Monday, 26 March 2012

Authentic Authenticity

It's been another challenging week! Let's assume that means we're learning lots and being stretched!

Community Engagement
One of Fraser's goals for this year is to better engage (to use a popular educational term) with our community. While the project was not by any stretch of the imagination set up as a PR exercise, I expected that the Curriculum Integration Project would provide some opportunities for this engagement. However, I've been taken aback by just how this has played out as we have begun to engage with our wider community in an authentic way (read "went begging for help to complete our project"!).

I've already blogged about the contribution Adlite Signs made to the project following a student's suggestion. Added to this though have been visits to our studio from people like Emma from the Ministry of Done, and Margi, Simon, Mark and Charles from Wintec's Media Arts Department (the people behind the Waikato Independent and The Village on the Hill). These people have taken the time to connect with our group of budding magazine publishers and share 'real world' experiences of various parts of the publishing industry.

Further to this has been the incredible generosity of the artists and designers who have not only been willing to be interviewed by our students for the magazine, but in some cases have offered their time to come and run workshops, or be filmed for stop-motion videos of them making work, or have pointed the students in the direction of additional information and other resources that will help enhance the project.

Epitomizing all of this has been a media specialist (I'd better check with her before I say too much to identify her!) who has met twice with members of our team to share invaluable insights from her experience in the industry, and finished our last meeting with a "just call me any time you've got a question." What incredible people we're having the chance to work with! And if you're reading this, thanks to all of you!

It is becoming clear that one of the key challenges for the project teaching team is working out how we can provide sufficient structure for the students to give them confidence that they will have a successful product at the end of the project, while maintaining the flexibility to respond to the new learning that takes place at each step. A number of students have let us know that they were feeling pretty overwhelmed by the size of what we've bitten off, to the point where it was starting to get demoralizing. I guess that's the 'down side' of engaging with 'authentically authentic' learning in this kind of project. When the teacher moves to being at best a facilitator, and at times a fellow learner it can leave the students with a sense of 'who's steering this thing?' which has clearly been unsettling for some.

However, I'm becoming familiar with some of the cycles of our project learning process: We engage with some form of focused 'learning event' (frequently a visit to or from a guest) which opens our eyes to a series of previously unseen challenges and opportunities. This frequently leads to a bit of a down-swing as the students grapple with how to incorporate this learning into their current understandings of the project. After a day or two of unsettled-ness a plan and structure begins to emerge as they take ownership of the new element of the project. And then we invite in a new guest in and the cycle continues!

Out of this cycle is growing a greater sense of student ownership and driving of the project, which has to be a good thing!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

More interviews

I've got a more reflective blog post coming, but in the meantime, here are a couple of teasers for some of the interviews that have taken place this week.

Deaan Marchioni interviewing painter Meredith Collins in her home studio

A short excerpt of David Creighton-Pester's interview with Gemma Rockliffe

Saturday, 10 March 2012


You know you're in the art project too much when you feel an emotion, and the first thing you think is "I'll blog about it!!" - Sharnae Hope
Among many other tasks (including some substantial requirements for art making) this past week has been the week of artist interviews. Students have carried out a mix of face to face, telephone, and email interviews with artists from around New Zealand. Artists interviewed have included Grahame Sydney, Robin White, Mark Hamilton, Darren Glass and Christian Pearce (whom it turns out is a Fraser old-boy).

As you may have read in my last post, the level of concern was building for some students as they waited to hear back from their chose artists. For those who did hear back there has been a great deal of smiling and celebration. For those who didn't, there has been some hasty choosing and researching about new artists.
Mark Hamilton. Photo by Sarah Crawford
Today has been the best day ever! I interviewed Mark Hamilton, an amazing local photographer who was kind, friendly, and very funny when he was talking about his photographing career and experiences. It was absolutely daunting and exciting at the same time ...    Sarah Crawford 

From a teaching point of view, one of the things I really like about Sarah's blog ( is the way she uses her writing to reflect on what she's been learning, and what she'd do differently next time.

 Boom one interview done, and wow it was cool (: i don't know why i was so nervous. My artist was so lovely and i learnt heaps! i'm so stoked i have done it, it finally feels like i'm actually getting somewhere now! i'm very happy with my progress.    Jasmine Wiltshier

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Structure, interviews and being transparent

In several ways it's been a challenging week for the project! We seem to have got over the initial novelty of the new programme and working with new people, and the reality of how much work there is to do is settling in. The following are a few observations/reflections on the process thus far:

Structure -
Finding a balance of structure and flexibility that works for each individual is quite a challenge. During a couple of 'family meetings' that have erupted spontaneously (and I suspect are becoming part of the culture of our project) students have indicated that they are finding the lack of directed 'whole class' structure a challenge. Not having set times to do 'English' or 'Art' and the like, and being able to take a break and make a coffee whenever they want, while initially sounding like a great idea is actually quite hard to deal with. Comments like "It's too easy to keep putting off completing a task because you've got all day. Then it's the end of the day and you still haven't done it" have been made more than once. This has made me question how much structure I, as the project leader, should have built into the project. Did we under-plan? Or are we moving through a period of learning how to be better self-managers, in what will ultimately prove to be a really productive development?

We're currently experimenting with students blogging their daily goals first-up each morning, and then reflecting on their progress three times a day in an attempt to help establish more structure for each individual. So far this has helped to bring a bit more accountability, but I suspect it is taking more time than is necessarily beneficial, and that a daily goal and reflection is probably more than enough. Based on one of the students setting her daily goal as "get the IT man to block Blogger so we don't have to blog each day" I may not be the only one who thinks this! You can read their blogs by following the links on the lower right hand side of this page.

Interviews - 
The main tasks our students have been working on over the past couple of weeks have been researching background information on the artists they hope to interview for the articles they will write, and making contact with those artists to set up interviews. As someone who is a rather word-based person the idea of doing this really appeals, to me but I know for a number of the students it has become quite a hard slog - reading and reading and reading, and coming across the same information in slightly different forms as they visit various gallery websites.

However, in the last few days, as artists have begun to reply to the students and emailed interviews have got underway there seems to have been a renewed vigor in the work. When you're about to speak to someone about their work in person there is a real pressure to make sure you know what you're talking about, and you're not asking silly questions!

Being transparent - 
Interwoven into the development of the Curriculum Integration Project (and in particular through this blog) is a philosophy of making the process transparent: sharing our failures as well as our successes and making explicit the thinking behind the actions we're taking. As I've been thinking about what to write for this blog update I've found that a bit of a challenge. Sharing your adventure when it's in the planning and imagining stages can be inspirational and exciting. Sharing it when some of the students are less than thrilled about their day to day activities, and you're feeling like the project running a week or two behind schedule is a different story!

Still, I remind myself that it'll be great to be able to look back and accurately recall the process we went through, and that for others who are planning similar projects it could be encouraging to see that our path hasn't all been rainbows and roses!