The Brain at School: Improving Student Drawing

Improving student drawing skills with video instruction

Ms Zara McKenzie

As a teacher in the Creative Arts at Genazzano FCJ College I am constantly aiming to awaken and tap into my students’ ‘Creative Brain’ functions to activate and stimulate their art learning. The students in Year 8 explore and expand on their observational drawing skills, use of media and painting techniques as they focus on their environments to complete a Local Landscapes Unit of work.

Students discuss and identify with a place that they have formed a connection with to act as the subject matter for their landscape paintings. Within this unit of work, I have been exploring the use of The Science of Learning Pen Principle number two; Visual images and Spoken word mix well, as a starting point for building and strengthening the students drawing and observational skills.

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Landscape image used for task                Year 8 Student Work                    Year 8 Student Work

I have previously taught this painting unit and have always begun with demonstrations on how to set up a page for a landscape drawing, sketching in key components and working through how best to blend, mix and block in colours to build up layers. Students have always responded positively with teacher demonstrations; however, many will get back to their tables and not remember what step two involved, this is because our students are only able to retain around three to four bits of information at any given time.

I was interested in the ways I could further build on my instructional skills and delivery of demonstrations and this sparked my investigation with how many of our students are learning via the use of technology. Many of our students will access video tutorials on YouTube daily, to teach themselves new skills such as: how to play a guitar to videos on how to properly knead dough for a recipe. Students will watch and re-watch until they have grasped an understanding of the skill through observation.

My investigation was to record myself demonstrating the stages of painting a landscape beginning with the blank page and talking through each stage as I drew or painted it, through to rendering the final landscape in watercolour. The students could hear me instructing while also watching me draw and paint. I divided the two videos into two Parts (Part1: How to draw the landscape) (Part 2: Painting the landscape) so that the students could easily select the video that was most appropriate to their skill level or to skip through to a stage that they were having difficulty with to watch how I approached that stage of the artwork. The videos were a secondary learning tool available for students to access via their class pages on GenConnect (school intranet). Having the videos available allowed more one-to-one teacher time with my students, as many were able to watch my instructional material via the videos and could then seek deeper technical guidance during class time.

Upon conclusion of demonstrating to the students in class and getting them to watch the videos, they were more confident in drawing the landscape and later painting it. There was evidence in the artworks of tonal shading which added depth to their drawings. This depth and tonal rendering didn`t exist in some of my previous students’ artworks. The students themselves loved having a video to watch, pause and then resume when they had grasped a comfortable flow in their arts practice. An unintentional knowledge of colour mixing and matching was also achieved through the videos, as the students could see me colour mixing on the side of my paper and therefore they mimicked this method, improving their understanding of how to achieve the most appropriate colours for the image.

I now incorporate more demonstrational videos in my classes to offer as many learning platforms for my students to access, to improve on and build their creative and technical drawing skills. The students respond well to these videos and they are a great resource for when students are away and they can remotely access these on their GenConnect class pages.