No having to sit still, no recess bell. No need to prove anything, no fear of failure. There is no right or wrong, and yet it is still school. For a whole week, Uschi Jung is taking "her" class to Neuruppin's Tempelgarten. The painter and graphic artist is participating in the project d.art, which prepares professional artists to offer extracurricular school activities. Education researchers at the University of Potsdam developed the concept behind d.art.
Culture gives strength - this is not a new discovery. Children need stories to bring to life their own world of thought, painting to ignite their imagination, and music to stir their depths. All of this is well known. Yet in the strictly regimented school day, fine arts are often lacking, and the close connections between technology and aesthetics, thinking and feeling, and science and the arts are overlooked and unexplored.
Through its program "Culture gives strength. Alliances for Education", the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supports various cultural learning projects, one of which is d.art. The project's objective is to provide academically sound continuing education to artistic creatives interested in offering extracurricular school activities. The "d" in the project's name stands for didactics, but this does not mean that artists are being retrained as teachers. "We instead want to sensitize them to the pedagogical stress of working with children," project head Joachim Ludwig explains. The Professor of Adult Education wants to enable artists to recognize and promote identity-shaping moments in doing creative work with children. "Artists can help young people to express themselves through art and ask: 'Who am I, and what world am I living in?'"
Jung can already say a thing or two about d.art. The painter from Neuruppin is among the first group of artists attending and testing out the continuing education program offered by the Potsdam education researchers. Over a one-week period, she was able to paint and draw with 13-15 year olds with no external constraints, pressure to perform, or curriculum. She took them out into nature and to Tempelgarten to be inspired by and add to its atmosphere. The teenagers used acrylic paint on various shapes of acrylic glass, which were then "planted" in the garden like little sculptures.
Lowering inhibition, shifting perspective
Preparatory and accompanying seminars help Jung to reflect on her experiences with the other artists in her group and the team of researchers. What do the children expect of me? How can I be sure not to take on the role of a teacher? How do I communicate to the children so they feel free to set their own objectives rather than someone else's? She was also interested to observe that the teachers also seemed to be under constant pressure. "Lowering inhibition in such a situation is not easy." At the same time, a teacher remarked during the project week that she had never seen "this side" of her students. The change of perspective made all the difference.
Jung particularly appreciated being able to contact the Potsdam education researchers at any time to discuss concrete issues. This established a lasting connection, which will be indispensable in further developing the concept. "We are particularly interested in the learning process of the artists," Ludwig underlines. "How do they resolve the tension between their own, very high artistic aspirations and the children's actual means of expression?" The education researcher mentions a video artist who found it difficult to realize his artistic ideas without his usual technical perfection and to playfully approach the project and its unfinished results. "He had to learn that, for the children, the journey can be the destination and that the artistic process and the aesthetic experience matter more than the result," Ludwig says and clarifies: "We want neither for the artists to become teachers, nor for the pupils to become artists." What matters most to him is that the children focus on their everyday lives through writing, painting or making music and that they express their ideas and feelings in their own way. "Aesthetic experience is bound up with the body and the senses; it unsettles, quite in contrast to the usual experience at school," Ludwig says.
Breaking role expectations
Students initially expected the artists to take the role of a teacher before realizing this was something quite different and that they are neither being instructed nor assessed. From the point of view of educational science, however, these are learning processes; this is cultural education. "It happens when I relate to a work of art, when I ask myself what a poem, a picture, or a piece of music has to do with me," Ludwig explains. "Or when I think about how I write and why I write what I write."
In the accompanying seminars, the artists are encouraged to reflect on such cognitive processes, challenge traditional ideas of pedagogy, and dissolve deeply rooted interpretive frames. "They sense that we are interested in how they are learning," says Ludwig's colleague, Ph.D. student Markus Tasch. "At the same time, we can learn from them. Their critical feedback helps improve the program," says Tasch, who helped conceptualize the continuing education program.
Between openness and structure
Henry Utech is another member of the academic team. For his BA studies, he is focusing on how the artists reflect on their actions and develop their own didactical style. He is also looking at pedagogical stress, such as between planning or process control on the one hand and the uncertainty of each concrete situation on the other. "How can I know how the students will react to my questions, what they themselves can contribute, and what they are ultimately interested in? How do I decide whether to deviate from my plan or to move forward as intended?" For Utech, this hits on the essential question of openness and structure in the learning process, of striking the right balance between self-determination and heteronomy.
The first group of 15 artists from Berlin and Brandenburg has since successfully completed the d.art program and networked amongst themselves to continue sharing their experiences in the future. "There is a lot of interest in art projects, but often we lack the necessary funding," says teacher Silvia Marx. She is involved in the counselling and support system of the Brandenburg school board and contacts schools to gauge whether they might want to participate in d.art. She thinks it is a shame that music, dance, or painting have hardly been used for inclusive pedagogy. In Neuruppin, painter Uschi Jung opened new paths to knowledge for students with dyslexia. "Drawing has helped the children to open up again and express themselves in their own way," she says. She thinks it is unfortunate that the project was limited to one term. She would love to keep doing it: "Such things need continuity."
If d.art hits its target of nationwide implementation, there will certainly be no shortage of artists equipped with the sensitivity for it.
d.art - Didactics for art and culture professionals looking to offer extracurricular school activities is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The overall management is provided by the Professorship of Adult Education/Continuing Education and Media Pedagogy. The postgraduate course is organized by the Institute for Further Qualification in Education (WIB e.V.) and implemented by experienced pedagogues. Project term: August 2014-July 2017
Prof. Dr. Joachim Ludwig has been Professor of Adult Education/Continuing Education and Media Pedagogy at the Department of Educational Science of the University of Potsdam since 2004. While earning his doctorate at the University of Regensburg and habilitating at the Universität der Bundeswehr München, he was also involved in practical continuing education for 15 years.
Professur für Erwachsenenbildung/Weiterbildung und Medienpädagogik
third-party funded project d.art (BMBF)
Text: Antje Horn Conrad
Translation: Susanne Voigt
Published online by: Agnetha Lang
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