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In Your Face

Behind the mask project is real potential for pupils to demonstrate creative freedom, says Karen Ann Mathews. Our cultural mask project is always a great favourite with art and design pupils, and last year's GCSE fast-track group was no exception. The combination of research, design and, ultimately, making, is a recipe for success with any group, as at least one aspect will appeal to each pupil.

I think this class really enjoyed the creative freedom and the potential to be as overtly expressive as they possibly could. The bigger, brighter and more "in your face", the better.

When we start this project we talk about taking risks, having the confidence to express ourselves both visually and verbally and to embrace the challenge that exists in taking a two-dimensional design through to realisation. It really is "thinking outside the cardboard box".

The pupils select their own cultural starting point - this year there was a wide range from Mayan art to Venetian carnival masks. They give a talk on their chosen culture using internet research, books and holiday souvenirs.

This is a great opportunity for peer assessment, for them to be brutally honest with each other and yet incredibly supportive, and this helps to heighten the pupils' self-esteem, improve the quality of their work and fuel their ambitious targets.

The final construction part is achieved in a frenzy of cutting, sticking, shaping and painting. The classroom looks like a workshop, the furniture rearranged to make space for the enormous masks. Some pupils work on the floor, some out in the corridor and some in the adjacent room. I trust and encourage this independent learning as it improves risk-taking and problem-solving.

Finally, we reassess our learning objectives. Have we been able to identify key features and symbolic references in our chosen culture? Have we demonstrated, in our design ideas and in the outcome, a clear understanding and appreciation of the original source? And have we enhanced and improved our creative thinking skills?

The pupils are typically harsh in their self-assessment, yet also intensely proud of their achievements. As they mature there will always be scope for improvement, but for the moment all can feel satisfied that they have achieved their best

Karen Ann Mathews teaches at Greenfield School in Durham.

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