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Sequencing Knowledge & Skills  in Art & Design

Introduction

Currently, there is an expectation in England (coming from the DfE and Ofsted), for learning to be properly sequenced and build on prior attainment. Now, I think this is good practice and beneficial for improving learning. Where knowledge is concrete and declarative, it makes perfect sense to do this. For example, we need to learn the foundations of reading and decoding text before we can begin to decipher meaning from research information then use that to inform our own practice. Even when we draw using experiential learning, we need to utilise our existing knowledge of how to hold and grip things, and to utilise existing schemas about the properties of materials & what we might do with them. Knowledge has had a bad press among art teachers, (mainly for political reasons), but learning it, developing it and using it is pretty inescapable. 

 

All that said, I think we have to be careful. Art education isn't built purely on concrete facts and information. Creativity is integral to our subject and this is messy.  It doesn't play by conventional rules and as such, it cannot be fitted into neat little, sequential boxes. Hopefully, this page will demonstrate how complex sequencing is in art and design, and help you to do it better.

Download all the sequencing stages as a FREE Pdf

Pedagogy

A word about opposing pedagogical approaches. Semantic, declarative knowledge is easier to sequence which is why many non-specialist teachers find it easier to understand and teach. Those who prefer traditional pedagogical approaches (including many SLT who don’t fully understand the subject), will lean toward this black and white thinking. But those of us who know art, know there are many many grey areas that make up a whole approach to learning called experiential learning. This approach puts the learner at the forefront of learning. It is process-led, it tries not to dictate what outcomes should look like or tell learners what to do, but rather to find their inner voice. Most of the codes and conventions we associate with being ‘good’ at art are not natural processes but rather, have been placed upon us by societal norms. We tell our children that their marks should look like ‘things’, when in fact, there’s no reason why they should. Children make marks about all kinds of things; emotions, journeys, experiences and the like. 

 

The problem with trying to sequence experiential learning is that it isn’t easy to do. It isn’t as explicit and tangible as teaching semantic information, and it needs to be taught in a new way, using facilitation rather than direct instruction. It’s my opinion that experiential learning leads to some of the most brilliant and beautiful art learning experiences. Some schools use it as their whole approach to learning art. It’s the way I learned art at art college and it leads to highly creative learners. But, in my experience, experiential learning was frustrating at times. I wanted to know things, I craved that semantic information at times. In fact, I used to go to the library to get books on art so I could teach myself the things I wanted to know. 

 

Use both Direct Instruction and Experiential Learning

Because of this, I believe teaching art is best done by switching from direct instruction when we need to teach facts, hard skills and information, to facilitating when we need to get pupils to be more creative. The following slides therefore try to do just that. They give you clear sequences of learning art in numerous areas so that you can satisfy external & school expectations and deliver some essential knowledge, but also to give you a clearer understanding of what experiential learning and creativity is. I’m sure there’s a lot more to do on the experiential learning side, but it’s very difficult to pin down into the concrete forms our leaders would like. The best advice I can give you is to just get stuck in and make art. 

Experiential Learning 

This is a vast topic. Many many books have been written on this whole subject and to be honest, it’s impossible to even begin to describe this whole field on this webpage. Experiential learning has had a bad press in recent years from educators with political agendas who want us to move to those concrete, traditional forms of learning I mentioned earlier. But art isn’t like other subjects. Firstly, it’s usually rooted in project-based learning with highly autonomous forms of working. The ultimate aim of an art curriculum is to create pupils who can make their own, original forms of art with knowledge, skill and creativity. This is very different to subjects that are trying to get everyone to learn and absorb the same knowledge. 

I’ve tried to create stages of experiential learning that combine cognitive stages I think pupils pass through such as Piaget’s stages of child development, and cognitive development. Often, experiential learning is going against the grain; it’s battling against societal pressures, codes and conventions about what art is and what it should look like. So, I’ve tried to accommodate that and build it into my progression of learning. I hope it helps! 

stages of experiential learning graphic
Modelling Skills 

When it comes to learning anything, we need to absorb things into our memory so effectively that we can recall it as and when we need it. In art therefore, we are trying to embed knowledge and practical skills. These take time and effort to learn. In the past, we didn’t do this nearly well enough, so things weren’t properly learned.

I find it more effective to model skills in real time, where pupils are sat at their own desks with the equipment ready while I demo from a visualiser or video. If you do it around a table then there is a delay between observing and practice which reduces the effectiveness of the instruction. In any case, there has to be a gradual hand over of knowledge from teacher to pupil. If you don't have these skills yourself, then find some good videos on Youtube, or make some yourself and put them in a shared drive folder.

Try to build short recall sessions where pupils have to re-write key words and information from recall (you don’t need to do a test, but you can if it helps). Also, have short recall sessions going over important core skills you’ve identified such as shading. Do these again and again. Some children need constant reinforcement in order to learn things properly. Also, the slowest pupils need six times more learning time than the fastest, so factor that in. 

Modelling art skills
Drawing sequences:

When we teach drawing, all pupils will go through cognitive & physical stages of development which include:

  • Learning to grip and hold drawing tools.

  • Rendering lines that equate to simple geometric shapes and symbols.

  • Making marks using a diverse range of traditional & non-traditional tools.

  • Ability to shade tonally.

  • Development of spatial order, which includes depth, size, scale, proportion and perspective.

  • Developing drawing as a means of self-expression using a range of 2D and 3D media.

 

There is nothing in that list that says children have to learn to make things look accurate and realistic. We could learn all these things using experiential learning approaches such as those found in the Emilio Reggio or Montessori schools. It is usually adults who infer meaning upon drawings first, then fellow pupils join in the pressure for sense and order in later years. People want to make sense and order from what children are drawing, when in fact, there's no need to do this. Drawings don't have to 'look like' things, they can just be arbitrary, instinctive, gestural or emotional. 

drawing stages sequencing image
tonal shading drawing sequencing image
Painting

When sequencing painting skills it's important to be aware that this knowledge domain is more rigid and less open than drawing. It contains more semantic facts and information in it than drawing does, such as names and properties of paints, brushes, surfaces, tools & equipment. You can draw with and on just about anything, but to paint you really need paint, brushes, a surface such as paper, card, board or canvas, and sometimes more diverse painting tools such as fingers, cloth, tissue, card or painting tools you've created yourself. 

The paint itself dictates what we can do with it and how we use it. And, you might diversify into more experimental painting techniques, but you will certainly need to learn to use a brush. Finally, you will also mostly paint on paper of some kind. This makes sequencing the stages of painting a little easier than drawing, which is almost limitless. But, notice I still haven't defined what the outcomes should look like. We can teach all these painting progression stages using abstract, experimental approaches. Sequencing painting therefore, isn’t only about defining literal outcomes that become progressively more accomplished, it can be about becoming more confident and articulate in using paint to describe thoughts, feelings, emotions and observations. 

sequencing painting skills image
Sculpture

Making with our hands is of paramount importance to children because we have evolved by using our hands, minds & senses. So much of the sensory connections in our brain is wired to our hands. That said, drawing and painting skills aren’t distinct and separate from sculpture skills, but rather entwined through the development and use of our fine motor skills, which are further entwined with intelligence. 

In this way, just as we are learning our tripod and pincer grips to use drawing materials and paint brushes, we are also at the same time, learning to cut with scissors, to wiggle our toes, to use wave and clap our hands, to throw things and to squeeze and pinch things. As children progress through their school life, they become more and more rooted to desk-based learning which favours the use of fine motor skills of the hands, which favours girls. Boys, on the other hand, tend to excel in gross motor skills and so it’s no surprise that Physical Education and Design Technology are subjects boys do well in. In art and design, simply doing more sculpture will engage boys, as will taking away the chairs and allowing them to stand up when working to engage their gross motor skills! 

I’ve tried to summarise succinctly a detailed sculpture progression map I use in my consultancy work. Essentially, it’s about developing the ability to:

  • Construct, 

  • Form and model materials, 

  • Carve,

  • Assemble. 

Just remember to also try to incorporate as much multi-sensory ways of working as you can. Sound, smells and touch are equally valid, yet exciting mediums with which to make sculptures.

sequencing sculpture skills image
Artist Knowledge

Learning facts and information about artists is easy to sequence because it is defined by the literacy levels and reading age of pupils. However, applying artist meaning to artwork can take many forms and so is harder to sequence. Arming pupils with knowledge is one thing, getting them to use and apply it to original artwork is extremely difficult and almost impossible to sequence. I see lots of teachers and professional companies selling artist information resources but very few look at meaning and how to apply it. 

I think the content, process, formal elements and mood approach developed by Rod Taylor is great, but for me it misses out the disciplinary meaning behind why art was created. I’ve also added close looking, which is a great way to engage pupils in art and help them focus and see more content. All of us have a tendency to switch off after a brief glimpse. 

Sequencing knowledge in art then is highly dependent on literacy and takes the form of:

  • Content: Identifying the facts & information about the work.

  • Close looking: to visually study the work.

  • Make visual studies of part or all of the piece.

  • Formal elements: identifying how the artist has used colour, line, shape, tone etc. to create mood.

  • Opinion: justifying what pupils think about art and why they think it.

  • Skill & Technique: analysing various techniques the artist has used. 

  • Meaning: understanding what the deeper meaning behind the art is and how this might be integrated into our own work. 

  • Ideas: how can art be used to stimulate our own practice and help inspire us. 

sequencing artist knowledge graphic
Creativity

One way we can begin teaching creativity is through the creative choices we offer. By controlling creative choices, we can make art activities more, or less creative. Teachers design art & design creative activities around themes, topics or starting points that integrate appropriate aspects of their progression plan; knowledge of art and artists, or skills, techniques and processes. It’s through a creative activity that we exercise this knowledge. If I restrict the learning opportunities to include only the ones I’ve pre-selected, then I restrict creative potential. This isn’t always a bad thing, often you’ll want to focus improving attainment in one particular area, and so narrowing options is sometimes best.

 

To develop your ability to give creative choice to pupils, you need to know what types of creative choices you can offer. Typically, you can control creative choice in three areas; materials, stimuli or activity:

 

  • Stimuli - offer a selection of artists on the same theme across different styles and genres: traditional, modern, contemporary. For example, you might be studying clouds so you’d provide images of: a Constable cloud painting, René Magritte’s the Future of Statues 1937, Tony Cragg’s Cumulus sculpture. Instead of only one stimuli being offered, which some might like or dislike, we now have three different approaches which improves motivation.

 

  • Materials - Provide controlled choice over the range of materials offered. Groups of materials work well together as choices, or they might be deliberately juxtaposed to provide good counterpoint.

 

  • Activity – offering alternative stimuli results in pupils wanting to go in different directions when they work. In the cloud example above, some might simply paint a realistic picture of a cloud, some might make a sculpture of a cloud or some might paint a cloud onto a 3D surface.

 

This is how we can most easily teach creativity in art and design and facilitate diverse, personal outcomes. Usually, it requires us to teach traditional skills in harmony with facilitating creative choice. As pupils progress, they should be placed in greater control of the creative choices, until such a time as they are able to decide which materials, stimuli and direction they will use to tackle project starting points.

sequencing creativity skills image
Research Skills

Independent learning is a cornerstone of art and design education. Whereas most subjects involve a teacher imparting a set of foundation knowledge, art isn’t really about this because there are so many diverse ways to make art and no one approach is correct. So, pupils should learn how to look for information and images that stimulate their ability to make their own, unique art. This involves several stages:

  • Understanding of the task. What it is that is required of them, in what format and by what date/time.

  • Awareness of sources: knowing where to look for information and how to qualify that the information they are looking at is high-quality.

  • Processing information: knowing how to read and decode information they are looking at.

  • Extracting information: can they process the information they have found then extract only what they need from it to answer the task?

  • Using research: how does the information they have found influence and affect their knowledge and understanding, and more importantly, how does it feed into the art making process?

sequencing research skills image

Biography

Paul Carney Paul is a nationally recognised art & design consultant having delivered specialist art CPD in schools, colleges, galleries, and Universities across the UK and for the UK’s leading training providers. He is a former Council member for the NSEAD, which means he is involved in national art education policy issues.Paul is a published author of two books: Drawing for Science, Invention and Discovery and his latest book Drawing to learn anything. He is also a practicing professional artist and designer. Paul runs his highly successful art website: paulcarneyarts.com that provides high quality teaching resources and advice to teachers around the world. He has over twenty years teaching experience at Primary, Secondary and post-16 levels of education, is an Advanced Skills Teacher, ex-Subject Leader for Art and was a member of the DfE Expert Advisory Group for Art and Design. In addition to this he was a member of the NSEAD Curriculum Writing Group that wrote the 'Framework for Progression, Planning for Learning, Assessment, Recording and Reporting 2014.’ 

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