Marks are in (don’t tell the kids)

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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.


References

JCQ: Review of marking

JCQ: Informing candidates of centre assessed marks

JCQ: Review of marking suggested policy template

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Half way there

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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.

Hmm.

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.

Motivation

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

 

Drawing

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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

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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.


 

Further:

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

 

Art lesson resource: Film Noir Photos

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Here is  a recent project I have completed with Year 9 GCSE Photography students based on the theme of Film Noir imagery. Developed from a project created many years ago for the NCFE level 2 course, there are a few essentials needed but basically it is about interpretation of the visual style. The examples presented here were all produced this half term by the students working in teams of 4 or 3 (there are 27 in my class).

What you will need:

  • Ideally DSLR cameras but use what you can
  • Photo editing software, ie. Photoshop
  • Battery torches – even cheap £1 LED ones work well
  • A studio light would be great
  • Black sugar paper and masking tape
  • Costume props: police-style caps, Macintosh coats, long gloves
  • Props: plastic handguns (must be relevant style to 1940s USA), plastic Tommy guns, plastic handcuffs and/or police badges.

Inspiration

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As a starting point we looked at clips from some of the best Noir movies of the ’40s. We used collaborative team methods to identify the key elements common to each of the examples (lighting techniques, good guys, dubious gals, the femme fatale etc). We also looked out for common costume, make-up and hair as well as props. Students went from there to research contemporary artists (and movies) that employ some of the iconography of the 1940s Noir. The mood board above shows that a student has identified Noir ideas in the work of Vandervell and Carr.

Method

Usually in a photography project, I will start students with idea research to get visual prompts for the imagery they will go on to experiment with and develop in their own way. However, the Noir style is quite intuitive once you have the props. It is surprising how many members of staff had a classic Macintosh coat hiding (probably hardly worn) in a cupboard and I sourced three. The handgun props I found at Poundland and even got a Police Set that included a badge and cuffs. Tommy guns were trickier; eventually I got some made in Hong Kong in bright blue and orange that took an age to arrive in the UK; cost just £5 each including p&p. Trilby hats and police-style caps we had in school already from drama performances.

So session one included the smaller teams of 4 wearing/using props in a drama studio and basically improv acting, more accurately ‘acting up’! Cameras were gradually introduced to the teams who were starting to get it. These were photography students after all and didn’t want to be the ‘models’.

After a review of the first shoot, students identified what did or didn’t work the first time. Here we introduced lighting effects. Bringing in their own family torches (and the odd Pringle tube*), we blocked out all the natural light in the studio to get a more developed contrast in tone. Using our two studio lights too and lots of black sugar paper also helped create more abstract tone shapes.

*Empty Pringles tubes with a torch gaffer/duct taped to one end make a makeshift snoot or mini spot-light.

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Sample contact sheet

Contact sheets of the second shoot were compared to inspiration and to a checklist of creative studio techniques. What was missing? How could we develop further using adjustments to light meters, aperture, ISO etc.? What can be done in post-production to create a Noir look and feel?

An in-depth analysis of the projection room sequence from Citizen Kane (1945) helped us to understand how important a range of grey tones can be in obscuring detail. How could we do this without a smoke machine? This informed our next two studio shoots before post-production editing.

Editing

To help develop the Noir style, students used monochrome, spot colour, curve/level adjustments, fog layers and when a neutral back drop had been used, replaced backgrounds. The editing and refining aspect took a number of lessons to get right.

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Specific skills lessons were undertaken on picture planes (creating depth), cutting out around hair and rendering lighting and clouds.

Kids’ Feedback

“Best project so far; really enjoyed the studio sessions especially dressing’ up”

“Made me use my imagination”

“I can’t draw so this is my most creative piece of work as I could imagine being a character in an old film”

“I liked using the lights to make a Noir scene. Not using Photoshop all the time”

Examples

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Top 10 Tips: Art Moderator visits

In an attempt to reflect on best practice for GCSE Art moderator* visits, here is a list of top tips from art/educators around the UK collected via Twitter using the #artmoderatorvisittips.

  1. Extra special choc chip cookies (Prue Leith ones) (Also: A plate of biscuits! via @Mrsartytextiles and Always bloody good biscuits. I also organise lunch for them. Smile lots too via @JoBaker9)
  2. Fresh milk for her/his coffee, not milk/chalk powder
  3. Clear labels on each folder/sketchbook/exhib showing name, candidate no etc.
  4. Rank order by grade separating coursework and exam
  5. Always introduce your Principal/Headteacher; good for them to know there of wider world of arty folk of all varieties (additionally: Shouldn’t heads/principals introduce themselves to the moderator & welcome them to their school. I think that’s important via @pkainsworth)
  6. Do you write comments on the back of all CRFs in the AO boxes? Have some penciled in, some people do, some don’t. Some just add info in the concluding comments bit (via @CreativeNorton)
  7. Don’t pester them! Leave them alone to do what they came to do, undisturbed (via @PennyPrileszky)
  8. Conversation starters: bit of a random one: I wear some of my good quirky irregular choice (shoes) via @Mrsartytextiles and I had Welsh Cakes for GCSE a few wks back. Went down well. Not over indulgent, but hit the spot (via @PennyPrileszky)
  9. Yes to leave them alone but don’t forget to tell them where to find you, and more importantly where to find the staff toilet 🙂 (via @ArtAshHillAcad)
  10. [Insert your advice here – yes, you – what tips would you advise? This needn’t be a list of 10 either!]

 

*Incidentally, an exam art moderator is someone who comes to your school to review a sample of students’ work from coursework and terminal exam. It is often the mental/physical/emotional highlight of an art teacher’s year (other than results day).