As teachers of art and design, I think modelling is one of our real collective strengths. Not because of our good looks and catwalk prowess(!) but because like other practical subjects, it’s really important for pupils to see techniques demonstrated by an expert in order that they can learn and master these themselves. So this blog will unpick some of my thinking around why modelling is so important not just in Art and Design, but across the curriculum.
This time last year I’d heard of a visualiser, but had never actually used one to demonstrate techniques. Now I wouldn’t be without it. A year ago, I’d never made an instructional video for my pupils, but always wanted to. Now we have a YouTube playlist with over 50 asynchronous video resources modelling key concepts in Art and Design.
Despite the huge number of difficulties we have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning has magnified the need for excellent pedagogy. And in art and design, it has really shone a light on modelling and explicit instruction.
Great art and design teachers do this every lesson. It may now seem like a distant memory, but pre-pandemic, our lesson ritual involved gathering all pupils close around a table to demonstrate the lesson. Sometimes, we might have done this at numerous points in the lesson to break down the task into stages. I remember the worry back in August when we returned to school but were having to teach from the front. How would we recreate a demonstration using a visualiser? How would we assist pupils, without sitting right beside them to help?
But we managed. And I would argue that the use of a visualiser actually improves our ability to demonstrate. Because it allows ALL pupils to see ALL stages of the learning. They can see our demonstration in close-up. It allows us to demonstrate our meta-cognitive process as we model and, (and this is a biggy in a practical subject such as art and design!) it means that there is zero disruption to learning because pupils don’t need to leave their seat. The modelling is now not just limited to the short time around the demonstration table. Instead techniques, concepts and common mistakes can be viewed by learners at multiple points throughout the lesson on the whiteboard.
So what are my top tips for modelling in Art and design, or indeed any subject.
Provide an example
I think this is really important for so many reasons. Firstly it lets learners see what they are aiming for. It helps boost motivation because usually the exemplar is impressive and pupils like the challenge (especially when I then go on to give them the steps to achieve success.) I often call it, what a good one looks like. In a frantic, busy timetable it can often be tempting to wing it and just go without but it really is an important part of preparing for your lesson. In many cases an exemplar, helps me as a teacher because sometimes practical processes take too long and it’s a good idea to have ‘one I made earlier.’ This avoids wasted time during a lesson. Finally, it’s a really important process for me to go through as it helps me identify the difficulties, mistakes pupils may make and helps me to think about to breaking down the modelling into steps. It also builds teacher confidence because especially in the early stages of teaching, it can be hugely daunting to demonstrate live in front of a class of young people.
Whilst demonstrating I am asking questions. Constantly. I am probing pupils to check their understanding and guide their thinking. ‘What kind of line should we be using here?’ ‘Where is the light coming from?’ ‘How dark should this side be?’ This engages learners throughout and builds their confidence. It means they are not passive, but gaining the meta cognitive thinking to guide them through the process. I often think that in art and design, we are teaching pupils not, ‘how to draw’ but ‘how to see.’ This requires prompts to encourage them to see things in a way which will help them. I also want to give them the thinking process to ensure that when they get stuck, they have the tools and thinking skills ways in order to get back on track.
This is why visualisers are really useful. Pre-pandemic, there might have been a tendency to cram everything into one demonstration to avoid disruption to learning and having pupils constantly stopping and starting out of their seats. I’ve seen pupils become really frustrated because they are just getting into the task and then they are being asked to get out of their seat to watch something they can already do. They want to get on and make progress. And as teachers, we don’t want to break that flow of success. Visualisers mean that learners who need to can watch. Learners who are confident can continue working.
Demonstrate the process
Sometimes, as an early career teacher, demonstrations are the most daunting part of the lesson so the thought of having to demonstrate multiple times may be off putting. However, if we reframe ‘the demonstration’ as ongoing modelling throughout the lesson, it becomes a lot less high stake and pressured. It allows us as teachers to model the process and the stages which learners need to go through to achieve success. We can also use this to address difficulties identified as we scan around the classroom. Working together through the process is also really useful. I use the modelling process ‘I do’ (pupils all watch me) then ‘we do’ (pupils work alongside me – I guide the stages, pace and structure.) And finally ‘you do’ (as pupils build confidence, I set them free to work independently.) This structure really helps pupils to progress at their own pace and allows me to support those who need more practice.
Provide an opportunity for pupils to work themselves
This can often be difficult for teachers. It’s a fact that we like to talk! But the ‘you do’ stage of modelling is really important. We need to give time for our pupils to demonstrate their knowledge snd understanding of the learning too. So this is our opportunity to circulate, to check everyone has grasped the technique and stand back and let them go. It’s this bit which builds the motivation. As pupils realise that they can actually do it themselves, they are motivated to achieve more.
Identify the key learning.
When planning demonstrations and modelling I think it is useful to think of the learning and the knowledge pupils need, rather than the task itself. This helps to identify the aspects which we need to reinforce and concepts which a transferable. It can be tempting to become a Blue Peter presenter and create demonstrations which become a set of instructions taking through procedures in order to achieve a finished piece. Yes we need to model in a way which breaks down the learning into steps, but it’s important that we aren’t just telling pupils what to do. We need to explain why we are doing things, model the thinking and the visualisation required to see things in the way an artist would.
As many of us return to our physical classrooms this week, I know that modelling will be a real focus of excellent learning and teaching in classrooms across the country. And I hope this post will highlight many approaches which I know so many of us already do everyday in art and design, and beyond.
Have a great week everyone – I cannot wait to have all our pupils back in the building!!