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Professional Knowledge and Art Education

Maria Xanthoudaki, Les Tickle & Veronica Sekules, Centre for Applied Research in Visual Arts Education,University of East Anglia


The Centre for Applied Research in Visual Arts Education, UEA, Norwich, is conducting a study of a long-term in-service course for primary school teachers. It aims to help teachers help themselves and their pupils with the requirements of classroom art education, mainly through learning to use original museum and gallery objects. The research project started in September 1997 and is still continuing.


Since 1993 Sedgwick, an international insurance broking and financial services group with a strong community policy encouraging education and the arts, has provided scholarships for primary school teachers in order to develop their knowledge and their teaching of the visual arts. The teachers and their pupils mainly come from schools in the area of Norfolk and Suffolk - most of them with limited opportunities of visiting museums and galleries. The course makes particular reference to, and extensively uses, the collection of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts which contains art works and artefacts from many different cultures and historical periods.


The aims of the course are to:


The research addresses the issue of professional development by studying the process and ways of learning about art; the role of teachers’ background experiences, knowledge and expertise in such a learning process; and their implementation of new curriculum practices.


Beyond the issue of professional development, the study of teachers’ art learning and teaching aims also to contribute to the deeper understanding of the role of the teacher in art education. Pupils’ engagement with original art works depends not only on the national curriculum requirements, but also on the teachers’ own understanding of, and confidence in, interacting with art works and in using them as supporting and complementing methods for their classroom art teaching. Visits to museums and galleries can be creatively and effectively used only if teachers feel comfortable and confident enough towards demands for subject-knowledge and aesthetic understanding (Xanthoudaki, 1998).


The research methods are observations of the course sessions; interviews with the participants; and document analysis of the educational material available to teachers and their own action research reports.


The project is currently at the stage of data collection which continues until the end of the academic year, following the planned structure of the course. At the same time, analysis of evidence collected during the first phase of the course has allowed for preliminary arguments on some of the elements underlying the process of teachers’ learning about art through using original gallery objects.


The issue of professional development is studied through looking at both the teachers as individual persons (who are students in the course), bringing in dispositions and personal experience and being introduced to new subject-knowledge in their own right as persons, and also the teachers in their role, examining the relationship between subject-knowledge and classroom practice.


Interactions between the ‘person’ and the ‘teacher’ have clearly emerged during the course. The notion of "personal context" strongly influences processes of responding to art works and artefacts and creatively expressing oneself (Gardner 1990; Falk & Dierking, 1992). The teachers as both learners in the course and educators in their own classrooms are required to come to terms with concepts of aesthetic understanding and art making. They face processes of responding to original objects in the gallery and making art using a variety of art materials -requiring them to integrate subject knowledge, curriculum guidelines and personal understanding and experience from the point of view of an adult learner, first, and teacher, second.


As educators, the teachers are also required to engage with notions of art education, having to ‘translate’ subject-knowledge to pedagogical knowledge and classroom activities. This role involves interactions between individual understanding, dispositions and background experience - where the ‘self’ appears to be an essential element for both personal and professional growth and improvement (Tickle, 1987; Dadds, 1997) and knowledge of the curriculum, classroom context and pupils.


The research data offer first insights into the teachers’ understanding and learning about art. Notions of the ‘self’ and of the value of individual, personal interpretations and experience appeared to be limited in the teachers’ (initial, at least) perceptions and reactions related to the course activities. Rather, ‘good practice’, and the mastering of subject-knowledge for teaching seems to be regarded as much more significant during, for example, processes of responding to an art work in the gallery. Notions of ‘correct and false’ appear to determine their responses whereas they were found particularly concerned with the extent, complexity and (argued) ‘quality’ of their views. In their minds (and words) the point of view of their own pupils and their responses during similar situations also appear to dominate.


Through the use of interactive techniques and questioning, guided by course material (Sekules & Tickle, 1993; Tickle & Sekules, 1995), the teachers later began to develop a different kind of ‘appreciation’ of gallery visits and learning processes in front of original objects, built on their own encounters of the gallery environment and first-hand opportunities for generating links between their personal context and the art works. These processes appeared to help them understand what a gallery experience ‘is about’ and also that such an experience with their pupils should be built on principles of learning and teaching which focus on the ways in which ‘evidence’ can be discovered in objects, and the ways in which ‘interpretations’ can be dynamic.


The research examines further the kinds of background experience, expertise and dispositions the teachers come to the course with; and how much these affect and interact with the experience and expertise they acquire in the process of the course. The teachers’ own action research based on individually-designed teaching projects adds a different kind of evidence which reflects their understanding of notions of art education through personal involvement in art appreciation and art making. These projects show how they translate the acquired knowledge and experience into classroom art practice, including work with their pupils in the gallery.


These elements of the course are still being researched in order to ‘test’ the process of professional development, from the acquisition of subject knowledge, to its ‘application’ in forms appropriate for pupils, and its incorporation into curriculum practice in ways which are subject to the teachers’ own research of that practice.



Dadds, M. (1997) ‘Continuing professional development: nurturing the expert within’,British Journal of In-Service Education, Vol. 23 (1), pp 31-38.

Falk, J.H. and Dierking, L.D. (1992) The Museum Experience, Washington D.C., Whalesback Books.

Gardner, H. (1990) Art Education and Human Development, Occasional Paper 3, Santa Monica (Cal), The Getty Center for Education in the Arts.

Sekules, V. and Tickle, L. (eds) (1993) Starting Points: Approaches to Art Objects Selected from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, Centre for Applied Research in Visual Arts Education.

Tickle, L. (1987) Learning Teaching, Teaching Teaching, Lewes, Falmer Press.

Tickle, L. and Sekules, V. (eds) (1995) Interpretations: Approaches to Art Objects Selected from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, Centre for Applied Research in Visual Arts Education.

Xanthoudaki, M. (1998) ‘Is it always worth the trip? The contribution of museum and gallery educational programmes to classroom art education’, Cambridge Journal of Education, Vol. 28 (2), pp 18 1-195.


This article appeared in GEM News No 70, Summer 1998 pp 13-14


 © GEM 1998


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