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Using language, symbols and texts to explore art and identity

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Sylvia Park's inquiry planning team support all teachers to develop authentic engaging learning for their students. In this story, students and teachers tell us about using the visual arts to explore students' identity and school culture, and the link this has to the development of lifelong learners.

There are three stories in this series:

  1. Our inquiry framework
  2. Using language, symbols, and texts to explore art and identity
  3. Effective pedagogy for our Māori and Pasifika students

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Creating a supportive learning environment

The New Zealand Curriculum (p 34) states that:

"Effective teachers attend to the cultural and linguistic diversity of all their students. The classroom culture exists within and alongside many other cultures, including the cultures of the wider school and the local community, the students’ peer culture, and the teacher’s professional culture."

Visual arts

"Through engaging in the visual arts, students learn how to discern, participate in, and celebrate their own and others’ visual worlds. Visual arts learning begins with children’s curiosity and delight in their senses and stories and extends to communication of complex ideas and concepts."

(NZC, p20)

  • How would you describe the unique culture of your school? Who or what makes it this way?
  • In what ways do you incorporate stories or symbols of identity and culture into each learning area?
  • In this story, student voice is heard through the visual arts. How do you let the voices of your students be heard?

Have you seen ...

Learning areas – A possible pathway for curriculum review
This blog explores the ways the learning areas can be an integral part of your curriculum design and review. It includes review questions, relevant research, and links to useful resources and examples.


We’re really clear that our curriculum at Sylvia Park School is based on outcomes, so the thing that we do, is we, you know, hand on heart we say that if our children don’t leave here without tangible outcomes then really our work has been for nothing. But I guess the other thing that we talk about is in terms of delivering a curriculum at this school, we want to make sure that it’s balanced so that means that it covers all the areas of the curriculum because we want to make sure that it’s interesting, that the children have exposure to a wide range of stuff, and the other thing is that we want to make sure that it reflects our community, so we think about the children that are in our school, we think about where we’re located and we think about that diversity and making sure that whatever we do is going to hook those children in our community.

Our mural in our classroom – our topic was we are different but the same. The things that make us different is our culture, and things that make us the same is things that we wear like shoes and sports maybe and a lot of people like music. Yeah, and for Banksy we also did some graffiti and kind of 3D but then we couldn’t make it that much so we tried our best and that was all about art. Trying your best.

Our mural is called a pot of gold because on our mural we have all the rainbow colours. And as they say at the end of every rainbow there’s a pot of gold. Our mural is based on the idea of a rainbow, and it’s made up of all the colours that represent the different cultures in our school which is combined by one common thread which is the maroon colour, which is our school colour, which represents us as a family. It shows us different windows of opportunity starting with maths with the overall plus sign – and it’s also divided into four key areas, which is maths, reading, writing, inquiry or topic. The rainbow colours signify peace and happiness and harmony. This means joining together to form everlasting relationships so that we can take this with us when we leave school. It’s simple, yet sophisticated. We were influenced by Dagmar Dyck Leonardo Da Vinci, and the skills that we took from Dagmar Dyck were the cultural symbols and the colours, and from Leonardo Da Vinci we took the textures for effect. And it has been built through teamwork together because together we can conquer anything.

I’ll talk about Nga Rangatira that means ngā Rangatira mō āpōpō that means the leaders of tomorrow. So as tuakana we should teach the teinas to become more sophisticated and mature so they can pass those leadership skills on to the teinas in the future.

Another mural we created was Ahurea which represents all our different cultures coming together as one for the love of learning. And it shows how we try to move up a level, in all of our learning such as maths, reading and writing.

And then the other mural that we created was Aroha that represented taking the journey of learning together as one instead of separated and individually. So if times get hard they can push each other to the limit and so they could stay focused on their work and try hard.

Our mission statement, our vision for our children is about setting children on a path of lifelong learning. And if we really believe that, one of the things that we talk about a lot is how do we really make sure that children will leave here and we can say they are actually ready to take on learning and be a lifelong learner. And one of the things that we know that we do in schools we do a lot of assessment that’s based around formal type assessment, so we do asTTle, PAT’s and STARS and school entry assessment and those types of things. But those things don’t tell us about our children’s growing ability to be learners and to be learners beyond school. So the thing that we’ve talked about a lot and the reason that we’ve developed our inquiry in a particular way is to really think about how we assess our children at a much higher level with those things as sort of fundamentals, but how we really think about how our children engage in the inquiry process, developing key competencies, and us developing our ability to assess our children’s growing competency and then be able to say eventually that our children are truly able to grow into children who are able to become lifelong learners and do stuff well beyond what happens at school so it becomes real and it becomes lived. That’s been a really big part of our journey in terms of framing up the inquiry and delivering it in the way that we do.

Published on: 16 May 2011