Firing the imagination
Susan Morris reviews the second stage of Oxford Primary Art. Norman Binch's creativity, practical good sense and humour have inspired countless art teachers. With this series he helps them yet again, providing a staggering amount of visual material with which to support teaching nine to 11-year-olds. The images are divided between six pupils' books: People in Art, Urban art and design, The natural world, Narrative art, Transport and journeys, Art today, and a large-format flop-over picture resource book, which is neatly designed to stand alone, propped up on its base like a small sturdy easel. Finally, the package is completed with a teacher's resource book for key stage 2.
Binch's aim is to fire children's creative impulses rather than teach them art history, so the vividly colourful spreads of the pupils' books juxtapose art, craft and design objects from many periods and cultures. For example, an Assyrian relief is shown with a French medieval tapestry, an Etruscan bronze and an Indian print. The accompanying text provides talking points and ideas for things to do, which are developed further (with more background information on the images and makers) in the Teacher's Resource Book.
Just as important as the pictures, however, is the introductory section in the resource book answering the questions: "What is art? Why is it important in schools? What kind of art should we teach children? How should we teach it? How much time should it be given?" Any teacher with worries about the shapelessness of their art teaching should feel revived and reassured by the helpful explanation and encouragement offered here.
Teachers who are already familiar with this series at key stage 1 (reviewed in The TES on September 23, 1994) should note that the pupil books cover the same themes again, allowing for continuity and progression across the key stages. However, more worrying is the fact that 68 out of 100 pages of the key stage 2 Teacher's Resource Book are a straight reprint from the key stage 1 equivalent, so it is worth checking whether you want to buy both books.
There are some careless misspellings and inconsistencies in artists' names, as well as inaccurate dates, poor punctuation and mistakes in text layout and illustration. "Words to remember", which are explained at the back of each pupil book, are occasionally but not always italicised in the text. Images are often too small to support the points that are made alongside them and the graphic design of the teacher's book is somewhat unprepossessing. Norman Binch advocates humour in art, but even he may not have been amused by the photograph of a model of a plate of sausage, egg and chips accompanied by the caption: "The work shown on these pages relates to the painting by Henri Rousseau, 'A Tropical Storm with Tiger'".