Can art trips and artist practitioner visits help students’ understanding of creative knowledge and/or skills? A study of Year 9 and 10 Art-Textiles students in a village college

Guest post: Kathryn Aybak (a teacher who recently completed her Masters of Education with us on the School-University Partnership for Educational Research course at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge). This article reproduced with kind permission from Impington Village College impact issue 4 Autumn 2015  Also in this issue: an article by another SUPER Alumnus, Andy Baldwin on ‘Extra-Curricular Activities and Attainment in Maths: the Good Bits’ plus ‘Memorisation, review and making knowledge stick’, a report on a CASSA Teaching School Alliance R&D Conference by Mo Middleton and Mike Murray. Update: all issues of impACT can now be read/downloaded from this link on the Impington Village College website!

KA headshotImpington’s founder, Henry Morris, was passionate about putting art, architecture and colour into school. He had a vision for a democratic access to art for all pupils, abolition of the ‘insulated school’ and for lifelong education. In the present educational climate I became concerned that narrowly defined goals were driving both teachers and students in a target-oriented model of education, and that ‘the performativity discourse is hijacking the creativity discourse’ (Turner-Bisset, 2007, p.201).  I am motivated by issues of equality of opportunity, employability skills and the value of creativity and Art within education. I began to question how does Morris’s creative vision fit, in today’s marketised target driven educational culture? (Sahlberg, 2013).

KA research questions

Creativity with a small c
Whilst the importance of creativity in education has been emphasised in the last decade (Jeffrey and Craft, 2006), the current Department of Education’s (DfE) lack of emphasis on creativity and the arts, together with Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, announcing in November 2014 that only STEM subjects lead to careers and that the arts were not useful for future careers, stands in direct contrast with research on for example, ‘little c creativity’ (Craft, 2001). ‘Little c creativity’, could help with students becoming flexible and divergent thinkers, which the current economic climate requires, especially as many argue that the UK is out of step with the global market (Hannon, 2012 and PISA results, 2012). This reinforces the necessity for keeping creativity at the forefront of the educational debate. Whilst within education one of the key features of Art, suggested by Maslow (1968), Boden (1996) and Lucas (2002), is the sense of there being no ‘right’ answer or method, students could achieve a positive task outcome through creative processes of learning, as defined by their own expectations, and according to this theory improve engagement (Lee, Morrell, Marini and Smith, 2012). Linked to this is Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory (1988; 1990; 1994; 1996), which combines the ideas of emotional and behavioural engagement with an activity.

Kath cartoon 1

Research focus
Many students and parents have told me that they do not know enough about Art careers and are concerned that Art is not a secure option post-16; it can instead be viewed as a leisure activity.  The perception that Art is not a serious option choice made me seek out data concerning employment in the creative industries. I discovered that these industries embrace a wide range of career routes and that, in the UK, total creative employment is 2,278,500 (7.8% of all employment).  I questioned how I could help students make informed choices about creative careers.

With careers guidance having been taken away from local authorities and handed to schools (September 2012), schools could feel under pressure to provide the necessary skills, to fulfil the duty put upon them, on top of the need to deliver results.  I became interested in investigating whether taking students out on Art trips and, more specifically, to creative careers events could help students to understand about creative careers.

Further to this I wanted to investigate creativity and flow (Csikszentmihalyi ,1990 ‘Flow theory’) during an artist workshop and compare this to a normal school day.

Trips and creative careers
The findings from two questionnaires, one completed before the trip and one after and five semi-structured interviews indicated that the trips had a positive impact on student’s understanding about creative careers. 100% of students said that the trips had informed them about creative careers and that they knew a lot more about types of careers in the arts after the trips.

KA themes tableKey themes emerged after the trips.  Over half of the students identified: learning from others, real-life learning, learning as fun, trips as motivating, inspiring and helping with creative techniques. They also said they got access to appropriate and up to date information and resources, skills and ideas.  These themes were supported by comments made during semi-structured interviews.  These findings support some of the initial themes I had identified through the literature review on creativity, learning environments and creative partnerships, with a mixture of inductive/deductive approaches adopted.

Art related careers
The perception of Art and art careers was largely a positive one. After the trips this positive perception increased as they felt better informed about careers and courses in the creative industries.  I had not expected so many students to view Art careers in a positive light.  The majority thought Art was enjoyable and intrinsically motivating, but they also thought it was diverse and therefore careers could be difficult to understand.

Impact of a day with an artist
To investigate this area I used Experience Sampling Forms (ESF’s) (Bryne, MacDonald and Carlton, 2003) for the artist workshop day and compared these to a normal school day.  These should determine whether or not ‘flow’ occurs, if three of the conditions of flow were present. I also used visual methods, with questions inspired by Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi (1976) to visually analyse the work produced by students on the all- day artist workshop day.

KA key findingsAnalysis of ESF’s indicate positive correlations between levels of ‘flow’ indicated and assessment of creativity.  Students’ did experience ‘flow’ during the artist day, as three or more of the conditions for flow to occur were present.  It could therefore be concluded that aspects of flow, including the balance between challenge and skill and no worry of failure, were evident during the artist day. This supports Csikszwntmihalyi’s theory of flow and corroborates evidence from studies citing the positive effects of students engaging with artists. Students feel more energetic, focused, cheerful, involved, excited and confident during the artist all day workshop, compared to the normal school day.

This graph illustrates the findings:

KA graph

A visual analysis of the art work produced by the students who had completed ESF’s suggested correlations between levels of creativity and levels of optimal experience.  It could be surmised that a day of doing Art was enjoyable.

Performativity and its impact on creativity
It is possible to speculate that students do not experience flow/creativity during the normal school day because there are more time pressures on them.  The fragmented nature of the day could make immersion in an activity difficult, whereas during the artist workshop students had more time to develop creative work.

I am able to conclude that working in a variety of contexts with different creative practitioners helped to enable creative thinking, and that overall these experiences promoted positive learning experiences.  These results are context directed and do not represent all Year 9 and 10 students, but my aim was not causality but ‘understanding’ (Maxwell, 2002 in Huberman and Miles).

Conclusions and recommendations
It is clear from this data that not only do Art teachers need to provide opportunities such as trips, for students to understand about creative careers and skills, but more generally schools and politicians need to be receptive to the benefits to pupils’ learning, when taken out on trips.  These also advocate the need for time to be given to creative activities, especially important given the current educational climate.

It has not been possible to accurately assess how trips and artist visits have helped with creativity, but that participants do seem more motivated by being given freedom, meeting with others, and learning from the real world.

Within an educational context I still posit that creativity is best described of in terms of problem-solving (Craft’s’ little c’, 2001) and as a process of active, constructive understanding (Fleming, 2010).  After reflecting upon Art’s role in creativity and student comments and how intrinsically motivated they felt by the Art making process, I arrived at the conclusion that Art can be about novelty and originality and does offer something new.  This does not alienate some students and make the creative process only open to a few, but reinforces the need for all students to be given the opportunity to experience different learning experiences in a variety of contexts.  The idea that all subjects can be equally creative could contribute to it being further marginalised.  Findings from the artist workshop do show that students produced creative work and experienced ‘flow’, which I do not think is possible in all subjects.

This particular research focused on trips and an artist visit, but there was little opportunity to explore other ways of developing creative knowledge such as connections with local galleries and creative connections across subjects, including within traditional EBacc subjects.

Relevance of this research
The importance of creativity and its benefits for future generations is not a current focus for the DfE. This was one of the reasons I felt it necessary to investigate creativity in school. This focus on creativity may seem justifiable, as more and more of our time is spent reaching to performativity based targets, which Hodgson and Spours (2012) suggest occupies a teacher and student’s attention to such an extent that education becomes detached from the economy. This focus on achievement in the core subjects could lead to Art’s contribution being diminished.

Having initially been inspired by my students to carry out this research, my passion still lies with informing students about creative skills and creative careers. When I was lead teaching the Art BTEC I felt that some of the more applied aspects of Art learning were better addressed by that course.

This research has enabled me to become a more reflective practitioner (Schön, 1983) and to continue with this research process.  I have begun to investigate the ways in which other schools embed creative knowledge and skills, and inform about careers.  I recently contacted a post-16 college, which is more vocational in focus, and interviewed the Head of Art.  She explained how the college invites outside clients to meet the students and set live briefs; not dissimilar to the work by the Sorrell Foundation (YDP, 2005).  The concern however is that in the current educational environment, opportunities for developing creative thinkers for the future economy could be inhibited. Students could worry about getting things wrong and taking risks (Holt, 1984). Further to this, if, by 2017, about half the new jobs in the UK will be coming out of the creative sector, it is imperative students have more knowledge about these jobs. However, we need to be mindful that we are not preoccupied, as Oakley (1994, p.23) states, with young people as ‘becoming’ and with their status as ‘would be adults’, rather than the here and now state of ‘being’, which could also contradict the process driven creative process.

I would like to further investigate the inherent contradictions within an educational system that is, on the one hand, preparing students for a competitive, fast moving, globalised marketplace, and demanding skills of flexibility and innovative and creative thinking, whilst on the other is squeezing out arts and creative subjects in favour of STEM subjects and a target-oriented model of education.

Key recommended reading
Ball, S.J. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215-228.
Butcher, J. (2009).  Off-campus Learning and Employability in Undergraduate Design: the Sorrell Young Design Project as an Innovative Partnership. Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education, 7, (3), pp.171-184.
Craft, A. Jeffrey, B. and Leibling, M. (eds.) (2001) Creativity in Education.London: Continuum.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper and Row.

Full references referred to in the text available on request from

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