I recently shared a couple of resources on devnicely.co.uk for my Year 11 students, but thought it might be useful to put them here too. The first is a check list, offering a structure (of sorts), but hopefully still encouraging students to think for themselves:
At this time of year, when GCSE students are taking on the preparatory period of the exam unit, it can be difficult to find the balance between providing structure for multiple themes while not being too prescriptive with ideas and suggestions. I'm also mindful that in the current climate, with increased pressures all round, there is a danger that students fall into a habit of wanting to be told what to do, rather than learning important lessons of persistence, problem solving, knowing how to get themselves up and running independently, and so on.
I recently shared a couple of resources on devnicely.co.uk for my Year 11 students, but thought it might be useful to put them here too. The first is a check list, offering a structure (of sorts), but hopefully still encouraging students to think for themselves:
In addition to this I also dusted off this previous resource, which still seems to hold up - a flowchart to help students along the way (which I think Jon and I may have developed together a couple of years back - can't actually remember now!):
Anyhow, hope these might prove useful. If you have alternative approaches/resources we'd love to hear from you.
By Chris Francis, devnicely.co.uk
I had a few spare moments at the end of my Year 12 class yesterday, so I initiated a quick word exchange. Nothing fancy, just a quick game à la 'Exquisite Corpse', where students wrote one photography-related word on a piece of paper and then passed it on to the next person to do the same. The instructions were simple: Write one word at a time - one that has reoccurred in Photography lessons in Year 12 and helped their learning (yet trying to avoid the most obvious e.g. 'photograph', 'visual', 'elements' etc.). It was spur of the moment, yet I was curious to know which words might be the most popular. It turned out to be these: 'Framing', 'depth', 'context', and 'contrast'. Truth be told I would have liked a few more descriptive words; we are spoiled for choice with the language of photography. But then again, perhaps I could have explained the task better, chosen my words more carefully.
By Jon Nicholls, Thomas Tallis School
Apologies. It's been a while since the blog was updated. And Happy New Year!
In the spirit of new beginnings and new exchanges I thought it might be interesting to begin a new feature. I don't know about you but I love showing my students films about photography. There's no substitute for having a photographer visit your classroom. We were very fortunate to have the wonderful Nick Waplington visit before the Christmas holidays. But school budgets, pressures of time and the difficulty of making contact with busy professional artists means these opportunities are relatively rare. The next best thing, in my opinion, is sharing the thoughts of photographers in the form of video clips found on the Internet. Thankfully, these are in plentiful supply.
So, I'm hoping that you will play along in this game of #photofilmpingpong. The idea is simple. I'll serve a video to you via the blog, explaining why I like it and how I use it in the classroom. You return the serve with a video URL of your own choosing and a similar brief explanation (using the comments below or sending an email to email@example.com). I'll then publish this as a new blog post and, with a bit of luck, we can continue to exchange our favourite resources over the coming months.
I'm serving a beautiful film about the American photographer Stephen Shore. Hopefully, you know it already. There are lots of Shore-related films on the Internet but this one is my favourite. He's never not interesting to listen to. He's as economical and wise with words as he is with the camera. It might seem odd to share a film about the use of equipment most students will never have access to - an 8x10 view camera. However, what Shore says about photography in this film is timeless and relevant. He describes the way that photographs compress time and can contain lots of different types of information - perceptual, psychological and medium specific. He explains that his interest is in looking at the "ordinary, everyday world with clear and focused attention." I can't think of a better way to explain the purpose of photography to young people. But he continues to explore the notion of visual thinking. This, for me, is what makes this film so special.
There's a kind of visual thinking that goes on that is without words and not just words spoken but not even words in one's head. Most people think thinking has to do with words, this little voice in your head, but there's a visual thinking that doesn't have that.
This, to me, is a very powerful message about the making of any kind of visual art, especially in the context of school which places such a high priority on the importance of language as evidence of cognition. The evidence of visual thinking is primarily in the images students make and we, as teachers, should respect and value that evidence. Furthermore, students should be taught to trust in this visual sense, their visual intuition and not get too bogged down in over-thinking and linguistic justifications. I don't mean that talking and writing about photography isn't important - Stephen Shore is a great example of an articulate photographer and theorist of the medium. But I love what Shore says in this film about the importance of intuition, of not repeating yourself and of the need to find new visual problems to solve.
This lovely little film ends with another powerful story. Shore compares learning the craft of photography to a young child learning to walk who spends all her time concentrating hard on the technical issues of putting one foot in front of another. Not until she can walk confidently does she have much time to think about where she is going. Having spent 10 years discovering the formal properties of the medium, Shore now spends his time thinking about where he is going with it.
I look forward to receiving your returns of serve.
This post is an attempt to document the impact of Tate's Summer School 2016 on my practice this year so far. I've written about the experience of attending the 5 days of workshops in a previous post. It's difficult to disentangle the various influences that shape your teaching - discussions with colleagues, visiting exhibitions, reading articles, students' responses and misconceptions, talks and workshops - but I feel there are several strands that can be unravelled that relate directly to Summer School and have helped shape my lessons over the last 8 weeks or so.
The classroom as studio/laboratory
One of the challenges I've faced since September is teaching a Year 13 photography class in an art room (rather than our specialist photography room) with limited access to ICT. Inspired by Anna and Alex's inventive use of a range of materials, processes (and spaces) during the Summer School, this constraint has encouraged me to attempt a wider range of experiments, perhaps more closely linked to contemporary art practice than a traditional photography course. Thinking about the limitations of this space (no studio lights, darkroom or easy access to laptops/the Internet, printing etc.) has prompted a more inventive approach which has, in turn, influenced the activities I have offered to other groups back in the photography room.
During the latter part of the summer holidays I printed about 300 of my own photographs (quite cheaply using Photobox) for the students to use in the early September experiments. The emphasis has been on looking, sorting, collaborating, discussing, selecting, sequencing, describing, displaying and documenting. These skills, I hoped, would all help them in the ongoing development and refinement of their Personal Investigations. I was also keen to explore another provocation from Summer School about the relationship between still and moving images. Here are some of the documentary images and videos from these early experiments, directly influenced by similar Summer School activities:
The students were asked to work in groups, selecting only 5 images and placing them in a sequence. These were then stuck to the classroom wall in a single line arranged edge to edge. Photographs were taken of the join between each pair of images and a camera on a wheel mounted tripod was used to film various tracking shots. One group decided to experiment with adding additional circular apertures cut from postcards. One of the tracking shots featured additional images added to the original selection, inspired by one of Anna's films. We also explored the relationship between photographs and verbal descriptions of their formal elements, creating a slideshow of captions minus the original photographs.
Summer School had raised the following questions for me:
Our guiding Threshold Concepts were #5 and #6 (with the support of #4 and #7). Beneath the messing about was a more serious proposal - photographs are technological and cultural constructs, requiring critical intelligence on the part of the maker and viewer.
The colour photocopier proved to be a really helpful tool for undermining the single image (although several colleagues waiting behind us in the queue might not have been so sympathetic):
The use of old paper enabled us to discuss aspects of TC#10. Unexpected patterns, caused by years of light leaking onto the surface of the paper, reminded us of the materiality of the photographic image perhaps best exemplified in the practice of artists like Alison Rossiter.
Year 11 photographers have also been experimenting with a range of strategies inspired by Summer School, producing some exciting outcomes. The circle cutters have certainly been popular and students have enjoyed playing with openings/obstructions, inside/outside, text/image, digital/analogue etc:
Performing for (and with) the Camera
A central feature of our Summer School experience was the notion of performance. We took various objects out into the galleries, at one point making a spectacle of ourselves. I really enjoyed the process of creating cardboard apertures and the collaborative performance in the Tanks. I wondered in my previous Summer School post "whether we could make interesting use of break and lunchtimes to share work with the wider school community and use the element of surprise." Consequently, we have attempted our own (ongoing) series of performances in school, beginning with a reprise of 'Apertures' featuring Year 13 photographers:
I felt particularly sorry for the group who ended up performing in the pouring rain! I've encouraged the Year 13 students to explore the relationship between photography and performance, referring to specific examples and the catalogues of Tate's fantastic 'Performing for the Camera' and 'Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979' exhibitions. We've discussed the various roles a photographer can perform (pun intended):
We have made out of date photographic paper aeroplanes, flown them in public and developed the resulting 'aerographs':
We have explored the One Minute Sculptures of Erwin Wurm:
We've had some fun (a worthy end in itself) but I think the students have found these experiments a bit bewildering. It will be interesting to see what emerges later on this year. Hopefully, they will have become slightly more conscious of the performative role all photographers play when they are operating a camera (especially in public) and the nature of the relationship between photographer and human subject. A few of early video sketches, exploring time and motion, are encouraging:
We have some other performances planned across the visual, media and performing arts. Year 9 students helped to curate an event for The Big Draw, an activity from which was repeated with staff in Wednesday morning briefing. Other events include the operation of a drawing machine, created by our art technician, and numerous impromptu music, dance and drama performances that will pop up unannounced throughout the year in a series of unlikely places. Our aim is to generate a sense of surprise and delight.
Working alongside an artist
This aspect of the Summer School is obviously the most fundamental and the hardest to replicate back at school.
Her visit was wonderfully inspiring, combing a short talk about her practice, some links to other artists working in unusual ways with found imagery and a practical workshop involving the cutting, reassembling and projecting of vintage transparencies. Here are some of the Year 11 responses:
I've not seen this particular class become quite so absorbed in the process of making photographic images as they did in Dafna's workshop. The excitement of moving from working with a scalpel on a tiny scale over a light box to seeing the images projected on the end wall of the classroom reminded me of the screening of our 16mm film during the Summer School - a strange mixture of surprise, wonder, pride and appreciation. Had I not experienced the tremendous benefit of working alongside artists myself at Summer School, I'm not sure I would have been as determined to get an artist into school to work with my students. Now that it's happened, I'm even more committed to making this a more regular occurrence!
I have by no means exhausted the ideas and opportunities generated during Tate Summer School. I'm still keen to make a rotating table and a makeshift track for video experiments. I'd love to work with Super 8 or 16mm film. I'm pleased to have begun the process of transferring ideas into my school context and excited about the way my own practice has expanded. I'm looking forward to seeing how these experiments impact on the students' work over the coming months.
Now, time to give some more thought to the PhotoPedagogy Tate Exchange Associate project...
This is just a quick share. Jon, kind as ever, has previously posted in detail about his approach to planning for the new linear A-Level. If you haven't seen it, I recommend a read. It inspired me to reconsider our approach, and specifically how best to set about milking our Threshold Concepts ideas and resources for all their worth. It was tempting to simply follow Jon's plans - and I plan to at some point; they are full to the brim with opportunities - but I also felt the need to wrestle with the TCs further, to get to grips with how they might be of day-to-day practical help.
How do our plans and approaches differ?
It's probably fair to say Jon's plans lean a little more towards abstraction and conceptual approaches, perhaps offering a stronger grounding in the history and affordances of photography too. Mine, possibly, lean more towards documentary work, with students collaborating on both sides of the camera a little further.
It's not something Jon and I have really discussed in-depth so it will be interesting for our students to meet later in the school year, via our Tate Exchange project, to share experiences. (More on that to follow, alongside a great opportunity to be involved).
Click on the images above to download the full pdf. As with all of the resources on this site, we are always keen to have any thoughts and feedback via the comment boxes. - What are your approaches to A-Level or GCSE planning? Do you see Threshold Concepts as a possible way of enriching lessons? Or perhaps you find them a little highfalutin?
Either way, if you've got this far, we'd love to know.
After years of setting weekly homework tasks (and failing miserably to manage the process effectively) I've finally decided to stop. I want to escape the dispiriting process of setting homework, only for half the class to complete it properly and leaving me with a decision about whether to turn a blind eye or set a detention. If I set homework related to the lesson activities I would also have to deal with the fact that only half the class was ready to continue with the following week's activities. Whilst I don't have many behaviour issues in class, I don't want to punish (the same) students every week for not completing their homework. For me, homework just doesn't work.
However, given that all teachers have a statutory duty to set homework and the official policy of my school is that homework is a good thing, rather than stop completely, I've decided to shift the emphasis away from tasks related to the lesson activities and towards longer, project-based assignments that are tangential to the classroom curriculum.
To be honest, it's taken me a while to catch on to this in my own teaching. For a while my school has been using Extended Learning Enquiries at Key Stage 3 and I've seen some wonderful examples of projects completed by younger students across a range of subjects. As a father of three who vividly remembers the homework projects set by my kids' primary school (E.g. make a scale model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa), I do sometimes worry about the way complex project based home learning can:
a) cost a lot of money - stationery, equipment, materials etc.
b) involve the parent/carer more than is intended
c) take a lot more time than the teacher imagines
Longer, more complex projects can sometimes require a decent space to work and lots of study support, which not all students can rely on.
Fairly recently my school has changed its terminology. We now refer to home learning rather than homework. If the purpose of home learning is to provide students with an opportunity to do some deliberate, independent practice then I felt the need to move away from the weekly complete/incomplete paradigm towards something more engaging and including a greater degree of choice for the students.
One of my colleague's Action Research Report this year was entitled "If I develop a practice of #unhomework with my KS3 Design Technology classes will they become more inquisitive and disciplined?" Characteristically, she submitted her report in the form of a video which featured footage of her students and a presentation she gave at a local TeachMeet. In the 'report' she refers to Mark Creasy's book 'Unhomework'. She quotes the author:
No teacher can be reasonably expected to provide quality, differentiated feedback for their entire class - certainly not every week (and if they do, they need to get a reality check on what the children are learning).
She also refers to Zoe Elder's 'Full on Learning' which presents a case for an intelligent and targeted use of appropriate technologies to bring learning to life for the student. Students' interest in social media and content creation, she argues, is fertile territory for teachers keen to enhance what goes on in the classroom. My colleague decided to experiment with unhomework with her Year 8 Design Technology class and this proved to be a success. She gave the students greater choice in how to represent what they had learned in her lessons. She put the emphasis on the amount of effort the students devoted to their projects, rather than any predetermined notion of completion or quality, in line with our new KS3 assessment policy. Students enjoyed this new approach to home learning and, consequently, the amount of projects undertaken rose significantly. Perhaps more importantly, the quality of the projects increased and the atmosphere in class improved because the teacher was not trapped in a punitive cycle of homework detention setting.
Inspired by this research I decided to get rid of weekly homework tasks for my Year 9 GCSE photography students, replacing these with Extended Learning Enquiries. These would have the following characteristics:
I'd be really interested to learn how you approach the design, setting and marking of homework. What do you call it? How do you respond to those who don't do it or do it half-heartedly? How does your approach fit with the whole school policy? What innovations have you attempted? Do you have any great ideas to share with your photography teacher colleagues?
Feel free to leave comments below.
It might seem like an odd decision for a teacher to spend the first week of a summer holiday going back to school but the lure of Tate's Summer School proved too much for me to resist (more on resistance later). There were several inducements. I was offered a bursary. I had worked with one of the artists before, Anna Lucas, whose practice I admired. The blurb suggested an engagement with lens and light based media: "What happens when a photograph meets a sculpture or when painting looks at video?" The Summer School would be situated in the Tate Exchange space on Level 5 of the new Switch House at Tate Modern. I had a sense of what the experience might be like, what it might offer for a tired teacher, having worked alongside members of the Learning team exploring the affordances of a previous Summer School. It seemed like this was the year when I could see it all in extreme close-up.
Rather than give you a scene by scene account of each day (this is already available on Pat Thomson's blog for those interested), I'm going to attempt to identify those things that I plan to take away and use in my photography teaching next year. Here goes:
Beginnings (or Wake and Shake)
Starters aren't a new idea for educators but Anna and Alex had designed a series of activities they referred to as 'Wake and Shake' that stimulated a number of different opportunities for learning.
Looking, Talking & Drawing
Throughout the week, a range of drawing activities were used in parallel with looking and talking. Anna took us to see the Joan Jonas projection 'Songdelay' from 1973 where we created Blind Movie Drawings using carbon paper and black card. Each day we had a discussion beginning with a question (E.g. What is the value? How can you resist?) during which we were encouraged to doodle. These drawings were then made into badges and attached to banners (as an alternative to the conventional flip chart documentation). Two activities involved working in a pair, either facing each other or back to back, with one partner describing (an image or something observed in the space) and the other attempting to draw it. Silver gouache paint was also available so that we could make drawings of the light in photographs we had selected. Graham Hooper has written informatively of the various ways drawing can be incorporated into the photography lesson. The Summer School strategies, perhaps more conceptual in nature, will definitely form part of my regular pedagogy next year.
At the beginning of the week we were shown a series of posters with sets of words, the first of which, "Ball, Block, Blank", would be a continuous idea underpinning our explorations. Our opening activity involved selecting and arranging sets of photographic images of balls, blocks and blanks provided by the lead artists. As the week progressed we made objects in clay, cardboard, sticks and tape which, along with the endlessly recycled photographs, were used as props in a variety of video and film making activities. We explored the interplay between 2 and 3 dimensions, the flattening effect of photography, film and video and the relationship between stillness and movement. I was really inspired by the ways in which a tripod mounted DSLR could be used, in conjunction with a rotating circular table, to dramatise pictures and objects. The camera could look in (on objects placed on the table) or look out (at objects placed on its periphery). In both cases the rotating table created a tracking shot. Later in the week, other kinds of tracking shots were made using a tripod mounted slider and a track made from a wooden board, two plastic poles and skateboard wheels. I enjoyed the way these devices helped to make still objects move and intend to explore this approach much more with students next year.
The week ended with some analogue 16mm experiments, prompted by the visit of artist Bill Leslie. We drew on some 16mm film with coloured pens, shot our own film with his Bolex camera and even processed it by hand in a series of buckets before hanging it to dry with paper clips on a hastily rigged washing line.
Thanks to our darkroom, departmental expertise and the students' fascination with analogue photography and film, this is definitely something I would like to attempt next year.
The classroom as studio
The Tate Exchange space is very generous and open plan. There are few walls and a minimum of furniture - mobile walls, a couple of plinths, some sofas and chairs. That's about it. There is a small kitchen in the centre and a large cupboard but, otherwise, not much to interrupt the flow of space. Obviously classrooms tend to be a bit more restricted than this. However, I was struck by the way our lead artists, Anna and Alex, used the space they had available to zone activities. We could work as a whole group, then break off into smaller groups or work individually. The morning activities took place near the entrance (and down in the galleries) whereas afternoons were mostly spent at the other end of the space where tables (and the floor) were used to provide a range of prompts for making activities. For example:
Materials for making
Teaching photography is a tricky business. I am often torn between wanting to focus my pedagogy and resources on the specific processes and materials particular to photography and offering a more expanded version of photography practice that embraces contemporary art. This week has made me realise that this isn't an either/or proposition and that the diversity of practice related to photography should be embraced and celebrated. Alex has recently experimented with Instagram, for example, as a platform for creating a digital exhibition catalogue. Anna's 16mm films and videos often include footage of photographs she has taken being sorted. The fluidity of our making and use of materials this week has been entirely inter-disciplinary - sculpture, drawing, video, film, installation etc. The materials have been mostly cheap and easily accessible - tape, cardboard, clay, pens, papers, gouache, ink - but also surprising - dowel rods, black plasticine, foam blocks, 16mm film. We made tiny clay sculptures, cardboard plinths, crazy pointers and huge apertures all in a matter of minutes. Some of the equipment has been high tech - projectors, flat screen monitors, DSLRs, video cameras, tripods, iPads - but these were used to capture and share other kinds of making, rather than as a focus in themselves. There was a sense in which the technology was there to facilitate other kinds of imaginative activity and making. Most of the photographs made during the week were taken on mobile devices and instantly shared on social networks. I feel I need to expand the repertoire of materials easily available to my students next year.
One of the issues I've been thinking about this year has been the relationship between content and depth. Our GCSE photography course lasts for three years. The temptation has been to pack a lot into this time, partly to give students a really rich and diverse experience but also because we can feel that spending too long on a project can lead to boredom and loss of momentum. This week has again raised the question of how to long to spend refining and developing. There were moments in the week when I felt an urge to keep working on something and was slightly frustrated by being called over for a crit or a new instruction. However, the activities over the five days were structured in such a way that we were able to return to our 'sketches', our initial ideas or half-completed experiments, to further refine them.
We have stripped back the content and number of projects in a our GCSE course for September. We've attempted to do the same to our A level course, getting rid of the AS examination altogether and extending Component 1 into Year 12. We're hoping that this will give students greater opportunities to refine and develop their work, taking a bit longer and perhaps working a bit more deliberately over a series of lessons on a single experiment, rather than being constrained by discrete lesson blocks.
Another thought I had, following a slightly anarchic performance in the Tanks with our 30 huge cardboard apertures, was whether we could make interesting use of break and lunchtimes to share work with the wider school community and use the element of surprise. This could apply right across the arts with each department taking turns to 'perform' something to a wider audience, making artistic practice more visible and bringing an element of fun to the in-between times and spaces of the building. This needs a bit more thought and planning but I love the idea that ephemeral performances and/or installations might pop up all over the place from September.
As you can probably tell, Tate's Summer School offers a wide range of stimuli, experiences, ideas and encouragement. It was my first time and I hope to do it again next year. If you're an art and/or photography teacher, and can find a way to be in London for five days at the start of the summer holiday (and you can persuade your school to pay for the professional development), I would urge you to consider applying to be part of next year's Summer School. Working alongside exciting artists and colleagues from all sectors and parts of the world has been an enriching, life-enhancing and joyful experience quite apart from the wonderful CPD. How could you resist?
Thank you to everyone involved at Tate for offering me the opportunity to get involved, to my fellow participants and to Anna and Alex for their expertise and creativity.
My photos and videos of Summer School 2016 on Flickr.
Tate Summer School 2016 Storify
Teach Tate Summer School 2016 blog
By Deborah Dodsworth, Art & Photography teacher, Oaklands School, Waterlooville.
By rights it shouldn’t have been too difficult for me to start up a GCSE photography course. I have taught art since the beginning of this century and specialised in art photography during my degree. I then went on to work work as a photographer’s assistant in London. I am (or at least I was) well versed in Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and fascinated by Claude Levi-Strauss, construction and de- construction of the image, semiotics etc. However, I haven’t truly picked my camera up, with serious intent (other than capturing those familiar precious family moments) since having children. I allowed life to take over. My work has taken a backseat and in the meantime photography became a futuristic digital minefield and I was left a floundering dinosaur. My camera knowledge is good. My Photoshop knowledge needs working on, to say the least, but is improving. To top it all I have been on the lighter side of part-time for the last 7 years, so light in fact that teaching GCSE level or above has not been a requirement on my timetable as it simply would not have been realistic.
As a team we are brand new: 1 part-time (myself) and 2 full time teachers with 4 GCSE groups across art and photography in a school with around 1200 on roll plus a 6th form. We have just one technician who has to facilitate art, textiles, food-tech, resistant materials and photography. This has not stopped me from wanting to have a course that is all singing and all dancing, despite there being very little money left in the singing and dancing pot in schools in the south of England.
We have made a great start. I have worked closely with my current colleague (I say current as she will leave soon after covering a maternity), without whom I doubt we would have got so far. We are still a long way off where I would like to see our department in the future. I decided that due to lack of money in education and, in particular, the arts, the best way forward would be to create student ePortfolios. Not only would this reduce printing costs, sketchbook costs and so on (Nooo! I hear some of you scream), but it would or should make things easier for students. Many of the problems of teaching GCSE - late coursework or homework - would be eased as research would be much more straight forward and, of course, the students would be excited to put together their websites and upload their images! Minimal printing is necessary, therefore speeding up the production of the final outcome.
I was, of course, wrong. There are as many pitfalls as there are advantages to ePortfolios and I am still working part-time making it just that little bit trickier to chase things up as quickly as I would like. I began by marking the work and giving feedback to my students directly on their sites. Do not do this – it doesn’t look "cool” and the students delete it! I have now ascertained that this is recoverable but I didn’t realise it at the time and so lost evidence of my valuable advice and the time I spent doing it was wasted. I have kept the websites password protected so that only those with the password can see them. I am now rethinking this approach since a public site will mean students are publishing their work to a real world audience and possibly feel more accountable for its content.
I now realise how very unrealistically optimistic I have been. Coursework and homework is still coursework and homework regardless of the fact that it's online. Students love doing the practical work- the photography, the dark room – always have. But scanning, uploading, evaluating and analysing is still considered to be a chore.
I have felt regularly that I am out of my depth and the reason I am faced with these problems is because the students think that I am too. I am now though beginning to recognise that I am doing everything I can with what I have and that, although I am continually behind with chasing, marking and technology, we are getting pretty good results, so much so that I have now been approached by another school for advice on how to set up their new course.
Without the PHOTOPEDAGOGY contributors, advice from Jon, Chris and ALL of their collaborators I would not have found my feet. Thank you all. I hope to add some lesson plans of my own and continue the “Pay it Forward” (and hopefully back) culture you have generously created.
By Julia Hanlon, Year 12 Photography, St Peter's School
We recently had the opportunity to visit the new and expanded Tate Modern as part of an exclusive schools preview day. My Year 12 classmates and I were invited to look around the exhibitions and gallery spaces in all its new found glory. I had never been to the Tate before so I found this visit a very inspiring eye opener.
Tate exterior shots by Paul, Year 12
We first visited Tate Exchange. a new civic space on the fifth floor of the Switch House extension. The view was breathtaking, literally - Mr Francis suggested we walked up the stairs rather than take the elevator. Excitingly, we will be involved in a project early next year in this very space...
The rest of the galleries were brilliant. From Sheela Gowda’s Behold, an installation made from metres of human hair and car bumpers, to Cildo Meireles’ Babel, a vast tower of noise emitting radios. I was exposed to many contemporary new works alongside some more familiar artist names and styles.
I was particularly drawn to the work of Louise Bourgeois, the French-American artist. Although terrified by the spiders, I was captivated by the underlying themes of sexuality, fragility and protection.
Julia photographed some of the work by Louise Bourgeois and created these two-frame films, above and below, with images taken on the same day at Borough Market.
Another artist whose work I found intriguing was the Indian painter, Bhupen Khakhar. His paintings confront provocative themes with sensitivity and wit, achieved through a narrative of bright colours and experimental ceramics.
Due to the Tate’s sheer vastness I didn’t have time to see everything, but what I did manage to see has certainly helped support new ideas for work.
After the Tate Modern we walked to Borough Market and had the opportunity to experiment with some street and documentary photography.
Images by Harvey and Briony, Yr 12
From here, via a few Tube stops, we went to the ‘Strange and Familiar’ exhibition at The Barbican, curated by British Photographer, Martin Parr. The show included a wide range of works, not least from photographers we have studied in class such as Henri-Cartier Bresson, Garry Winogrand and Paul Strand. The exhibition considered how international photographers from the 1930s onwards have captured the social, cultural and political identity of the UK, a timely choice for our current documentary themed coursework. I found the formality of the exhibition and chronological ordering allowed me to reflect thoughtfully on the wider contexts of the pictures.
Perhaps the most striking images were the imposing portrait prints by Bruce Gilden.The close proximity of the huge, over-sized prints in this space, created an uncomfortable feeling when viewing the images; it felt intrusive, yet, compelling, scrutinising each minute facial detail.
After absorbing all these new works and artists it was time to head home. A safe return, thankfully (no threat of terrorist encounters, as with our previous trip). Seeing these exhibitions has certainly expanded my knowledge. It has enabled me to think increasingly photographically as I continue to find my own creative ways forward as an artist and photographer.
To be honest, I've never been a very big fan of lesson plans. This is a bit ironic given that we decided to call the set of resources on this website Lesson Plans. Of course, they aren't really lesson plans at all but schemes of work or sets of provocations with accompanying resources. I do plan all my lessons but I rarely teach from a set Scheme of Work and, as an incessant tweaker, I enjoy the process of designing lessons from scratch each week (not the most efficient practice I agree). Nevertheless, I base these lessons on an over-arching Programme of Study which enables me to stick to an agreed timetable of structured activities and largely prevents my colleagues tearing their hair out with frustration.
This year, with the various changes to subject specifications, we at Tallis were asked to revisit our Programmes of Study at KS4 and 5 ensuring that they were fit for purpose. In an earlier post, I described why we made the decision in the visual arts to go linear. We no longer offer the AS qualification in photography or art. This summer has felt quite different with only the A2 students being moderated. This meant that we needed a Programme of Study that would sustain students for two years, support those who arrived in Year 12 with little experience of the subject but also stretch and challenge those who had done GCSE photography and needed to move on quickly.
The structure we were given by senior leaders for our new Programmes of Study was as follows:
Regular readers and NSEAD members will know about the thinking we've done this year here at PhotoPedagogy Towers about Threshold Concepts for Photography, a version of which has appeared in AD magazine. We think Threshold Concepts are important because they identify the big ideas in our subjects. We think it's important for colleagues to debate and determine these big ideas, separate from Assessment Objectives and the whims of the incumbent Secretary of State. In short, Threshold Concepts are what we (as professional teachers) agree are the foundational ideas in our various disciplines. "Powerful Knowledge" is Professor Michael Young's phrase and describes an order of knowledge that is different to the everyday wisdom brought to schools by young people. It is a controversial term, in some respects, since it contains an implicit criticism of what has been termed "progressive" approaches to education. However, my Head co-authored the book 'Knowledge and the Future School' with Professor Young so it's no surprise that "Powerful Knowledge" appears in our new Programmes of Study document! Whilst I'm not convinced about the term itself, (what is powerless knowledge?) I support the notion that disciplinary knowledge (the kind we get when we are taught subjects) is an important element in education and students can benefit from being explicitly taught stuff and thinking hard about it. There is then a direct link with threshold concepts - those troublesome nuggets of complex knowledge that take a while to assimilate and 'master'. We might call this the Content of the curriculum, although in a subject like photography or art this is often quite a complex issue. Finally, we have "Fundamental Skills". If "Powerful Knowledge" is the Knowing What, "Fundamental Skills" are the Knowing How. For us, this includes not only procedural issues (processes/techniques) such 'How to make a cyanotype' but also connects with intellectual skills like 'How to conduct strategic research' and our Habits of Mind (e.g. 'How to stick with difficulty').
We've been hard at work for the last couple of years testing a variety of mini projects with Year 12 students. Many of these have been shared in the Lesson Plans section of this website. In the last couple of weeks we have begun to shape our new Programme of Study. As always we've written it in Googledocs so we can keep it as a live document, editing, tweaking, adjusting collaboratively as we go. We are happy to share the document with other colleagues outside school, knowing how valuable it is to connect with professionals in other contexts and with different experiences and expertise to our own. This is what the first half term looks like:
Here's a link to the whole document. It's very much a work in progress so please forgive any typos and don't be surprised if it continues to change over the coming weeks. Our plan is to have something that we are pleased with by the end of term.
Hopefully, you can see how the three elements knit together: Powerful Knowledge, Threshold Concepts and Key Skills. In terms of the two year programme it breaks down like this:
Autumn 1 - An introduction: What is photography? Mini projects begin.
Autumn 2 - Mini projects continue, each dealing with a specific historical/contextual issue and giving students opportunities to develop their own work in response. Objective vs Subjective approaches to photography.
Spring 1 - Photo Exchange and the beginning of the extended Photobook project.
Spring 2 - Photobook project continues, the launchpad for the Personal Investigation.
Summer 1 - Personal Investigation continues, supplemented by occasional provocations E.g. Inside /Outside, Mirrors or Windows? etc.
Summer 2 - Personal Investigation continues.
Autumn 1 - Personal Investigation continues.
Autumn 2 - Personal Investigation continues. Students begin finalising their responses and pulling together their accompanying essays.
Spring 1 - Personal Investigation concludes. Component 2 The Externally Set Task begins (1st Feb)
Spring 2 - The Externally Set Task continues
Summer 1 - The Externally Set Task concludes (shortly after Easter)
The first two terms of Year 12 give us an opportunity to tackle the notion of photography in terms of relative objectivity and subjectivity. Alongside an introduction to the chemical darkroom as a kind of experimental space, where the magic of light can be observed and captured, we attempt to juxtapose the Modernist tradition (straight, objective, documentary) of photography with approaches that celebrate photography's ability to represent subjective experience. We also attempt to tackle issues surrounding the ethics of photography and an awareness of the difference between photography as art and all the many forms of photography that belong to other domains - the law, medicine, surveillance, war etc. We hope that an awareness of the history and theory of photography (still hotly contested) will help students see their own work in context.
We are live testing this type of structure with our current Year 12 students and making tweaks to the Programme based on what we have learned with them. So far, the basic structure seems to have worked well, giving students a good grounding in the subject (without the distraction of the AS exam) and allowing them to develop their own practice and interests. We are particularly pleased with the Photobook project. It has been a great platform on which students can build a sense of themselves as photographers and thus confidently begin the fully assessed Personal Investigation. It also means that each student is responsible for defining the nature of their own investigation through an authentic process of research and practice.
Here are just a few examples of selected pages from Year 12 photobooks:
We would be really interested in any feedback readers may want to give us about this Programme of Study. We would also be excited to see how you are developing your new courses, whether or not you are sticking with the AS exam and how your students are getting to grips with their Personal Investigations. The main aim of this website is to provide a place where colleagues can share what they do, ask for support, test ideas and showcase students' work. We hope the information above is of some use and look forward to seeing how everyone else is getting on.
Thomas Tallis School
Guest blog posts by members of the photography teaching and learning community.