Roger Hardie and Rob McGregor

Student performance on two ‘parallel’ NEMP drawing tasks was perceptibly poorer in 1999 than in 1995. This investigation endeavoured to examine factors related to the presentation of the tasks that might have influenced this outcome. The tasks (‘Fire Bird’ in 1995 and ‘Cave Bear’ in 1999) were both introduced using a video with voice-over motivation. The students worked individually using crayons and pastels, within a 20-minute time limit.

This study had three stages. The first involved a survey of the reactions and opinions of 90 Year 4 and 90 Year 8 children in relation to the two video presentations. The second was a formal analysis of the presentations in terms of language used, the format of the motivation, and overall structure. Three new tasks were then developed that used a standardised presentation template and followed criteria that sought to overcome flaws indicated by the survey responses and the comparative analysis (see the findings section). The third stage attempted to validate the standardised template by trialling the new tasks with 74 children in eight widely representative schools. The trials simulated the conditions of the original task administration.

The standardised template

• This was based on the following criteria:
   – a topic that is positive, challenging and       makes children want to draw it (i.e., has a       readily identifiable object; is within the       children’s experience; possesses an       overlay of magic; is preferably
      ‘two-handed’, e.g., ‘fire-bird’ rather than
       just ‘bird’; suggests an action being        performed, thus investing a dynamic       quality);
   – language that appeals to young children       (i.e., imaginative aspects described in       simple language; poetic imagery;
      non-complex adjectives);
   – a simple, progressive structure (i.e.,       sequential building up of ideas; rhythmic       patterning of words and images; active and       lively—performing some action (even       scary));
   – avoidance of subjects that are ‘dirty’ or       ‘mucky’ (i.e., bossy characters; situations       likely to recall stereotypical characters;       complex environments; gender-sensitive       subjects/interests).

Validating the template

• The performance of the children on the tasks showed an adequate consistency in performance, with a satisfactory range of responses from low to high. Although the sample tested was small, it is believed that these responses validated the use of the standardised drawing task format and the criteria upon which it was based.

• The task presentation visually on video appeared helpful in holding student attention on the spoken motivation.

• Re-play of the motivational video after 10 minutes may have helped the children reflect and refocus on the task.

• The need for future NEMP drawing tasks to carefully follow a standardised format like that developed for this study was confirmed. Moreover, adherence to the criteria outlined is particularly important if valid comparisons are to be made between parallel tasks in successive NEMP cycles.

• The criteria identified show that quite subtle changes to task presentation can have a noticeable effect on children’s performance on the task. Teachers with years of experience teaching children in these age groups may find such criteria self-evident (albeit reassuring). However, the presentation template also has potential for application to their general classroom practice. For example, replaying the video 10 minutes after students have started drawing simulates effective classroom practices that involve sustained teacher motivational support.

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The full report of this probe study will be available on this website by Jan 2004 or can be obtained from USEE.