Using Art Journals as part of the Learning Process

Lecturer: Andrea Cleary ​; Dr. Máire Ní Bhroin ​
Discipline: Teacher Education
Subject: Art Education for Primary Teachers
Level: Undergraduate and Postgraduate Teaching
Class Size: Average 35
Mode of Delivery Workshop and Lecture


Art Journals are used in all visual arts modules taught on the BEd, In-service Diploma, PME and MEd programmes.

The focus of this case study is to share the experience of using art journals as part of art education, in particular, the use of the journals to develop students confidence in their own ability to create art through experiential learning. Klug (2002, p.1) maintains that ‘A journal is a tool for self-discovery, an aid to concentration, a mirror to the soul, a place to generate and capture ideas’.

This case presents an example of how journals in teaching and learning in art education offer a safe, creative, reflective resource which supports formative assessment of learning. The case shares students experience of reflective and creative practice in visual arts through the use of art journals.

Key features include:

●  The use of physical notebooks where tactile materials are used to support the sensory aspect of art education;

●  Documentation of work in progress through use of preparatory drawings, experimentation with media, photographs, and text;

●  Students growing understanding and appreciation of the creative process through journalling;

●  It allows students scope to visualise how they might engage children in a similar art activity to the one they experienced.

What was the learning and teaching challenge you faced?

Art Education on the the BEd, In-service Diploma, PME and MEd programmes caters for just over 1,000 initial teacher education students annually. Foundation and Specialism courses are offered for between two and four years focusing on three main areas: creating art, appreciating art and teaching art.

One of the principal aims in art education is to develop student confidence in their own ability to create art through experiential learning. This involves students working through creative processes, relating to the content as learners, but having to address both the process of their learning, and how this learning may impact their teaching of art.

They record all of these in their art journal “an artistic process for recording personal insights with constructed images and personal reflections” (Evans-Palmer, 2018). Art notebooks had been used in art courses prior to this but not in a systematic way. Recent challenges, in our practice saw a decrease in contact time for the Foundation Art Courses and paradoxically an increase in group sizes. This resulted in many discussions around the most effective use of our time with the students. In a workshop environment which used to lend itself naturally to dialogic formative self and peer assessment during practical art-making, the combination of larger student numbers and less time have opened up the need for us to ‘know’ and explore in another way the perceptions of our students, and how they are translating and assimilating course material. We hoped the art journal would fulfill this purpose as well as being a safe, creative learning resource for the students.

What was done?/What did you do?

We had reservations about prescribing what went into the journal but decided to give an outline as a scaffold only and to encourage them to personalise their journal to reflect their own learning journey artistically and educationally. Some but not all of the students seem to be successful in doing this but there is a long way to go.

Another challenge we face is a lacklustre level of engagement with the journaling process shown by a very small number of students. This occurs at all ends of the artistic ability spectrum. Occasionally an artistically gifted student presents an art journal which does not reflect their true ability. Other less artistic students who may have different priorities present hastily compiled offerings. However, the majority of students, gifted or otherwise take pride in creating their art journals

Digital portfolios have become a feature of the B Ed programme and students digitally document the art process which is a useful tool in various teaching and learning contexts. However, there is unanimous agreement in the art team on the value of a physical hard copy of the journal as opposed to a purely digital portfolio. The tactile nature of the art journal with for example scraps of fabric and other textured materials, as well as small coloured experimental drawings or paintings, provides a unique, sensory forum for experimentation. Sketches, drawn and redrawn in various media help with the creative process. This is not possible in an e-portfolio. It may be compared to the difference between looking at a digital image of the Statue of Liberty and looking at the original.

How did it work for you?

Students felt free to experiment without the fear of public failure. In the Art Specialism, lecturer and student viewed the art journal together taking time to notice detail and to discuss technique, content and future possibilities. This helped create an environment where it was safe to take creative risks “I believe in myself more because of the encouragement (I received) when showing my ideas” (Student reflection 2017).

Art journals can provide a creative learning resource for the student. The tactile nature of drawing and writing in the art journal seemed to stimulate the creative process in art making as exemplified by the following quotes from students “I don’t like to throw any of my preparatory (work) out especially when I am learning to do something different or experimenting” “I tried all these different mediums, a lot of my prep work is done here...I make the notes” “I make my mistakes here but they’re not really mistakes. I feel free to try (experimenting)” (Students’ Reflections, 2017).

Student appreciation of praise or feedback given in class, which we do on a continuous basis as part of workshops, is often recorded in the journals as a key learning experience, and emphasises to the educator the importance of the quality of the feedback, modelling explicitly the connection between the learning objectives and the development and assessment of the workshop. Art lends itself to this form of dialogic formative assessment (Eisner, 2002; Hickman, 2007, Ní Bhroin, 2015).

Reflections and future plans?

Tips for implementing this practice

 Begin planning early, showing previous examples of journals, emphasising individual approaches.

 Make your expectations of students explicit from the beginning, showing examples of what it means to expand on their ideas, what it means to make it personal to them.

 Give an outline or guide which includes sample questions to help with reflection e.g. What was it like for you working in a group? How will this experience inform your planning for teaching?

 Ask students to use notebooks in class, give them some opportunities to do in class reflection/ peer /self-assessment.

 Specify the type of notebook, (A4, long spine, spiral bound sketchbook) which allows for collage etc.

 Do a three-week review, during which students swop journals and peer assess. Notify students in week two that the following week you will be checking to make sure they understand the nature of reflection, it has to be done weekly. This gets them focussed on weekly reflection and printing out their images.

 Use art journals in class for taking notes from lectures/slide shows ( this gives you feedback on what sticks in their minds). Use the journal as a space for in-class self-assessment/peer assessment.

Ottesen (2007) writes of reflection in education as leading to teachers as self-monitoring, teachers as
experimenters, teachers as researchers, teachers as inquirers, teachers as activists. We would like to add teachers as creators to that list and we believe that the use of art journals in art education will help future teachers to be the best they can be as art educators. We believe the journaling process helps students internalise basic art concepts, develop a unique artistic identity and provoke an experimental and process-based approach to art-making. All of these will hopefully impact positively on their teaching. We believe this case study paves the way for future research into the topic of journaling in art education.

“Now I know I’m no Monet and I don’t expect any masterpieces but I’m determined to embrace this, to let myself enjoy this, to do all the things I didn’t get to do when I was little and to make sure that the children who come into my classroom will have the space to create, to play and to express themselves” (Student Reflection, 2017).

With reflections like this, the future for art education in primary schools looks bright. The journaling exercise gives our students what Evans-Palmer (2018, p. 24) describes as “a tangible artefact that visually demonstrates artistic identity, having developed knowledge and skills in the process”


Cleary, A. & Ní BhrIon, M. (2017) Approaches to Teaching and Learning in Art Education for Primary Teachers, using Art Journals as part of the Learning Process. DCU, Dublin, ICEP 2018, downloaded on 13/02/19 from

Eisner, (2002) The Arts and the Creation of Mind. USA: Yale University Press.

Hickman, R. (2007) (In defence of) whippet fancying and other vices: Re-evaluating assessment in art and design, in Rayment, T (Ed) The Problem of Assessment in Art and Design. UK, USA: Intellect.

Klug, R. (2002) How to keep a Spiritual Journal; A Guide to Inner Growth and Personal Discovery. USA: Augsburg Fortress Publishers.

Ní Bhroin, M. (2015) Teachers’ experiences with formative assessment in primary art education. Visual Inquiry: Learning & Teaching Art 4:1.33

Ottesen, E. (2007) Reflection in teacher education, Reflective Practice, 8:1, 31-46, downloaded on 1/11/18 from https:/


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