We are Wellington [Online] | E-learning in the art room

Janet Willis, Art Teacher

Pupils get creative

As we’ve all discovered during the past few months, trying to learn and teach in a growing global pandemic can be tough. Every subject has its own unique challenges in terms of e-learning but, thankfully, pupils and teachers have discovered some silver linings along the way as they make the best with what they have. Art is no different. The great thing about artistic inspiration is that it can come from anywhere and everywhere; leftover packaging, a description in a book, a mathematical pattern, can be brought to life with almost nothing other than the artist’s imagination and a little resourcefulness. As I’ve seen with literally hundreds of pieces of artwork produced in recent months, pupils are adapting to making art at home incredibly well. My role has been to keep the creative fire burning for our pupils with whatever resources they have at home. I’m here to get pupils thinking about the subjects they are learning in a creative way and provide the stimulus that will set them off on an exciting project. Each week, I’ve provided pupils from different year groups planned sheets and recorded videos introducing them to key art skills that have links with their current IPC unit, English or mathematical focus, in order to keep up their cross-curricular learning in the same themed manner that they enjoy at school. I want them to open the next project on a Monday morning and immediately feel excited about what they will make in the week ahead. More than anything though, I’d say that my role has been to encourage pupils (and their parents who have been wonderful in supporting them) to enjoy the making, to learn new skills and to produce something that they are proud of and want to share in the on-line forums. As the pictures accompanying these words show, you don’t need an art room and lots of resources to make something beautiful!
   
David (year 3) working on a 3D painting inspired by the legend of The Willow Pattern.
Bella (year 4) proudly shows off the t-shirt she has designed for Bob ‘The Man on the Moon’ Tours.

Anhua 
(year 2), inspired by acrobats in the circus, created a sculpture around the theme of ‘balance’.

Mini (year 1) building up a volcano and mountains for her pirate island.

 

Overcoming isolation – Noticing differences between the classroom and e-learning

As you can see from these photos, our pupils can create masterpieces through their interpretation of the planning from their teacher! However, the challenges and obstacles involved are real and are not trivial, especially given our pupils over the past weeks and months are experiencing a variety of restrictions in their everyday lives.

In the classroom, I provide the materials, tools and workspaces – everything needed to get on with the project. Currently, many pupils are working with only the most basic art equipment and without a dedicated space other than a corner of a table or even a bit of floorspace. For me, one of the biggest differences and unexpected delights of this ongoing situation is how pupils have been unfazed by the limited resources they have available. Instead of focusing on what they don’t have, pupils have looked harder at what they do have available to see their way through the difficulty and create something amazing.

Another big difference I’ve noticed is to do with individuality. In the classroom, each pupil can see what everyone else is doing as they go about the making. While they aren’t directly ‘copying’ one another, pupils in the younger years (who may be less sure of their skills) often use their peers as a bit of a yardstick to compare and often ‘correct’ their own work. This often means that you end up with 22 or so outcomes that are individually different but broadly similar along the set theme of the project.

The situation has been massively different under our current e-learning setup. I’ve provided pupils with the idea, the inspiration for their projects, but the outcomes are all so markedly different, because no two pupils have the same resources to hand and they are putting their artwork together in isolation, with only their own interpretation to work with. This has led to much more individuality and the creation of uniquely beautiful artwork. This is something I’m going to have to think hard about, in order to bring this same kind of individuality into the classroom once school reopens.


Egg box bonkers project results from year 2
 

Lessons learned – Looking at art during and after e-learning

The events of recent months have already taught everyone, regardless of their age, a lot about the way the world works and how we fit into it. I hope that if my pupils have learned anything from this experience, it’s that they can be creative and resourceful under any circumstances, not just when they are at school and enjoy using their time to make something.

Even if you strip things right down to the barest essentials, you can still make art. I’ve showed pupils how to make glue from flour and water, something I did as a child myself. Now they are looking at everyday items in their home and seeing them through the lens of an artist forager! They’re looking at empty plastic bottles and packaging, toilet rolls and paper bags, all the while thinking: “What can I use this for? What can I create with this?” Now I feel like they really understand that everything has artistic potential, and they can better trust their own instincts to explore and realise that potential. That’s one incredible silver lining to a very dark cloud.

Another silver lining is that we have so many wonderful pieces of artwork to display once the College can fully reopen. Whenever that may be, we are planning to create a massive college-wide art exhibition that features pieces pupils have made during their time away. I’m extremely excited by this prospect, because it will not only be a celebratory signal that things are returning to normality, but also the exhibition will let pupils take stock of what they’ve learned during this time, and that art makes you think big!

To finish my thoughts on e-learning and the current situation, I’d like to quote the American tennis player Arthur Ashe, whose words have been a genuine life lesson for me personally, one that I frequently try to pass on to our pupils.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. 

 

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