Transcript of Episode 1
Hi, I’m Julia Brennan and I’m the Creative Arts Advisor for K-6 for the NSW Department of Education and welcome to the first in the series of podcasts. And the idea of these podcasts is really to just give you out some general information about the Creative Arts from the NSW context and to just fill you in on some of the things that are happening. And we’re going to be interviewing some principals, leading arts educators, teachers who in most cases will be leading arts educators as well and some industry professionals. We’ve got some really exciting people lined up in this series.
So, today I’m going to start by just introducing what we do in the creative arts in our NSW public schools and just giving you a few little ideas and information about things that are going on. To follow this series of podcasts you go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum all one word and click on the orange follow button, simple as that. Now, if you don’t have access to that you can log in with your @education.nsw.gov.au account. Or if you’re not DoE you can go through Facebook or alternatively create your own SoundCloud account. So, we’ll have lots of interviews and discussions coming up and I promise they’ll all be super exciting and informative for you.
So, to start today just a bit of general information about the creative arts in NSW. So, I think it’s really important to get that message out that the key learning area is actually called the creative arts. And when you go to syllabus information from NESA you look at your time allocation well, we do make up a substantial one and a half to two and half hours per week and that incorporates all four of your art forms, so music, dance, drama and visual arts. The way the syllabus is presented is to allow you lots of flexibility and how that can be delivered. But I guess from my point of view it’s really important to reinforce that a little often is how your arts program should look in your schools. Don’t think of it as a necessity to be an external program or to have an external provider coming in. A little bit in your classroom every day is fantastic if you can do it and all four art forms are equally important, really must get that message out that we need to be working on all four of those art forms.
So, in talking about that though I think it’s really important we first of all establish why the arts are important to be teaching in our schools. So, we know within our syllabus content that we’ve got making, performing, composing, or organising sound and appreciating and listening. They’re all important for our learning and they’re all part of the history of our world, they teach us about different cultures, they teach us about different ways of seeing the world. You know if you look around at the original inhabitants of this country and you also look at universal cave drawings around the world we see that the arts form the basis of communication throughout history – artefact, ceremonies, rituals, buildings, they’re all part of our history and so much of it is embedded in the arts.
I’ll just indulge you with a little personal story that I always used to talk to parents about at the beginning of the year and I’d have this fictitious character called Alice. And Alice was this student who was from a very middle class family and was sort of sitting in there going okay at school, not really thriving in the way that she possibly could have. And then Year 4 along came Miss Dodds. I wonder if Miss Dodds is still out there somewhere I hope she is listening to this it would be great. But Miss Dodds came along with a guitar and she promised our Year 4 class that if we worked hard on things that we could sing every day. Now, for me that just switched something on. It was the first time I’d had a teacher who really embraced the arts and thought that that was fantastic. We did visual arts, we did a lot of dancing and we did so much singing and I’m sure there was some drama in there too, I just can’t really remember it at this stage but I just remember that for me that’s when I started to really focus on school and it became important for me and I really started to learn and flourish.
I’m sure we’ve all got those people in our lives, those students who it just takes something to switch them on. I mean I can look at my own family and I’ve got one child who loves the arts and the other one who thrives on STEM, science and technology is his world. So, we’re all different, something makes us tick but we need to understand as a primary school teacher that we need to cover all of those bases so that we do find the thing that makes each one of those students in front of us really tick.
I’d also like to just draw your attention to the rationale that’s in the front of our syllabus, I know it might sound a little bit dry but I think it’s really important that we actually read that from time to time because it tells us why we do what we do in the creative arts. And yes I know our syllabus is old, we’re looking at a revised 2006 document but it does say to us at the beginning that the Creative Arts provides opportunities for students to respect the views of different genders, different cultures, different social groups, people from different religions, belief systems and people with disabilities. All of that diversity can be covered through the arts and it really unites us as a society. So, visual arts, music, drama and dance offer students and people of all ages an opportunity for personal expression, enjoyment, creative action, imagination, emotional response, aesthetic pleasure in the creation of shared meanings.
We learn about the arts, we learn about culture so that we can be informed consumers when we grow up, we can empathise with others not only because it might offer us a career path but just so that we can be out there in the world and knowing those aesthetic things that the creative arts can teach us. I love Sir Ken Robinson and I listen to his podcasts and TED Talks and things and have read his books. And what I love is one particular comment. ‘Learning in and about the arts is essential to our intellectual development. And engaging in the arts is the most vibrant way of seeing and feeling the world as we do. The arts illustrates the diversity of intelligence and provides practical ways of promoting it they’re amongst the most vivid expressions of human cultures.’ That’s just magical. So, I want you to think about those things that I’ve just said from Sir Ken Robinson. So, the arts are about the qualities of human experiences through music, dance, visual arts, drama we give form to our feelings and thoughts about ourselves and we experience the world around us.
So, reflect on that about your own experience and your own teaching. If you’re afraid of teaching the arts, don’t be, focus on what your students need. So, I think the first step in this journey in these podcasts is to talk about how we can go about teaching the arts and to focus on the outcomes and indicators. Take onboard whatever suggestions you can and do let the students have some time to explore. Be a connoisseur of the resources in front of you, not a bowerbird, so don’t just collect stuff, actually really think about what it can do for your students but remember what I said before, a little, often. Integrate arts wherever you can, make it about the real life, it gives it a real context.
So, again coming back to Sir Ken Robinson his comments have been the main role of a teacher is knowing, how, when and ways to teach something, that’s your job, you don’t have to know absolutely everything about every art form, it’s about knowing your students and how they learn. You don’t have to be a specialist or to have specialist skills but you have to have a willingness to learn to accept the offers for advice, assistance and also working with your students. I guess I like that sort of management quote idea with a staircase of which step have I reached today? You know you might start with I won’t do it. I can’t do it. I want to do it. How do I do it? I’ll try to do it. I can do it. I will do it. And yes, I did it.
For me, I just think if you deprive a child of an education with a rich day-to-day opportunity in the arts then you are starving them of a full and well-rounded chance to flourish. You’re also depriving our country of the full extent of its creative potential and the wellbeing needs of its people. I just cannot underestimate what I just said, it’s so important we can’t ignore the arts, it’s our responsibility as educators to give our students every opportunity to thrive. I know you know that but it’s something I feel really passionately about and felt I had to say today.
So, through these podcasts I’m going to talk about each of the art forms separately through some different interviews with different people but today I just sort I’d give you a really brief overview of each of the art forms and some ideas and some teaching tips and things just to breakdown some of those barriers that you might have.
So, if we think about music, you know there’s a lot of media hype around at the moment about ‘Oh, we should do music because it makes you smarter.’ Yes, there’s a lot of research around it and yes, there’s a lot of discussion about it and most of that focuses around these very true facts that are important that yes, music is our first language. Yes, it improves our focus, our concentration, collaboration, cooperation, aesthetic skills, judgement, time management, teamwork, organisation, discretion, judgement, critical and creative thinking and so on the list could go on forever. I would also say that I think this applies to every art form. One thing that I think is really important but is missing from this argument about music making you smarter is what about the joy? Music is about joy and it’s about wellbeing, it’s something that makes us happy. So, music yes also links to literacy and numeracy, we read a text, we compose around it, we read, we recite lyrics, we discuss their meanings. In literacy and numeracy we are also decoding symbols and counting beats, sub dividing beats, creating rhythms, we’re graphing structures, we’re following scores and codes.
So, there’s so many links to literacy and numeracy with music. I’d also draw your attention to one of our outcomes which starts at Stage 1 which is that symbols have to link to sound right from Stage 1. So, if you think about that that’s a very mathematical skill, we’re graphing, we’re looking at shapes, we’re doing that sound to symbol link. The other thing to remember too is that if we’re talking about music being a joyous thing it doesn’t have to necessarily be done by an expert. So, not withdrawn from your classroom.
Music in the classroom is about not necessarily playing instruments or being in a band or a choir, it’s about experiencing music as a class, bring yourselves together enjoying the delight and fun of music whilst developing knowledge skills and appreciation at the same time. It can be as simple as having a beat underneath your spelling words or creating or exploring a musical structure, singing, exploring beats, rhythms, pitches, using nursery rhymes, creating soundscapes or you know pictures through sound based upon a familiar text, right through to accompanying songs with chord notes or getting the students to engage with garage band which in my case they teach me a lot about. You don’t have to be able to read music. I get that all the time I can’t teach music because I can’t read it. You don’t have to be able to do that, you do need to try. I would also really encourage you to incorporate some classical music into your teaching and some music from a variety of cultures and really inclusive for the students in your class.
I’ll just relate you to a story of when you know in a former life I was doing some university work and I had a student who I put on I can’t remember which Beethoven Symphony it was but we were doing some movement to a Beethoven Symphony and she said ‘I would never put on classical music in my class.’ ‘So, why not?’ She said ‘The students won’t like it, they don’t like that sort of music’. ‘So, how would you know that if you’ve never given them the opportunity to try? By all means put on some pop music as a hook in but then also gradually try and introduce some Beethoven or some other classical music or music from other cultures and make them experience other things, that’s our job as educators is to expose students to things that they may not necessarily have had exposure to in the past.’
Now, let’s just talk about visual arts. Visual arts is not about replication, it’s not about copying an artwork or colouring in something, it’s about exploring and discovering, use what you see as inspiration by all means, you know there’s some fantastic artworks out there that we need to be using for that sort of inspiration and using those techniques and those colours and that sort of thing but allow the students to do it in their own way.
There are so many incredible links in visual arts to critical and creative thinking and literacy and numeracy. We are depicting and creating narratives, factual texts through artworks, we’re illustrating, we’re discussing, we’re making meaning about various artworks that we might see, we’re measuring when we’re doing say for example a portrait. There’s a lot of measurement involved in that. We’re examining proportions and perspective both physically and mentally. I think it’s really important too with visual arts to be asking lots of why and how questions when you’re looking at artworks and illustrations. I read a magical quote the other day about a teacher who thrived on seeing her students’ crinkly eyebrows. I thought isn’t that magical, that’s through those why and how questions, that real critical thinking.
So, visual arts is a journey of appreciation, it’s just so extensive. You can explore techniques and forms, look at the context and the meaning of artworks and relate to your own environment but give the students time to explore. In saying that though I really think it’s important you preface it with clear guidelines for behaviour and clean up. Much as I was saying with the music example that people won’t do it because they think they can’t read music. A lot of people say ‘visual arts, I’m not doing that because it’s too messy’. Establish some clear routines, the clean-up and setting up. Get a team together whose responsibility it is for each of those parts of the visual arts experience, it’s about establishing those guidelines and then smooth sailing.
I’d also really encourage you to use resources that we’ve got around us like the Art Gallery of NSW for example, their website is fantastic and it’s full of artworks, look at those artworks, discuss them, then use the techniques or the inspiration or the themes or the meanings to create your own artworks. I’m a little bit of an outcome nerd here but I do love, it’s VAS 2.1 which it says represents the qualities of experiences and things that are interesting or beautiful by choosing amongst aspects of subject matter. So, in this context what they reinforce is that beautiful doesn’t mean pretty, it means something that excites or arouses or wonder, fascination and delight. For me that encapsulates so much about the visual arts, getting our students excited, getting them to feel that amazing thing that only the arts I believe can really do. Now, let’s talk a little bit about dance.
Now, dance has got a bit of a bad rap with a lot of people, it’s got a bit of a reputation with teachers thinking ‘Oh no, you know I’m not into lycra and I’m no expert dance teacher’. It’s not about that, it’s not about the Macarena, it’s not about doing ballet and it’s also not about your school dance group. For me the amazing power of dance is through its storytelling ability. So, the ability that dance has to link ideas together through movement and it links so beautifully with drama too with that idea of mime and movement and bringing story out.
So, in dance we can read a story and retell it through dance. It links so beautifully to literacy particularly through that aspect of storytelling whether we’re either retelling a story or creating our own. We’re learning to express ourselves and to be creative. In mathematics we can look at things like mapping pathways and that sort of stuff. We are moving to a set number of steps or beats. We don’t have to but that’s one aspect that links beautifully into numeracy. We’re using different dance techniques such as high, middle and low levels so the students are standing up really tall and high, middle, low, we’re counting, we’re exploring, we’re subdividing rhythms, we’re trying out different tempos or speeds. It’s also encouraging our students to be physically active. Now, we know we have to do this so why not do it through dance. So, you’re not only getting that physical activity but you’re also getting into the expressive aspects and that’s what the arts can do, creative and expressive movement side of dance is fantastic. Let’s talk a little bit about drama too.
So, drama traditionally I think most of us have known links beautifully to literacy, it’s a fantastic way of re-enforcing meaning and adding to the comprehension or helping to our students understand what a text might be about but also helps to increase their fluency and therefore their understanding. Drama’s fantastic for getting that student engagement, the students absolutely love drama, they love working together in groups, cooperating, it can be so much fun. Yes, a lot of students will get performance anxiety and that’s something that you can work through, maybe those students don’t always get a big role in something but you can build those skills up slowly.
For me looking at drama there’s such an incredible power of storytelling and also a way of exploring emotions and ways of feeling and knowing. You can deal with those really big, complex issues through making it an unreal or staged situation. The students don’t actually really know they’re even dealing with it. The power of role play is incredible in those sort of situations so the students are problem solving through creating their own scenarios. Also things like improvisation is absolutely fantastic for getting our students to think critically and creatively on their feet, they’ve got to move fast and it’s also a great way of helping our students to develop empathy for each other’s views, understanding different perspectives. And why not reverse the roles in a situation and then they get to see things from the other perspective.
So, the arts often gets talked about as being important purely because of the future career or future focus sort of discussion and I think that is really important, I think we do need to equip our students for the future. Now, I’ve talked a lot about the benefits of the various art forms and ways to go about doing it.
So, let’s just talk a little bit about this sort of future career thing that’s being discussed a lot around at the moment. So, there’s a great text called ‘Thrive’ by a lady called Valerie Hannon and one of the things that she mentions in there is that the purpose of learning in this century is not simply to recite inert knowledge but rather to transform it. So, we’ve sort of moved on from that industrial age idea of replicating knowledge, we’ve now got this emphasis on thinking, transforming, people skills, empathy, critique, transferring knowledge.
The most recent Deloitte study from 2019 found that interpersonal and creative roles will be the hardest to fill in the future and they’re going to be the hardest to mechanise as well so therefore their estimate is that eighty six percent of jobs created will be brain jobs rather than labour intensive. Two thirds of those jobs will be soft skills. So, things like being able to communicate and think critically and get on with others and the boring and repetitive work will be done by robots leaving us humans the more challenging and interesting work. I think that’s exciting, I think that’s fantastic and the arts is so well placed to set up our students to create those connections.
We know that the arts really helps to connect the sides of the brain, we know it helps to develop a growth mindset and the ability to generate new ideas. So, the arts are about so much more than just that as well though. Yes, they can teach us about this sort of correlation and the future but we know too that the arts is great just for the joy that it can bring as well.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about creativity because let’s face it the KLA is called the creative arts, so I think creativity is a really important thing to discuss here. And we’re going to talk about this a lot in future podcasts but one thing I just wanted to discuss today was creativity is being this increasing, well, it’s being increasingly recognised now as a globally competitive commodity as 21st Century skills and the 4Cs about raising new questions, new possibilities regarding old problems from a new angle requiring creative imagination. Now, Albert Einstein said that back in 1938.
So, we know that creativity is something important and we know that the arts is really well placed to help us with that. There’s a lot of research around about the big C and the little c. The big C’s where we’ve got those big ideas that can transform an entire society or culture. And the little c are those everyday creative decisions that we make. But I love this quote by Kerry Freedman: ‘Creativity can only be achieved to the extent that conditions will allow’. I’ll say that again. ‘Creativity can only be achieved to the extent that conditions will allow’. Now, that’s just my favourite quote, I actually have it on a chalkboard in my house for those moments when I cannot get my kids off their devices. You’ve got to think about how we can set up our environment in our classrooms to best allow our students to be creative. We know that creativity takes time. We know that we need to give students some skills obviously. We know however that for this creative process to be done properly we need to encourage our students to take time, be persistent, not be afraid of mistakes and just keep trying to make different solutions. So, creativity cannot be underestimated, it’s something we really need to develop in our students and the arts is a fantastic place to start with that.
Now, as I mentioned these podcasts are going to feature different people over the coming weeks and coming episodes and all of those people will be addressing various art forms and other issues that we’ve brought up today. In closing though today I would just like to point out to you that online there’s a lot of resources available on the education.nsw.gov.au if you follow Learning and Teaching Curriculum then Creative Arts you’ll find something for every art form up on there, they’re practical, they’re based in curriculum, you don’t need to do that curating as I mentioned before. I’ve been the connoisseur for you, it’s all up there. There’s also stuff for other KLAs up there, every KLA has got some practical things that you can use. There’s also information about PL that’s coming up and also about the curriculum team and who you need to talk to if you need help for various things.
So, in finishing today I’d just like to let you know that in the future we will be looking at assessment and ideas about how to get those sort of formative assessment practices happening in your classroom. And also just making you aware of one very important quote before we finish which is a Dylan Wiliam quote and we all know that he’s most famous for his work on formative assessment and I just love this quote and it’s something that we all need to takeaway with us because I think sometimes we feel like we’re stuck in a vice and it’s really hard to get out there and do our work in the Creative Arts. But just let go, find some time and let your students really engage with it and listen to this quote and hopefully this will inspire you. ‘The curriculum should promote the intellectual, moral, spiritual, aesthetic, creative, emotional and physical development of the child. And while the traditional disciplines of language, arts, mathematics, science, history, geography should figure strongly, the creative arts are just as important. Indeed given the increasing capability of technology to do almost anything that can be reduced to routines it maybe that the greatest contributions to economic growth will in the future come from the Creative Arts.’ Wow, that’s it from me today for this first podcast.
Now, if you enjoyed this podcast and you’d like to get a hold of more of them, as I said at the beginning go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum all one word and click on the orange follow button. Log in with your @education.nsw.gov.au account. And if you’re not a DoE person you can go through Facebook or alternatively create your own SoundCloud account.
That’s it from me today, I look forward to talking to you soon.
End of transcript