Words: Nicky Mcintosh, Learning Team Leader, Culture Coventry

‘What can you see in this picture?’ ‘Can you find the words in your dictionary?’ ‘What is she thinking?’ Portrait of Miss Ashwanden in Cookham’ by Stanley Spencer featured in the teaching MFL through Art CPD event at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum on 28 September 2017.  Led by specialist language teacher Anna Grainger in conjunction with the museum’s learning officer, teachers were able to use an exhibition of prints by Picasso as well as the permanent collection of art, to explore creative ways of using art to support MFL in the classroom.

Anna Grainger has taught languages for over 20 years and is currently specialist language teacher at Alderman’s Green Primary in Coventry, which has recently been awarded the prestigious International Schools Award. We also heard about the eTwinning scheme that Anna has introduced at Alderman’s Green, and opportunities to join the MFL hub in Coventry.

The twilight session began in the Picasso exhibition where we considered MFL at Key Stage One. The colourful still life prints are perfect for introducing shape, colour and numeracy. Counting shapes in ‘Still Life under the Lamp’ revealed a surprising amount of circles; as well as practising numbers in Spanish, we found ourselves looking much more closely at the artwork.

Moving on to the ‘Art Since 1900’gallery, we discussed an abstract painting by Ben Nicholson and the way that you could differentiate for abilities. Some children could name shapes using MFL, whilst others could construct sentences to describe the picture.

A selection of landscapes were chosen to think about greetings and the time of day.  This could perhaps be extended with a role play activity. What do the colours in the sky tell you? Would we say Bonjour or Bonsoir? Inspiration can be taken from these and many other artworks for a playful and creative way to expand vocabulary and complete cross-curricular activities.

At the end of the session we collaborated in groups to create a picture using a set number and colour of shapes, described to us in Spanish.  With the artworks in the gallery as inspiration and word mats to help us, we rose to the challenge and then presented back using our newly learned Spanish phrases.  Dibujar tres cuadrados, un triangulo azul y cuatro circulos rojos.

Museums and galleries are a fantastic resource for learning and MFL is no exception. Next time you are planning a visit with a school group, consider opportunities for using languages.

This session was part of the Museums & Schools programme funded by the Department for Education through the Arts Council.  For further CPD opportunities on a range of topics and information about bringing groups to Culture Coventry Museums please visit their website or e-mail Nicky Mcintosh.  The Picasso: Linocuts from The British Museum is on at the Herbert until 3 December 2017.

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