The first 15 Minute Forum of 2016-2017 was led by Gail Christie who is the Curriculum Leader for Art and Design at Durrington. In an unusual move the 15 Minute Forum was not held in its normal classroom but convened in the Art department. This was for the important reason that Gail wanted the staff to see what the students actually see when her department are talking about ‘excellence’.
The Art department has a vast array of student work on display, but as Gail stated it is not a ‘display’ but an ‘exhibition’. In her words displays ‘just get looked at’, whereas exhibitions are ‘discussed and analysed’. The idea of this is that students are immersed in the work, they are able to produce, rather than feeling that everything has been produced by an ‘expert’ whose level they will never reach.
Each aspect of the ‘exhibition’ is linked to a particular topic that students study and has the aim of providing stimulus and ideas for the students to use in their work. However, in many cases not all of the work on display has to be classed as ‘excellence’. Many of the walls feature work from a whole class and are used during lessons. Gail discussed how, she will bring classes out to view the work during lessons and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the art that has been produced. This allows students to break down the ‘fear factor’ of the task and helps them feel less intimidated when they are asked to produce a similar piece of work. This is an important aspect for our students at Durrington, as it provides them with confidence. It also gives them an opportunity to see work that has been produced by people that they know, which again allows them to believe that they can produce work which is of the same or higher quality.
At this point Gail stressed the important point that, it is not as simple as only showing the students ‘excellence’. Once the students have seen the work and discussed it, the teachers then need to carefully break down the task and model strategies and techniques which students can use. Austin’s butterfly provides a key example of how, having aspired for excellence, a student can achieve this through careful modelling, explanation and feedback.
This strategy has also been used in the Geography department led by Ben Crockett. Ben recently blogged about their approach here. The principle in Geography was the same as demonstrated by Gail. The department wanted all of their students to produce a high quality piece of writing which would set the ‘benchmark’ for the year ahead. As can be seen below the students were allowed to draft their work on a separate sheet of paper, thus removing the fear of crossing out and editing as they went.
Following this the Geography teachers provided feedback, focussed on improving the students’ explanation of their points and basic SPaG issues. Finally, the students rewrote their work into their exercise books, having responded to the teacher feedback, to produce their best possible work at this stage of the year. Ex-Durrington teacher Andy Tharby wrote about how he had used a similar technique in his English lessons here.
One of the most important aspects of Gail’s talk was the collection of sketchbooks from last years Year 11 students, which proudly hang from the cupboard doors in the Art department. Again these provide ideas and stimuli for the current students, but rather than being a ‘one-off’ piece of work they are an on-going reflection of the ‘excellence’ that our students can produce. Regularly throughout the year, Gail will allow her classes to look at the sketchbooks and take photographs on their phones, in order to provide a continuous reminder of the ‘benchmark’. The aim is that this inspires the students to, at least equal that level and, hopefully exceed it. The great thing about this is that it could, with careful planning, be replicated in every department – not just a practical based one.
What is great about this approach from Gail in Art and Design is that it sets the tone for the year ahead and allows all of the students to see what they are capable of. Then throughout the year, it provides a reference point for students to assess whether they are going ‘beyond their best’ and thus progressing. It also provides inspiration for students to continually strive to produce their best work, as being surrounded by ‘excellence’ should inspire them to produce ‘excellence’.