I have been really been fascinated with the idea of developing classrooms that utilise collaboration. It is very obvious that technology empowers this idea and makes it seamless, however, I still see the great power of this in a more traditional sense. An example of this was a project a colleague and I developed for our Yr 7 Visual Art students. It was based on the Renaissance, below is an abstract of the project.
After a discussion about the pending Renaissance unit, we pummeled, cobbled and thwacked out our tired previous assignment to reshape it into a more authentic task. We wanted students to have a deeper understanding of the contexts and structures surrounding and influencing Italian Renaissance Art. We determined to deliver students with a “real” sense of what it would be like to work in an artist’s studio at this time and used the Florentine Painters guild to provide historical and cultural references. In constructing the way we would assess the task we looked to analogues from the time. Who did the painters have to please? It was clear – their patrons. So we took the role of the Pope and Lorezo Medici, for our ‘master’ painters and their workshop apprentices.
The task needed to be fundamentally grounded in authentic and explicit learning. We came up with the following knowledge outcomes:
• Historical and Cultural Understanding of the Renaissance: concept of rebirth of knowledge from Antiquity
• Development of painting techniques and processes employed by Renaissance artists through an introduction to mathematical perspective, grid-based underpainting and chiaroscuro (tone, light and shade)
• Use of contemporary technologies with historical ideas: where the students created a photographic tableaux of significant Renaissance paintings for translation into compositional formats relevant to Renaissance idealism.
• Collaborative & Authentic Learning: through role-playing in Artist workshops
• Communication and Presentation skills of their work in the formal setting of the Rod Menzies Gallery
We divided the two classes into 8 groups, in which, every student had the opportunity to be the “master” and “apprentices” within the studio. We generated and distributed a role-allocation framework for each participant within the painting guild – what part they were expected to play in the studio. Each group had to re-interpret a significant Renaissance painting such as Perugino’s Marriage of a Virgin or Da Vinci’s Last Supper and recreate it using each member of the group. Students brought in old sheets, costumes and props and used digital cameras to capture their new work. The next challenge began at this point where each group was given a 1.5 x 2.5 metre piece of scene board. Where possible, the large format of each group work approximated the actual scale of some of the Renaissance paintings studied. The translation of each students A3 tableaux art work onto the scene board was a significant mathematical challenge to each group. Once they achieved accuracy with the grid dimensions to establish accurate proportions, they created under drawing to plot out the use of ‘chiaroscuro’ or ‘tonal range’. In a new development this year, the Visual Arts decided to purchase only a range of primary pigment colours. This extended the students understanding of colour mixing and its application, where they were required to use a palette appropriating an accurate reference to the original paintings.
To conclude the unit, the students were briefed upon the requirements to present their work before their peers and articulate how 5 key areas of knowledge were managed by their group: historic reference and narrative, style, technique, composition scheme and application of art elements and principles.
Students were assessed in three ways:
• Design Process & Design Thinking: Using a rubric assessment grid to determine the development of the finished art piece;
• The finished art work: A rubric was used based on set criterion which was delivered in the learning task;
• Presentation: students were assessed on their ability to present their work to Pope and Lorezo Medici. Students were given criterions that needed to be addressed throughout the presentation.
Team teaching has been a highly rewarding corollary of each of these learning tasks. Their reliance on adopting a flexible approach between clearly articulated requirements and organic modulation of the unit led to valuable exchanges and enlivened the process. Reflection, both staff and student, was critical during the tasks. During and after the assignments students used these reflections both to deepen their engagement in the task and to shape subsequent learning. For either Year 7, it enhanced their understanding of the world of the artist. This task was highly successful and immensely affirming as we saw students employ and master working methods and modes of accountability employed by others . Innovation is a hard concept to quantify but learning activities like this certainly make students develop new skills, ideas and understandings. This type of learning experience also challenged us to be innovative educators and risk takers. At times it was difficult but in the end the learning on all our parts was so much richer and meaningful.