Positioning, constructing and assessing visual art : primary teachers' perspectives.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Teaching and Learning
This dissertation explores the positioning, construction and assessment of visual art and the influences on these. The perspectives of nine primary teachers were investigated through informal interviews. The fields of visual art, visual art education, assessment and curriculum were analysed to provide the background and context for the study. This analysis was ongoing and informed the research questions and the research processes. All these fields are complex with underlying tensions. Major changes in educational administration, assessment and central curricula in New Zealand since 1990 were relevant to the study. The research question was 'How is primary visual art positioned, constructed and assessed at the operational level and what are some of the influences on these?' A qualitative design was selected in order to find out teachers' views. A grounded theory approach was used in which key themes emerged from the data. Nine teachers from nine different primary schools were selected through purposive sampling for a range of characteristics including teaching experience, age of class, school characteristics and particularly interest in visual art. Content analysis was also used to investigate The Arts in the New Zealand Curriculum. Processes of analysis and interpretation were ongoing with critical reflection, discussion and reading ofthe literature throughout. The final dissertation is a 'bricolage' of the participants' stories, voices from the literature and my story. Social constructionism was selected as the overarching theory that gave the study coherence. The initial finding that influenced the direction and framing of the study was that these teachers and schools actively constructed curricula. They did not passively receive and deliver a given central curriculum. Woven through the findings chapters were key themes of complexity and context. Differences and similarities between the schools and the teachers illuminated the significance of context. Constructed visual art curricula were a complex interaction of influences and some significant tensions emerged including the tension between summative and formative assessment. The relationship between assessment and curricula was complex. The operational visual arts curricula of the teachers in this study were constructed as making and doing artworks using a range of media and skills, mostly in isolation from social, cultural or historical contexts. These teachers' visual art was non-controversial and predominantly PakehalEurocentric. The positioning of visual art within wider operational curricula varied between the teachers and the schools. In some of the schools visual art was positioned at the margins of the operational curricula. In all of the schools literacy and numeracy were prioritised. This was hegemonic and questions were not asked about their construction or what their priority meant for other subjects. The increasingly overcrowded curricula of separate subjects, requirements for summative assessment, constant time pressures and teachers' workload were very significant issues .. Breadth of curriculum coverage was occurring at the expense of depth. The Arts in the New Zealand Curriculum was only one influence on the construction of operational visual arts curricula. The teachers used it selectively if at all. Teachers' personal experiences were also relevant. An unexpected finding was the significant role and power of the schools through long-term overviews and curriculum programmes, assessment requirements, timetables and organisational structures. In this study there was almost no evidence of political and ideological influences in teachers' discourses despite the dominance ofthese in the New Zealand literature. Assessment was dominated by discourses and practices of summative assessment, which is consistent with the literature. All of the teachers told of collecting much more assessment data than was needed for reporting to school managers or parents and caregivers. Assumptions were made about the meaningfulness of the information collected and assessment of creativity and processes in visual art was problematic. The teachers considered much of the assessment they had to do had no purpose, added to their workloads and did not benefit children. Despite the importance placed on formative assessment in the literature and the stated commitment to developing formative assessment in the Ministry of Education's assessment strategy, it was often not understood or valued. I asked why summative assessment continued to be so dominant. Some possibilities included the hegemonies of accepted discourses and practices, the underlying but often unstated importance of the accountability function supported by the Education Review Office (ERO), the Ministry of Education and the political ideology of the New Right, and school managers and leaders who imposed the requirements but did not understand assessment. The dissertation concludes by considering the implications of the findings for visual art as a subject, for school managers and for teacher agency in primary schools. The future of visual art as a subject seems uncertain in an overcrowded curriculum of separate subjects in which literacy and numeracy are prioritised. Its positioning within operational curricula, whether at the margins or not, depended on a complex interaction of influences. Principals and other school managers need to understand the purpose, rationale and impacts of their decisions on teachers and operational curricula. Teacher agency is important for teacher efficacy, morale and interest, and in order to interrogate change. Operational visual art curricula assessment and teacher agency were contextual and very complex. Complexities and tensions were evident at all levels. This study contributes to understandings about primary visual art education, primary teachers' issues and experiences, and the construction of operational curricula in primary schools.