Image credit: See Mitch Joel

I had a serious rethink about social media at the end of last month that coincided with half term. The other major deadline at the end of May was compliance with the GDPR data law. If you’re not sure about this new EU regulation, you need to be as:

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) seeks to create a harmonised data protection law framework across the EU and aims to give back to data subjects, control of their personal data, whilst imposing strict rules on those hosting and processing this data, anywhere in the world.

If you have any kind of digital web presence, such as a blog, feedback form or comments box, you will need some sort of compliance with this regulation.

Also, many of the original ‘friends/followers’ I discovered on social media about 10 years ago were becoming less active in each domain, some choosing to suspend or leave altogether. Whilst I missed their contact, I also was effected by the Facebook-trust meltdown and the exposure that social media is making all of our lives less private and we’ve never been more manipulated by tech companies. Leon (@eyebeams) is a tech enthusiast I have had several real and virtual contacts with since 2006 and he tweeted:

So these little triggers led to a drastic action; I deleted all my social media. Everything.

No Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Vimeo, Blogger,  You Tube, Path, Wikipedia, PBwiki, Pinterest, Tripadvisor or any other social media. I deleted without backing up and said I wouldn’t return. If you’re wondering why Facebook isn’t on my list, this is because I never really got into it. Most of the others I have used since 2005 ish and kept prett much active in all.

My off-grid/dark ops period lasted about 5 days.

Why? Mainly because I used all of these tools intensively as a teacher and as soon as the half term holiday was over, I couldn’t find my resources any longer. I needed Pinterest first as an essential tool for an art teacher. Luckily it restored almost immediately. Twitter too was and is a source for my ‘community of practice’ and I was shocked on re-entry to find 0 friends and 0 followers. A panicked search found that not everyone had left or hidden away like me and they were still there to contribute, scowl, laugh and cry. I then rebooted Tumblr as the place where I post newspaper articles to read later. WordPress (including this personal blog) had gone decisively unfortunately and seemed never to return without the help of the WordPress tech team who helped me undo my mistake. Since my social media reboot, I have also found that some of the videos I made as skills demos were only to be found on You Tube and Vimeo and there is no way of retrieving deleted video. Frantically, I have searched every usb and external hard drive to reinstate the useful stuff (some I fear lost forever).

Instagram and Flickr I will not rush to; perhaps a long period away before I recreate these if I ever do. After all, my personal content is mine and perhaps I don’t wish to give away all of my create data.

i hope you find this rebooted personal blog as useful as I have even if you’re coming across it for the first time or revisiting for a much used art lesson. Part of my rethinking is to focus on what the blog is for and about. For this I now include a brand new tag line:

art education, creative tech and ecology

I hope you enjoy it as much as me!


Marks are in (don’t tell the kids)

Exam results can often enable flight in young people. Not really.

Things are a little different this year for centre-assessed coursework and examinations; particularly for us in Art and Design. For the first time, the Joint Council for Qualification (JCQ) has instructed schools to issue pre-moderated (but internally standardised) marks for GCSE and A levels. Contrary to my post title, we must tell the kids.

Why has this change been made? According to the JCQ:

This requirement is to enable candidates to request a review of the centre’s marking prior to the marks being submitted to the awarding body, should they wish to do so, and will facilitate the operation of a fair review process.

It is up to individual schools or MATs to manage this process, and in many cases it has been left to the teacher assessors to decide how and when this will be done providing there is sufficient time for a review to take place. Again, the guidance stipulates only that a review takes place by someone with sufficient subject knowledge independent of the original assessment.

In recent weeks, students of art and design should have been informed of both component 1 coursework marks and component 2 exam marks. All without any reference to grades or boundary levels as this is the first assessment of its kind.

So what?

Many GCSE and A level art courses take a great deal of time to assess and internally standardise and the deadline is either 15th May or 31st May depending on the exam board the school has chosen. This new requirement has meant that an earlier deadline was necessary in order to allow for a written appeal request and an independent review. The consensus is that this year’s assessment has been rushed and meaningless marks given to students. Now that students have seen their centre marks they can either (a) shrug and say wait and see what the boundaries are for each grade or if the external moderator moves grades or (b) request a review in writing.

If they choose option (a) marks can be adjusted by the external moderator by up to 20 marks (although there is a tolerance of two or three they never tell you about). When they get their results in August they could approach the school or academy for a re-mark (despite already having had the new opportunity to challenge). This costs time and delays for everyone and maybe this is the exact thing that JCQ were trying to avoid in the first place.

If they choose option (b), the art teacher has to find someone to look at the work, possibly re-marking it. Who is sufficiently knowledgeable? D and T staff maybe or colleagues working on quid-pro-quo from a neighbouring school.

What is this actually all about?

At face value it seems to be an element of ‘parent power’ designed to give mum and dad a level of inspection of these obviously biased teachers. Is it to demonstrate that the regular reporting teachers are obliged to send to parents about pupil progress actually has some parallel in marks internally awarded? Perhaps it is to dam the deluge of re-marking that takes place in the first weeks of September, the cost implications and lost time that comes about when a student is unhappy with a grade. It does seem to be an undermining of trust and the professionalism of teacher assessment and I am surprised the teaching unions have not questioned its introduction.

One thing is for sure; we have all done a lot of very rapid marking this year in order to comply and I do worry about how this will enable accuracy.


JCQ: Review of marking

JCQ: Informing candidates of centre assessed marks

JCQ: Review of marking suggested policy template

Final ascent

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I blogged about the exam process in March, in a post entitled Half Way There accompanied by an illustration of a mountain summit. To (ab)use the same metaphor, we are about to complete this component; a final ascent. Indeed, we have only weeks left to complete coursework too.

This year is unusual though. At my academy we are a team of two (for 90 candidates) and are not given time off timetable to standardise assessments. In the past few years we have tended to put in long hours each evening and submit marks electronically as close to the deadline as possible (for us, 31st May). However, due to a central change instigated by ‘parent power’ I suspect, we are to release our standardised marks to students prior to electronic submission. The implication is that students/parents may challenge the marks awarded if they feel necessary. We will need to allow time for this to take place and subsequently any re-assessment by an independent third party who can confirm original marks or agree with students/parents that marks were not awarded accurately.

This bizarre situation has presumably arisen because students felt they were penalised by harsh marking? Not only has this caused to bring the marking forward by two weeks from exam board deadlines, it penalises working time for the students and causes extra turmoil for exam administrators, teachers and the students themselves. If marks are judged overly harsh (surely an overly lenient marks isn’t an issue!), who is deemed ‘accurate’ enough to re-standardise? Would all marks need to go up by a certain amount? When the exam board moderator comes in and brings marks down again, who is at fault?

For the most part, the majority of art teachers try to mark accurately and by working with another member of staff regularly standardise marks. This is an unnecessary extra burden this year and will not give indication of final grade boundaries as these are set after the national picture emerges. So parents will be none-the-wiser if their child has been awarded a 5 or a 4. What a waste of time.

Let’s hope students ignore this stupidity and strive to do their best and attain their own personal challenge; mountain or molehill.



Half way there


In our art exam season, we have reached the half-way point to the terminal exam phase. The end is in sight!

The exam is currently known as Component 2 (not really terminal at all) but this name changes regularly. Students get the impression that the 10 hour exam in art and design is the final aspect and most important part in that it will culminate everything they have learned and skills developed during their course. This is, in part, true. However, it is the preparation and development toward the 10 hours session that is far more important and worthy of marks. To do well across the four assessment objectives is to hit evidence pointers in the prep (at my academy we are using sketchbooks for this but it needn’t be constrictive). This can really account for 75% of the marks and this is before they sit the ten hours. I think it is a psychological challenge. When they start studying a GCSE in art and design (or looking at information booklets before opting) they almost ask about the dreaded ten hours! Perhaps it is also the idea that exams must be difficult, hard and under restricted circumstances that a ten hour exam sound so scary. It is in fact, just a controlled assessment period; three hours consecutive at the start and the remaining can be chunked.  The exam board like to tell us that they have seen murals submitted as final outcomes with before and after the ten hour periods illustrating what work has been undertaken as part of the controlled assessment.

I have tried the two 5 hour day style and whilst this is convenient for school timetable disruption, it doesn’t work for some students. If they’re having a bad day or week, then they may have just fluffed 25% of the Component 2. It does get it out the way so Component 1 (aka coursework) can be revisited. For the past few years I have chunked it into lessons over a three week period with only the initial three hours having a single cover requirement where they will miss another subject (usually core, much to their annoyance).

Another aspect is that students often step-up to the terminal exam; a bit of nervous adrenaline does wonders for focussing the mind and steadying the hand for some. Mine have a habit of making wonderful final outcomes even if their prep isn’t up to much. That is the point of this post; we are half-way there. They should have a 3/4 filled sketchbook and some study sheets by now with a clear and logical path to their final outcome in a few weeks time.


Let’s see what comes back this week; having a few snow days certainly didn’t help though.


Flying starts

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Students’ first ideas based on secondary source images on day 1 of their exam

It is the time of year for us art teachers to begin our preparation period for the Unit 2 external exam. This reflective blog post concerns launching the fine art exam at GCSE; the potential pitfalls, successful methods and what ifs.

How to do it? Many teachers start with a Powerpoint of inspirational ideas, or work through a mind map for each of the 7 themes, or alternatively present students with a blank page and instruct them to draw something/anything just to get off to a flying start.

After discussing the hour long lecture method with my students on what each theme means to me, I decided to go with the ideas and images that first come to mind for just one or two of the exam themes. I’ve fallen into the stand and deliver method in the past and it just doesn’t work. Kids don’t have the attention span and anyway it just sounds like the teacher out of Charlie Brown to them (“wah, wah, wah”). Students can explore the others at home in more detail but I like to get straight in to a visual response on day one. To do this, I prepared monochrome photocopies of images collated on Pinterest. First task: select two images, cut out and place in sketchbook then reproduce in part or whole using a mixed media approach. Combine any two or three media methods to make a visually interesting response.

Extrinsic motivation doesn’t always have to be another person, but it is some outside demand, obligation, or reward that requires the achievement of a particular goal. Intrinsic motivation, however, is an internal form of motivation. You strive towards a goal for personal satisfaction or accomplishment.


Students who lack motivation often want spoon-fed resources and this method of getting them started didn’t alleviate this issue. Anything provided as a secondary source needs to engage the viewer and what if none provided the necessary spark? A handful of students picked ‘any’ image and their visual response was just as disengaged. Their follow-up task was to research their on secondary or primary image and similarly make a transcription or reproduce elements in part or whole on an A4 sketchbook page. Likewise, if not motivated by the art theme then this might not get done.

Possible solution

Make your own resources with their input. Get them to select from a website, set of images or put a camera into their hands. Stand over them and direct if you must but they have to make a visual they can then start to work with. Discuss these images with them and draw out further possibilities. Mind maps will only work with someone bursting with ideas and trying to get them all down on paper. Blank pages are for students with good visual memories and the skills to represent them. An hour long lecture won’t help anyone but the teacher get their own ideas across. The extrinsic motivator is fulfilling exam requirements and prepping for the ten hour session. The trick is to provide an intrinsic motivation; personal satisfaction in having completed something worthwhile. As can be seen from the broad range of responses above, getting anything down on paper that has a visual cue gets them off to a flying start and will motivate for at least the next few lessons.

Next issue: motivating disengaged AS level artists.



Further reading

Eight motivational theories and their implications for the classroom, The Language Gym, 2015


‘Scaffolding’ art learning

Scaffold sculpture by Ben Long (Photo Moenen Erbuer, 2015 on Curiator)

I have been asked recently how I scaffold my art lessons in terms of ensuring I teach the processes and techniques that match my students’ developmental abilities and needs. In fact, I was challenged by a non-specialist observer of my lesson that my introduction of concepts and techniques weren’t just trial and error. Rather than dismiss the question without consideration, I have since given my teaching scaffolding a bit of thought. Here’s what I have come up with.

Although scaffolding is synonymous with Vygotsky’s theory of ZPD, it derives from Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976), who define it as a process “that enables a child or novice to solve a task or achieve a goal that would be beyond his unassisted efforts” (p. 90).

Scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. One of the main goals of scaffolding is to reduce the negative emotions and self-perceptions that students may experience when they get frustrated, intimidated, or discouraged when attempting a difficult task without the assistance, direction, or understanding they need to complete it. In many ways, scaffolding shares similarities with differentiation but differs in that learning is broken down into discrete parts rather than altogether different activities.

The process of scaffolding needs to:

  • get students interested in the task.
  • simply the task sufficiently to allow students to attempt it
  • give specific suggestions on how to approach the task
  • deal with the frustration of ‘not getting it’

— David Didau, Teaching Sequences for Independence¹

Here are some scaffolding strategies adapted from Edglossary²:

  1. The teacher gives students a simplified version of an art outcome, and then gradually increases the complexity, difficulty, or sophistication over time. 
  2. The teacher describes or illustrates a concept, problem, or process in multiple ways to ensure understanding.
  3. Students are shown an exemplar or model of an art outcome they will be asked to complete.
  4. Students are given a demonstration of skills before they attempt a difficult task.
  5. The teacher clearly describes the purpose of a learning activity, the directions students need to follow, and the learning goals they are expected to achieve.
  6. The teacher explicitly describes how the new lesson builds on the knowledge and skills students were taught in a previous lesson.

Here are some basic, intermediate to advanced art & design scaffolding sequences (work in progress):

These are based on use of techniques, media and processes intended to illustrate how materials build in terms of knowledge and skills. Please feel free to contact me to add to these slides if you wish via @damoward on Twitter.




Five Things (2017)


Five things achieved this year:

  1. #PlasticChallenge: a month of plastic-lite living (June)
  2. Hiking
  3. Mindfulness apps
  4. Draughtsmanship teaching
  5. Hacktivism

1 My family and I attempted the #plasticchallenge for the whole month of June buying only packaged goods in HDPE, PP or some PET plastic that my local curb-side recycling will take! Our five supermarket shops during the month took place at different stores and we pledged not to buy rather than compromise from the very start. The rationale is that consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs. In addition, in preparation is the end of May, we replaced our plastic shopping bags with jute (natural materials) and our own paper grocery bags for loose items. This was based on the Marine Conservation Society “plastic challenge”, asking us to give up single-use plastic for a day, a week or even the whole month. See their website here. Plastics pollution is a massive issue, see my original blog post from May and the results of the plastic-lite living from the July.

2 Hiking has re-inspired me this year.

Hope-Castleton-Mam Tor
Due to a back injury toward the end of 2015, I decided to walk every day for at least 40 minutes. Sometimes I go for an hour or two near home and occasionally somewhere a bit more challenging (Peak District, Derbyshire in photo). I feel healthier, can think clearer, take some photos and even encourage my daughter to get outside more.

3 I became interested in meditation at university and have continued to practice when I could find the time ever since. I went to classes in Nottingham when I lived there and used a (FWBO) metta-bhavana audio tape for years! I went on to use this online audio sometimes which is similar. Throughout 2016, my school undertook street-yoga activities with Year 7s. Although I realised these 5-minute Mindfulness exercises were yet another edu-fad that would disappear without the funding, I was one of the few teachers to keep it up all year! In the summer, I started playing around with some of the iOS apps and this reemergence of mindfulness practice has been one of my top 5 achievements this year.

4 Any art teachers involved in the teaching of the new 1-9 GCSE Art & Design will know there is a new emphasis on drawing in all it’s forms. That includes in the Photography endorsement. The implication for this ‘new emphasis’ is that drawing was a measure of rigour. Consequently, much of my teaching at GCSE has had a focus on drawing and this has inspired me to go back to pencil, pen & ink and eventually invest in an Apple Pencil. I am still getting to grips with the digital pencil’s possibilities!

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“Flotsam & Jetsam”, refugees from southern Mediterranean

5 I have been a bit more reticent on Twitter this year, partly due to their failure to kick a certain White House resident off their media platform (reasons they haven’t outlined here). I have got involved with a bit more ‘hacktivism’ though, not so much in the proper definition of the term…

Hacktivism is the act of hacking, or breaking into a computer system, for a politically or socially motivated purpose.

… more in terms of using my social media account for a positive, socially motivated purpose. As you can read above regarding the Marine Conservation Society’s #plasticchallenge, social behaviour and even legislation can be changed with group online activity. A high profile campaign like this, followed by amazing BBC footage in Blue Planet II might change single-use plastic forever. This has global consequences (see Boston). Via Greenpeace campaigns I have lobbied VW (electric vehicles, Bluemotion Diesel) and Coca-Cola (single-use plastic bottle waste) this year but also used my profile to contact Costa cafes (vegan snack options), Asda (vegan non-dairy cheeses/pizza), Greggs/Asda/Sainsburys/Tesco (vegan “to go’ options) and manufacturer Quorn (further vegan options; in fact why put egg in some Quorn products at all?). Some hilarious responses from automated replies to panicky customer services teams who casually respond as if you are making an alien request then realise that they’re talking to 2000-ish customers in their fastest growing sector. Try it; here’s a sample email

Dear <insert supermarket name> customer services team,

I’m getting in touch to say how fantastic it would be if you produced more vegan-friendly on-the-go lunch options.

Veganism is one of the fastest growing movements, with over half a million vegans in the UK. This is on the rise, with no signs of stopping.

In a recent poll, 91% of vegans said they struggled to find vegan food when out and about. This can be quite frustrating when you’re looking to buy something for lunch and the vegetarian option has a tiny amount of milk or egg in.

And it’s not just vegans who buy vegan food – it is also popular amongst vegetarians, meat reducers, people conscious of their health, people of certain religious faiths, and people trying to improve their environmental impact.

That means there’s a lot to be gained by improving your range – and nothing to lose!

Best wishes