BLOG: HANNAH WILLETTS

Contemporary Art in the Classroom CPD and Learning Programme

I have recently been appointed as Head of Art at Crestwood School, Dudley and previously taught at Colton Hills Community School in Wolverhampton. I am in my 8th year of teaching and teach years 7-13.

Since leaving university, I’ve enjoyed exploring contemporary art, whether that be in my own practice or visiting different exhibitions. By being involved in this programme, I wanted to explore ideas of how to introduce contemporary art in the classroom. This project has provided me with professional development opportunities for my own teaching practice by developing an in-school contemporary art project and being part of a group of Black Country based creative teachers.

This opportunity has allowed me to gain a better understanding of contemporary art practices in the classroom, discover new artists and gain confidence to explore different art techniques. During this term I have been able to design and experiment with a range of different activities and resources with students.

I decided to run this project with a group of year 8 students in Art Club. This allowed more flexibility in terms of planning and for activities to be developed on a weekly basis. After seeing the exhibition for myself, I selected a piece of artwork by Pamila Matharu as a starting point. My intention was for students to explore identity in an abstract way rather than looking at portraiture. I wanted to encourage students to take ownership of what they wanted to include in their collage and find different ways of how to interpret their ‘own story’. Students thoroughly enjoyed this process, and it was great to see how they approached it differently using found images, used papers and text. Following discussions about the themes of the exhibition, as a group we chose to explore ‘Migration’ further. This led students to turn their personalised collages into origami cranes. I wanted this task to allow students to think about how they can develop their work into other pieces of art, encourage students to experiment and take risks. Each student was photographed holding their origami crane which has been turned into a short film. This has allowed me to explore digital artwork and think of ways of how it can be used in the classroom and used to promote students’ artwork.

Following this, students visited the exhibition ‘The World That Belongs to us’ at Walsall Art Gallery. I gave them the choice of the workshop to take part in and they chose the animal hybrid workshop inspired by Chitra Ganesh. For most of the students, it was the first time they had visited an Art Gallery. The chosen workshop gave the students the freedom to experiment with materials, processes, and techniques in a gallery after seeing the work in person.

Back in the classroom, we chose to develop our animal hybrid collages further using photo editing apps. Students experimented with different filters and double exposure to further develop their collages. At KS3, its not always easy to introduce photography into the curriculum due to class sizes and equipment. However, due to the nature of this task students could use free editing apps on their phone to experiment to create multiple pieces of work quickly. To develop these digital pieces, we experimented with making them into repeat patterns, using PowerPoint in the style of Chila Kumari Singh Burman.

This experience has not only allowed me to reflect on how local exhibitions can influence schemes of work, it has allowed students to visit the work in person and create work inspired by what they see. This has then encouraged higher-order thinking, problem solving and deep reflection amongst the students. It has helped me to gain an understanding of how to introduce students in KS3 to contemporary art and has allowed me to experiment with different tasks to incorporate digital practices into the classroom.

Hannah Willetts  – Art Teacher 

Read more about our Contemporary Art in the Classroom Programme.