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Academic Views

August 2009

Creating a culture of creativity

A study of a south-east Queensland artist-in-residence program shows teachers and students' engagement in the arts helps to build a culture of creativity in schools, which can lead to improved teaching and learning outcomes.

Came and saw ... Brisbane artist Nick Olsen working with students from Springfield Lakes State school as part of the Primary Focus artist-in-residence project.

Came and saw ... Brisbane artist Nick Olsen working with students from Springfield Lakes State school as part of the Primary Focus artist-in-residence project.

Last year Brisbane artist Nick Olsen worked with Year 4 students and teachers from Springfield Lakes and Ipswich North state schools to create artworks for the small worlds exhibition, held at the Ipswich Art Gallery as part of the Primary Focus artist-in-residence project.

Primary Focus is a collaborative program between the Ipswich Art Gallery, Ipswich City Council and the Primary Arts Network Ipswich (PANI). The program is funded by Ipswich City Council every two years.

PANI offers quality arts education experiences for children of all ages. The network was recognised in 2007 with a Showcase Award for Excellence and part of the prize money was used to fund a Griffith University study evaluating Primary Focus 2008.

Researchers and visual art education lecturers Dr Glenda Nalder and Miranda Free from the university's School of Education and Professional Studies assisted with research design, conducted interviews and analysed these and other data collected by teachers and PANI.

The study addressed questions about the influences of different areas of teacher knowledge on teacher practice and student achievement in the arts (such as curriculum and pedagogical knowledge, and their knowledge of students), and factors that affect consistency of teacher judgement during moderation across sites and projects.

Their findings showed that working closely with an artist enhanced teacher confidence as they gained knowledge of and skills in visual art practices, and increased their understanding of how art can improve student engagement and be used to teach effectively in other curriculum areas.

A major finding was that disengaged learners and students with low aspirations gained greatest benefit from involvement in the project by showing improved learning outcomes, social behaviours and motivation.

Teachers' improved ability to recognise and assess learning achievement in the arts was another outcome of the project.

Dr Nalder said the Primary Focus program was a good example of a collaborative partnership helping teachers to develop and implement innovative, evidence-based professional development programs.

'The model has broader applications for supporting the professional development of both teachers and artists,' she said.

'Primary Focus is unique in that it involves teachers-as-participants in all phases, from consultation and planning through to implementation and evaluation.'

Dr Nalder said artist-in-residence programs such as Primary Focus were good examples of 'real-world' and 'embedded' activities.

'That means the children knew and understood they were working with a professional artist to create works for public exhibition,' she said.

'The approach used is holistic and based on authentic learning, pro-social and sustainable principles.

'It promotes a culture of creativity in the children and school.'

The small worlds exhibition was held from August to November 2008. It included student sculptures, collage and drawings inspired by Nick Olsen's artistic practice and the children's respective units of work.

Dr Nalder and Ms Free will present Small Worlds, Big Creativity, a synopsis of the research findings at The Barry Jones Auditorium in Ipswich on August 13. For more information email