Critics of the traditional, teacher-led approaches employed at Michaela argue that teaching in this way stifles pupil creativity. Since joining Michaela in January 2015, I have come to see that a teacher-led approach to Art teaching does more to enhance creativity than oppress it.
Typical approaches to Art teaching are driven by the belief that children ought to be given the space to develop creativity on their own. We should let kids ‘have a go’ and express themselves through ad hoc experimentation. This is an argument propounded by the likes of Ken Robinson, but, in my opinion, is profoundly flawed. Having seen the results a teacher-led approach can have, I am now convinced that pupils struggle to express their creativity in a meaningful and purposeful way without a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of pencil work and drawing.
So instead of the usual group work, guess work, experimentation with a variety of different media or tracing paper exercises, we do things more systematically and carefully. Without wasting a single minute, pupils study techniques step-by-step and master each stage of the process before moving on to the next.
Lessons start with a 10 second book hand out (which is the norm across the school), followed by a period of teacher instruction and demonstration. Using a visualiser, I introduce the technique they will be working on that lesson, before giving them time to practise the technique until mastered. I never ask pupils to come to the front of the room to huddle around the table to observe a demonstration. I’ve found in the past that the behaviour can quickly become quite chaotic if this happens, so I suggest avoiding it at all costs! In fact, no pupils are ever allowed out of their seats during an art lesson except for designated ‘Art Assistants’- trustworthy pupils selected for their work ethic and commitment to the subject. They are the only pupils who pack away materials, equipment and work in lessons. It saves time and reduces chaos, whilst simultaneously incentivising pupils to work harder – (the Art Assistant positions are highly coveted, and pupils wear a badge on their blazers if they are selected).
For the first 4 weeks of year 7, pupils do not attempt to use any media other than the 2B pencil, chalk and charcoal. This is to give them time to build their tonal and mark-making techniques. We revisit the same media a number of times over and over in order to secure their ability to use them effectively.
I do not believe that Art ability is determined by talent. Because of the traditional approaches we use, all pupils have the same opportunity to become excellent artists. It is simply a matter of time, commitment and practice, just like any other subject!
Below are a number of pictures drawn by year 7 and 8 pupils from across the ability spectrum.
Art, when taught using traditional methods, is about practice and technique, not raw talent. Explicit, teacher-led, minimal fuss teaching is the optimal way to enhance creativity in Art.