Grammar in the Brain: Literacy Knowledge for Middle Years Visual Arts Teachers

Article excerpt

Curriculum literacies: The visual arts

Generally speaking, all school curricula is defined by its content knowledge and ways of representing this knowledge. Taking up the arguments advanced by Wyatt-Smith and Cumming (2003), there exists no single set of literacy skills that will ensure successful engagement with all school curricula; rather particular curricula are represented in specific ways. This specificity is referred to as curriculum literacies (Wyatt-Smith & Cumming 2003). LoBianco and Freebody (1997, p. 92) support this notion, explaining that 'each subject, through the discipline/s and traditions on which it rests, presents an orientation to knowledge using particular written, spoken, and symbolic forms'. Visual Arts curriculum is no exception. The content knowledge that is valued and how it is presented for learning and assessment is distinctive to the Visual Arts key learning area.

In the Queensland School Curriculum Council (QSCC) Years 1-10 Arts syllabus (2004) core content for visual arts includes students 'appraising two-dimensional forms' (p. 52-53). Key components for Level 4 learning outcomes (typically students in Year 6 & 7, that is, students aged between ten and thirteen years) include the development of elements and principles of visual art and design. More specifically, elements are listed as: colour; line; shape; and texture (QSCC 2004, p. 52-53). They are introduced in Level One as outcomes, and developed through to Level Six outcomes. Principles of visual art and design are listed as: length; repetition; sequence; similarity and difference; size, and weight (introduced as Level One outcomes); categories; direction; movement; position; tone, and variation (introduced as Level Two outcomes); balance; contrast; pattern; and space (introduced as Level Three outcomes); and abstraction; composition; depth; nonrepresentation; proportion; representation; and symbolism (introduced as Level Four outcomes) (QSCC 2004, p. 52-53). Level Four processes, that is, the assessable actions of the students include being able to 'analyse and deconstruct images' (QSCC 2004, p. 53).

Pedagogically speaking, the syllabus advocates for the adoption of a 'learner-centred approach' whereby learning is viewed as the 'active construction of meaning' and teaching as 'the act of guiding, scaffolding and facilitating learning. This approach considers knowledge as constantly changing and built on prior experience' (QSCC 2004, p. 10). The syllabus offers the following rationale for the aforementioned terminology focus and its articulation of the 'learner-centred' pedagogical focus: Students 'experience and come to understand both the collaborative and the self-managing aspects of arts practice. Students become aware of the socialising influence of the arts and are motivated to participate in and enjoy the arts as discerning practitioners and consumers' (QSCC 2004, p. 1).

Further statements affirm the dialogical link between Arts education and literacy:

 
  The Arts key learning area uses English literacy skills as well as 
  contributing to the development of those skills. Students use their 
  developing literacy skills to listen, speak, view, shape, read and 
  write in arts activities. They use appropriate language conventions 
  and learn arts specific vocabulary to interpret, communicate and 
  explore their imaginative thinking, feelings and understandings. 
  They learn to consider the purpose and audience of texts and how 
  these affect their choices of form, structural elements and 
  vocabulary. As students develop their critical literacy, they 
  clarify ideas, justify opinions and decisions, seek and critically 
  appraise information (QSCC 2004, p. 4). 

These are strong and welcomed statements indeed for they rightly centralise the place and role of literacy in Arts education. While the syllabus provides a specific language for the arts analysis (such as the elements and principles of visual design), it lacks the tools of the trade for producing the written appraisals. …