Teacher Training: Bloxham and Kingham Hill Schools
We are delighted to have partnered with the leading Independent secondary schools in our area, Bloxham School and Kingham Hill School to offer two bespoke teacher training opportunities. When we first engaged with schools teacher training was one of the things everyone said they wanted more of and so it was important to us to be able to respond to this request and invest in the staff we are working with. We have also encouraged staff to view the school experience days in their schools as an opportunity to upskill and many have thoroughly enjoyed having a go at pottery and watercolours as well as engaging with their students from a different perspective.
The training days were not only a fantastic opportunity to upskill and take that knowledge back into staff rooms and class rooms around the locality, but also an opportunity to let conversation range over subjects such as the philosophical need for art in schools, the pressures on school and the response of SEN children to art. Needless to say, it was fascinating and highly rewarding for all involved and I hope this blog gives a deep enough insight to inspire more staff to join us next time as well as share the impact of the conversations on our work in the future.
On a beautifully sunny afternoon, with the quintessential knock of willow on leather gently floating through the windows from the adjacent cricket pitch, we gathered in the art department of Bloxham School in mid-June. I think senior school art departments are some of the most inspirational places to visit because the talent on display is so visceral. So, surrounded by sculpture, mobiles, paintings and more we settled at our tables to be immediately presented with party bags. What fun! These were, of course, serious art gifts because they were an example of the bags Bloxham designed for Great Tew Primary School during lockdown.
Each bag contained a sketchbook and zip lock bag containing all the art materials for a year’s worth of projects. Scissors, glue, paints, pencils and more. Some resources would need to be topped up and some would last forever (childhood impact not withstanding). Covid secure and carefully considered these packs facilitated creative sketchbooks and are still used by the school today. This was to showcase just one of many ideas of how to approach art provision in various environments. Party bags to kick things off – oh how we laughed!
The first experience was something completely new to everyone; home made photographs. Cyanotype is 170 year old photographic printing process using chemicals that react to light to produce something that looks a lot like an x-ray, in my opinion!
The inexpensive chemicals are wiped onto card, which is left to dry. In a dim room (thanks to Bloxham’s stunning old architecture turning off the lights was enough, even on a sunny day) we placed interesting objects onto the card.
We used leaves and flowers but the example from the students used scissors and paper-clips. These were then put outside in the bright sunlight for about 10 minutes before having the objects removed and rinsing the card in paper. A few minutes later and the images were dry producing our very own homemade photographs.
The staff all agreed this was an excellent project that could be done with all age groups and we discussed the practical implications of wearing gloves to stop hands turning blue (though who wouldn’t love a whole class of Smurfs),
protecting the tables from chemical staining and the problem of carpeting classrooms as opposed to using washable lino flooring.
The 5 year old in me was absolutely thrilled with my work and yes, it is pinned to the kitchen wall!
The philosophy behind mark making is the point to it. It is the starting point to early years art which is to encourage creative and independent thinking through curiosity resulting in building confidence. It is not about creating a perfect piece of classical art. Marks look freestyle and abstract, which means anyone can do it and feel like they did well, or at least met the brief. One of the problems these days is that children are under enormous pressure to do things correctly, to a high standard and as quickly as possible.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise to the art teachers in the room when I tell them that our first artist running an after school club had to confiscate all the rubbers because the children were so worried about mistakes and being perfect. It took a long time to explain to them there were no mistakes in art and indeed variations on the original theme could in fact lead to a better work of art in the end.
We started by making our ‘brushes’ using natural materials. Piles of pine cones, leaves, feathers and twigs alongside man made objects such as polystyrene, bottle tops and cotton wool were available for us to make our own brushes. These were then dipped in plates of ink and marks evolved on our paper. From dots and dashes to swipes and splurges it was liberating and fun; what else is creativity?
We shared lots of top tips to encourage children, such as using tracing paper over an image which can then be photocopied onto a final piece of paper producing a base image for a child to work off.
This is a method to encourage those who believe they cannot produce a ‘formal’ image for a specific project. One teacher said she played music during art lessons, which I linked to our conversation with Oxford
art charity At the Bus who use art as therapy in schools and always play Mozart which creates a calm yet light ambience.
Needless to say, our first foray into art teacher training had attracted art teachers and so we had discussions about the value of viewing all subjects through the prism of art and the enormous success schools had when they had adopted this approach. However, head teachers need a huge amount of support to take this approach and the high profile schools that have done this have built new schools around the philosophy of art so the building as well as the teaching is working to achieve this end.
We bemoaned the modern method of assessment where even in art children and their output are judged, often against the same criteria used for academic subjects so children are told early on that they are not good at art; a subjective discipline if ever there was one! Thus the door is mentally closed for many people to explore their creative side. A fascinating anecdote was shared that 2/3 of architectural students at university are dyslexic because they are so much better at ‘seeing’ in 3D.
Kingham Hill School
At both schools a huge amount of thought and preparation had gone into the day and for that I am truly grateful to the art department teaching staff and their wonderful technicians. As with so many things, the key to success is in the preparation. We had a work station each and five experiences had been planned for us, all skills that could be taken straight back into the classroom and all of which interlinked so could be used to develop children’s skills over a period of time.
One of the big topics of conversation at both of these days is how to engage children that are nervous around art. Maybe they haven’t done much art, maybe they have been told they are not very good but since we are talking about primary age children we think they should all be given multiple opportunities to have a go at a wide range of mediums. Not just engaging in art for art sake but discovering their creative side, whatever that may look like to them.
For our first exercise we prepared paper. By this I mean we roughly painted various substances over white paper. What this achieves is to create a ‘canvas’ that already has something on it so it’s not as intimidating as a pristine piece of white paper. We tried ‘brusho‘ (great fun – flicking coloured powder on the paper then flicking over water and rolling it around or brushing it) and used watered down paint and stewed tea. We ripped up pages from books and cut images from magazines to then glue over this base. We discussed the expectation of perfection and the pressure within the modern schooling system. We also drank fresh tea (not to be confused with the brusho!).
Continuous Line Drawing
We put aside our prepared paper to dry and picked up a pen and an image – birds and fish were the theme of the day – to practice continuous line drawing. This is a good ‘warm up’ exercise. Quite literally, put the pen on the paper and do not remove the pen from the paper until you have finished copying the image.
In the words of Paul Klee ‘A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.’ Then, put the pen in the opposite hand….and finally blindfold yourself, or at least cover the drawing hand. It was a fascinating exercise during which we discussed the importance of children using pen, specifically so they couldn’t rub it out, and learning about forms rather than a perfect end product.
Choosing one of our continuous line drawings we then took very thin wire and following the line of the drawing, bent it into the shape of the image on the paper. By holding one end down with a big of masking tape and
focusing on some quite dextrous finger movements we all slowly created an animal out of wire. Over time, different coloured wire could be added and the detail could be fleshed out but for us, we were thrilled in an hour to produce a passable fish or bird.
To the joy of the trainees we were allowed to get messy by lunchtime and so we rolled out a special black paint onto paper which we then overlaid with newspaper that on removal took off the excess. Laying a piece of white paper over the ink we then drew an image and where we pressed down, ink was picked up.
This created an artwork in its own right. Stage two was to use some of our prepared paper from earlier in the day so that the image we created already had an interesting background. We used black but there were examples from Kingham Hill students who had worked in other colours onto a range of backgrounds.
This exercise was suitable for all ages but would certainly be enjoyed by older children as a careful balance of pressure was required.
We took a polytile and gently – the right pressure is critical – traced over one of our images making a slight indent into the tile.
Removing the paper, we then gently pressed over the feint line we had created in the tile, making a slightly deeper indent. A pen is best because a pencil can get caught in the structure of the polytile and with a sharp pencil it is also easy to press too hard and go through the tile.
We then rolled black ink over the tile and pressed it onto paper – or another of our prepared backgrounds.
This meant we had created our own template that could repeatedly be used to create an image.
And finally….for a big treat they brought out the clay.
Much discussion about why this generally doesn’t happen in school anymore for reasons that varied from cost to deskilling to floor covering. However, today we got stuck in.
Continuing with the techniques we had built up through the day, we were given a flat ‘slab’ of clay. Over this we laid an image that we traced over with biro (or freestyle drawing for the brave and / or talented). This left an indent in the clay that we cut out and then added in detail using clay tools. We balled up some newsaper and laid the fish (we all did fish) over the newspaper which acted as a cushion so that we could arrange the fish into a more 3D shape.
These would then be fired in the school kiln and could be glazed.
As well as our wonderful art we all took away a huge amount of knowledge and skills. Even more importantly, we took away inspiration and confidence having not only shared knowledge and encouragement but staff had invested in themselves and their professional skills, which was time HUGELY appreciated by the teachers and, in time, their students. We all know the quote ‘No one forgets a good teacher’ but I fear these days it could be adapted to ‘no one invests in good teachers’.
To be inspiring, teachers need to be inspired.
We are very grateful to the art departments of Bloxham School and Kingham Hill School for giving up so much of their time and energy to plan two fabulous teacher training days. Both events were fully catered (a noted treat!) and gave much needed time for discussion and reflection as well as learning. We thank those teachers that came, and urge all teachers to take every opportunity to invest in themselves. We hope to offer this opportunity again.