Introduction
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Part 1. Introducing the visual arts
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This lesson will be available on April 1, 2024.
This lesson will be available on April 1, 2024.
Part 2. Introducing the role of the teacher
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This lesson will be available on April 1, 2024.
Part 3. Exploring the role of the teacher
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Part 4. The visual arts in an inquiry approach
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Part 5. Developing inquiry through the visual arts
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Part 6. Environments and materials for the visual arts
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Part 7. Using materials intentionally in the visual arts
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This lesson will be available on April 1, 2024.
Part 8. Integrating visual arts into everyday teaching and learning
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End of course
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Introducing the role of the teacher

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Read this short introduction to the importance of the teacher’s role in supporting and facilitating children’s art experiences. It specifically describes two common approaches to art education and why these are not particularly effective in supporting children to develop confidence and competence in the arts. You can use the box below the reading to make notes in your workbook.

Why is the teacher’s role so important in supporting and facilitating visual arts experiences?

Teachers play pivotal roles in how children experience the visual arts in early childhood. This is because it is teachers who create the classroom environment, who decide what visual arts materials are available and when, and who choose where and when children will engage in the visual arts. Currently, teachers’ practices in the visual arts vary greatly. In New Zealand, teachers often have widely different views about how visual arts should be taught in the early years. This can make it hard to understand what is appropriate and when.

Some teachers believe in a hands-off approach. Teachers who advocate for this approach can be informed by the belief that the child is innately creative. They believe their role is to provide the materials and a supportive environment but that the children can do it themselves. They perceive adult interference to negatively impact the child’s creativity. Critique of this approach argues that sociocultural theories have helped us to understand that children are in fact influenced by everything, their relationships, their environment, their culture and the materials with which they interact. These theories highlight that learning is a social experience: therefore, to create in isolation without feedback, discussion and interaction hinders artist development. In fact, children crave interaction, feedback and discussion about their ideas, creations and interests.

In contrast, a teacher-directed approach is becoming increasingly adopted by some early childhood teachers. In these cases, teachers plan prefabricated activities for children that are often inspired by websites such as Pinterest. This is the kind of artwork where it can be difficult to differentiate one child’s work from another. Such activities can feel ‘safe’ for teachers because there are no surprises and they can control the outcome. However, too many teacher-directed experiences can negatively impact children’s self-efficacy in the arts and they can become reliant on the teacher for guidance and instruction.

A lack of personal confidence in visual arts may be one factor that prompts teachers to adopt a teacher-directed approach. Research has shown that a lack of self-efficacy in the arts often begins within one’s own schooling experiences. Many teachers, when prompted, can trace back to the moment in their lives when a teacher or important role model criticised, over-directed or controlled their artmaking. The result of such negative experiences can mean that teachers can avoid any further learning in the visual arts and can experience anxiety when thinking about planning for the visual arts as part of their own teaching.

These two approaches offer either too little or too much guidance from teachers. When teachers adopt a more moderately guided approach to supporting children’s artmaking, they co-construct understanding with children through visual media and support children to develop skills and confidence to use the visual arts as a tool for learning whilst also maintaining children’s agency as capable and confident learners.

Click here to read the full version of this research review by Dr Sarah Probine.

Workbook

This short introduction revisits some of the ideas that Sarah Probine raised in her video in Part 1 about the influence of teachers’ own early art experiences on their teaching practices, and it underlines the important role that teachers play in facilitating art experiences for children. It also highlights that the kind of approach that teachers take can be more or less helpful for supporting children to develop skills, knowledge, and positive attitudes and dispositions such as confidence. The ‘moderately guided’ approach that is recommended fits in with what we know about the sociocultural nature of children’s learning in the early years. This will be discussed further in the next reading. But first, let us introduce our first case study centre.

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Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten is a community-based kindergarten in Auckland that runs half- and full-day mixed-age sessions for children aged two to five. The teachers are focused on promoting deep thinking, creativity and discovery, and they encourage the children to express what they know and understand through a variety of creative languages, including movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, acting, singing and music.

Part of the kindergarten is a dedicated studio space, designed to allow children to engage in in-depth investigation and thinking. The studio teacher, Olivia Ng, works with small groups of two to four children to support them to express their ideas using a variety of art media. This small group time provides opportunities for children to work together, generating and expanding on each other’s ideas and working theories, while at the same time building and strengthening relationships with each other. The kindergarten also holds Outdoor Explorer sessions in which two teachers and a group of older children visit their local nature reserve to explore the natural environment. 

Click to learn about the contributor in this part of the course

Jacqui Lees has been teaching at Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten since 1998 and has been the kaiwhakahaere since 2001. She is passionate about children exploring the beauty and wonder of the natural environment, which led her to introduce the Outdoor Explorer sessions. In her interview, Jacqui talks about the role of the teacher in orchestrating and supporting children’s use of the visual arts to explore their own thinking and learning. Describing the practices in her centre, which align very much with the ‘moderately guided’ approach in the previous reading, Jacqui offers lots of ideas about what teachers can do to provoke and help sustain children’s visual artwork.

As you watch the video, listen out for the intentional strategies and phrases that teachers at Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten use to support children to think through engaging in the visual arts.

Transcript

The role of the teacher in supporting children’s learning through the visual arts  

Our current inquiry is on connecting to local place and we are trying to get the children more deeply connected with our local area. So, as with most projects we do, we wonder, we wonder what they like about this place. We wonder where they go to with their families. We wonder which are their favourite spaces. We go out walking with our children quite a lot anyway around this area. 

We are very lucky that we can go out the back of kindergarten and we can go round the estuary and we can get quite far. We can go two or three kilometers around the back of houses along the estuary and there are some scrappy little bits of bush that our children think are pretty marvelous, and so we explore those. 

So, we asked them, “I wonder which are your favorite places that we explore on outdoor explorers?” One of the ones that came up was the place where we go crab hunting in the mud. Another one was the monkey puzzle tree, a Norfolk pine where they like collecting all the long pine bits. And, then the macadamia nut tree where we find all the macadamia nuts that have been eaten by rats. So, we started talking about that stuff and wondering, and wondering if they would like to draw. We wonder a lot. That’s one of our favorite ways of getting children to go deeper with what they’re thinking and what they know. 

So, then we asked them if they would like to draw some of their favourite places. So immediately the arts come in – the visual arts. We often ask them if they would like to draw and then we do something else, and then we ask them if they’d like to draw again, because we quite like to see how their thinking changes and while you can’t always gauge all of their thinking by the drawings, it does give you a kind of small window into what they could possibly be thinking about, and it gives you places that you can prompt further discussion. 

So, that’s what we did with them. We asked them to draw and then Olivia’s been doing a lot of work with the children building a kind of 3D model – though it’s flat this time – so it’s sort of like 2D plus model of all the places we go to. Olivia spent one afternoon with them over at the football field across the road from us with them lying on the field drawing all the things they noticed. And then they came back, and they added all those things to their map. 

Then we quite often revisit that again and say “Now that you’ve made it, would you like to draw it again? Let’s see what we notice this time”. So, pretty much everything with the visual arts we just weave into what we’re doing anyway and it just gives us an avenue for going deeper. 

What is the teacher’s role in planning visual arts activities that relate to children’s inquiries? 

I think the teacher’s role is crucial. We set up provocations based on the kinds of things they are talking about, and we are exploring. So, for instance, one of the ones at the moment is they were struggling to understand maps. So, as well as making this 3D map, we also printed out satellite maps and put out loose parts so they could play around with that because the shapes on a map didn’t make much sense to them and then we started asking other questions. Things like, “I wonder if you were a bird and you flew over kindy, what would you see?” So, we tried to get up really high with the children to take some pictures looking down so that they could see that, for us, the kindergarten space actually from the air looks like some giant triangles of our shade cloths. It doesn’t look like we see it, so if you were flying over you would see something completely different and suddenly they started to make sense of the shapes on the map. But the satellite map and the questions asked by the teachers help. So, it’s that kind of thinking about what are the issues that the finding challenging? How can we set up a provocation so that they can explore it more deeply and develop their own working theories or refine their own working theories? And then engaging in conversations about those ideas. 

How do teachers support children to articulate and discuss their ideas? 

Wonder is one of the crucial things for us, and wonder is one of our values. So, we wonder. We wonder what a bird would see. We wonder if somebody agrees with you about what you are thinking. So, for instance, they might say a bird would see triangles as they fly over kindy. So, we would ask somebody else. “Do you agree with that? This is Jayden’s idea, I wonder what you think about that?” 

We quite like disagreement. I know a lot of teachers don’t, but we find disagreement quite fruitful because it allows children to engage with the idea that other people have different perspectives on things and that you can disagree but still be friends. So, we talk with them about “So-and-so thinks this. What do you think? Do you agree with them, or do you disagree? How can we discuss it?” The teacher is in the middle of that, helping them negotiate those ideas. “So, you said yesterday that you thought the kindergarten looked like a whole lot of triangles. Do you still think that, or have you changed your mind?” 

So, we relaunch topics every day because the child who goes home is also not quite the same child who comes back the next day. They have had a chance to think about their ideas – think about somebody else’s ideas, maybe discuss it with their siblings or their parents, so they come back with a slightly different viewpoint anyway. Which makes the morning mat time or meeting time quite interesting, because you’re getting to hear what’s changed overnight or if they don’t come every day, what’s changed since you were last at kindy? And, that’s the teacher’s job to try and re-launch. We consider that we hold the memory of those conversations, and our job is to help you remember what you said and ask you if you’ve changed your mind about that. 

How can teachers support children to use the visual arts as tools for thinking? 

Sometimes it’s about just sitting alongside, encouraging. Sometimes it’s about helping children develop new skills. “If you turn your pencil like this and then use your finger, you can smudge that. Have you noticed that?”. So, it’s offering new opportunities to learn about how to use resources. Sometimes it’s about drawing alongside, and we do draw alongside children. I’m not drawing to create a model for children to copy. I’m drawing to show children that drawing is a valid way to communicate, just the same way that if you read, children are more likely to be readers. If you draw, 

children are more likely to be drawers. But you validate the fact that their drawing is their perspective, so it’s just as good as yours, and that you get better and better the more you do it. 

So, sometimes it’s about that it’s about saying, “Oh, I’m going to draw my favourite place too, it might be different than your favorite place. I wonder what we will notice are the differences between your place and my place. I wonder if they will be similar?” So, it’s just kind of engaging more in that wondering while they’re working. And “I wonder how you could represent that tree?” Sometimes children get up into a bit of a bit of a roadblock – they know what they want to draw, but they don’t know where to start. So, if it is say – we pass this big Gumtree, “Well, I wonder where you would start? Would you start with where it meets the ground, or would you start with the branches up in the sky? What would you choose?” and then see what happens. It gives them an idea of how they can start the process. Some children don’t need that, but some children do need just a little bit more of a prompt. 

We find taking two or three children to do that kind of thing at the same time really useful because if we’ve got someone who’s slightly hesitant, they will observe and listen to what their friends are doing and saying, and that also gives them a starting place – but a slightly gentler starting place. Sometimes they copy, and we say that’s agreeing with what you were doing – “So you agree with her that this tree is a really cool place to go. You agree that this is one of your favorite places, so that’s really awesome”. Rather than seeing it as somebody copying your work, it’s just a kind of reinforcing I like your idea. 

While I’ve talked quite extensively about drawing, we do like to translate through languages. In Reggio Emilia they talk about the hundred languages of children. So, for us for instance, the loose parts might be a language, clay is a language, building with blocks is a language. Drawing is a language, painting is a language, creating in the sand is a language. Creating in the mud is a language. Collecting things out in our environment is also a language, so we try to translate through those. 

So we try to think – OK, If they’ve done drawing and then they’ve made something, and then they’ve gone back to drawing what kind of other tools will we give them for thinking? Is it time for us to paint something big together? Is it time for us to work with clay? What is appropriate for the work we’re doing at the moment? For instance, last term we were doing quite a lot on the birds that we saw, so we did a lot with clay. But if we were doing something they were interested in, something like butterflies, clay is not particularly great language for talking about ethereal creatures like butterflies. So, we would have to think about something else, so it’s kind of about using the tools that are right for the project you’re doing instead of thinking about, just, I want the children to draw. 

When they when they were doing something on butterflies and one of our teachers was using a lot of clay and I just started saying things like, I wonder if clay is the right tool for this. Because you’re talking about something that’s very light and transparent, and floats and clay evokes none of those things. 

Sometimes the children come in with materials they want to use, and so it can be a collaborative thing too. If they are desperate to use clay to investigate something, I wouldn’t stop them just because I didn’t think it was the greatest material – that could be an opportunity to discover that the properties of clay don’t quite match this. It’s not that we wouldn’t ever use that, it’s just that it might work better with a different type of material, so the children are involved in that decision as well. We would say “I wonder when Olivia was making the map in her studio, I wonder what we could use to represent the grass.” And the children fossicked around and found green ribbons, and that’s what 

they wanted to use. “I wonder what we could use for the buildings?” they went out to the carpentry table and came back with bits of wood, so it is quite collaborative about how we decide that as well. 

How can teachers use the visual arts intentionally to extend children’s learning? 

So, we quite often group children together quite intentionally. We’ve got two or three of our boys who don’t particularly like drawing. But if they’re with somebody else who does, they might draw, and it’s not a given that it has to be on paper with a pencil or paintbrush. It could be drawing in the sandpit with a stick or drawing in the mud – wherever they feel comfortable. 

Having somebody who’s a slightly more skilled friend – that Tuakana-Teina relationship – is really useful for building capacity in other children, I think. We talk a lot about leadership and rangatiratanga and say that “You are very good at this so you can help somebody else understand”, just the same as you would with say scissors or sellotape. “If you’re struggling with that, you could go and ask this child because they’re really good at that.” We don’t always have to be the ones who show children how to do things. That’s what other children can do too and that brings them into a place of leadership and role modeling. In fact, we very rarely have children just doing things by themselves. The individual picture, I think is nice if they want to take something home for Mum and Dad, and we have places where they can do that freely, but for the most part with our project work, collaboration is a big part of what we’re interested in, and it’s that sharing of ideas in finding a space for modifying your working theories so that you are actually growing in your understandings, being challenged a little bit by somebody else’s ideas. And you only get that if you’re working in groups. 

Tell us how you plan and adapt visual arts experiences? 

We were going to walk and explorer and we were going to document with photographs their favourite places. It quickly became apparent that the photographs weren’t capturing things the way they wanted to capture them, so we changed. And I had drawn a plan of the Kindergarten as a place to start. As I said, they couldn’t make sense of the shapes on the plan, so we went to the satellite map. So, everything is in a constant fluid state. You think that you’re kind of heading over here and then somebody asks a question and you make a slight detour and you go over here and then you might come back, but you might go somewhere else. So, for us planning is about holding our ideas fairly loosely so that we can quite happily let them go when something better comes along. Or something different that the children want to explore. So, we had a generalised idea how we wanted to learn about our local place, but the children have taken it to a slightly different place. 

I think the idea that it’s just about children’s ideas is a mistake as well, because I think, what is the point of us as teachers if we don’t bring who we are in what we interested in, in our ways of working. You don’t actually know what children don’t know until you start sharing your ideas as well. So, we invite families to be part of that conversation. “Where are your favourite places to go as a family?” because maybe the children can’t remember everything. So it’s about that the three groups that are part of this kindy: the families, the teachers and the children or the parents, the teachers, and the children. And it’s about working collaboratively between all of us. 

Click here for translations of some of the Māori terms used in the video

Tuakana-teina
A Māori concept that refers to a relationship of support between an older and a younger child

Rangatiratanga
Refers to a person’s self-determination, authority or leadership

This is a great list, isn’t it?

Delve deeper

We noted in the first part of the course that one of the advantages of the visual arts is that they support a wide range of learning, including developing children’s cognition. The first thing you might have noticed about the teaching strategies used at Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten is how they provide diverse affordances for this range of learning opportunities. For example, the teaching strategies are designed to help children translate their understandings into different visual languages, and to use the power of the diverse thinking of the group as a means for provoking cognitive change and the modification of existing working theories. Did you also notice the key role for the teachers in sustaining the work, by revisiting and relaunching ideas? As Jacqui said, teachers hold the meanings for children, so that children can reflect upon their ideas as their thinking changes. It also communicates to children that teachers value and are interested in their ideas, and in the visual means in which they make their thinking visible. This is a key aspect of the culture of Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten: seeing children as competent visual artists, thinkers and theorisers. Every teaching interaction and every material made available is an intentional choice designed to promote children’s thinking and theorising through the visual arts.

Jacqui also offered several intentional and highly specific ideas for how to support children. There are many different intentional strategies you can use to support children’s visual arts development and we will discuss some of these in the podcast that follows.

Listen

In this podcast on intentional teaching practices for the visual arts, we explore practices and strategies that you can use intentionally to support children to develop their thinking and skills in the visual arts. These include:

  • positioning yourself intentionally within the children’s space
  • listening to children as they create art
  • grouping children carefully 
  • noticing the properties of materials and the details of techniques 
  • prompting recall
  • instructing children in a technique
  • offering children very specific feedback
  • using the broad pedagogical approaches of scaffolding and co-construction

Take notes as you listen.

Transcript

One of the first things you can do to support children while they’re art making is to position yourself intentionally next to them. You might remember Jacqui talked in her interview about sitting alongside the children and encouraging them, and this is really important. And it’s not that you’re doing anything specific – you’re just being there, and that can really encourage children’s participation, their concentration and their focus. So that’s a real first intentional act that you can do with children – and it’s not fancy, it’s not complex. It’s just showing interest and being present. In addition to this you can add your commitment to being really genuinely listening to children, watching what they’re creating and how they’re creating it, and what they’re saying and doing while they create it, as all of these are clues about what children are thinking and what they want to express. You might also want to make suggestions or offer ideas and advice – but of course it will be totally up to the children whether they take those up. You might like to use Jacqui’s use word ‘wonder’ when you’re making suggestions, ‘wondering’ if children would like to try these things. But suggestions can be great because if they’re well-timed and appropriate, they can really help children to persist with difficulty, and they can help them to reduce frustration. 

Another strategy you can use to increase children’s cognitive engagement is that of grouping. So inviting a specific group of children to come into a space and to create art and talk and discuss their art. Jacqui in her interview also talked about how, with her team, they think carefully about how to group children and inviting a particular group of children into the studio space to facilitate their learning best, and she talked about the tuakana-teina relationship – the older children, or more experienced children, teaching the younger and less experienced children. You can also group children that have different perspectives on a topic, or children that have different strategies, and this provides an opportunity for them to learn from each other. 

And to help children with their actual art-making, there are many things you can do. While children are creating, you might like to talk about some of the things that you notice – the properties of the materials that you notice or the details of techniques. You might encourage them to notice or to remember or to picture how something looks, how it feels, how it sounds, how it tastes, how it moves. All of these things can inform and enrich children’s representation. I really loved Jacqui’s example when she talked about how to help a child who wanted to draw a tree, and how she would begin by describing the different parts of the tree and asking the child which one they wanted to draw first. Another thing you can do is to prompt recall, so help children to remember experiences they’ve had or things they’ve seen, and talking about those experiences can help them incorporate more ideas in their artwork. 

You can also be really intentional in the instruction techniques that you use with children. You might have a technique like screen printing, that has a specific series of steps that children need to complete, and so offering them some instruction in this can help them to be more independent, and it can also make sure that children use tools and materials safely. Another thing you can do is offer children very specific feedback, so you might offer them feedback about a technique they’re using, you might just comment on the way that they’re persisting with difficulty or other dispositions that they’re showing as they create their art. And this can really help children to understand themselves as a learner and to develop self-efficacy and confidence in their artwork.

And then finally, I think we should talk about the more broad level pedagogical strategies you can use, and those are scaffolding and co-construction, and they’re a key part of the guided approach that we’re advocating towards the visual arts. So when you scaffold a child, you’re offering some temporary guidance and support to help them reach the next level in their learning. You might use all of the strategies that we’ve been talking about in this video – encouraging them, prompting their recall, describing, suggesting ideas. And we can define it as scaffolding when we’re really looking at the skills and the competencies that are just emerging in children’s work, and trying to support those, trying to help them reach a level that’s just slightly above the current level of competence that they have. So in scaffolding we’re really helping children to progress. In co-construction, on the other hand, it’s more about being on an equal footing with children. It’s about creating together, engaging in shared problem-solving, sharing understandings, forming new meanings together. You might remember Jacqui talking about how she drew her favourite place alongside the children while they were drawing their favourite place. This is a great example of co-construction. Co-construction can be really useful because it emphasises that there are multiple ways of seeing the world, of exploring the world and representing the world. And so it can be a really good intentional choice for facilitating inquiry through the visual arts. 

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