Sunday, 6 December 2009

The 2009 Edublog Awards

Andrew Old's avatar at facebook

I would like to put a blog forward to The 2009 Edublog Awards.
I work out in the sticks in a small town in a rural area in The Netherlands. Reading blogs by fellow teachers, mostly from the U.S. and the U.K., I come across a lot of information that refers to national educational politics or local circumstances. Reading those texts puts my own teaching in a wider framework which is good.
A main theme emanates from these blogs: hard working teachers are being clobbered by politicians and school administrators to meet demands. Apparently a major crisis is experienced in the countries mentioned, and in my homeland for that matter, which has to be resolved by the teachers in their classrooms. Targets have to be met, forms must be filled in. The teacher has to cope with children's special needs. Differences in cultural background are to be equalized in the classroom. School must make up for the loss of the family as the bedrock of society. 21st Century Skills should replace academic goals of old.
So rightly Andrew Old complains in his blog Scenes from the battleground. He is not just carping, his blog conveys a genuine concern about his daily work with children. He consistently points the finger at fads, idiosyncratic demands and preposterous targets. His voice must be heard and acknowledged. I nominate his blog for Best Individual Blog.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Returner

Theo Willems in his classroom, seated before a makeshift backdrop to have a portrait made for a report in the Dutch newspaper NRC-Handelsblad (Published November 28, 2009)

In the photograph on the left you see a retiree who has returned to his class room. 67 year old geography teacher Theo Willems responded to a programme initiated by Dutch government to alleviate the need for teachers. He returned to the classroom.

The call for teachers

It has been estimated that within a couple of years in Dutch education there will be a shortfall of thousands of teachers. Of course most initiatives which face this problem, target at young people. A new academic minor in education has been piloted for example, an other programme copies the successful British Teach First.

Out of tune?

What struck me in the article in which I found this information was that people interviewed about Theo Willemsen's performance acknowledge the quality of his teaching but nevertheless comment on his style. Students seem to appreciate his use of language, which they find strangely correct and rather formal though, but they regret him being out of touch with their sense of humour. According to the headmaster Willemsen's teaching of course is based on rich experience but, as Willemsen talks a lot in the classroom, he does not epitomize the school's ideal teacher, he could allot more time to independent learning.

What happened?

Willemsen's return to his former job occurs only a couple of years after his retirement. Apparently he must have liked his job all his career and missed the kids at school after his retirement. Now what has happened in education during these two years of retirement to make him seem outmoded, I wonder.

Don't retire!

I am over 60 now, and this little story tells me not to retire at all. They will have to kick me out.

They will do that, shove me out firmly and politely, for unfortunately there will not be a lack of young art teachers at all in the years to come. A flock of young artists now studying at an academy of art will discover after their graduation that the world at large is not very empathetic with their ground-breaking works and that they need a steady income for their bread and butter. They only have to attain a minor in education which is not difficult to come by, it will take only half a year of study and training. In my days it took five years.

I will have to change subject. I will head for a qualification as a maths teacher. :-)

Photograph: © Peter de Krom
Marieke van Twillert, Derk Walters, Gezocht: juffen en meesters, NRC-Handelsblad, 28 November 2009.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Intelligent design and art education

In the United States a most peculiar discussion goes on about Darwin's evolution theory versus Intelligent Design. I find strange sentences in blogs like "open the discussion to students, have them present evidence and deliberate on the validity of that evidence." Those are quirky ideas for a science teacher! I can do my work properly as a teacher of art if and only if my colleague of the science department thinks scientifically. How am I to introduce the fuzzy methods of the artist to my students when they fail to see a difference with scientific method?

My students show the beauty of life on earth in their work. Art does not offer any explanation. The elephant is as beautiful whether it has been created by God instantaneously or considered to be a random product of a meaningless process over millions of years. By the way, I prefer the latter description.

To my opinion it is the task of the science teacher to inculcate in his students the method of scientific thought. A scientist does not seek to prove his hypothesis, conversely he seeks deliberately tests to falsify it. The hypothesis holds only as long as it has not been falsified. A scientist knows he never can prove a hypothesis as his tests never will cover all possible circumstances and conditions. There is not such a thing as "evidence" for a scientific theory. Any idea that can't be tested does not belong to the realm of science. If some one can come up with a test to falsify the idea of a teleological direction in de development of life on earth then intelligent design can become a scientific hypothesis. It is an interesting thought and as such it could be introduced in the science room. It would be a nice task for students: "if you really want to study intelligent design you must come up with a test to falsify this idea." It would baffle them because the religious believer is characterized by cringing from testing his belief.

Another aspect of scientific method is that a complicated hypothesis must give way to an easier, less complicated description. Darwin's hypothesis is leaner than the idea of intelligent design. His ideas do not need intelligence to describe the development of life. Darwin's theory can be tested any moment that we discover forms of life, whether fossilized, in the laboratory or in nature. So far no discovery has falsified Darwin's ideas.

The science teacher should tell his students that he is not a believer. He doesn't believe in Darwin. He only sticks at Darwin for the time being. He will jettison the theory immediately when something falsifies the idea, or when a more elegant theory might pop up.

Only if the the science teacher shows off his clear and logical method will my students appreciate the weird ways of art. God forbid them using the artist's methods in the science lab.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Does a bird have horns?

Georges Seurat
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Detail)
Oil on canvas
207.5 x 308 cm
Art Institute of Chicago

Today I found a short post at Teaching isn't for wimps:

Is George Washington still alive? Asked by a 6th grade girl today. She was serious. She did not know. I'm supposed to teach her world history this year.

A silly question?

The child's question seems to be utterly stupid, given the fact that this sixth grade girl certainly learned before about George Washington being one of the founding fathers of her country.

To my experience the question is not that silly. As a teacher of art I often have to rely on historical knowledge garnered in history lessons. I have learnt not to reckon with any historical knowledge at all, despite the respect I have for my excellent colleagues of the history department, no kidding!

Seurat's painting

One of my favourite questions when dealing with famous paintings of the past is about how we can estimate the juncture of its materialization by inquiring into the content of the painting. The picture on the left is a detail of a famous painting by Seurat, late nineteenth century. I like to ask my first formers (11 or 12 years old): 'We know the painter depicted a Sunday afternoon as could be experienced in his days. When was this painting made?: A: Ten years ago; B: About a hundred years ago; C: About a thousand years ago.' They have to raise their finger at the right answer.

Of course there always is a knowledgeable, clever kid who can explain why B is the best answer: in the background a steamboat is to be seen, a steam engine couldn't possibly be used in medieval times because it hadn't been invented yet, and nowadays the steam engine has been superseded by other propelling devices. Other arguments can be found in clothing and behaviour of people represented in the painting but the steamboat argument is most conclusive. Any stylistic argument cannot be expected of pupils at that age.

History or Mystory?

Nevertheless, a lot of students are at a loss with such a question. They have no clue whatsoever.

I find it extremely interesting to probe into such a failure with students individually. A panoply of causes results. For example: the student didn't even hear the question, or did not see the steamboat at all, or the shape of the ship had not been recognized as a steamboat, the student thought it had something to do with the monkey in the picture which took his interest, "Ginny was distracting me" and so on. More germane to our subject at hand are two main causes:

  • Lack of transfer between school subjects. Children have learnt something within the context of a classroom with a teacher, for example in the history lesson about the invention of the steam engine and its importance during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, and the knowledge can be regurgitated in that context but is not available in other situations.
  • The students have the required knowledge but it is meaningless, it is something out of a textbook which has not been integrated in a body of general knowledge and everyday awareness.
Especially the second one is crucial. Awareness of time is yet inchoate in students in primary and secondary education. The youngest live in mythical time, in which even distinction between past en present are blurred, in which the concept of future is indistinct. It takes a lot of learning experience to develop a personal timeline which can be communicated with others. Even the adult I am can have trouble indicating when a particular event happened ("Eeh, oh yess, hmm, well, it happened about a year after I bought my first house, so it must have been in, say, 1989, give-or-take.") The timeline of 11 year old students is extremely limited. We cannot expect them to have recourse to a shared cultural timeline spanning thousands of years. Such knowledge and awareness must be instilled, and we have to accept that this implies just meaningless rote learning for a long time during which no wonderful answers to tricky questions can be expected, questions such as the as the one I flabbergast my first formers with. It is perfectly normal for them to have no clue and I am really surprised when students can come up with an answer.


This doesn't make my question meaningless. Actually I contribute to their timeline by attaching the steamboat in Seurat's picture to it.

In my view asking "Is George Washington still alive?" is something to inquire into with the student, the question is neither strange nor stupid. Such a question is the source of teaching and learning.


The strangest question I ever got was from a thirteen year old student who was drawing a bird. "Does a bird have horns?" she asked. Alas, I failed to delve deep into that question as I had to quash the taunts of her peers in the classroom. I know strange things can happen in your mind while drawing and I would have liked to learn which convolutions in her brain triggered that question. I would have been disappointed if she just had meant to refer to the existence of weird creatures like the hornbill. Albeit, life is more surrealistic than an artist can dream of, let alone this teacher. In particular children's questions can make me aware that my mind has deteriorated into tunnel vision while they still wonder about the time they are to witness.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

My Mark

A nice scale

At his blog Mr. Teacher quotes a wonderful scale of marks by Dr. Terry Haydn with which I can rate my lessons on a scale of 1 through 10, which is the usual range for marks in The Netherlands.

A colleague observes my art room. She considered this to be a very organised lesson in a happy atmosphere. But I can have other ruminations: did they learn what I taught them or are they just happy with smearing paint on a paper while chatting with each other?

Mark your teacher

Until now I have been using a different system: Once in a while I distribute small papers to all students and exhort them to scribble their mark for my performance on it before leaving the class room, anonymously of course, "just drop it in the box on my desk".

I only do this when I actually don't know how they experienced my lesson. Every so often a lesson is extremely joyful and interesting with wonderful communication among students and their teacher, lots of curious questions and excellent results in images. I know that I deserve a 9 then. In other instances I know that I blew it completely. I had to expel a student, which made the rest of them restive and disobedient, or the artistic quality of the work is so meagre that I can only conclude that all my efforts came to no avail. Then I know I deserve an insufficient mark, ranging from 1 to 5, depending on the depravity of the experience.

The Questionnaire

Of course my school asks me to use regularly a questionnaire in which students can tick off their assessment of my work on an extensive list of qualities. This gives detailed information over a prolonged period. The results mostly match my personal view on the particular group of students. Most students think I am a good teacher, but I definitely have some flaws. For example: I am rather chaotic and my mood changes quickly which can make them feel insecure at times. Those aspects can not be changed easily as they are embedded in my personality, but at least I can try to work on them. Sometimes a group makes me aware of a sore spot: "No group work at all this semester?," no, indeed, I didn't even think of it. I just lost track. But such a thing can be repaired instantly.

But the questionnaire can not replace the quick marking at the end of a lesson which gives immediate feedback on the fifty minutes before.

My mark

So I can compare my personal rating system with Dr Terry Haydn's. The best I can get from my students after a lesson is an average of 7. Haydn's list would rate my lessons with an 8. But in the Dutch rating system a 10 is virtually unattainable, in Haydn's system it is. I know some colleagues who definitely deserve Haydn's 10. So let's settle for my mark at 7.5. I guess that would be a B in the Anglo-Saxon marking range. Not too bad. It leaves something to strive for.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

A first lesson

I had them work in pairs on a composition which combines a static background with dynamic foreground.
They produced quite creative solutions.

What I like most of my job is the adventurous side of it. One never knows what's going to happen in a group of teenagers. Teaching can be compared to driving a formula I racing car. One wrong move and you have to collect your bones out of a wreck. Experience does help, but never to the extent that you can allow yourself to lose your concentration for one moment. After thirty-two years of teaching the biggest mistake is the idea that you have seen it all and can keep everything in your stride. You are going to be surprised then.

In particular the first lesson of the year in a new group of pupils I have never met before in the art room is challenging. I prepare such a lesson meticulously, knowing that I will need all my senses and my alertness to perceive and appraise these new kids. I don't know their attention span so I keep the amount of information I have to communicate at a minimum while the task must be challenging enough. Above all I have to establish my routines in the classroom.

It turned out to be a doddle this morning. Nice children, willing to pay attention, no special needs students so far detected. One boy offered me the opportunity to set the routine "How To Apologize Neatly And Ask Meekly For Being Allowed To Enter The Classroom In Case of Oversleeping," (You have to come up with a really good story, do not dare to mention the real reason, at this school oversleeping just does not occur). The group cleaned up properly and without whining. Albeit, some groups start testing the mettle of their new teacher from the very first moment, while other groups appear torpid until some weeks later when hell breaks loose. We will see.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

La la land and netherworld

Dear Craig,

Thank you for your reaction.

I owe you an apology. I commented on your advertising of an e-book in which you set out your system to guarantee class room discipline. I did so by choosing one item out of many and I wrote a snide comment on it. That's not a very nice thing to do and, given your comment, it clearly raised your hackles.

It would have been better if I had had a look at your career and background before funnelling my thoughts through the tunnel of my vision. I would have discovered the rationale behind your advices to inexperienced teachers. A teacher who earns his living at a Los Angeles high school and who has taught at Los Angeles County Probation Camps fights in the trenches of a war. He may call a spade a spade and use it as as it was used in the trenches of the Great War: more effective than a bayonet in a man-to-man fight.

I guess I would certainly have to adapt my teaching to a situation in which I can expect a makeshift knife in my back at any time.

So I apologize.

Having said this in all sincerity, I will not budge on my stance. Though based on a man's rich experience and keen observations in the classroom, very recognizable for a fellow teacher, even from abroad, your conclusions do not cut ice with me.

I work in The Netherlands, in a rural area at a comprehensive school which was rated last year the safest school in the district by external standards. Parents and students are mostly cooperative though once in a while a father may be disgruntled or a student may respond by saying "Klootzak", which is the Dutch equivalent for "Go F*** Yourself". No riots at school, no fighting, any bully will be addressed immediately. So I work in what you call "La la land."

La la land does exist. In fact it is not limited to some school in The Netherlands, where I happen to work. I have visited schools in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, England, and the United States (Michigan). All these schools seemed to be located in La la land. They resemble my school environment in the way teachers and students communicate. All those schools offer attentive, appreciative environments where an education is the reward

In my post I denunciated an example of your advice: in La la land such a teacher behaviour is completely over the top. Here is another quote that I find extremely strange:

"This is all a judgement call–do what you think will help your classroom environment in the long run. In other words, if a student really likes coming after school to talk to you, then chatting with them isn’t going to help your case. "

You see, I like chatting informally with students, before, during and after my lessons, and I know it is helping my case a lot.

In my La la land there is a clear awareness that any group of young adolescents easily can turn into a pack of wolves when they lack a leader. Inexperienced teachers must learn to call the shots and they must learn to do so using their own personality and style. To my experience as a coach prescribing young colleagues a rigid system of techniques is useless. For example: non-verbal posturing may contradict an impeccably implemented technique which makes the teacher ridiculous in the students' eyes.

Expelled from the classroom

La la land is not located in fairyland. Of course I cannot always avoid punishment. You seem to punish a great deal by detaining a lot of students for fifteen minutes? In Dutch education a 15 minutes detention zone after school hours is just risible. One hour is the minimum to make sure that the peer group will not wait for the culprit to bike home together. A favourite punishment is sweeping the school's premises. Especially in autumn that can take a lot of time. Helping the caretaker with the vacuum cleaner heightens environmental awareness. Oversleeping in the morning too often means reporting for duty half an hour before the first lesson for a full week, just to learn to set the alarm clock. This is all done in a concerted effort by all staff to keep anyone sharp towards our targets. It helps the inexperienced teacher above all. He needs support.

I would like to end with a favourite quote of yours:

"This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
(Winston Churchill)

At least that's something we agree on. Albeit, you seem to emphasize the unbending rule, while I prefer to look for the honour and good sense.

Kind regards,

Sunday, 9 August 2009


Today I learned from reading an interesting article on homework by Cathy Vatterott, the first chapter of her book "Rethinking Homework". An extensive review of the complete book can be found at Ecology of Education. It made me aware that homework in the United States seems to be more of an issue than in The Netherlands. Cathy Vatterot subverts some beliefs underlying the cult of homework. I agree with her on some of her arguments, I have doubts about others.

The daily chore

At least at my school homework is taken for granted by parents and students. No parent ever asks seriously whether we could do without this nuisance. Conversely over the last ten years parental problems have spawned private institutions that offer guided home work facilities after school hours. Some parents fork out a hefty fee mounting up to € 300 per month to have their child do the daily chore in such an institution instead of at home.

The necessity

Homework can contribute to learning at school. Certain tasks done at home can expedite and intensify learning in the classroom. Learning foreign languages benefits from cramming vocabulary individually at home. Interviewing grandmother brings personal oral history into the history lesson. Homework can also extend learning beyond the classroom. Our national targets for cultural education demand from students that they visit theatres and museums of their own choice in their own time. This programme has proven to be highly effective complementary to events organized by school within the school day.

Procrastinating the work

Albeit, I feel I must be very critical about dealing out home work tasks to my students. Especially when targets can be met in the classroom I consider it a personal failure to relegate tasks to home work. When home work tasks are given routinely I can see that students relax in the classroom. It gives them an excuse not to learn here and now in my class room. Their natural preference for meeting peers informally immediately takes over my class room management.

Disturbing facts

As a tutor I have inquired into the time management of my fifteen year old students when doing their homework. Equal workloads are being processed by different students in an amazing variety of time frames ranging from fifteen minutes per day through two hours and a half per day. What I find very disconcerting is the strong correlation between school success and failure and these data of time management. Students who fail to concentrate for longer than half an hour on their home work invariably score poor grades, especially for foreign languages, while students who succeed in working for a prolonged period are high achievers.

The waste of talent

This may sound reasonable to the puritans amongst us who believe in hard work as a road to success, and I surely agree that hard working students deserve their good grades, but it cannot be denied that school success clearly is gained at a place and time that are beyond control by the teacher. We cannot allow ourselves to waste talent in such a way. A school system in which homework is the leverage to success is biased against students from deprived backgrounds that don't support concentrating on home work. In addition, Dutch data on school success gives evidence that girls attain better than boys, which can be explained by differences in development between both genders. To my experience fifteen year old girls are on the average more motivated to do homework than boys at the same age.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

A fight

Tonight I listened to two British speakers, Michael Gove, Conservative spokesperson for Education and Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA, brought to me by David Price's blog.

Though Dutch schooling, in which I work, and British education (Good heavens, some parents send their children to expensive independent private boarding schools? Why would they do that???) seem to be utterly disparate, these speeches made clear to me that we are in the same battle. People complain about the loss of standards (Gove) while others desperately try to build a new curriculum (Taylor).

Apparently we are in a paradigm shift all over Europe, if not the western hemisphere, for that matter. The fight is about "knowledge" versus "skills".

The issue comes down to the position of the teacher. Is the teacher willing to accept that his training may be outdated while his wisdom is needed? Is he/she an outstanding example of life long learning? If not, we will loose this battle. If yes, students will understand they need their teacher's knowledge, while helping him out with the skills needed for these new media and this new world.

Monday, 27 July 2009

A postcard


Every so often I meet former students of mine. Especially at a restaurant or bar frequently a well known face serves me as a waiter. So I met Merel.

She finished her examinations one year ago. A very nice girl, quite creative in the visual arts, very intelligent and dyslexic. I never was sure I communicated well enough with her. She often flew off at a tangent while working at my assignments, which I liked. She was amiable but she kept herself to herself. During her last year she vacillated between becoming a visual artist or an an actress. She chose to aim for a career as an actress and subsequently managed to get entrance in a theatre school.

On meeting at the restaurant she told me, eyes sparkling, that she liked the college enormously, she had chosen well and she had found her destiny. Over the weekends she worked as a waitress to earn a pittance.

A week later she sent me a hand made postcard. She had forgotten to write her name on the back, but the front showed an unmistakably recognizable signature in the form of a typical pattern in her personal style.

Her message said: "I fear the world to be a joke, while I take it seriously. Hush!..."

It made my day.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Class room discipline 101

Roaming the world of edublogs I stumbled upon Craig Seganti's blog on class room discipline. It is a hoard of most interesting ideas about how to keep your class at work instead of horsing around.

Free instructions!

I immediately subscribed to
"Free Report! Five Classroom Discipline Mistakes You Can Stop Right Now!"
I've been a teacher for over thirty years now, and during the last twenty years I never met a problem in the class room I could not cope with, but one is never too old to learn. I might find something new. Moreover, I coach young colleagues some of which are not very capable with respect to keeping order in the classroom and possibly Seganti's advices could be passed to them.

So every day instructions roll into my mailbox. Reading them made me feel itchy though, it took me some time to understand why. Something definitely was wrong with these techniques but what? After some days I discovered an underlying pattern. It made me realise that Seganti capitalizes on the fear of young teachers. Too many of the techniques he advises are defensive. For example:

  1. Stand in your doorway. Stop EVERY student briefly before they enter. Tell them the following: "I want you to go directly to your seat without talking and in an orderly manner. You are to sit down and immediately start the assignment on the board. Without talking. Do you understand?" (Make sure you have an assignment on the board). My preferred 1st day method is to hand them a copy of my rules on the way in to copy onto a clean sheet when they sit down.

  2. You are going to repeat this to each student before they enter.

Self fulfilling messages

Any teacher who demonstrates such silly behaviour should be advised to change his career. Certainly there is no gainsaying that standing in the doorway to receive your students is an excellent idea. But the message Seganti wants to be delivered to the students is utterly wrong. The message assumes that students do not want to learn in the classroom and that they must be told that they are supposed to work. That's nonsense. Students know that they are at school to behave disciplined in order to learn something. There is no need to tell them.

Seganti fails to understand that any message conveyed to the students will be heard and understood, students will react to it with behaviour. This message tells students straight away at the entrance that the teacher considers education to be a struggle. It is an invitation to start fighting.

My advice to young teachers is quite opposite: Stand in the doorway. Show and tell the students that they are most welcome. Make nice remarks. Compliment as many students as possible personally with new spectacles, their hairdo (only when changed conspicuously), nice clothing, congratulate them with their birthday. This must be natural behaviour, there is no need to say something to each student. You can allow yourself a scathing remark to someone to remind him of poor behaviour last lesson: "I'm happy that today you at least managed to be here in time," but only if delivered smilingly. These messages tell students that you are self-confident and enjoy your work, that you like your students and want to meet them on a personal level. Such a reception is an invitation to co-operate during the lesson to come.

Unnecessary rules

Craig expects students to go to their seats in silence. That is extremely unnatural behaviour. Adults would not do that when gathering for a meeting. I'm always astonished that teachers dare ask students to show behaviour they themselves would consider to be unnecessary, ridiculous or even demeaning. Demanding unnatural behaviour is asking for problems.

Then Craig tells us he gives students on the first school day a list of rules to copy. My young Initial Teacher Training colleagues often ask me for such a list: "Which rules must I give them?" My answer is "None." Which is exactly the answer my coach, a very wise man, gave me thirty-two years ago. Students know the rules. Any conversation about rules is a waste of time. You cannot afford to waste time in a lesson, can you?

The teacher is the alpha-person

Of course in the first lesson within five minutes after the bell rings some student will show poor behaviour, sitting backwards while you are talking or a girl will be polishing her nails. That's natural behaviour! The girl or boy wants to climb in the pecking order of the peer group by testing the mettle of this new teacher.
This is the very moment in which you repeat a basic rule: pay attention when the teacher is talking. The first student who loses attention must be addressed immediately, firmly but never frantically. To my experience this is best done, not by referring to a general rule, but by showing or telling that you are personally offended because the student is wasting precious time. This is the decisive moment: the teacher communicates that his lesson is too worthwhile to be disrupted. Students love that. They hate fools who waste their time.

Another very interesting thing happens when you react instantaneously. You show the group that you are the leader, you are the one who calls the shots. This is basic evolutionary psychology: you are the alpha-person, whether male or female. Show off your power by reacting proportionally. When a glaring look is enough you must not overdo by adding words at all. Punishment, especially punishment that is not experienced at the very moment of the offence, is mostly ineffective. It creates resentment and negative behaviour.


Punishment is the sword brandished to no avail by a swashbuckling anxious teacher. A pun that corrects poor behaviour is the best. A teacher does not need punishment. He is the alpha-person, and the group of students knows he is in charge. He can afford to give latitude, to enjoy himself while addressing the group, he knows his students. Above all he knows that he is too great not to praise his tribe when they paid attention. "This was extremely difficult to understand, and you really did effort to grasp it!" That's the way.

What's this all about, after all?

Somehow Craig Seganti misses the quintessence of education. Ultimately we don't want the discipline that is created by rules and punishment. Students should behave disciplined because they want to learn, because they understand and experience that they cannot allow themselves to run amok. We fail as educators when we do not show them this rationale with our own behaviour.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Young Experts

A question

I got a mail from Dan Willingham, in which he formulated a very interesting question: "Do you believe that students can achieve expertise more rapidly than they could, say 50 years ago?" The mail referred to my last post in which I wryly commented on some aspects of his book "Why Students Don't Like School." Fortunately Daniel Willingham doesn't ask for scientific research, he only asks about my beliefs. I'm not a scientist, I am just a humble teacher of art in the trenches of Dutch education. So my answer is based on common sense (I hope) and on years of experience in the classroom.

Stonehenge and computers

I see no reason to believe that the human brain has evolved significantly since the neolithic period. The same brain that erected the large stones at Stonehenge builds computers now. But the environment in which the human brain starts thinking during childhood has changed thoroughly. So it is conceivable that learning may have speeded up over the last hundreds of years. After all this is what formal education at school tries to achieve. I can come up with two classroom experiences that may possibly falsify Willingham's concept of the "ten years and ten thousand hours to become an expert"


Every year I tell my third form students that they perform an amazing feat. Within about 6 lessons of 100 minutes they grasp the basics of linear perspective and show these insight knowledge in their drawings. It can clearly be seen in paintings of the fifteenth and sixteenth century that this was a very difficult concept for professionals at that juncture, even after Leon Battista Alberti had set out the technique in his treatise "Della Pittura" (1436). Apparently to professional artists the mathematical trick didn't always relate to their perception of the visual world.

Ucello painted the fallen lances precisely towards the vanishing point in the centre of the painting. He grappled with the concept of the depth in the picture plane and had to stick to a mathematical scheme in stead of rendering realistically the utter hassle of a medieval battle.

Figures behind the Parapet

Detail Fresco Villa Barbaro

The forms of the parapet in the painting on the left show clearly that Veronese had mastered perspective in drawing complex mathematical shapes. But he failed to envisage a realistic image of the dog perching on the banister as seen from below. To our modern eyes it is clear that the poor animal will fall down instantaneously.

So it seems that modern children learn a basic drawing technique faster than the medieval painter. However, we must bear in mind that the modern child has been exposed to images which depict the world according to the laws of perspective to an extent that the fifteenth century painter could not have dreamt of. Fifteen year old students have been pummelled by photographs and screen images on a daily basis for over ten years, which is the time frame Daniel Willingham sets for becoming an expert. The students have become experts in reading perspective in realistic images. So it is not amazing that they master producing correct perspective with pencil and ruler within a couple of lessons, they immediately sense something wrong when making a mistake. Albeit, drawing a dog on a high parapet as seen from below will pose as much a problem to them as it did to Veronese. Over the years I have had only a couple of students that could draw such a thing, and these kids were all self trained artists.

So it is a delusion to think that students learn faster now than five hundred years ago when mastering perspective.

Students' works and works by famous artists

Modern Art

My last post, which triggered Willingham's question, dealt with expert decisions students made while performing a task in the art room. I will not budge on this. My students expertly chose colours, shapes and techniques while making a self portrait and their work can be compared with works done by unquestioned masters of modern art. The picture on the right combines five works done by students and four works by famous artists (Francesco Clemente, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso).

The students deliberately applied techniques that are widely used in modern art to convey expression in a portrait: for example distortion of shape, abstraction by leaving out details, non-realistic colouring and so on. What's more, they used them all differently thereby showing that their choices were not the result of some prescription given to them by their teacher. I trusted them to explore their own ingenuity and so they did.

Craft versus Creativity

There is a meaningful difference between the two cases I am discussing. Learning perspective aims at the production of a realistic image. Until the end of the 19th century perspective was an indispensable tool of the painter. Within the context of modern art this tool may be applied but there is no need for an artist to learn perspective any more because modern art not necessarily aims at production of realistic images any more. Conversely many works of modern art are autonomous, they may refer to the world around the canvass or sculpture, but not by imitating shapes, colours and space in a mechanical way.

The Child Artist

Modern artists have often been inspired by the creativity with which young children depict their world playfully and spontaneously. I don't buy the argument however that children do not have to learn art. The children's spontaneity in making art mostly stops somewhere after early childhood if they are not encouraged to go on. School education can perpetuate their development, thereby fostering their inchoate artistic talents.

Given the fact that most children in our culture start to draw and paint at the age of two or three my students have had more than ten years of experience. I can clearly see though in the classroom that the amount of time spent on artistic productivity varies enormously between my students. The so called "gifted" indeed spent a lot of time on art voluntarily because the activity filled them with joy in which they were not disappointed by the feedback of their environment. Those students bring their own colour schemes and subject preferences into my class room. To others the act of making art has become all but meaningless, they do not feel confident at all while handling a brush or a gouge. A couple of hours weekly in a school's art room is not enough for these students to keep the engine running.

The Self Portrait

The task to make a representation of the self revved up the gusto of even these students and enticed them to make expert decisions. In fact I was startled by the results of some kids that had been hanging back so far. This raises questions:what triggered the interest of these slow coaches and how did they know what to do? Describing the assignment in detail might make Daniel Willingham's question less intangible:

  1. The task evaded the problem of likeness by giving each student a photograph which was transferred to a paper by monotyping rather mechanically for a start only. This choice was based on the teacher's expertise, it enabled the students to skip a lot of troublesome "What to do?" problems. Amazingly a lot of students didn't pay too much attention to the true outline of their face and emphasized abstract patterns and colours.
  2. The task challenged the students to express their knowledge about themselves in an image. They could be trusted to be the experts about themselves, couldn't they? I made clear that it would be quite useless to turn to me for advice because they would know better than the teacher which colours, shapes or techniques would be suited for their goal. I expected them to be experts in the execution of this particular task.
  3. The students have been trained systematically to accept idiosyncratic representations by discussing works of modern art in the classroom. Next to that the pupils are embedded in a culture in which visual imagery in the mass media conveys all kind of messages in a lot of different ways and they have become experts in unravelling unconsciously the intricate layers of meaning in pictures even in their short span of time.
  4. Somehow it was clear to the students that this could not go wrong. Every action they would engage in wilfully while working at this task would be a hallmark of their personality. One student went so far as to borrowing my lighter to burn the outer edge of the paper he worked on. The understanding of modern art in this group did not reach the point of presenting a short text or even a blank paper to the teacher as a token of conceptual art. I would have enjoyed that.

Summarizing: The students did make expert decisions within the scope of a task which was limited expertly by an experienced teacher. The expertise of the students was based on learning processes over some length of time, some of which had gone on all their life.
It goes without saying that no student can be considered to be an expert in modern art. An expert painter knows what to do when staring at a blank canvass in his studio, realizing that his work must contribute to an ongoing history of art that started 40,000 years ago in such a meaningful way that his work will acclaimed by a downright critical world.


I can give an answer to Dan Willingham's question now: No, I don't believe that students can achieve expertise more rapidly than they could, say 50 years ago? But students bring a lot of expertise in the classroom based on years of learning outside the classroom, even at the age of twelve. In a culture that renews methods of communication, perceptions of the world and concepts about the relation between the individual, the group and the world at large more rapidly than, say fifty, or hundred or five hundred years ago, teachers risk to be unaware of what's going on while young kids enter their classroom who are experts in these worldly affairs. If we fail to ask students about their expertise and if we do not adjust to their possibly completely different perceptions students will not like school. They will feel alienated. If we succeed in respecting the kids as experts in their own right school can be a place they like. They might even accept that rote learning is unavoidable to learn foreign languages, become proficient at solving mathematical problems, to become knowledgeable in history and all those other school subjects that they need badly to understand the world they live in beyond the scope of their easily acquired expertise.

A New Renaissance

I believe a Renaissance is going on now. I fear I may make the same mistake Veronese made: learning to implement tricks without acquiring the perception underlying the technique. Some day my students will tell me that my dog falls off the parapet, and I will not see it. Then I will retire.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Willingham and the Art Room

The great Willingham?

I have been ruminating about Daniel T. Willingham's thoughts on school education in his book "Why Don't Students Like School?"1 for some weeks now. In this book Willingham summarizes research in cognitive science and sets out consequences for learning in the class room.

His conclusions confirm a lot of my experiences as a teacher. Some myths that teachers have been taunted with lately are being debunked. I was so enthralled with the content of the book as to recommend it to my fellow teachers by quoting Willingham's "Nine principles of the mind" in our school's weekly. Albeit, there are some features of the book that I look upon with suspicion and I keep asking myself whether the book legitimizes school routines that make children unnecessarily unhappy.


The title makes me tetchy in the first place. In fact most of my students like school. Of course they like it first of all because it is a place to meet their peers. Next to that school offers challenges that they like to meet. Capable teachers really do succeed in enthusing pupils with their subject. Not few students even love to do their homework though they would not be caught dead admitting it. Willingham's book offers wonderful suggestions for teachers to make rote learning within school routines more acceptable and doable for students. In fact "How to make your students happy" would have been a better title.

Child oriented teaching or academic programme?

My main beef about the book is that by emphasizing purely cognitive learning in academic subjects it denies children's possibilities to learn independently, to be creative in asking questions and to be experts in their own right. There is more to school than learning the answers the teachers know to questions a child never would ask.

Traditional schooling

Training to be a painter once started with chore tasks in the workshop: the grinding of pigments, preparing of canvases. Subsequently the student would learn to copy the works of the master. Certainly he would be encouraged to draw as much from nature as possible next to that. When the student had proven himself he would co-operate with the master, he might fill in backgrounds , the clouds in the sky. Indeed, it would take ten years and ten thousand hours of hard labour to become a master, the apprenticeship Willingham claims to be necessary to become an expert.

Modern art

Modern art changed all that. The realistic image can be obtained by making a photograph. The photograph can be outlined and transferred to a painting and changed. Andy Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe2 and Mick Jagger were produced in such a way, and so were the images in this blog, self-portraits by fifteen year old students of mine, with completely different outcome though. These young kids deliberately chose expressive visual elements that matched their self-awareness and they applied these consistently. They made expert decisions. Not too bad after only three years of training at school during two hours per week.

self portraitself portraitself portrait

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Gifted but stupid

The school's wall clock

Years ago I had a serious talk with a girl of my tutor group. Testing had set her I.Q. at 153. But she couldn't perform routine school tasks, say learning thirty French words for next day. I was probing into her past to find the reason for her revulsion and distrust. We got as far back as to early childhood and her first school experiences.

Early at primary school she had been told to come to the front of the class to say the multiplication table of two. She didn't get beyond twelve and was told off for it. When the class was exercising the table she hadn't paid attention at all because she had discovered that the answers were in front of her eyes, in the hour numbers of the school clock, she only had to skip the uneven numbers. However, the clock did not reach beyond twelve.


To me this anecdote epitomizes the conundrum school faces with gifted children. The educator who administered the rollicking might have inquired into the problem better and by doing so she could have detected a budding mathematician. That's what parents of gifted children ask the school to do. The precocious child should have been motivated to develop her inchoate understanding of numbers by building clocks with all kind of number systems in cardboard.

On the other hand, the teacher was right in lambasting the pupil. If her young student had practised the table of two in the way all the other kids complied with she certainly would have succeeded in mastering it.

A school career

The little girl felt aggrieved. This and other experiences ushered in a troublesome school career. When I met her at the age of thirteen she was disobedient, petulant, a nuisance in the class room. Though her parents managed to get her in the top level of the Dutch school system she was completely unable to cope with the school system. Her parents blamed the school. She left our school for a very expensive private school where group size was limited to twelve students per class, quite different from our usually crowded class rooms. She managed to pass the national examinations and got entrance to a university where she fell by the wayside.

How to deal with underachievers

I have been grappling with the problem of underachieving prodigies in the school system all over my career as an educator. I've always been trying to solve the problem by offering these students tasks that appealed to them and challenged their aptitude. I asked my fellow teachers to do so. We implemented special projects for the gifted. Despite our efforts results were mostly meagre.

Especially learning foreign languages, which is very important in Dutch education, proves to be an almost impossible task for students who rely solely on their innate intelligence. Learning to read, write, and speak English, French and German within a couple of hours per week in a full classroom in just a few years even on a basic level is impossible without rote learning. Pupils must practise grammar in the class room. Students have to cram vocabulary at home.

Arguably gifted students may learn a foreign language easily while being immersed in it, but we cannot immerse students in three foreign languages, can we? We lack the environment with native speakers, we lack the time. My school is exemplary in the region with offering gifted students a bilingual education in which they are taught in English for half of the subjects, half of the school week. But even in this situation of immersion students who memorize their personal idiom files by rote learning fare better than students who just wait and see.

Learning is not just fun

I see things differently now. Gifted children have a wonderful brain, an excellent working memory. That brain has to be challenged by intriguing tasks. This makes kids happy, it motivates them to work, to go to school for that matter. But before all we must train them to store knowledge in their long-term memory. They must learn to memorize. (cf. D.T. Willingham) When we fail to discipline them in doing the tedious work of rote learning they will founder at some stage in their career when deep knowledge is required.

Returning to the story I started with, this girl should have been given the task to build various clocks in all kind of number systems in cardboard. Next to that she would have benefited a lot from learning the multiplication tables by heart just like the other kids.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Different systems

Mask 1

These masks indicate huge differences between pupils while processing the same task

mask 5

Different views

Two fellow teachers comment on a story in my blog. They seem to appreciate the ruthlessness with which a child is denied promotion to the next year because she fails to meet academic standards. Dutch education tracks students into homogeneous ability streams. Students have to double the year when they fail to pass muster in a minority of the taught subjects. But I consider these idiosyncracies to be backward features of a system, remnants of nineteenth century practice.

A beautiful song

Some ten years ago I attended a rehearsal of a High School Choir in Michigan. I was flabbergasted. Pupils I had met earlier that day in a special needs class and students aiming at university level cooperated in a wonderful aesthetic experience. In Dutch education those children would not meet whatsoever within a school setting.

Count your blessings

Possibly daily frustrations give rise to a tendency to find greener pastures elsewhere, in a different school system where we perceive what we lack at home. That attitude is not very fruitful. School systems are rooted in local history, they express community values. The Dutch experience in particular makes clear that rash major transitions are not possible without jeopardising quality.We used to preen ourselves on our national school system. Recently we had to discover that we are not in the premier league any more. In a state of transition you risk ditching what you were good at before having gained what you need.

Good practice

The Fins are the champions. They offer consistently the best education of the world as measured by the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). But I take it most causes for this success cannot be easily transferred to other school systems. Neither the Fins' national love for reading nor their high esteem of the teaching profession are to be found in The Netherlands nowadays: a paradise lost can't be regained. What could be transferred though is the compulsory master's degree for every teacher, from kindergarten teacher to science teacher in secondary education, for each and everyone. I guess that really would be something.


I'm happy to be a teacher of art. My students have been selected but fortunately not with respect to my field. So I have a motley collection of skills and talents in the class room. I have to allow for these differences and I must cope with them.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Oppositional Defiant Disorder


Work in wax by a 15 yold student diagnosed with ODD and ADHD

The loss of the village

In his blog "Obedience" Andrew Old beefs about disobedience in the classroom, and rightly so. Without students' accepting that the teacher is the alpha person education is impossible. Andrew's arguments point at a ubiquitous slackness in Western culture. An African saying tells us: "It takes a village to raise a child". Apparently we are no villagers any more and children are at a loss in a highly individualised global city. The result is mayhem in the classroom.

Extreme behaviour

In the extreme the problem is represented by the definition of Oppositional Defiant Disorder:

  • frequent temper tantrums
  • excessive arguing with adults
  • active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
  • blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • frequent anger and resentment
  • mean and hateful talking when upset
  • seeking revenge

This behaviour is connected with neurological disorder. This makes sense: in all cultures of all times some people have been behaving anti-socially. These troublesome kids are in real danger of becoming criminals, or greedy bankers for that matter. Every so often we have one of them in our classrooms.

A lot of lunatics?

Albeit, I can't buy the percentage of kids purportedly suffering from this condition: five to fifteen percent of all school-age children. That's an outrageous number and it does not match my experience of over thirty years of teaching. I do not expect all children to be obedient and meek all of the time. I am an educator and it is part and parcel of my calling to correct poor behaviour, laziness, heckles, foul language and solipsistic ideas. I teach young adolescents after all. The predominance of pupils are reasonable and willing to learn, I can communicate with them and enjoy them, knowing that they will outgrow insolence and petulance.

To the detriment of lessons

In my tutor group I have a girl who has been diagnosed with ODD and ADHD. Dutch governmental policy has it to place children with special needs in the normal classroom. This child may benefit from the example of other children, at least she realises that her behaviour is not considered to be normal. However, her condition seems to be contagious. Some other students take pleasure in the aggro caused by her histrionics and one boy shows copycat behaviour. Teachers are harried, parents complain about the learning environment of their children. At the end of this year the girl will have to leave the school because she cannot meet our academic standards and can not be promoted to the next form. I have no doubts about her innate intelligence, she falls behind because she cannot concentrate and work on a daily basis. She does not accept guidance.

The singer in wax

The art work shown in the images above was done by this girl. To my amazement she worked on it for several hours fully concentrated. Whenever she has set a goal for her art work all symptoms of her neurological disorder disappear. Provided she has an interest in the topic at hand she will work at her drawing or sculpture with rapt attention over a prolonged period. I advised her to aim for a career as an artist. She is not extremely gifted, but she is capable of producing interesting work. Even more important, in the arts a highly eccentric personality is not uncommon and will be accepted more easily. This might give her a chance to find a place in society. But she baulked at the prospect of having to spend time on art theory and art history.

Don't blame the teacher

Bearing in mind that ODD, ADHD, PDDNOS and all those other afflictions described in DSM IV do exist and have a base in physical disorders that can be detected and measured by scans, I am inclined to think that the number of students suffering from these conditions is highly exaggerated. By medicalising anti-social behaviour our society denies the underlying problem: too many parents fail to discipline their children properly in a stable and safe environment. Because of inadequate caring, excessive consumerism and lack of rules lots of children do not develop a sound personality. As a result they cannot communicate reciprocally. Emotionally they keep functioning on the level of a three year old child.

Teachers cannot solve this problem at a later stage.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Art Laboratory

At work

This girl is working in my classroom. She is as concentrated as not even to be disturbed by the photographer.

Apparently the assignment I gave her compelled her to do a good job. The result fulfilled the demands included in the task given to the class. It had to do with expressive quality in art by exaggerating form aspects.

I introduced this task with the question why art can be appreciated across cultures and referred to the idea of "Peak Shift," introduced by V.S. Ramachandran

So I guess she learned something about that. I can not be sure because the scope of the course didn't allow an extensive test.

Her gusto may have been triggered by the sheer size of the work, which exceeded anything she had worked on before.

A wonderful book

I am reading a book by Daniel T. Willingham these days: "Why Don't Students Like School?". The content is very satisfying for a teacher. In Dutch education teachers have been harassed by ideologists of every ilk since 1993 when the government implemented a major change in secondary education. Willingham is a cognitive psychologist. His book debunks a great deal of the myths that underlie deprecating views on proven teachers' routines. Recommending this book does not mean I want to fuel those colleagues who are unwilling to reflect critically on their daily work with children. It goes without saying that teachers have to adapt continuously to ever-changing demands of society. Nevertheless, the book keeps me smiling while turning pages because it confirms that a lot of ideas about learning are not supported by science at all and some are falsified by research.

I adhere to Karl Popper's legacy

I consider my classroom to be a laboratory in which the teacher's hypotheses are tested against children's motivation and visible results of learning. Remember I teach art. Nice products do not guarantee effective learning, but poor products show clearly that something went pearshaped. Enthused children are not necessarily proof of good teaching, boredom is evidence of the converse.

The gap between theory and practice

Background reading is indispensable for a teacher. The try-and-error in the classroom must be subsumed into intelligent thought of others. Often I have experienced a gap between literature and my everyday experience. Neither did Skinner's pigeons resemble my students, nor did Marxist education in visual communication appeal to them. Constructivistic ideas seeped into my work with meagre results. So mostly I resort to common sense based on over thirty years of experience. Only recently does theory bridge the gap. Willingham's book is wonderful. But there is not very much on Art Education in it and I have some objections. I will get back to that a.s.a.p

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


Boring content

One of the objectives of my lessons is to sensitize teenagers to historic art styles. They need that for their national exam. They will be asked to compare images, such as the crucifixes you see on the left, and connect these with styles, e.g. Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.

A 16 year old student will not be intrinsically motivated to study on such a content. Of course the teacher collects slides to show the class, works of art that epitomize each style. The best thing you can hope for as a teacher is polite silence while you go out of your way to describe characteristic features, point out differences in details, explain composition and expression. If you are a good storyteller you may even have their attention, however to no avail. After a series of lessons on those styles they will not be able to categorize an image that is new to them. I found out why.

Useless words

The problem is in the talking. When you try to get the message across in words you work on the wrong side of the brain. Historic background of art, names of famous artists, difficult descriptive words, reasoning about relations, for the student all these words build up a farrago. Mostly the verbosity has to be interrupted intermittently to tell off sniggering girls. If the teacher is very eloquent, he may mesmerize his class into a mutual delusion of understanding.

Four words only

Only four words are needed to begin with: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. These words can be introduced in ten minutes with a couple of images. The sole goal is to store these four words in the working memory of the students. They are no morons, this will be successful. Subsequently show them a multitude of images, not chronologically but completely at random. They get 15 seconds per image to guess the style of the art work. Then give them immediately feedback about the correct answer. They can reward themselves with a tick on a paper, and if you like mayhem in your classroom they may shout "Bingo" if their answer was right. You really need at least a hundred images in a Powerpoint presentation. The images can be grabbed from internet sites such as The Web Gallery of Art. No talking, no explanations. "Just look at the picture and guess what style." Students like gaming and they discover to their amazement by their tally that failures slump during the game. They really start recognizing styles. That's extremely rewarding. Also by repeatedly thinking about their choice a hundred times the four words will be transferred from working memory into long term memory.

We are all gifted

I believe such a lesson uses an innate human skill: face recognition. We are good at distinguishing subtle differences while looking. We use this capability to categorize people and objects. We can even recognize familiar people from behind, by looking at the back of their heads. We don't need to think in words to perform remarkable feats

This recognition is the bedrock to build upon. It is the start of the learning process. After that experience chronological order can be memorized and the relation between historic backdrop and style can be explained. To achieve true understanding words are needed. But recognizing different styles comes first. That doesn't warrant lengthy explanations, only training is needed.

Monday, 18 May 2009


Today two guests covered a lesson of mine. My first formers were to participate in scientific research in which their perception while gaming at the computer was questioned, in particular their awareness of advertisement pop-ups at the edge of the screen.

I have a lot of experience with trainees. Of course they lack experience, but mostly they are pupil oriented, communicative and aware of their task as a teacher.
However, these guests were a student of psychology and a computer expert. They were not trainees from a teacher training. I had my start routine, which in this case had to include amiable lambasting of some rumbustious boys and less friendly ticking off a latecomer, introduced the guests and let it go.
They managed to get their message through, more or less. Inviting thirteen year old students to play a computer game is not that difficult. Albeit, the psychologist said quizzically: "They listen better to you than they do to us."

What struck me was that I had to tell this young woman that she should explain to my students what the test had been about at the end of the period and how their participation would contribute to scientific progress at large. I take it she thought lollipops would be enough reward for my students. The lollipops were enjoyed by the pupils, but the sweets certainly did not meet my demands, so I had the lady explain the aim of the test and the first formers were given the opportunity to ask questions.

The event made me realize that the teacher's expertise is taken for granted, even by the teacher himself. I cannot assess the quality of the scientific experiment at hand but treating first formers as if they were guinea pigs definitely makes poor psychology.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Work by 15 year old students

The pictures on the left show one work seen from different angles. It was made by two students. I had them work in pairs, as it is convenient to have four hands available when assembling pieces of shaped cardboard. The parts were stuck together with adhesive tape. The students discovered that all directions in space are attainable with just a few joints.

The complicated form is balanced on a very small foot which adds a delicate sense of equilibrium to it.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Magic Material

rubber object 1
rubber object 2

All materials have tactile qualities in their own right. A great deal of the immense joy an artist experiences when crafting can be explained by the direct touch on the material.

Rubber certainly triggers a palpable joy.

Its flexible resilience results in unique experiences when cut, twisted, stretched or woven. My students love it. Rubber is a perfect material to teach them never to tangle with material but to go with the flow and to be surprised with the result that the hands create while the brain just aimlessly observes.

On top of that: rubber is affordable. Worn out bicycle tyres are free to have at cycle repair shops, at least in The Netherlands, as the shop owners have to pay to get rid of them. So the budget keeper fancies this material as well, which is not to be sneezed at during a credit crunch!

Pictures: Works by 15/16 year old students

Sunday, 10 May 2009

They do me proud

leerlingenwerk 016Every so often a teacher strikes a chord with his students. The animal in the picture has been made by a thirteen year old girl. The hybrid animal, assembled out of plywood parts and subsequently painted, shows that she has grasped the idea that art is not just about imitating reality. She created an object that conjures up a completely new and mindboggling creature.