Teaching brilliance through benchmarks

This week’s teaching forum shines a light on how the art and design department at Durrington have used the brilliance of past GCSE students to inform the teaching and learning of their current cohorts.  In simple terms it is about taking the very best examples, displaying them beautifully and then using them to direct students towards similarly excellent work.

Best of Best DHS (1)

Director of art and design Gail Christie started out with a vision to create a mini-art college feel within the department.  This included exhibition style displays of the very best student work, regularly changed and organised in a thematic way.  Over the last 10 years this has developed to become a central part of the department’s approach to teaching.

The area is now zoned according to the different elements students need to produce at GCSE.  At the start of each unit of work, art and design teachers take their students out of the classroom and into the central atrium area where the work is displayed.  Through explanation and careful questioning students are then taken through the process of how the students achieved the brilliant drawings, painting and sculptures that are being discussed.  The focus is on unpicking each element in fine detail, allowing students to see the building blocks required to produce the highest possible quality.

There are multiple benefits to this approach.  Firstly there is the high expectations it creates.  Students are immersed in excellence as soon as they enter the department and so cannot help but recognise where the bar is set.  Secondly the mystery of how the often abstract goals set at the start of a topic can be reached is removed.  Students can see clearly both the end point and the steps to get there.  Lastly teachers can refine their own practice by constantly building on the success of previous students, little is forgotten through this approach allowing tweaks and improvements to be made.

The success of this approach can be measured through the incredible outcomes the department has, achieving 100% A*-C year on year.  Clearly the subject lends itself to this way of working, but no doubt other subjects can learn from this approach to using benchmarks to benefit not just the creators but also those that follow them.

Posted by Chris Runeckles


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