Building self-esteem and positive relationships through collaborative art

Issue: Volume 102, Number 10

Posted: 3 August 2023
Reference #: 1HAb6t

Collaborative art projects deliver much more than beautiful wall decorations. They serve as opportunities for ākonga to express their individuality and build relationships based on trust and respect.

The result is glorious wall art while the process unites ākonga and supports their relationship-building skills.

The result is glorious wall art while the process unites ākonga and supports their relationship-building skills.

In Grant Arendse’s Year 4 classroom, the year begins with a collaborative art project.  

Ākonga buddy up to create art that will be pulled together into one giant wall decoration. As they toil away with collage and paint, the children are also creating friendships and positive work habits.  

“The aspect of relating to each other is just as important as the creativity and the final product,” says Grant.  

“It’s a low-stakes way for ākonga to get to know each other and get used to their new classroom. The start of a year is a good time because that’s when the student group is new and classroom expectations are being established; we’re building a positive culture with ākonga respecting each other.  

“You’re talking, you’re making connections, and being creative is about expressing yourself which is great for self-esteem.”  

Grant teaches at Milford Primary School in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. It’s an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.  

“We are big on inquiry-based learning and on transdisciplinary nature of learning. Everything is integrated.”  

Although he is a fine arts graduate, Grant says kaiako do not need to be artistic to lead successful collective art projects.  

“Usually, collaborative art is linked to a big unit of inquiry that the class is working on. At the end, the students are proud to see their art on the wall and you point out that this was achieved through teamwork, that if they’d done it alone, it wouldn’t have had the same impact.” 

 Ākonga felt very proud to make such a stunning artwork.

Ākonga felt very proud to make such a stunning artwork.

Creating space for identity  

In their latest project, Grant’s class worked in groups to create a star galaxy background by layering different colours onto black card.  

“We worked step-by-step, starting with a video on layering paint to create the impression of galaxies and star clusters,” explains Grant. Students then chose a gold or silver star and a value to go on that star.  

“This was linked with our unit about who we are, and how our actions, values and mindset shape our identity. Things like, ‘be kind to others’, ‘always do your best’.”  

Ākonga decorated their stars and created something to represent themselves in space – an alien or an astronaut, for example.  

When it was finished, Grant photographed the students with their backs to the camera and pointing up at their artwork. “It’s quite striking because the uniform is yellow and the background is a purplish black colour.”  

Students chose a toki to go in the centre of the art, electing kindness as the most important value.  

“We finished the work by sitting in a circle, looking at the art and sharing what we saw and felt, and what their favourite part had been. One said, ‘We are pointing at the stars because those values are important.’  

“They said, ‘We couldn’t have done this by ourselves so it’s important we work together.’ They talked about their characters having similarities and differences and how it was OK for everyone to be different. The children are talking about concepts of identity and difference and diversity and values, and they are only eight years old.  

“Concepts of identity and diversity need to be unpacked in ways that ākonga can understand and access. Linking it with art makes it more real for them.”  

In the words of eight-year-old Sophia: “Doing the art helped us work together. We buddied up, not with our best friends but someone we didn’t know. I was excited because I like meeting new people. I’ve made new friends now.  

“I liked the theme too; we are all different but we’re swimming in the same direction. It means that we are all different inside and outside, but we all have the same goal of learning.”

This city theme inspired students to consider all the different sorts of homes people have and buildings we use.

This city theme inspired students to consider all the different sorts of homes people have and buildings we use.

Cross-curricular opportunity  

Visual art is a valuable learning area, says Grant, adding that when it’s linked to other areas, it can help to embed the learning.  

For example, he says if you are learning about symmetry in maths, you can create an artwork that has symmetry to reinforce that knowledge.  

“You could then look at artists who use symmetry in their work. Researching an artist would bring in reading and writing, say by doing an information report. Art is not a standalone thing.  

“There will always be students who aren’t strong in maths, who might be more visual, and seeing maths in the context of art can help to cement knowledge. Then there are students who are not strong in reading or writing but they have other strengths. And when it comes to expressing ourselves, everyone can win.”  

Grant also points to how kaiako can incorporate literacy by having ākonga write reflections on what they have done, or by leading an artwork project around what the class is reading. He gives the example of James and the Giant Peach.  

“One teacher did her artwork on Pupukemoana Lake Pupuke and all the things that will be found there. If there are lots of native birds where you are, do one on birds. Use what you have access to and talk with your students to find out is important to them.”

Sophia’s artwork.

Sophia’s artwork.

Sophia’s collaborative art experience  

I feel proud, and I also feel like everyone belongs in the class even though we’re all different.  

We’ve got different personalities and we look different. No one’s the same. Our picture shows that because no one’s got the same picture.  

I felt really good about it because it gave us a chance to meet all the other people in the classroom and work with them.  

When it first went up, we took a big photo in front of it, and everyone was happy. And since then, we’ve been doing a lot of things sometimes working together, sometimes working apart.

Where to start your collaborative art project  

Collaborative art is any kind of art created by people working together to create it and how the collaboration looks can vary.  

It might be that each student does their own thing and all works are assembled to make one big artwork. Alternatively, ākonga could work in groups on different elements of the artwork with all those elements being brought together when complete.  

Grant says a simple Google search yields many ideas for teachers, and that he also gains inspiration from the Primary Art Ideas Group on Facebook.

Further reading

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:40 pm, 3 August 2023

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