The effect of mentoring on art education in primary schools

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Quality, meaningful art education is a very important vehicle for learning and knowledge acquisition which is within the reach of all children in schools. Art education forms part of the compulsory school curriculum from grades R to 9 in South Africa.

Unfortunately, due to various factors, art lessons currently taught at many schools do not answer to the requirements of quality art education. A factor contributing to this can be the fact that generalist teachers, with no specialised training in art, are responsible for the teaching of art in schools in South Africa. Another factor blamed is recurring educational change and consequent uncertainty. For art education to be positioned as an opportunity for the progress of learners with various learning styles and forms of intelligence the quality of art lessons taught needs to be seriously reviewed.

There is a great need for in-service training to address the shortfalls in the teaching of art in schools. When skills-building workshops in art education were offered, teachers requested personal interventions on a one-to-one basis with a focus on their own particular strengths and shortcomings. Mentoring of educators seems to be a means of addressing their needs and improving the quality of their teaching of art. In response to a plea from teachers this research project was designed during which inexperienced and inadequately trained teachers who are responsible for art education were mentored.

The study on which this article is based researched the effect of an eighteen-month mentoring programme on the art education practice of teachers in primary schools. Four sites were selected at which the teachers were mentored. There were marked differences in the circumstances and conditions at the four schools; however, from all the sites there was an outcry for assistance in the planning and presentation of quality art lessons and for lesson ideas. The one similarity in all the cases was the fact that they were all generalist teachers who were responsible for the teaching of the art of their own class and some other classes in the school as well.

The framework for the study was conceptualised after a reviewing of the literature on quality and meaningful art education, mentoring, mentoring in education and mentoring in art education. Data collected at the four sites during the mentoring intervention was analysed along the main themes and emerging sub-themes, namely: the mentoring relationship, the role of the mentor, the role of the mentee, the purpose and goals of the mentoring, the mentoring process and the mentoring outcomes.

The mentoring process followed a cyclical course and was designed with the needs of the teachers in mind and adapted for art education, and the focus was on quality and meaningful art education. The procedure comprised the establishment of a relationship in which the mentor and mentee (teacher) played equally important roles; interviews; needs analysis; and the mentoring process, which consisted of the joint planning of lessons, the modelling of example lessons, teaching, observation, discussions and coaching sessions, reflection and then a return to the beginning of the cycle. The process concluded with a workshop during which the needs and questions of each teacher were addressed and dealt with in practical demonstrations. Examples of excellent practice of primary school art education were shared and studied, which offered the teachers the opportunity to learn and develop as art educators.

Some photographs of lessons presented by the teachers before the mentoring, as well as during and after the mentoring, are discussed to demonstrate the course of the intervention. These photographs verify the vast differences at the four schools and also convey the progress that the teachers made during the mentoring process. The entire process at each site was fully recorded, reported on and assessed, culminating in a conclusion that although not without challenges, the mentoring made teachers more positive toward art education and added to their confidence when it came to the teaching of art.

The article concludes with recommendations for the mentoring of educators in the teaching of quality and meaningful art. There is an indication that within a trusting relationship and with the needs of the teacher in mind, mentoring in art education can be a unique opportunity to address the shortfalls that teachers without specialist training in art experience. This empowering process can change the practice of generalist teachers and lead to their professional development when they realise that they can play an important role in facilitating the learning opportunities through art that can form part of the primary school experience.

Keywords: cyclical process; learning; meaningful art education; mentoring; professional development; quality and teachers; reflective practice

Read the article in Afrikaans: Die uitwerking van mentorhulp op kunsonderrig in laerskole

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