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Professional touch

Pupils' confidence soared when a photographer put their work on his website. Jon Lymer explains

"I can't do it," used to be the typical response to any encouragement I gave the children in my class, but an art lesson that got out of hand has put paid to that.

Lack of confidence can be a far greater obstacle than lack of talent when it comes to children's work in art, but if that can be overcome, the results can have a dramatic effect on their self-belief, and not only in art.

During a geography lesson comparing urban and rural environments, I noticed that, despite living in an industrial town, the children were fascinated by the sheer scale of everything they saw in a video about the city of Manchester. Spotting an opportunity for artwork, we used the internet to find images of buildings seen in the video.

The work of Aidan O'Rourke, a photographer specialising in images of cities, seemed to capture the children's attention and they produced some stunning versions of his photographs with soft pastels. One child then said: "I wonder what the photographer would think of our pictures?"

We emailed our pictures to Aidan. To our amazement, he posted the work on his website, alongside the original images. Quite literally at the click of a button, the class was transformed. The children suddenly saw themselves as achievers.

Their work had been described as "fantastic" and "amazing" - not by their teacher, who trots these lines out on a regular basis, but by a professional photographer - and they felt he must have meant it because he had put their work on his website.

Spurred on by this success, the children have contacted other artists and sent samples of their work via the internet. As well as increasing their motivation in art, the children have had their attitude towards challenge transformed. Having previously flinched when faced with difficult challenges, they now see themselves as able to overcome difficulties in other areas of the curriculum. An ethos of succeeding has flourished, and all because one photographer said: "Some remarkable interpretations of my photos, I can hardly believe these pictures were produced by 9 and 10-year-olds."

It would seem that the internet really does offer a world of possibilities and a million ways of unlocking potential. Just ask the child who, when grappling with a testing problem in maths, takes a quick glance at their picture on the wall and carries on with steely determination.

Jon Lymer is a Year 6 teacher at Mill Lane Primary School, Stockton-on-Tees

* Pastel work based on Aidan O'Rourke's photos by 10-year-old Elly(above) and her classmates can be seen at www.aidan.co.ukphoto3483.htm

TEACHING TIPS

* There are hundreds of websites run by professional and amateur artists - don't be afraid to contact them, most artists love the idea of their work inspiring others.

* Pastels are an ideal medium to use with children lacking in confidence.

They are a forgiving material and dramatic-looking pictures are easily obtained.

* Buildings and landscapes are an excellent starting point. Not only do they look striking on the page, they are also easier to draw than people and animals.

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