Last weekend primary and intermediate teachers from the Wellington region enjoyed taking part in a professional development workshop about visual language. Visual language is the language of images. Learning about visual language enables students to understand how visual elements such as shapes, colours, symbols etc. are combined to communicate meaning. During the workshop participants learnt a variety of approaches for teaching their students the skills involved in visual language; reading and interpreting images; responding critically and creatively to images; translating images into words and creating images which communicate their thoughts, feelings and ideas.
After an introduction to the topic of visual language teachers visited Nga Toi | Arts Te Papa exhibitions on level 5 and worked in groups to use activities and resources from the recently published teachers’ resource, including; how to listen to a painting and interview a portrait, how to press play with your imagination and turn a painting into a movie, how to describe every inch of a painting, how to identify and understand symbols and how to step through the frame and go on a journey into a landscape.
Some teachers commented on how surprised they were that taking part in the activities had brought the images to life and enabled them to make deeper personal connections with them.
Following on from these activities, Dr Rebecca Rice Curator, Historical New Zealand Art and Dr Chelsea Nichols Curator, Modern Art spent some time talking about a few artworks in more depth, giving teachers insight into the lives of the artists, the artwork’s history and its original social context. They also played the kids audio guide tracks created for the artworks by year 1 and 2 students from Crofton Downs school in Wellington.
Following this and a well deserved morning tea break, participants were treated to a fast paced workshop session in Te Papa’s classroom led by Judith Urry and Amy Burgess. Judith and Amy are teachers at Crofton Downs primary school who wrote a case study for the Visual Language resource and recently taught an art enquiry unit which culminated in their students creating a kids art gallery in an empty shop space in Johnsonville mall.
They take a flexible approach to enquiry teaching and believe in enabling students to realise concrete learning outcomes. They talked through the various stages they use with their students when introducing a new enquiry topic which are; big idea, jump in, explore, plan, create it, share it, reflect. By moving through these enquiry stages at speed they enabled teachers to experience how they could lead their students through the process of developing ideas for a creative response to an art work in Te Papa’s collection.
The participants left saying that they felt inspired and enthused and full of ideas about new ways to teach art and language to their students. They will come back together as a group at the end of this term to share how they have incorporated what they learnt at this workshop and to show some examples of visual language work their students have created as a result. I’m looking forward to seeing them again and hearing how this workshop has enriched their teaching, and their student’s learning.