have a voice? That is how you chose your English class. That is also where you start an Art concept from. Then I have that lightbulb moment, followed by that slight guilt moment of how I may have been disadvantaging students for a very long time, culminating in the 'I'm changing the world' moment. In my Art room at least.

So again, why was I making it so different in Level one? Because the standards don't quite align to level 2 and 3. So I sorta used that as a justification. But that doesn't actually matter, there are always ways around things.

I was making it different because it was easier than altering my mind set, I still had that fear that I was going to upset traditionalists in my field (they don't even know my name, so I'm not sure why I cared) and if I am honest there is still the 'You're from Hornby? Oh...' thing going on for me. I don't want to make things too different here at Hornby and therefore have our students not able to do as well as 'theirs'... forgetting the fact that the will, drive and passion of the student is what will eventually cause success, not whether I cared about whether they were going to be the kid in the second-hand jumper getting teased about hand-me-downs.

Yes, content, technique, skills are all really important, but first and foremost is the 'catch'. Fostering will, determination and passion for learning something is what we must do first. And sometimes the only thing we may end up doing. But eventually that will come back in on that same person and the light will be re-ignited.

My proposal was to intentionally mix the 4 lines of Art up into being a mish mash of everything and then going for it.

That year had been a mare for Cindy with 5 level one Art students sitting in the back of her level 2/3 Design class. The designers did well - 100% pass rate in the external in the end. The year 11 students all passed too, but they were all hard on her - 'you only care about the designers' followed by 'why do you spend time with the babies? WE are more important!' from the designers.  There was a total non acceptance and division between the two groups. But there was this really interesting student in the class who had come to us from alternative education. He only did level one. He struggled in a lot of relationships with a lot of teachers and only met his dad that year. He had moved from the North Island and everything was just weird here. Wickedly talented, creative and interesting, when he was on top of things personally, not so much of any of those when things were going wrong personally. He worked in the same kind of way as you would at Art school. Independently and interdependently. Coming up with new trains of thought, discussing these out loud with others, bouncing ideas back and forth and taking everyone's opinions really seriously and always, in his own little space of what did look like a fine arts studio in the end, down the back. He worked like a senior painter. Cindy just had to keep up with him to make sure he as ticking the boxes for the internal standards along the way as well.

Level one pass rate external folio for 2016 - 92%
This bit of data is important because of the school results for level one in 2016 as well as the fact that level one students do not understand how they get assessed in Visual Arts at this level. It is the second year we had run our programme this way. 2015 was not shabby either at around (don't quote me) 85%. We do not have time to make that clear and real in junior Art. 2 hours a week for half a year does not allow us to capture their passion for Art as well as school them all on entering into NCEA as competitive, geared up, understanding how they are likely to do in NCEA, machines. Its enough to ascertain that they have readily developed skills that stand them in good stead already and passion.
What it looks like:
We keep lines 1, 2, 3 and 4 of our 6-line patterned timetable open for Art at all three levels. Students are well-schooled into understanding that they are responsible for their concept, and have mostly begun developing this in year 10 if they are coming into Year 11 Art. Anyone who wants to come into year 11 without year 10 Art gets a sit down chat with me about what I expect with their own direction.

The first two weeks of the new year are spent on brainstorming what students care about, reading through books on art and learning about artists that catch their interest. Discussions with the teacher and with each others (levels 2 and 3 help a lot in guidance here) help formulate the direction a student wants to take. We discuss, question, and develop a plan.

We use our google site to unite them as a class with a tracking sheet for each class loaded onto the page for each class. For each course, there is a course outline digitally presented with a hyperlink to the folder containing the assessment schedules for each standard they can earn. It is up to the student to make sure they are ticking things off...We also use teaching blogs to then differentiate subject and level specific resources, help and guidance. But most is on a more individual level. All students are using a blog to document their work. Some are still reluctant, but the more it comes through the junior school, the less foreign it is to them. Their use of a blog allows us as teachers to pursue their progress beyond a class time. I'm marking and giving formative feedback essentially, just online.

We frequently demand that students prepare a timetable of their week for us on the whiteboard at the start of the week. Telling us what they are doing, not the other way round.

In that, there must be outcomes - a piece of work for 1.2, a research paragraph for Art History, a blog post. If their outcomes are unreasonable, they rewrite them and take some responsibility. If they don't meet them they have to replan their next week to sort it out. It is their credits in the end. if we do this right, they should care more about them.

Because we approach our classes willingly as mixed level and discipline, it alters our mindset about how we feel about teaching them and how we approach it. It is a placebo effect.
The flaws/areas to work on:
- Communication between the two Art teachers - we both have different skill sets that we could be using together more for the benefit of the students.
- This model is threatening to some people. Some students do want to be told what to do. We try and adjust approaches for them, but that is quite a lot of work in this environment.
- Art History standards are way better for research skills in Art than any of the research standards in practical art. We need to offer these more at levels 2 and 3, not just level 1. That does lend to addressing literacy standards more for us too.
- Communication with the deans as to how full the lines are - one ended up with 37, another with 33, one with 24 and one with 11 at the start of this year. That needed to be addressed.


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