Transcript of Visual arts case studies

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity. Listen to the podcast (34:52).

Jackie – The following podcast is brought to you by the creative arts curriculum team from secondary learners educational standards directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education. As we commence this podcast today, let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of all the lands on which this podcast will be played around New South Wales. Their art, storytelling, music and dance along with all First Nations People hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal Australia. Let us acknowledge with honour and respect our elders, past, present and future, especially those Aboriginal people in our presence today who have and still do guide us with their wisdom.

Alex – Welcome to the Creative Cast podcast series. I'm Alex Papasavvas and I'm a Creative Arts Curriculum Officer with the New South Wales Department of Education. Our topic for today's episode is Stage Six and the HSC and I'll be speaking with two highly experienced visual arts teachers about case studies, what artists they teach about, the way they organise content and the specific strategies they use in their programming and in the classroom to support student success in the critical and historical studies component of the visual arts course.

I'm joined now by Brian Shand from Coonabarabran High School in rural New South Wales. Brian, thanks for joining us today. Could you tell me a little bit about your background in teaching to start us off?

Brian – Hi Alex. So, I'm currently Head Teacher Administration at Coonabarabran High School and that's halfway between Dubbo and Tamworth and I studied my teaching career here in 2002.

Alex – Tell me a bit more about Coonabarabran High School? What's it like teaching visual arts in a smaller rural setting?

Brian – So visual arts is a long-established part of our school culture. We offer mandatory Stage Four and elective Stage Five visual arts, as well as visual arts and photography courses in Stage Six. We're a comprehensive high school with an Aboriginal student population of 22% and our senior visual arts and photography classes, they catered to a broad range of students, some who studied art media in year nine and ten, as well as students who have only studied art in the mandatory course. So, one of the unique features of our school is the broad range of subjects we offered for senior year students and as a result our senior classes are normally smaller, which provides more focus, more one on one time with our seniors. And the majority of the HSC students I've taught over the years have achieved their highest marks in visual arts. So, the value adding plays a really important role in student success, saying that our school is located in a low socio-economic area and the students I teach come with a diverse range of needs.

Alex – Yeah, good. So, our topic for this episode is about Stage Six and the HSC. We know that case studies are a really big part of the visual arts course in Year 12. Could you give us a quick rundown of the case studies that you've got on offer this year?

Brian – So Alex we cover a mix of contemporary and historical artists in the Senior Case Studies, which tends to reflect our journey through the syllabus content areas, postmodern artists such as Anne Zahalka, James Angus, feminist artists Jenny Holzer Barbara Kruger, and Guerilla Girls as well as focusing on photographic architectural and sculptural practice and as well as that, I'm always showing students a variety of artists that relates to their art making and bodies of work. Daniel Agdag, Del Kathryn Barton, Lee Bul, Gregory Crewdson, Alexia Sinclair as well as of course, the Greatest Hits Modern Artists.

Alex – Yeah. And I'm sure there's a lot of very familiar names in there for teachers listening from their own case studies. I know that a lot of the artists you just mentioned feature in my teaching in Year 12 as well. I'd love to hear a bit more about how you approach developing that case study offering. I know you've got some pretty interesting ideas here. Were you able to give you some more detailed account of a particularly successful case study and how it came about?

Brian – Thanks Alex. So, it's funny looking back over 20 years odd of teaching visual arts case studies and if anything, I'm focused on art writing at a more explicit level now and I'm crafting my case studies to build students writing and interpretation skills. I'm always looking for new approaches to teaching art. So, over the last few years, I've actually focused on developing my case studies around responding to section one HSC questions of the old, the unseen plate. And this came about actually by looking at HSC rap data. So, when NESA finally broke down the HSC visual arts results by question, I was able to map out my student's strengths and weaknesses for each question and the data I got back from my rap analysis showed my students did quite well in section two long responses, but it's section one was inconsistent, especially for a 12 mark type question that required more elaboration in the student's response. So, in the past I've been showing students section one questions leading up to the trials and as part of the HSC revision, but for the last few years I’ve focused on explicitly teaching case studies through the section one format. So, the type of explicit teaching is called split screen teaching where students are learning the process and the skills of writing and learning case study content at the same time comes out of Claxton’s work. It's like meta learning. I start this process really early at the beginning of year 11, where I focus on writing reports and exam responses for visual arts alongside the teaching of case studies. And so, by the end of year 11 students understand paragraph and report writing structure and that meta language of art as well as being introduced to content of the frames, practice and the conceptual framework.

Also, I'm going to add here, I've been attending the department's HSC professional learning, on high leverage strategies, which is excellent by the way, and I've been lucky enough to work collaboratively with the visual arts team as a community of engagement member. So, some of the strategies I'd like to talk about have direct links to the high leverage strategies, including building understanding, darts, questioning, whole class discussion, and teacher created resources.

So, section one. This section one sort of program focus really starts at term four at the beginning of the year 12 course. And we normally have a week of prac and a week of theory in year 11 and 12. So we've got nine 55-minute periods in a fortnight cycle. And so, the students are given a section one question at the beginning of each week in our theory week with the questions becoming increasingly more demanding over the term. And so, the students have attempted the initial section one question, which is a five marker, and then we actually go in and build understanding about the demands of the question. So, I give the students a copy of the marking criteria as well as an analysis of the question and three example student responses which, look I've written, they’re example responses and each response represents a different part of the marking criteria. So, 1-2 marks, then 3-4 and then a five mark response. And the students read each response. And then we're looking at the marking criteria. We have a whole class discussion around the discriminating features of each one and this is a really good activity because it shows the students what an exemplar looks like as well as responses that are strong. The students are by now writing about mid level anyway, so they're comparing their own responses to the examples. Then we unpack the question as well as the format of a seection one question. And so. I use the mnemonic to help with this. Hey slick. Think quick. So the acronym Quick stands for question image citation, which gets the students thinking about the components of a section one question and so to then unpack the question, the queue in quick, the acronym slick stands for syllabus link information concepts and keywords. Now we're doing the high leverage strategy called darts, which is directed activity related to text, where the students engage at this deeper level with the example responses. And this time the highlighters come out and I'm getting students to use separate colour to highlight the questions components identified through slick. So syllabus link information concepts keywords. Then we do the same for each response only this time the acronym we're using is slim where the concepts and key words change to meaning. So, the better the better responses here, they’re even in the highlighted colour, highlighter sort of yellow and pink at all. At the same time where the lower mark responses, they've kind of got only one colour, such as like information copied from the source material, they've just been quoting and this shows the students visually how each response is either balanced or it's just ignoring those syllabus links and meaning. And so straight away you're getting students saying “Ah yep, that's a really good response, that's the five marks,” or “that's all yellow, that's one or two marks for a particular reason.” And so, this ability to be able to unpack the question at an example level becomes really important and we focus on one question a week. So, one section, one question a week in our theory lessons and I've sequenced each question to become more sophisticated in its cognitive demand and at the same time I'm reducing the level of scaffolding provided to assist the students in answering the question. So, I'm moving from this modelled, to guided, and then of course, independent learning over the course of the term. And, of course, all throughout this process, students are learning syllabus content, they're learning artists practice through the frames. We might start off with the postmodern frame because they've already had experience in year 11 with the postmodern frame. So, in section one, it's still the same syllabus content, but they're just learning now within section one. And so, also we're focused on architecture as well and site specific works. So, we're sort of covering a couple of case studies throughout the term. And what I found since teaching section one explicitly is that students’ responses have improved, but more importantly, their ability to elaborate in those longer 12 mark responses has also improved. Which was really the point that we got from the rap data in the first place. And so, they can actually conceptualize practice more clearly and that explicit thinking is more apparent in both their class discussion and written responses.

And so, this whole process I’ve really found value and I think the value has been shown within my current students and where they're up to and I mean you just work at these things and fine tune them over time. So yes, so hopefully, you know, this is something that I'd like to continue and see how it develops.

Alex – Yeah, I think that sounds like such an interesting way of approaching the teaching of that content. So when you are presenting content explicitly as these are the artists that we're looking at, this is the theme for this case study. You're always taking it back to that format of five mark and eight or 12 mark or so question like here's an image and a citation, a little bit of a reading, go off and then we'll come back and unpack all of those responses and code them out very explicitly.

Brian – Yes. So, it's this idea of the thinking about what is this question asking? What's the demands of this question which I can understand myself is I'm actually showing that thinking very explicitly. So, I've got a sheet for the first example that would have this is the syllabus link, the postmodern frame, this is the information, plate one and the source material. This is the concept, challenges traditional ideas of art, and these are the keywords, discuss how. And so you actually talk about that. But then you're saying, well, how does that translate into a written response as well? And so, step by step by step showing this is actually what this question is all about. And this is what you actually have to provide in your response to answer it correctly. You're teaching them. But you're also saying things like well in a five mark, you don't want to get into as much depth as you do for 12 or 14 marker. And how do you get that depth? Well you're pulling out maybe three or four concepts in a 12 market where a five marker is only just maybe one or maybe two key concepts and you're discussing them quite broadly.

Alex – This is so interesting.

Brian – Yeah. Look it's something that I've been working on for a few years and then I've done the high leverage strategies as well.

Alex – Which really is excellent professional learning.

Brian – Well, the thing is that it's the templates there within that high leverage strategies document. And so, I was going, I'm kind of doing this, but wow, this makes so much more sense. And so, this idea of you're doing both at the same time through split screen teaching, which is process plus content, but at the same time you're actually saying this is really what we need to provide, but this is what the markers are looking for and have you included this and this and this. But you're doing it in a way that all of those things happen at once. So it's not just, well, here's the case study. Here's some questions. Okay, give me a 500-word response, see you in a week, it's really working together and then we do this as a whole class group discussion quite early. And then actually, because it was term four, I gave them questions to do over the holidays. Now look, some did them, some didn't, but when we came back and we did our half yearly exam in term one, their responses were 110% improved because they've actually had this ongoing practice of doing section one, they've still got all the skills of section two that they've kind of learned throughout year 11. And now we're moving back in terms two and three we’ll move back to that more traditional case study that's going to build for a section two response. But they've understood as well how to unpack a section two questions by using slicks. So, you know, I mean, you can't do this, I don't think at the start of year 11, you have to really build those basics about, you know, this is what we're looking for in a typical art response. But that first term for year 12 time to move in, I found has become a natural progression.

Alex – And it's good timing as well, isn't it? Because you can say the HSC course has begun, we need to start thinking about bodies of work. We need to start thinking about the exam more seriously. This is when go time really happens in the course.

Brian – Look definitely, you know, as we know the section one is a bit of a discriminator in terms of students and how their ability to understand the syllabus content.

Alex – I sometimes thought of it that section two might assess more how the students know and then section one is more assessing how well they are able to use those skills to analyse artworks.

Brian – Definitely. And so, I think you have to get to a particular point within the stage six course of study where the students are beginning to learn how to do that and they might not be quite there yet. But you then actually have to explicitly teach the skills and I think it's a very difficult thing to be able to walk in and see an image that you've never seen before and say, well, what does it mean? You're actually, you're now saying, well, here's the syllabus content we can choose, you know, but it's understanding and drawing out those concepts from the question has been posed to students and being able to get them to link back to other case studies that they've learned about within the course of studies. So yeah, it's really interesting, really different to focus on teaching case studies but through a section one kind of response, but at the same time it really builds all that that broader knowledge of case studies that we're trying to teach students.

Alex – So yeah, this has been so interesting Brian, it's been a real pleasure chatting to you, thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with our listeners today. I'm sure that people are really going to benefit from hearing your ideas and perspectives. I think it's a really innovative and interesting way to approach the course and thanks so much for joining me today.

Brian – Thanks Alex, been a pleasure.

Alex – My next guest is Mel Cassin from Bosley Park High School. Thank you so much for joining us today, Mel.

Mel – Hello and thanks for having me Alex.

Alex – Could you tell us a little bit about your school background and what the culture visual arts is like there?

Mel – Yeah, absolutely. Bosley Park High School is a large coeducational high school in Southwest Sydney. It has approximately 1400 students at the school, 82% of the student population come from a language background or dialect other than English and around 10% of our students are from a refugee background. In the past, the school has been recognized for its broad curriculum, including programs that support the development of talent and high potential in a range of areas and that was including visual arts as well as robotics, accelerated maths, performing arts, dance, music and drama. And we also have a selective, talented football program at the school for both girls and boys.

Alex – Could you tell us a little bit more about your visual arts department?

Mel – Yeah, absolutely. So, the visual arts department is a standalone visual arts department, not a CAPA faculty, which is exciting because it's such a big school. It in comprises of seven art teachers and that includes your highly experienced and new scheme teachers and each teacher has knowledge, skills and expertise in various art making practices. And many of the of the staff are practicing artists themselves and that sees that knowledge and passion transfer into their classroom practice which really further enriches learning for our students. Which is really nice.

Alex – You must have a lot of classes running with seven teachers in the department.

Mel – Yeah, we do. We have mandatory periods for stage four are ran in year seven but we are fortunate enough to run year eight electives at our school as well and we offer elective visual arts and we also do some cross curricular elective courses. One with English and we run a photojournalism course which is really exciting and we run a design course that's cross curricular course with industrial arts and encompasses aspects of graphic design as well as product design. In Stage five we have visual design, visual arts and photo media ran at the school and we currently have two visual arts classes in year 9, one visual design and one PDM. And in year 10 I think that's almost mirrored. We have two visual arts one visual design and one PDM. And in stage six currently we have one year 11 visual arts class and one P. V. D. And the same in year 12, one visual arts class in one PVD. So, it is quite a large faculty.

Alex – So in your HSC classes this year, what case studies are you looking at?

Mel – Yeah. So, look the HSC case studies that I've developed at our school, I've developed a real systematic approach to unpacking the case studies. Because when I analysed my data I really identified the weakness in student results were in the written component and in particular students’ ability to deeply interpret works. So, this was a little bit of a driver for me to revisit the case studies and implement some specific strategies inside them as well to really target lift in that area. So, case study one which is titled the artists who express an informed point of view, which is the discriminating feature of visual arts. And we look in particular at artists from the Archibald. So, we're looking at Australian artists and there's a focus on Brett Whiteley, Del Kathryn Barton, and Abdul Abdullah, in that particular case study and in case study two, it's titled Art outside the gallery. And this really explores contemporary artists that create public sculpture or site-specific work that really challenge audience’s perception of what art is and we focus on artists Theo Jansen, Andy Goldsworthy, Damien Hirst, and Ron Mueck. And for case study three, it's titled artist as a political and social commentator and we look at a focus on Asian artists. And we look at Ai Weiwei, we also look at Mariko Mori and Yasumasa Morimura, and for case study four its titled Identity. And there is a focus there on contemporary Aboriginal artists and we look at Lin Onus, Blak Douglas, Karla Dickens, and Jonathan Jones as well. And Case study five is called the role of the art critic. And we generally tend to complete this after the trial exam to keep students on task and focused right to the end. And we look at the rise of modernism in the 20th century and in particular, Robert Hughes's interpretation of this through the Shock of the New series. And then in contrast to that, we then analyse the role of contemporary art in the 21st century and the demands that it has on audiences through the new Shock of the New documentaries and that sort of that takes us right through to the exam, quite comprehensive.

Alex – So, could you give us a bit more of a detailed account of you’re process and how you approach that development of the case studies?

Mel – As I mentioned earlier, I have developed a systematic approach to unpacking and delivering the case studies with year 12. When I analysed the data, I saw the weakness and the need was in this area. So, I immediately set to work to develop and implement a series of strategies to really target lift in this area. And the first thing I do is I start with a purposely selected quality documentary and I think I do this because it engages learners of all abilities. And I think that this really helps with the storytelling for students to reveal the intention of the artist practice. And I find that this is the hook for my students and this is where I get to buy in from them. And following that documentary we’ll engage in class discussion after viewing the documentary and the students will share their new knowledge that they've just learned to the class and we construct notes based on these findings. And this is the high-level strategy of note making, which is very different to note taking. And I find that I don't really ever write notes on the board for students to copy. I just don't think my students learn from that.

Alex – Do you think you could quickly explain that difference between note taking and note making for people that might not be familiar with the high leverage strategies?

Mel – Yes. A note taking will generally be where teachers will write a series of notes on the board and asked the students to copy it down and they don't really unpack or discuss the information. It's much more purposeful for students to develop their own notes and that's where the note making comes in. So, on the back of the class discussion, once we've watched the documentaries and were involved in a class discussion, the students are then equipped to write their own independent notes. And sometimes we do that collectively in small groups or even as a class. It could be a class discussion and we developed a series of notes together. That is a culmination of all of their findings. And I think that's where I found my students learn best where they're sharing their interpretations of class. And we developed a series of notes as a class. And it's almost like the next step after how they've actually interpreted the information from the documentary and how they're then going to use those notes to then help them with the following activities that will come afterwards.

So, after I do that, I developed my own faculty developed case study booklets. And these tend to include articles, reviews, you know, quality sources of information on the artists and I embed specific questions that relate to the three content areas of the frames, conceptual framework and practice into these booklets. So, the students are consistently making reference to them. And I think it's really important that they're consistently building an understanding of those three content areas and, you know, the interrelated nature that they're intended to be, which is outlined in our syllabus quite clearly, we tend to engage in that case study booklet as a class. We will read through the notes, will engage in darts related activities, like marking the text and annotating as we go. And the students are then drawing information out of those booklets relating to the three content areas and I think again, that's building their understanding of those and it's assisting them to answer with short or long answer questions down the track.

Alex – And when you annotate or mark up pieces of writing, are you asking students to consider maybe perspectives from the frames or language from the framework?

Mel – So generally what they're doing is they're highlighting the text in reference to the questions I have posed, the questions that I posed throughout the booklet will be in reference to one of the three content areas, questions that ranged from lower order to higher order questions and that caters for all the students because I have high support and high challenge students in my class. So, I think that level of questioning helps challenge them, but the questions are focused on the three content areas and we are looking at drawing information out of the source consistently through those activities related activities.

Alex – Do you find it helps to be quite explicit about the content areas, particularly in the HSC course where we might expect students to have a little bit more of that meta understanding of the syllabus and the fact that they're going to have to go off and apply that language in the exam, choose questions based on practice, frames or conceptual framework?

Mel – Absolutely. In year 11 we spend a significant amount of time unpacking and developing an understanding on those three content areas separately. And then we're looking at starting to inter relate those and overlap them. And you can see evidence of that in students’ writing because they've developed such a strong foundation understanding of them in year 11, when they're going into year 12 straight away, they're starting to interrelate and interweave those three content areas and they're quite then equipped to answer any question whether it's a practice or conceptual framework or frames question, they're equipped to do that, but they understand the impact of inter relating those three content areas will then result in really high interpretations, which is what we're looking for at the top of the scale, so to speak. Another thing that I do is I have developed my own faculty developed scaffolds that actually do focus on the three content areas, and I've developed these scaffolds to suit the needs of my students and I think that they've really greatly assisted with the building of their understanding of them, but also their interpretation skills and I, again, I try to get students to even work in groups in this area too, Alex, where we're using the scaffold almost as a draft for a short response question. And if we're, for example, our focus is on the conceptual framework and I've got the students divided up into four groups where one group is allocated each aspect of the conceptual framework. We have an artist and artwork and audience and a world group and they're completing that scaffold and compiling information in just that one area, and then again, we collectively share those interpretations to the whole class. So, we're building the scaffold collectively as a class. And I think that that's where the students are learning best from one another, and I think that's really powerful, definitely in my context anyway. And at the end of that, as I said, they've created a draft response for a short question that I could then pose to them and they could then be really well equipped to answer that short answer question independently because they've watched the documentaries, they've got notes from the note making discussions, they've completed the case study booklet questions and then they have the faculty developed scaffold that they've completed. So, they're really confident at that point to answer a question. And that actually follows the high leverage strategy of whole class discussion, group work and independent student activity. So that that's what works really well in my context.

Alex – I like the idea of going backwards and forwards between getting the students to come to an individual understanding, but then that co creation of a class set of notes and sharing and having students, you know, re teach and explain that content to each other as a reinforcing strategy, but also as just an active classroom, right, with your engaged students sharing information with each other. Sounds ideal.

Mel – Yeah, it works well and I think it's the repetition of the process because we do that for each artist for each of the case studies. So, as I mentioned earlier in the case studies, there's generally three artists in a case study, if not more. So, the students are doing that process three times. So, it does sound repetitious, but it really works. And each time we're focusing on a different content area. So, if we go back to say case study one, which was the artists that expressing informed point of view, my focus for Whiteley is on practice. My focus for Del Kathryn Barton is on frames and my focus for Abdul Abdullah is conceptual framework. That way the students have developed an interrelated understanding of those three artists through the three content areas and then they can finally, you know, ultimately, at the end of that, they can complete an extended response question at the end of that case study and bring all of those artists into discussion.

Alex – Yeah. And from what you told me, it sounds like your final case study has this big art history focus, maybe an overview where you're looking at critical and historical writing, maybe about a lot of different artists. And I wonder do you find that having this case study at the end of your sequence where they've already developed all those skills, it leaves your students a little bit better equipped to tackle what might be a little bit heavier content?

Mel – Correct. I think that the artist that I sort of picked for the four case studies prior to these are artists that I think one, well, they align with all of the content areas and if we look at each particular case study, there's a little bit of a focus through the different aspects of the conceptual framework. You know, when you look at the Case Study one where the artists are really creating artwork for the Archibald, they're really looking at a portrait which tells the story, so it's really about the artwork. And then when you look at the social issues in case study two, it's really about the world, and when we look at outside the gallery, it's really about the audience. And then when we look at the identity case study with the Indigenous artists, it's about the artists and their cultural understanding and background being conveyed through their art. So, I think that that's sort of something that I have purposefully done, but at that fifth case study which generally the students are pretty exhausted at that time. I think that that particular case study is almost a formation of really what they've spent time understanding through the whole visual arts education, not just in year 12 or in stage six, it's just really almost a recap of what was happening, the Modernism period and what a contemporary artists, what's driving their practice and how that's really changed the way audience interact with art and the way we see art. So it's almost like a little bit of overview for me, and I think the way that I set it up with viewing their documentaries and answering specific questions, it's just more achievable and attainable in that space, when the students have an extensive amount of knowledge, they've put it into practice into the trial, and it's just really consolidating a lot of their findings and really just doing a bit of a recap on a lot of things that they've learned over the years. So sometimes I have thought whether that case study would be better at the beginning, but it seems to be working better at the end.

Alex – Well, it's been a real pleasure chatting to you today and thank you so much for sharing, particularly some insight into the high leverage strategies in your visual art classroom and I hope our teachers will really benefit from hearing your ideas and perspectives.

Mel – Thanks for having me Alex and letting me share some of the practices from my classroom. I've really enjoyed it. Thanks so much.

Alex – Thank you for tuning into Creative Cast and we'll see you next time.

Jackie – This podcast was brought to you by the creative arts curriculum team of secondary learners, Educational Standards directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education. Get involved in the conversation by joining our statewide staff room through the link in the show notes or email our Creative Arts Curriculum Advisor, Cathryn Horvat at creativearts7-12@det.nsw.edu.au. The music for this podcast was composed by Alex Manton and audio production by Jason King

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