I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Alberta Art Curriculum and where it concerns Division One students, including Kindergarten. Division One, for those readers outside of Alberta, Canada, are Grades One, Two and Three. Within the framework of the Expression Component of the Alberta Art Curriculum, there exists a language that, since 1986, when the curriculum was written, published and implemented by teachers, is becoming more and more distant and misunderstood.
In the 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of the Fine Arts team under the inspiration of our Fine Arts Supervisor, one of the Supervisors in our District Program Department. That team included a Music Consultant or two?, a Drama Consultant, and a Visual Arts Consultant/sometimes Visual Arts Specialist. Today, I feel like writing about ‘the best of times’ in our District when Fine Arts were well-supported, vibrant, inspiring and growing! Professional Development was offered on a very regular basis where teachers had opportunity to share ideas with other teachers in the District, learn techniques, share lesson plans and observe demonstration lessons being delivered by professionals in the field. For many years, there had been a Fine Arts Center, a place where students were bused on a regular basis to have experiences in Art, Music and Drama. It was an amazing time for Fine Arts in Calgary!
When the ‘NEW’ curriculum came out for Visual Arts, the schools were assured that expert teachers became familiar with how to use the document and feel comfortable with designing lessons, and further mentored non-specialist teachers to the point where they became comfortable with delivery of lessons and program. Resources were updated, including textbooks and large visuals, in order to support the Reflection Component. If teachers were struggling with ideas or implementation, a specialist booked one-on-one appointments and traveled to schools to explain, support, observe and assist with ordering media/resources or teaching. This was happening in core subjects as well, but not to the detriment of Fine Arts education.
Somewhere during that process, our department developed a list of indices for administrators…these described what an administrator would see if, in fact, the curriculum outcomes were being met. For example, walking down a hall, a person might look at the walls and be able to quickly identify what quality art works would look like at each Division. Photo copied and cloned or teacher-made works, for example, would optimally, not be presented as student art work.
Not meaning to sound stuck up or arrogant, but truly, ‘perfect’ art is not ‘child made’ art. Child made art is perfect because it shows the true schematic development of each individual child. Somewhere along the line, adults, over the years that I’ve been teaching have somewhat imposed their fear of ‘not being able to draw a straight line’ onto children. They sometimes fail to celebrate the wonky cutting and ‘out of control’ line that is imperative to developing fine motor skills. Congratulations to those of you who treasure these discoveries.
All of these experiences and initiatives, I see as valuable and imperative to the life of the arts in schools. It seems, however, that since then, this DISTANCE between educators and the arts, at least visual arts, has been growing larger and this concerns me. I believed then, as I do now, that Fine Arts are essential to the healthy development and well-rounded education of children. The parts of the brain used in each of the experiences of visual art, dance, drama and music must not be left unexplored. Creatives are the answer to so many of the world’s challenges right now. These have always been my beliefs.
So….what are the realities in schools today? What are the pressures being put upon an authentic visual arts experience…for the sake of this rant, and authentic visual arts experience for the youngest of our children?
Occupational health and safety guidelines now require that only a certain percentage of bulletin board space may be covered in paper. Now, we see the art works, even by Division One children, shrinking. We see their tools becoming smaller. But, THIS IS A PROBLEM!! We can not sacrifice who our young people are and what they need to experience based on the numbers of works that we can display at any given time. It is possible to observe the safety requirements and still address the actual art curriculum, that also, is required.
Because of their little fingers, young children need large brushes and large paper. If you have to rotate their works of art over a month long period, to be fair, I think that is a possibility. Their fingers are not ready to hold tiny water colour brushes, or to manipulate lines and shapes, with paint in an 8 x 10 picture plane.
I’m ranting…let me see if I can find a little video or something that supports anything I’ve written here. Well, HERE is a write up titled, YOUNG IN ART by Craig Roland, outlining and illustrating the natural progression of making symbols and then images.
You may want to mute the next video. I know that I did. Sometimes music distracts.
I think teachers of art will be less frustrated and children will be less frustrated if they can enjoy art experiences that challenge, but do not frustrate. Somehow, it’s important for teachers to identify the stages of artistic development that exist within their classrooms. If a student struggles with fine motor skills, media needs to be selected that will ease that struggle.
For young children, I recommend BIG brushes and BIG paper. Drawings can easily be accomplished with a piece of white chalk.
My thoughts on Pinterest? Did anyone ask? I’m laughing here. Truly, this post is a rant and not anything but. I have to say that Pinterest is both a blessing for a visual arts educator and a curse! To generalist and specialist teachers alike, I pose these questions. Do you understand what the curricular outcomes are that are being met by each Pinterest ‘idea’? Are the outcomes appropriate for students at your grade level? Are you including in your art experiences, lessons in Reflection, Depiction, Composition and Expression? Are the end products the driving force behind the lesson or is the experience the child is having while creating them, the most magical?
All things to think about…
I think that we have done a disservice to teachers cutting back on professional development where it includes topics with direct impact on teaching. I think that these are the days where we focus most on technology, assessment and inclusion to the detriment of self-reflection, lesson and unit planning and professional sharing opportunities. In ‘the trenches’, there is very little time to explore.
The cost of art materials is, I’m certain, escalating. The time on the schedule is diminishing. Visual arts education is slowly being absorbed by other subjects and being called integrated visual arts. If students use crayon pencils and markers, there is some thought that they are practicing art. This, in my opinion, is a fallacy.
Anyway, I feel like I need a drink after all of this. Good for you, if you read to this point. I hope that you know that I’m behind all my readers and I certainly use my opportunities, as a guest teacher, to explore the art curriculum with kids simply because I love it! Sometimes the kids call me Painter Lady. That makes me happy! What better way to learn, create and explore ones mind, but to dip a big brush into a buttery bucket of paint and then to watch that paint flow out onto a surface? For those of you out there, with kidlets, have fun with them. They appreciate any opportunity you give them to roll up their sleeves and get into those gritty aspects of learning!
Valentines…a lesson, or two.
Valentines this year…Grades Three and One.