Insea 2014, Melbourne Australia

InSEA 2014, Melbourne Australia



Dr Marnee Watkins and Gina Grant, Arts Education, University of Melbourne


Extending the dialogue: Tracking a generalist primary teacher’s shift in practice over a year long art-based intervention process

This conference paper presents a visual arts-based case study we undertook in 2013 following a graduate generalist primary teacher through a year long intervention process. The study tracks and interrogates the participating teacher's evolving perception of herself as teacher and artist, and the changes in her pedagogical practice when offered an intensive collaborative learning experience followed up by continued learning and professional dialogue with us as her arts mentors. Not unexpected to us was this teacher's increased openness to the inclusion of visual arts-based pedagogy within her generalist teaching, however what did surprise us was the extent to which this shift happened and gained momentum over a short period of time. Her willingness to embrace the new role of artist in her classroom, beyond merely being the facilitator of the artistic practice of her students was a radical shift in practice and warranted deeper investigation. Through research insights, examples of documented practice and analyses of the data we drill down into the intervention process at play here, and we briefly look at the outcomes of this case study in relation to others we undertook in the same study to attempt to get closer to understanding why this particular intervention worked the way it did.

With the introduction of the Australian Curriculum primary generalist teachers are working within a curricular landscape that advocates for an interdisciplinary approach to classroom teaching and learning, and for a range of reasons this presents challenges for teachers particularly from the perspective of how the arts are represented within this approach. Irwin, Gouzouasis, Grauer and Leggo (2006) contend that generalist teachers experience struggle when teaching the arts if they do not consider themselves to be artists, and that ‘the arts content being presented often lacks integrity and/or pedagogical expertise’ (p.1). These contentions, resonating with our own observations and findings, inform our current research project.

The case study featured in our conference paper here forms part of our current larger project funded by The CASS Foundation to address a number of issues related to the take up of the arts in the primary school through intensive professional learning and continued support and mentoring beyond this learning. The aim of this integrated study is to implement three parallel interventions one in art, one in music and one in drama targeted at early to mid-career primary and middle school teachers and to track the efficacy of and the impact of these on teachers' application of arts rich practice. Participants spent two days in an intensive immersion program focussed on discipline specific arts pedagogies and approaches to get in touch with their own artistry, and to think of themselves as artists. This component was led by artists and arts practitioners with an understanding of the classroom context. The program was also pedagogically driven with participants provided with models and experiences of classroom implementation, focussed on integrating their chosen arts discipline in other curriculum areas, negotiated content, reflective practice and documentation of activities. The immersion program was followed up by sustained support by us via mentoring and monitoring.