Differentiation in art

Whenever you are teaching art there will always be some distinctive areas of attainment that emerge:

1. There will be 3 main areas of attainment in your outcomes; High, Middle and Low ability.

2. There will occasionally be some students who will demonstrate ability way higher than that of their peers (Gifted & Talented.)

3. There will be students who will struggle to produce anything of quality and find it very difficult to access your lessons (often but not always SEN.)

Every unit of work you plan should cater for these areas of attainment. When planning a project you should always prepare for this. Ask yourself: What have I got to extend and enrich this project for the more able? How am I going to support the less able? You cannot simply say: there will be differentiation by outcome, because this will not provide a suitable platform for everyone to achieve.

If your task is suitably open ended to enable students to work at their own level of ability then you may not need to think much about extension work, but you will always need to think of support for students who are struggling to access your lesson.

Typically, high ability artists will already be able to draw, shade and colour skilfully without much input from you. High ability thinkers will create unusual and interesting colours, shapes and patterns and have more imaginative outcomes that are not necessarily skilfully produced. Often, some students who are very skilful at drawing and/or painting have little or no imagination. So you need to know if you have high ability thinkers, high ability creators of art or both.

To extend your students work they should be challenged to push the boundaries and branch out into their own, creative outcomes. For example: You have asked the class to paint and draw insects for a pattern design. The students finishing early might be asked to create something using that pattern, such as a dress or clothing. Or you might say: That is excellent work, how would you like to develop this work further? In what way might you build on this work? How might you apply this pattern? Can you think of alternatives? What would happen if you used different colours?

This is actually more important than just extending the more able, because this pushing and challenging of all of your students to do better is a key factor in raising standards in outcomes. Students always want to finish their work as soon as they can and then move on to something new, but you have to know how to push them further. Look at their use of tone; can it be improved? Can they work into the colour more? Can they add some texture or more detail? Do they need to strengthen the outlines or add some background?

picLow ability students will struggle to draw from observation but often have strong imaginative drawing skills. They lack confidence and they are usually very aware (and embarrassed) about their artwork. Their work will be typified by heavy, clumsy lines and simplistic outline shapes. They will lack the fine motor control with a pencil to be able to draw successfully. They may need much more teacher input and they will try to complete the task as quickly as possible. You need to really work on raising the basic motor skills of drawing and also raise their confidence and it needs a lot of your time. This is difficult to do if they are constantly failing to access the tasks you have set the class or they perceive their work as being 'not as good' as their peers. If you try to give them work that is different to the others in the class they know that they are being given a soft option.

In this case you might put together a series of exercises to help develop fine motor skills that they can do at home. Simple colouring book exercises designed to help them to learn how to colour neatly and evenly are good, as is tracing cartoons. These need to be done as often as possible, say for 20 minutes a day if progress is to be made. There are some good exercises on my drawing page to get them started.

To support the more able try these methods:

If a student finishes their work quickly, ask them to check it and think about how they might improve it. When drawing and painting, students finishing early can nearly always improve their use of colour, shading and/or the tone in their work.

They should be asked to think about what THEY would like to do next. Students who are more able and finish work quickly usually have a head packed full of ideas that they want to express.

Have an extension box in the classroom filled with interesting work. Try to build a collection of activities, tasks and objects that can inspire a piece of artwork. You might be able to download many of these from the internet or from photo-copiable booklets.

Encourage 'Free Drawing time.' I love free drawing time in art because the students love free drawing time! It is also a great gap filler and extension task in lessons.

Art web sites. There are many brilliant art web sites that you can refer students to to fill the odd half an hour or so. See my recommendations on my ICT in Art pages.

Read an art book. Why not simply allow a student some free time to study an art book of their choice? It's quick, easy and very educational!


To support the less able try these methods:

Show them how to ghost draw shapes on the paper to help them.

Show them how to sketch lightly with a sharp pencil.

Help them to build the drawing from simple shapes such as circles, squares.

Provide tracing and copying facilities wherever possible. A piece of tracing paper is a Godsend and it is not cheating.

Provide one to one support where possible and do small demonstrations on scrap pieces of paper.

Break the task up into smaller sections.

Provide good resources on the whiteboard and/or handouts.

Think of more simplistic alternatives with strong outlines. Tracing cartoons is a very good way of improving the fine motor skills needed to help the less able.

If all else fails then you might start them off with a few basic guidelines. Try not to do too much but just enough to get them going.

Put a homework book together of activities to help develop motor skills.