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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An interpretive study of elementary school teachers' descriptive accounts of the art teaching task Rafferty, Pat


Art educators perceive a state of disjuncture in the field when what is persistently practiced in elementary schools as art stands in opposition to basic tenets about the teaching and learning of art. Two reasons are given to explain this sense of disjuncture. First, art education orientations and research associated scholarship are posited to be less than successful in disclosing to teachers what is educationally relevant. Neither a child-centered nor a discipline-centered orientation seems to have considered the adjustive effort teachers make in translating intended purposes into classroom practice. Second, a school art orientation is perceived to be in opposition to art education ideals. Recent studies suggest that features of the classroom setting and the strategies teachers use to make them comprehensible may have an impact on the outcome of instruction in art. Guided by a theoretical stance developed from the literature on commonsense knowledge, I adopted a method of approach to investigate teachers' interpretive accounts of the teaching and learning of art. Observation and interview strategies were used. I discovered two guidelines teachers consulted, and I examined the context in which the guidelines and events mutually elaborate one another. 1. When properly programmed, an art task guides the synchronization of an aggregate of recognizable and approved action, and 2. The use of the art classificatory scheme of structured and experimental art activities in practice is contingent on maintaining this programmatic course of action. Teachers' accounts revealed four features useful in making their work recognizable and approved: pacing and phasing of action, physical conditions, thematic content, and effort. The features elaborated a proper programmatic effect and structured art activities over experimental ones as a way of achieving this effect. This kind of activity was described as school-like and successfully addresses the problem of how to regulate the efforts of an aggregate of children over a specified period of time with due respect for order. The prescription for a preformulated content and stylistic form of art determined acceptable effort. Ideally, experimental art activities were understood to heighten personal awareness by encouraging the child to be more of a task determiner. With less opportunity to rely on stock responses, because the relevance of idiosyncratic action had to be determined anew whenever this kind of activity was undertaken, teachers chose to set this kind of activity aside until conditions became ideal. The difficulty children had in deciding what was intended by the invitation to experiment was not recognized as significant. Choice of structured art activities appears to be attributed to two related factors: a taken-for-granted conception of the requirements for organizational control and an unresolved conception of experimental art activities in the context of this organizational structure. This in-school orientation does not seem to indicate a rejection of formally approved art education orientations, but rather an unquestioning acceptance of the practical necessity of organizational control acquired as a result of teaching experience. These demands determined what is possible in art. Basic tenets of art education intended to have educational consequences have been indefinitely set aside, unwittingly reducing children's involvement in art and teachers' responsibility to assist children in interacting with the discipline. Reified conventions such as freedom of expression and experimentation have made art education remote by creating a chasm between theory and practice, implying that art education can be dealt with at a theoretical level without consideration of how teachers handle everyday experience. Reasonable conclusions to be drawn from evidence provided in this study are that educators need an approach to art education that will not artificially produce the gap that structured art activities have come to fill. It would have to bridge the gap in a manner that recognizes art education orientations (theory) and what teachers do with them (practice) as aspects of the same thing. The present study is a first step toward reflective intervention in the taken-for-granted ways teachers and art educators think about what they do. If it is important for children to interact with the developed structure of the art education discipline, and if teachers are to take responsibility for ensuring that the art education experience takes place, then change would have to be urged by apprising teachers, art educators, and others of the state of disjuncture reported here, and how factors associated with it have come to complement and contradict the interchange between the goals of art education and the school as a workplace.

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