Philosophy and Strategies

In this essay i shall be discussing my reflections and goals as a teacher, conceptualisation of teaching and learning as well as my growth into a better teacher and the development of my philosophy.

My Teaching Reflections

Since I teach mostly drawing and painting, observation is one of the most important aspects during my sessions. To be a good art teacher I had to learn to teach students how to learn to observe. I am constantly observing students and think of different ways to help them to train this skill according to their individual needs. I also try to learn with them different approaches that I never used before when I was still studying and observing myself. In my lessons students are trained to constantly observe what they have in front of them such as: still life, the human figure, the environment around them (landscapes/cityscapes) and any other primary sources. During lessons students are continuously observing details and interesting elements in every day objects. By representing these objects, in their own artistic interpretation, students are automatically practising and improving their drawing skills. Moreover, through this practice, they are also constantly working on the relationship between the brain (observing) and the movement of their hands (practical/hands on).

As Aristotle states, this is not done simply to learn how to draw but to learn to appreciate and notice interesting elements in the world around us. It gives the students the ability to choose interesting objects and artifacts, to have an artistic and critical eye, to have good taste as designers, to judge others’ work and to produce and express their own art. Aristotle urges that children be taught to draw, not only for its practical utility but because it makes them observers of physical beauty. When he refers in the Poetics to the earliest lessons of children, he is probably referring to the way children learn drawing and painting before they learn to read and write. Aristotle also discusses the psychological effect of art that we delight in viewing precisely detailed likenesses of things even if the originals are inherently painful. The pleasure is attributed to ‘learning` and ‘inferring`: ‘it comes about that this [person] is that one. ” David Furley

Since this subject is very practical and each student has to express him/herself differently, the good art teacher is expected to be able to give enough time to each student, bring them along at the individual pace which is suited to each one of them (although at our Institute sometimes this is not very easy to do due to the increasing number of students each scholastic year).

At the beginning of each drawing or painting session I explain to the students how important it is to observe certain elements of the sources they are studying. I start by individually analysing with them their primary sources and I also ask them what they are seeing. If they find it really difficult to observe and read these elements I will give them examples of what they should search for in these objects and from where they can start so that they can produce their drawing or painting. Form, proportion, texture, composition, light, shade and colour are some of the elements which are pointed out to them and that they should visualize.

Eventually they are asked to try to give their own interpretation of these objects, which is done by trial and error. I allow them to try and draw until they get good results; I will check what they are doing and suggest corrections while leading them to find the imperfections themselves. Most of the time this has proved to be effective as the student realises what is wrong. Asking the right questions make the students think and reflect more, rather than giving them a quick answer yourself. As a teacher, I guide them towards finding the solution themselves by stimulating them to think.

“Students can take pride in having learned how to make observations. They develop a personal style. Creativity is facilitated by the observational skill and the continual need to find ways to express what is being observed. Confidence is achieved. The student is learning to make choices that would not be needed if she was copying the work of another artist.” (M. Bartel 2008)

"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." Paulo Freire

Every person has a unique way of seeing things. For example, some of them find it easier to read the form and proportions while others are more sensible to colours. To remain faithful to the real and present is very important since it is an observation exercise, however it is not everything. One should also accept their way of interpreting things; finally this is what makes them unique individuals and artists, their different perception of things. Sometimes I draw with them so that I can show them my own way of doing it; I show them how I move my arm to produce a strong and precise line drawing, the pressure of the pencil on the paper when I shade, how to observe and then transfer what you are seeing on paper, blending and mixing colours and so on. It is good practice to show students how to do something which is practical and then they try to learn by trial and error.

Since my training in drawing was very academic when I started to teach, without even realizing I expected a lot of my students to have remarkable drawing skills and often forgot about their own varying artistic abilities and interpretations of things. Throughout my teaching experience I soon realized that some of the students who were not attached as much to these skills where more free and creative and their work was more genuine and fresh. So I started to think and reflect on this situation. After meeting different students I started to adopt a different approach. I still insist on the importance of certain disciplines and skills and the importance of ‘practice makes perfect’ but I am more accepting of the fact that certain students should not to be forced to reach a certain level in such skills since it can restrict them from being imaginative and creative. As Aristotle states, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external manner and detail, is true reality.” (Aristotle) While I still help them to observe attentively I also give them ample space to develop their own style so that with time it gets stronger, instead of insisting on having precise drawings and illustrating the actual thing as it is, especially since in fine art this can limit their expressiveness and the manifestation of their own identity.

Ideally to understand the needs of an art student one has to get to know the student individually as an artist, his/her stylistic tendency, favorite media/materials (his forte), influences, background and education, his/her potential and his/her fears. I try to read a student’s work as much as I can and I regularly write all this in my feedback forms and discuss it with my students so that they can improve and master their skills. To get to know them better sometimes I also discuss various topics with them, such as their favorite music, movies, other artists, movements and other inspirations, which may help them to mature artistically. I also listen to music with them while they are painting and drawing, since I believe that music can enhance their imagination and may simulate them to can express their own emotions and identity better. Each student, including myself, have a file with his/her own music and we play it randomly to give us the opportunity to share and get to know each other better. It also gives the students a chance to become familiar with different types of music.

Through communicating with different kinds of students, it is clear that I can never be one teacher in isolation. Especially in the case of fine art, the teacher can never be a unified self, but has to be able to be open to a wide range of expressions offered by the students. By making multiple reflective writings I have explored the various layers that constitute in me, as a teacher, artist and most of all a confident guide for my students.

The Teaching Philosophy

“A teaching philosophy is a self-reflective statement of your beliefs about teaching and learning. In addition to general comments, your teaching philosophy should discuss how you put your beliefs into practice by including concrete examples of what you do or anticipate doing in the classroom.” (University of Minnesota)

Student Individual Needs

“Dewey stated that an educator must take into account the unique differences between each student. Each person is different genetically and in terms of past experiences. Even when a standard curriculum is presented using established pedagogical methods, each student will have a different quality of experience. Thus, teaching and curriculum must be designed in ways that allow for such individual differences. ” (J. Neill 2005)

As I reflect on my beliefs regarding teaching and learning I realise that my teaching is also based on this philosophy, I try to design my courses and assignments by keeping in mind my students’ individual needs. All of my students have different artistic abilities and different ways of expressing themselves, individual attention and one on one feedback are definitely a must in my class. Providing the right kind of feedback to students can make an important difference in their achievement. A good feedback should show positive remarks about improvement and achievement and should also explain where and how they can improve. I always try to encourage students to take their work a step further; at the end of each assignment students should also provide their own self-assessment by writing an evaluation about successes and failures. I try not to delay feedback and do it on a regular basis; this gives the opportunity to students to continue working at a good pace so they can reach their deadlines. At the same time it’s also important to give students enough time to absorb feedback given and to generate new ideas.

My mission as a teacher is to:

• teach students skills such as drawing and painting

• transmit to them my life long passion and enthusiasm for art

• encourage them to express their individuality in their art

Students should not be afraid to experiment and try different artistic adventures. I strongly believe that learning should be fun and the more creative and imaginative they are the more they enjoy working on their projects. When we encourage students to be more independent when expressing themselves they automatically produce work which is more genuine and fresh. Those students who enjoy their learning experience have a higher possibility of learning and understanding better. I strongly believe in encouraging my students to find their favorite media and materials to work with and let them choose their favorite artists for referencing and inspiration.

When writing assignments I also try to select themes which are fresh and innovative but at the same time appropriate for all students. Every artist has a unique way of creating and expressing himself. For example, some find it easier to work with paints while others are more confident in workshops using different materials, while others are more analytical and intellectual. One should appreciate each and every student’s artistic ability; this is what differentiates art students in class from other students from other institutes. I try to think of different ways to help them train their skills according to their individual needs; this is done by observing the students individually throughout the year. It is very important to get to know the student well by observing them and working with them constantly.

For example In the Foundation Diploma course I had a student who had problems in drawing 3D models, installations and other 3D objects. The ideas were there but she couldn’t put them on paper, so I suggested that she builds paper or expanded polystyrene models and try to draw from them. This exercise succeeded and now she is using this technique regularly. Every student has weaknesses and we should find a way to help them improve in an individual way. I’m always reflecting about how I’m going to help my students to develop their intellectual, emotional and creative potentials, this makes us see our student as a whole.

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself. ” (John Dewey)

Dewey also believed that students should be involved in real-life tasks and challenges and should be given the opportunity to have hands on experiences. This is also very valid in my teaching philosophy since I try my best to prepare them for the real world. I try to make sure that briefs are designed to give students the opportunity to work on their time management, show their flexibility, responsibility and other soft skills which later on this can prepare them for their future job.

I insist that students should be flexible and responsible; I also encourage our students to take opportunities such as apprenticeships or internships during summer holidays or after they finish their courses, by working with professionals in related jobs students become active learners.

I frequently ask students to work in groups, discuss and present their art work and ideas in front of each other. In addition, they can also ask questions to each other about influences, techniques, materials/media and other artistic approaches. When working in groups students are learning and helping each other and as a result they can handle conflicts when working in a team. This can also prepare them for their future jobs. Since the outside world is very tough and demanding and different from the school environment, students has to be prepared with being dedicated, flexible and they will learn to work under pressure, work productively with others and learn to communicate with the rest of the department. We try to tailor courses that promote self-expression, increasing responsibility, and exposure to the real world. Students working with professionals become active learners. Students learn how to.” (Robert Halpern 2008)

Since I’m still in the beginning of my career as a teacher my philosophy of teaching its still evolving. I’m sure that with more experiences and reflections my current philosophy of teaching will continue to develop. I will also continue to work on my artistic career which will also help me to understand better the student’s artistic needs and I can continue to share my experiences and my education with them.