De La Salle Catholic Senior College Cronulla has become an example of how to build literacy in the Visual Arts for a group of American pre-service art teachers.
The group of nine undergraduate and graduate students from Illinois State University and Associate Professor in Art Education Judith Briggs visited the school on August 3 for an art room tour and discussion of marking criteria and techniques to increase students’ comprehension of the theoretical aspects of art.
It is the second time Dr Briggs has visited the school since completing research for her doctoral thesis at a Hornsby school in 2000. Her students also visited Sydney sites including the Museum of Contemporary Art and the University of NSW, where host professor Dr Karen Maras lectures, during their two-week trip.
Dr Briggs said a new national Visual Arts standard in The United States has moved classes from being practice-based only to integrating art theory.
“This visit is very valuable to us because we’re trying to incorporate a new method of art education in the States,” she said. “The way that NSW schools teach art is more concept-based. There’s a lot more collaboration, talking about artwork, reading about artwork, and reading critics work in the NSW syllabus. There’s still a large emphasis on making in the States. “
Dr Briggs said the students were also taken by the incorporation of contemporary artists work in Australian teaching.
“What we’ve discovered here is that art helps students think about the world,” she said.
“The schools that we’ve seen have involved galleries, the community, and hot topics in the world which the students then manifest in their own work. It’s more like Civics or a Philosophy course as well. It’s brilliant.
“We just love the way that the conceptual framework model uses concept to talk about artwork and helps students to express their ideas in an academic way. We want our students in the States to be able to use that language.”
De La Salle art teacher Byron Hurst first showed a group from Illinois through the school in 2013.
This time he showed the visitors a Year 12 writing exercise based on a class visit to Australian landscape artist Alexander McKenzie’s studio.
He created the questions – which gave students prompts and blank boxes to sketch the defining features of the two art works they were asked to analyse – based on the principles of the ‘Literacy: The Next Step’, a professional development program which gives teachers tools to promote higher-order thinking in students of all abilities.
“I like to look at the topic words in a sentence, but then ask the kids to rearticulate that as an expression of what they understand it to mean,” he said.
“Rather than being confronted by a question, I like to give them some paragraphs and a link, just to remind them to tie their answer back to the question. It’s that PEEL principle – point, explanation, example, and link.”
“We talked about literacy building and being able to have approaches to writing about art. The second thing was assessment of practical work – assessment for learning as well as assessment of learning. We looked at marking criteria, how you give feedback.
“In the arts because of the personal nature of the work – some of the difficulties in giving feedback without demoralising. If kids fail maths they kind of accept it, but if they feel like they’ve put their heart and soul into out there and are being judged to have fallen short they really feel it.
“We talked about how you give feedback constructively – pointing out the things they’ve done right and also having the harder conversation.
Mr Hurst also spoke about building positive relationships with students and providing guidance to students as they create their HSC major works.
Year 12 student Chris Koustoubardis, 18, told the guests Italian socialist artist Renato Guttuso and markets he visited on a school trip to Italy in January had influenced his HSC Visual Arts major work.
“I used Guttuso’s market drawing as inspiration,” he said. “I really liked how the colours were so vibrant and I wanted to replicate that in my work. He was a socialist artist working in the time of World War II and the fascist era. He’s really vibrant and expressive.”