A clear purpose is a catalyst of student engagement
Students filtered into RuTC tutor Danny Volovsek’s classroom looking particularly disillusioned. Earlier that day, he had taken them for an art lesson where they were asked to do quick sketches of various objects in just 30 seconds. They complained to Danny that they didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it again.
‘It’s like going to the gym;’ college tutor Danny subsequently explained to them, ‘before you lift heavy weights you warm up so you are physically ready. When you do a quick sketch it warms up your mind and trains your hand, eyes and mind to work together.’ He captured their full attention, explaining the way the brain builds synapses and that drawing quickly can result in ‘purer’ artwork because you do not have time to think about what you see, thus you draw without preconceived notions. The students were immediately uplifted.
‘I realised then that they were frustrated because their expectation was that they would create a brilliant piece of work,’ says Danny. ‘Ultimately, they had not been aware of why they were doing the quick visual exercises so it was impossible for them to be fully engaged with it.’
Danny stated that he quickly realised from the experience that for students, not knowing the purpose of an exercise is a fantastic way to invite excuses like ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I don’t want to do it’ and ‘this is a stupid exercise’. In essence, what the learners are trying to say is ‘I don’t know why I am doing this so I don’t really have a reason to want to do it.’ What’s more, with an exercise like quick sketching where the student will not often produce high-quality work, a lack of purpose can be detrimental to that student’s confidence.
When Danny gave these Richmond upon Thames College art students something to aim for, 30 second sketches went from a tedious, discouraging exercise to a brain-building, skill-building and purposeful exercise. In further quick sketch exercises, the students were more engaged and, even better, produced surprisingly high-quality work considering the time constraints.