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.


¹ http://www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/teaching-cycle-stage-3-scaffold/

² http://edglossary.org/scaffolding/


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


Day in the Life

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This is an experiment with documentary photography. A photo taken every half hour in monochrome using a Canon 1200D with 50mm lens is an exhibition of the mundane as well an exploration of composition. I set this as homework for my Y10 GCSE Photography group with a couple of revisions. Firstly, they could use whatever was at hand to take their images (phones, iPads as well as any kind of camera). Secondly, if every half hour wasn’t a realistic preposition, then take 28 images throughout the day.

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Here’s my documentary photo-shoot WAGOLL representing my Monday ‘Day in the Life’   It is quite a challenging task! My day consisted of mainly having the MOT for my car and wandering around our local town centre. I could have contrived something far more interesting, such as a walking trip to the Peak District…

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As an alternative documentary project my Wednesday ‘Day in the Life’ https://flic.kr/s/aHsm519Tiq. This was created using a mixture of Canon 1200D with 18-55mm kit lens and an iPhone for panoramas.

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Documentary photography usually refers to a popular form of photography used to chronicle events or environments both significant and relevant to history and historical events as well as everyday life.

The mini-project can work as a one-off or the launching point to a more extended piece of work. I found these great tips for documentary photo projects:

  • Documentary means as it happens, naturally in an environment
  • To capture a person’s essence, their real personality
  • Record details and scene settings
  • To think ‘big picture’, take shots for the process and expansion of an idea
  • To create a story with images, leave a legacy of a moment in time.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the students have responded to the task and any exciting or unusual responses may have developed from the challenge.




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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. I know some ebacc orientated school leaders who think that art is ‘an easy subject’ (it’s not, despite some schools achieving 100% pass rates recently) and they find it difficult to judge levels of craftsmanship (“These GCSE paintings are ALL great, give ’em a grade A*!” declared one while I reassured him there was a full range of grades on display). Drawing is often the means that art teachers use to acquire levels of craftsmanship appropriate to the quality of ideas expressed and the student’s confidence in their chosen media. On Radio 4 recently, an interview with illustrator, Stanley Chow was preceded by an introduction along the lines of Chow uses computers, ergo, artists don’t need to have drawing skills. This was corrected by Chow during the article who recognised the importance of digital media to his style of illustration but said that budding artists should learn traditional media first.

To encourage and develop drawing skills as appropriate to the new GCSE, we went back to drawing from primary source material and the ubiquitous soda or soft drink can.

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These Year 9 student examples (13 year olds) used the direct experience of the soft drink can as a man-made form with a malleable aspect; the can be drawn as a cylinder and then dented, ripped and torn to change the form. Surface as well as typography/graphics on the can are also an interesting feature. For this task we used oil pastels in order to effectively blend colour and achieve shiny, metallic surfaces. These were selected for use independently but could also be intriguing as a contrast to a natural form or grouped with other reference materials to develop and idea or concept. My idea for the project is to explore the theme of the polluted shoreline by contrasting seaweed, sea shells, rope, plastic toys and fast food packaging. Other conceptual approaches could include:

  • Light and reflection
  • Decay
  • Distortion
  • Colour range
  • Patterns and relationships
  • Metamorphosis.

My next step is to introduce natural forms and explore colour. I have a selection of stones rocks and sea shells but also sheep skulls (some children have difficulty understanding what these are and if they do, some often ask if they are real). I could look toward a variety of natural objects of similar colours to develop understanding of the basic properties of one colour (a selection of plants for example). Drawing shouldn’t be used as the measure of academic rigour and achievement in our subject but rather the means to acquire craftsmanship and confidence in drawing media and a launching position in which to project oneself with our own ideas.



Light Subject

CC Zukiman Mohamad

In the past week I have had two students complain about the comparative difficulty of their photography courses and that it wasn’t supposed to be challenging; it was their ‘light’ subject.

One is in the third week of their AS Photography at Post 16, so maybe we can put it down to early realisation or that a fourth AS isn’t necessary. Her three other A levels might be the priority but she said she didn’t realise there would be so much work involved and that it would be so demanding of her ‘free’ time. This is an A level, not an evening class!

The second student is in the second year of her GCSE, not a case of ill-informed choice but well into the course. “You never said it was going to be so hard!” We have just 4 months to complete our coursework, now she realises how difficult it s to get to the ‘good’ grades. It was always rigorous, tricky, time-consuming, intellectually and creatively challenging. This hasn’t been an overnight change of some kind.

Photography courses aren’t an easy option. Really. Familiarity with taking images (snaps) is being confused with the artistry, creative process, refinement and competence of the photographic art. So why has this misconception taken hold?

Okay, I’ll agree that A level maths/physics and chemistry require an intellectual understanding beyond that of practical subjects and that some students are best-placed to study them than others. Other subjects require different skills, interests and ability but are ‘difficult’ in their own unique ways. Part of the problem comes from a Russell Group of Universities guide that confirms that certain courses are regarded more highly by universities than others.

According to the guide, “softer” options include media studies, art and design, photography and business studies while traditional and mostly scientific subjects are seen as more academically rigorous. Those not studying at least two of the “hard” subjects – maths, English, geography, history, the pure sciences and classical or modern foreign languages – will find that “many degrees at competitive universities will not be open” to them, it says. The guide suggests pupils taking less traditional subjects may be “trying to avoid a challenge”, adding that if pupils study more than one “soft/light” subject, “some caution may be needed.”

Similarly and anecdotally, at parent’s evenings when GCSE option choices are being discussed, I frequently hear comments like: “Oh, you could do photography. It will be a more relaxing subject when you need a rest from the really hard ones.” Different and no less involving I would argue in these days where e-baccalaureate is causing division between the perception of academic and practical GCSEs. Besides, there are 77 UK universities offering a whopping 201 graduate degrees studying photography and surely the journey to complete such a light subject has value there.



Russell Group Guide; “Informed Choices” 2011

Education Datalab; “Which are the most difficult GCSEs?” 2016

The Guardian; “A level choices: which subjects should you pick?” 2013