Art lesson resource: Initial benchmark testing


It is quite common for Year 7 students to be given a baseline or benchmark test on entry to a UK Secondary school. The reason we do this is so that we can do a common, standard assessment of art skills (usually drawing and general creativity). We are given FFTD targets that rarely relate to our actual subject and simultaneously are asked to measure improvement. With the demise of National Curriculum levels, we also have more opportiunity for meaningful differentiation and diagnostic grading. This post looks at a variety of baseline testing methods discussed on TES community, Twitter and elsewhere.

One of the tests I used over 20 years ago was the psychologist’s favourite HTP or House-Tree-Person drawing. We did this primarily as a diagnostic tool for SEN status; the student is asked to draw a house with a tree in it’s garden and themselves or their family. You probably have an idea of this may look as your own response. This was useful when a student once drew seven black crows on the roof of her house and herself in the attic window alone – turned out the poor individual had been abused in some way and specialists intervened. Not so much use for art skills and ability though.

A common test is to give the students an opportunity to show off observational drawing skills; either an apple, orange, bunch of keys, seashell or their own shoe is usual. I can confirm that the apples/shoes etc drawn years ago were much better when Primary schools devoted more time to drawing practice. Now, we find art ‘squeezed’ in the Primary curriculum and it is as much down to individual teacher’s interest in drawing or influence from home. Some students rarely draw in Primary for drawing’s sake and art is a one week experience in June. Consequently, very poor observational drawings result and really throw a spanner in the baseline test.

Other test include: a fragmented image; completing a diagonally sliced photo, a combination of pencil and tone test on one sheet and an imaginative drawing on another or a series of 3D puzzles and set tasks to build solutions.

@creatvenorton sets a challenge of a number of activities, some research based, others drawing or technique based. A challenge sheet might look like this:

Norton College

© L Clazey 2014

JustFloating on TES community says:

I do three 1 hour exercises – An observational drawing of a simple object (pencil sharpener – Something where everyone can have the same thing) – A piece of critical studies ( a copy, description and opinion) -and an imaginative piece (I give a fragment of a picture and ask them to extend it in any way they chose). These are the first three tasks I do with my Y7 groups then I meld the marks together to have a single baseline for data input. Its not foolproof but more accurate than levels based on English and Maths SATs etc.

This year at my school we tried to test creativity and visualisation as part of our benchmark test. Influenced a little by aptitude tests and psychology/visualisation but also a bit by Keri Smith’s Wreck this Journal - as it really is a no rules approach to creativity.

Wreck detail

© Keri Smith 2007

We wanted to test drawing skills too and decided on a series of titled prompts. Actually, in development we realised that a colleague had previously created a similar exercise and was in use of all ages including adults and Sixth Form!

© S Burrage

© S Burrage

This task involves 35 squares; some have doodles, shapes and lines accompanied by a title. Others have the doodle but minus the title! The object is to complete as many as possible within a 50 minute session using just a pencil but employing skills such as line, tone, texture and perspective.

In review, it is incredible how a select few titles can be used to judge students; visualisation skills. Drawing ability wise, a few could be expanded to feature a bigger opportunity to draw (the test paper is A4). Some titles and doodles could be got rid of altogether too and are less relevant than something else we might come up for today’s artists. Equally, the response to the test from teachers visiting the classrooms was split between the fascinated (“Oh, can I have one? I need to improve my ideas..”) to “No chance!”. We will certainly look to develop next year.

Add your idea to the mix on Twitter using the #artbenchmark tag.



Virtual Field Trips

Hey teachers, do you annually take a group of students on a cultural tour of a city? Is it all about historical sites, sights or ‘higher’ culture like galleries and museums?

For many art teachers like myself, all of the above are an absolute essential of teaching about visual awareness but unfortunately can be costly and squeezed into curriculum time. This post suggests a way to supplement your students’ learning using multimedia technology on a virtual field trip to London!

Every year  I try to take my students on a trip to a major city; essentially contemporary art is the focus but also traditional and historical pieces as well as architecture and the pure excitement that a city trip will be a first experience for some. Although I’d love to take my suburban British kids to New York City or Reykjavik we usually settle for the sights and sounds of our capital, London. Here’s how to do a virtual version of the same trip:

What you will need

  • Computers
  • Sketchbooks
  • Anything to draw or record with!


We spent a little time talking to students about the City of London, places, people and events. One of the common events remembered was ‘The Great Fire of 1666’ as depicted in this image:



The spectacle was witnessed by diarist Samuel Pepys and some students also recalled elements from this. So our virtual journey begins near the site of the historical blaze to explore depictions of fire in modern and contemporary art as a theme for visual research.






A virtual field trip can be put together from any combinations of media and those available on the web provide great resources such as panoramic photos, VR animations, combinations of multimedia and even newer integrated resources such as the Google Cultural Institute’s Art Project or Historic Moments.

For this mini-tour, a combination of Google Earth, street view on Google Maps, Wikipedia entries and gallery websites was used. The GCI Art Project resource provided a ‘street view’ environment of the interior of Tate Modern and interactive images of the fire from the collection of Museum of London.

Student’s responses included:

  • Screen grabs/still images
  • Prints of maps to work on
  • Sketches and notes in colour and monochrome
  • Audio recordings of descriptions or responses to imagery.


The advantages of our virtual field trip included:

  • Working at our own pace and direction; street views of St. Paul’s Cathedral could have developed further sketches of neo-classical architectural shapes or contrasts with the modern engineering of Millennium Bridge.
  • Some students focussed on the street art of London that could be explored on the Google Cultural Institute site as a meaningful representation of urban living.
  • Our one hour session covered just Fleet Street to Tate Modern – there’s so much more to explore this way!

The disadvantages discussed:

  • Working in groups on laptops; some collaboration but not the freedom of ‘being there’.
  • Tate Modern’s exhibitions not included in ‘street view’ mode which led to a discussion of changing/touring gallery presentations.
  • Missing the soundscape of the big city; more meaningful if you have been there in person!

Share your own virtual field trip experiments with me on Twitter using #virtualfieldtrip and I will happily collate below.

Top 10: Teachers in Movies


In honour of the late Robin Williams (1951-2014) and as a spur to those of us coming to the end of our Summer break, I have put together a Top 5 list of some great ‘teachers in movies’.

Being an inspirational teacher can make a life-changing difference at a crucial moment in a young person’s life. Teachers in film can represent the passion of the young, idealistic teacher or the wisdom/resilience of a hardened veteran. These movies are not selected for their portrayal of the classroom but for the inspiration a teacher can provide. So here’s a selected list of some great teachers you can find in the movies.

1. Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

2. The Class (2008)

3. The History Boys (2006)

4. Dangerous Minds (1995)

5. To Sir With Love (1967)

6. School of Rock (2003)

7. To Be and To Have (Etre et Avoir) (2002)

8. Blackboard Jungle (1955)

9. Goodbye Mr Chips (1939)

10. Mr Holland’s Opus (1995)

I’m sure you could come up with your own list of inspirational movie teachers and there is considerable academic research into how educators are represented in film. See: representations of teachers in films:

For an expansive list of movie teachers refer to this list as a starting point: list of teachers in film:

What would be your Top 5?

Reviewing my Nurture 2013/14 – Summer hols

Back in December 2013 I took part in a collaborative/crowd sourced idea bank called #Nurture1314. The focus was 13 highlights from 2013 and 14 hopes for 2014. You can see the full post here but I think the Summer holidays are an ideal time to review my 14 (or so) hopes – have I fulfilled any yet eight months on?!

Eljem.jpgEljem” by Andy Avery in 2002. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


As predicted, variance in holiday patterns across local authorities has caused some issues with regular travel plans. We have managed to see family a lot more regularly but not always in the best circumstances as our parents age and are affected by ill health. We did get to London for a cultural trip (War Horse was the highlight actually) and our beach break was our first to North Africa. Tunisia was delightful, colourful and informative; especially El Djem and Kairouan’s Grand Mosque during Ramadan. Certainly does broaden the mind…


Still not good at keeping a ‘fitness hobby’ although I do think it should be part of a triumvirate of hobbies/passions (intellectual, creative and fitness) for all round well-being. I’m considering getting one of these JawboneUP gadgets but waiting for the iOS 8 Health app to see how they’re integrated together before committing to purchase.


Grr, not done much about this apart from odd pieces and sketches in my sketchbooks. Yearning to do more but not finding the motivation (yet).


Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 17.42.57At the right place I get really excited about taking photos – a walk around the Medina in Al Monastir got me firing off around 50 pics using a 18-55mm lens. These will be on my Flickr page when I get around to uploading. I’m interested in buying a better camera so scouring eBay for ideas compatible with my Nikkor lenses).

Professional Development

Twitter is my main CPD tool; I have a long reading list saved into my Amazon wish list! Some of the books off this list are piled in my spare room; Summer holidays are not about this kind of book though and I’m reading lots (4 so far) on my Kindle. I have developed #teachlearnart including a site to share/crowd source art teacher skills demonstrations and this is proving quite popular with others too. Together with the #ArtDropbox and #artcubed (web resource here), #teachlearnart is all about teacher-led CPD and sharing and I’m enthusiastic about the directions it will take next school term.

Hopefully more of my arty-ambitious #Nurture1314 ideas will come into fruition in the next 4 months; I’ll do another review in December in what will be my #Nurture1415 post!


Surreal shoes: outcomes


Surreal shoes #artcubed

Google Street Art Project

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 21.19.11Take a moment or two to browse the new Google Cultural Institute Street Art Project. You can search by map location, browse site specific installations in a ‘street view’ mode and even watch YouTube videos with contemporary artists like Phlegm. Some other great features are the ability to zoom in on high definition images and even add your own images to the archive via Google+. My own ideas for use of the GCI resource featured a Street Art project and I hope to integrate this much improved GCI collection next time I deliver it to Year 8 students. Well done Googlers for listening to the feedback from last summer’s research trials; this really is a worthwhile resource for art teachers everywhere!

Alice project stage 2 #artcubed

Alice project stage 2 #artcubed

Year 8 project; papier mache and mixed media illustrations based on scenes from Wonderland.