Saturday, 21 April 2012

A case for Intervention Strategies in Art and Design

Differentiation by outcome
Intervention may seem an unfamiliar term to art and design teachers.  This may stem from a fundamental belief in differentiation by outcome (each student will achieve the best and most personal outcome that they are capable of, demonstrated by an assessment at the end of the project/activity).  This is largely historical and a product of two aspects of the subject.  The first is a belief in each student’s potential to achieve with the support and guidance of the teacher/artist (the old ‘apprentice’ model).  The second is a belief that each student originates creatively to realise their own ideas through personal creativity and expression.  To help them achieve the best outcome, they incorporate the advice of the teacher into their actions (again a historical model).  Whilst I do not entirely refute some value in these beliefs for FE and HE students engaged in extended personally driven study, they are largely out of step with assessment for learning approaches and certainly unsustainable within a school based, learning focused model.  With this approach, the weakest will underachieve and we could argue that the most able will not reach their full potential.

Differentiation by task
In reality, art and design teachers most often practice differentiation by task, as they constantly modify expectations and outcomes through discussion with individuals and groups. Because this is a natural and intuitive model for those who are ‘art school trained’, many do not realise the extent to which they implement this as their dominant model. This approach can be manageable with examination classes but can become difficult with the numbers in a key stage 3 class and across a cohort. For example, within an examination group of 20, a teacher can set a broad project and work with groups and then each individual student to direct, model and suggest lines of investigation and research.  This approach develops personal responses and individual development, resulting in original outcomes that will engage and motivate the student. However, teachers will need to find ways to record and track these discussions, particularly if they want to maintain a focus on improvement and ensure good progress. (see Unit 6 Module 6.2 Securing progression in art and design, Appendix 6.2 C.1 Curricular target setting in art and design – from the subject development materials, released as part of the National Strategy Assessment for learning Pack) downloadable from:

Differentiation by criteria and outcomes (Assessment for Learning)
Art and design teachers are very familiar with using criteria referencing as a means to determine standards.  GCSE Boards publish Assessment Objectives and these are set out to specify the expectation of each mark awarded, before being converted into a grade award by the Board following moderation.  So these criteria statements determine what students have to do, in order to achieve a mark or grade.  The same is true in the classroom.  When art and design teachers write and share lesson outcome statements and success criteria at the start of the lesson, then students are very clear about what is expected of them by the end of the lesson or a sequence of lessons.  Increasingly, teachers are setting these out in a differentiated form using ‘All, Most and Somestatement stems, to target expectations at particular groups or specific students and to give some challenge to those who may exceed their normal expectation or predicted grade. This is particularly effective at boosting achievement in small manageable steps across a course.

What then do I mean by Intervention?
Intervention in art and design requires a different way of thinking about achievement and about the expectations we, as teachers, hold for different students.  This is made a little ‘fuzzy’ as a concept in our subject, precisely because in art and design, we hold personal creativity in such high esteem and our desire to stimulate creativity can dominate our objectivity in defining specific, measurable learning outcomes.  Let me explain it this way.  If I plan a very traditional still-life drawing project for a group of Year 9 students to improve their drawing competence, then I know that the quality of outcomes will have enormous range, certainly including evidence between Levels 4 to 6 and possibly as broad as Levels 3 to 7. As part of our teaching to produce a still-life drawing, we will certainly show students examples by artists, possibly other students and probably encourage creative independence in the use of the media.  So the Key Concepts of Creativity, Critical and Cultural understanding may well be part of the planned development and assessment processes, alongside the development of improved Competence in drawing skills.  We certainly also have some students who even at this stage in their art and design education will complain loudly “I can’t draw!” And there will be others who genuinely will struggle, having failed to act on their teachers guidance to visually measure, compose their layout carefully, fill the paper or use their choice of drawing media to record a full tonal range using marks and shading techniques such as hatching and cross-hatching. 

If we differentiate by outcome then each will be assessed against the specific success criteria or a set of differentiated criteria, with the award of a suitable grade or Level at the end of a project.  The focus in this context is on guiding students as best we can and only then measuring their achievement when the work is completed.  In order to improve, students must act on the ongoing guidance given by their teacher and may really only fully understand how successful they have been when the work is finished and assessed.  This means that to progress, they have to understand, apply and put into action what they learn in one project, within each of the following projects.  The problem with this approach is that teacher feedback is not continually criteria referenced to help them maximize their grade in that same project.  Hence, any formative feedback only becomes qualified in relation to a summative grade or level.  Teachers have to work hard in this approach to provide high quality individual guidance, but it relies on students following all guidance on trust, recognising the quality of guidance from their teacher only after the assessment. The other problem with this approach is that it undermines independence and can limit a student developing their own creativity.

Assessment for Learning encourages us to use formative feedback to gather information from students about their learning, regularly, throughout, or at key points in the stages of an activity.  This way we can help students take the next step, knowing the criteria for success, they decide what to do next and how well to do it.  If they still struggle, we intervene.  An intervention may be as simple as some verbal guidance (reminding the student of guidance previously given), it may be a little drawing demonstration on some spare paper (so they can place this in their sketchpad and use this to refer to), or it may direct their attention to an example of work by other students or an artist.  We make these small interventions all the time when guiding students. 

Assessment for learning also encourages us to pause at points in the lesson and observe all students working, to reflect on how well they are progressing and consider whether we need make further interventions.  This might include, either selecting a group of students who need gathering together for a further demonstration or providing guidance to clarify something they have not fully understood.  Questioning is a further form of formative assessment and feedback, enabling teachers to check what is known and how well it is understood.  By probing, teachers challenge assumptions and can test the depth of understanding, followed by modifying the level of challenge in line with needs.

What do we do then? When despite our best efforts some students are clearly underperforming and still do not meet expectations? If at the end of these ‘in lesson’ small and medium interventions, these students proclaim “I still can’t draw” or “I’m useless at designing and developing ideas”.  What then do we do next? 
Differentiation by outcome may have led us to form a view that some students, just don’t get it.  So they leave the lesson without having met the expectation and we try again in the next lesson, or move on to another project, accepting that these students cannot draw as well as others. Perhaps they never achieve the expected outcome.  No surprise then that in frustration and with low self esteem they say “I can’t draw”.

What if we held a different expectation?
What if we thought that ‘if a student has decent gross and fine motor skills, if they could draw graphs in maths, write in English, control a pen or pencil to make notes, act thoughtfully and are well organised’, should they not be capable of controlling drawing media and applying the principles of, for example, line, shape, mark, shade and tone in the way that it is being taught?

The question is, how do we Intervene in a meaningful and impactful way?

If we consider the situation from the perspective of the student (learner), should we not expect to have success when well taught?  And should we not also expect them all to be able to achieve?  Clearly, such students need larger scale interventions, something that provides them with:
      more time to learn and apply guidance from the teacher;

      more one to one guidance from a teacher, artist or perhaps even another student;

      less stress in the learning situation;

      confidence building activities that improve their self-esteem;

      an opportunity to try alternative approaches and gain confidence through small successes.

The problem is: Do we believe in intervention?
Although art and design teachers are well versed in the alternative approaches to drawing that engage learners, they may not choose to employ such strategies and we rarely see these being taught to a class. The views teachers hold on what is right, run deep within us, often stemming from our own artistic training.  The problem is that we as teachers are successful products of the system. Was this because we found our own way to draw, our own personal creativity and were successful?  And is there a correct way to teach art and design?

In her book Children’s Drawings, Maureen Cox seeks to debunk the concept of ‘innate creativity’ developed over the early decades of the twentieth century, at which time many thought it ‘should not be inhibited or corrupted by formal teaching of adult artistic conventions’. She quotes Viktor L√∂wenfeld (1957), appealing to teachers: ‘Don’t impose your own images on a child. Never give the work of one child as an example to another. Never let a child copy anything’. By the mid eighties, the fallacy of this belief was being exposed and the understanding that we cannot protect children from images that may influence (environment), will be balanced by the work of the teacher, instructing and mediating this experience. However, the belief in the sanctity of an individuals’ creativity has not entirely vanished at the beginning of the twenty first century.  Coupled with this, there is a curious disrespect of formalised teaching methods exemplified by the ‘How to Draw’ books we find in the leisure section of bookshops.  Perhaps this is a product of the background of many current teachers of art and design, who were themselves trained during the ‘conceptual art’ decades, which celebrated personal creativity and the primacy of ‘concept over skill’ towards the end of the twentieth century.

Maureen Cox explains that this dichotomy between formal and conceptual approaches has not been too much of a problem, until children’s willingness and enjoyment to draw begins to fail, when in Years 5 and 6 ‘they become dissatisfied with their work and they substitute rather detailed fussy drawings for their former bold and more confident efforts’. We see this problem exacerbated in Key Stage 3 where we expect to build on basic drawing skills and help students to develop control of their skills under specialist guidance in the creation of more complex works. When the skills and understanding are not in place, we have little time to go back and correct the misconceptions, or teach the skills that are not in place.  It is easy to see therefore the problem we are faced with.  We often see some amazingly creative work in primary art and design and extremely varied standards in secondary classrooms, where the focus is on applying skills and techniques with some control and to convey meaning. Without a sound grasp of basic skills in drawing and designing, it is hard to see how students can continue to feel confident as they are asked to expose their creativity in the harsh competitive and comparative climate of early adolescence.

Other educationalists have addressed these problems from different perspectives. Those working in the field of educational psychology have explored this alongside broader aspects of how we learn best. Carol S. Dweck investigates research on: is artistic ability a gift?, in evidence from US research referenced in Mindset – The new psychology of success; Both Howard Gardner and David Perkins in their work as co-directors of Project Zero have examined this from different perspectives exploring formal and non-formal models of creative and skills development (see Gardner: Art Education and Human Development) and the importance of learning to think through looking, explored by Perkins in The Intelligent Eye.  This importance of looking also sits at the heart of the model for improving skills as set out by Betty Edwards in her book: Drawing on the right side of the brain and also specifically through critical response and development  in the UK by Rod Taylor in Educating for Art.  There are also many books available on ‘Improving your drawing’ and most instruct by breaking down a specific task into series of smaller steps i.e. ‘chunking learning’.  We know this is of value when you wish to achieve specific outcomes, and measureable improvement in learning, but this is rarely seen as a common model in the UK art and design curriculum.  Why is that?

Is then the dominant model of teaching art and design in Britain, as follows: The teacher provides opportunity for learning with sequences of activity with personal support, designed to lead to a successful outcome.  The students who are successful or respond well to the guidance achieve well and all others fall by the wayside?

Art teachers do not always structure further opportunities to follow up with these students who fall by the wayside, or establish after school events, with an expectation of ultimate success. Instead, we seem torn between our valuing of personal creativity and skill, and yet technical achievement is a part of the measure for examination success at GCSE art and design, particularly in achieving the C grade. Does this then make a case for a more formalised model of intervention?

Why do we need Intervention?
The need for intervention is evident either through the lack of progress being made by a student or group of students in a class.  Teachers who are making regular and effective use of data will have their perceptions from the classroom confirmed.  The evidence provided by data in the arts will, however, usually only demonstrates a case for intervention after at least half a term and more usually beyond a term.  Detailed teacher assessments are made only over these timescales and as a part of a pupil self-assessment, peer or summative teacher assessment.  

Taken from the National Secondary Strategy

First indications of the need for a Tier 1 intervention in art and design are more usually evident by student attitude and in response to disruptive behaviour, loss of self-confidence “I can’t draw”, or progress much less than planned by the teacher or than their peers.  They may also demonstrate behaviours such as time wasting strategies and frustration evident in their inability to meet the prescribed standard or their own standard, particularly where they are more able or talented in other subjects.  Throughout this guidance paper, drawing is used as the key indicator and context for modelled solutions, although the principle applies equally in any aspect of art and design making. 

Cohort level Intervention (Tier 1: – Core Instruction)
Cohort level interventions should be identified in response to the subject curricular targets, based on cohort data and from performance in lessons and on-going assessments.  Typically, an art and design department may judge a Year 8 cohort as being particularly weak, in for example, observational drawing skills including proportion, perspective and tone. Equally they may judge a Year 9 cohort as having poor design skills.  (see Unit 6 Module 6.2 Securing progression in art and design, Appendix 6.2 C.1 Curricular target setting in art and design – from the subject development materials, released as part of the National Strategy Assessment for learning Pack) downloadable from:

In both cases, these need some unpicking of the detail and specific weaknesses, in order to define and layer some clear and SMART curricular targets such as for the Year 9 example:
    Increase the teaching of stages in the design process in all Y 9 projects, including use of thumbnail studies to explore different compositions, annotated pages and evidence of investigation/experimentation.

    All projects to have sketchbook evidence of a sequence of 4+ pages of good quality Creativity, Competence and Cultural understanding (minimum L5) development.

    Improve research skills to require study or artists/designers and their work to show evidence of analysis, reflection and identification of what is relevant and what has been selected and developed from the study of the artist/designer. In both homework and classwork, avoid copy and paste from the web, include web references and personal response.

    All students to complete several pages of experimentation/investigation where students test media and make several studies that improve the quality of their idea and how they use the media.

    Self and peer assessment used at key points to set targets for improving work.

    Teachers to mark sketchbooks every two weeks using 2 stars and a wish or WWW (what went well) and EBI (even better if) to make recommendations for action.

    All teachers to check that where improvement or completion of tasks is required, that students complete this to the required Level standard.

    Students who are unable to progress are often unwilling to lose face in front of their peers if they admit to needing direct help.  Art and design teachers are particularly adept at small interventions with each student, where they demonstrate how to use media or work in a specific way.  However, this can become a poor use of lesson time if this ‘demo’ is being repeated around the classroom to many students and where there is no follow-up by the teacher to check progress.

    Whole class demonstrations can be useful, but more usefully, a small group ‘demo’ is more powerful if a group of students are selected by the teacher and gather together for a short focused presentation or demonstration targeted on their needs.  There is no loss of self esteem to these students if this is a normal and regular feature of a teachers teaching style.  This strategy is powerful if used with all abilities, where teachers gather together those with a specific need and share characteristics in their skills and work.

Explore using learning mentors and coaches

    Many schools are starting to explore the development of students as researchers and co-creators in their learning across the curriculum.  Some schools are nominating students as learning mentors and coaches, within their year group or class, and sometimes specific to a subject.  They have badges and some wear a doctor’s coat indication they are available to give advice in that subject.  This is still in the early stages of development, but is proving powerful in using students with the correct skill set, both in a subject and in supporting others in their learning (e.g. emotional intelligence/personal and interpersonal skills).

    These students are also increasingly being used in two other important ways.  One is to observe learning and feedback to the teacher on learning, from the perspective of the students.  The other, is to offer their support in partnership with the teacher as part of an extended learning programme.

Support teachers and teaching assistants
Use can be made of support staff in several ways to enable effective intervention. They may be
in the room to support a specific student with learning needs or a small group.
    The support assistant can support self and peer/small group self assessment activities, ensuring students understand and correctly use the criteria.
    Provide a whole classroom presence to enable the teacher to run a focused activity with a small group for 3-5 mins.
    Use exemplars prepared by the teacher to manage small group discussion about actions to improve.
    Support small group differentiated activity.

NB. The purposeful use of support staff (when present), is essential for an outstanding lesson, as set out by Ofsted.  So please ensure they are tasked effectively (in relation to differentiated success criteria) and deployed specifically to make an impact on the learning of one or more identified students.

Targeted (Tier 2: – group interventions)
Class level intervention
When a whole class is underperforming and failing to meet the expected standard, how long will you wait before you take action? One week? Two weeks? A month? Half a term?
How will you choose to take action? 
    You could try and continue the project but split the class into ability groups and work with each group separately.

    Redesign or change the project completely.

    Place support materials on the VLE, including video instructions and hyperlinks to enable students to improve their understanding and complete meaningful activities.

    Move to a different medium, technique or process, although you may retain the same project outline.

    Select a technique or craft activity that develops a different set of skills, more of a process or sequence of actions, breaking the activity down into shorter more easily manageable steps.

    Stop the project and work on the weaknesses students have with their e.g. drawing, use of colour, technique etc by running demonstrations, after school workshops and intensive instructional activities.

    Shift to more experimental or expressive approaches, and away from representational techniques. 

    Work on a larger scale, in a broader media, or possibly introduce a modified way of working e.g. drawing at arms-length using broader media attached to a 1metre length of dowel.

Homework clubs, out of hours learning clubs or ‘art clubs’
In art and design, the tendency is to run coursework clubs after school for examination students in a slightly informal way.  These are often also attended by KS3 students who are enthusiastic.  Lunchtime versions also occur where time permits.  These arrangements are usually too informal for some students who need more structured interventions, but do suit some students who are well motivated, but just need more time and individual guidance.  
    Try setting up a structured Homework club for those who want access to the art and design rooms to access facilities and the camaraderie they don’t receive at home, but also some directed one to one teaching. 

    Very weak students will need more structured teaching within a club arrangement, so they need to be near the teachers desk and have their materials and activities well set-out.  If they are giving up their own time in response to you identifying a need, you should make provision that challenges and supports their development.

    Motivate attendance - playing music, providing biscuits, sweets or squash.

    As an intervention – provided sequences of taught activity, demonstrations, a chance to try things out and gain focused support.

Intensive (Tier 3: – individual interventions)
Skill support
“I can’t draw!” This is probably the most common vocalization of the student who openly declares their need for support, either within earshot or directly to the teacher.  This requires a diagnosis of needs and rapid remedial support targeted at the required skill or competency.  Often more associated with a confidence issue than a real lack of skills, although sometimes the student is correct and they have not previously been well taught.  In these situations as stated above, it is often helpful to identify several students who would benefit from being brought together to actively engage in some focused and structured learning to cope with the current task.  More development may need to be postponed to the next lesson where these students can receive a carefully structured set of activities to diagnose and tackle the larger issues of why they believe they can’t draw.

Supporting issues of low self esteem  
Students who have low self-esteem may well either seek to become invisible in the classroom
or use poor behaviour to mask their problems.   In all cases, early intervention is essential in
preventing these problems escalating and students losing any motivation they feel they have for
the subject and activities.  Low self-esteem can be identified through many characteristics such
as: small-scale drawing, avoiding starting an activity, minor disruption, excessive pencil
sharpening, invisible drawing etc, all of which describe different outcomes of a lack of

To build students’ confidence they need to have some rapid successes, often gained through a
series of short, well structured intervention activities that build skills and capacity to return to the

    Use several short tasks (chunking) that set small incremental improvements in the skills to enable students to clearly see their own progress.

    Use strong verbal rewards and praise to reinforce the successes. 

    Homework can be modified to help provide some of these short skills based interventions, as can VLE content and after-school provision (see Homework club - below).

Other Intervention Strategies for use in any Tier
Artists in residence supporting intervention
Artists in residence are always a positive experience in the classroom and students usually benefit greatly from the opportunity to work with an artist and see the creative process at work.  We often see this as being of particular benefit for our strongest students, but we also know that the experience of working with an artist can be transformational for all students. For our weakest students, this transformation in understanding and successful creation can be most profound. The right artist can also have a motivational effect, engaging students interest and helping them understand what to do and how to achieve their best outcome. 
    Selecting and using an artist for a short residency project, with a group of weaker students or whole class can be a very effective way of developing key coursework and boosting achievement.

    Select an artist whose medium or working process is well suited to a small group of weaker students.  Craft skills and techniques are best e.g. carving/sculpture, printmaking, photography, jewellery and ceramics.

    Organise an artist to work with and mentor a group of weaker students as part of a regular after school programme, to create a piece of work for a commission or installation in the school.

Interventions with other Vulnerable Groups including Able, Gifted & Talented
Class and student data will identify vulnerable groups and also indicate particular learning needs, for challenge, modified expectations and perhaps even differentiated materials and teaching approaches.
    Organise a seating plan by ability or needs and modify outcomes and activities by group or for those grouped on specific tables.

    Plan your time in the lesson, where you will need to provide particular support, show exemplars and make specific efforts with particular students to develop skills and concepts. Have a clear strategy and the resources in place to assist vulnerable students before the lesson starts e.g. guidance on steps to follow that improve outcomes/skills.

    Prepare suitable resources or visual materials to address the learning needs of vulnerable groups, place them on the tables where these students are working. Help them to use these exemplars to develop their own skills and practice.

    Prepare support resources on the VLE to develop independence and to provide additional challenge or extension tasks for the most able.

Rewards for students following successful intervention
By rewarding students who have successfully risen to the challenge and improved their work, you will improve their Mindset and develop a Growth attitude to learning and success (see Carol S. Dweck - Mindset). 
    Send home a postcard praising their effort and attitude.

    Give rewards for effort and achievement (merit points, feature as artist of the week, praised openly in assembly, their work on display).

    If you run an after school intervention club, provide drinks, biscuits etc to motivate and create an improved atmosphere.

A National Strategy model of intervention – adapted to reflect art and design needs
Teachers hold a fundamental belief that all children can learn and improve the quality of their art and design skills, knowledge and understanding, through the actions each teacher takes.

Recognition of the value of good first teaching, ensuring high quality, research-based instruction, well resourced and exemplified, with effective AfL practice.

A focus on professional development for teachers to guide their intervention activities.

Teaching teams use data to set layered curricular targets and by modifying planning for learning and teaching, address misconceptions and weaknesses.

Monitoring student progress to inform planning and instruction.

A multitier model which includes classroom, small group intervention, and individual intervention (see illustration on page 4), multiple strategies including a VLE to build independence.

Dynamic and diagnostic assessment and effective progress monitoring.

Curriculum-based measurements (assessment activities, Levels and Assessment Objectives).

Systematic data collection and assessment management showing longitudinal results/trends.

Access to funding/budget to be used to support early intervention.

Ged Gast    I    Creativity Consultant    I    Babcock 4S  2011


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