Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2014 United States, Proceedings of the 58th Meeting of ISSS, Washington DC, USA, July 2014

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An Action Research Study on using Elegant Tasks for Primary One pupils to Learn Art

Fiona Poh-Lim


This action research explored the use of Elegant Tasks for thirty primary one pupils who were seven year-old from a neighbourhood Primary School in Singapore to learn Art.

This research study was conducted through a series of five Action Research Cycles with each cycle that alternates action and critical reflection.

The concept of Elegant Task originated from Sandra Kay (1998) who defined it as an open-ended problem which will elicit ‘creative thoughts’ and ‘elegant’ or ‘aesthetically meaningful’ solutions from pupils. According to Kay, an elegant task is one that is worth solving, is studio-based and contains forced choices and constraints (as cited in Sukaimi, 2013). It is envisaged that setting such elegant problems will empower the pupils to make choices and meaningful decisions in the ideation and art-making process, enhance their technical and intellectual growth, and encourage them to discover and explore the attributes and characteristics of the materials in greater depth (as cited in Sukaimi, 2013, p. 10). Apart from making the teaching of art interesting, the application of Elegant Tasks have also helped to amuse the pupils into developing an awareness of his or her own-style of thinking, its strong points and its weaknesses.

In short, teaching of Art needs to be pupil-centric and process-driven so as to develop the creativity and imagination of learners. For this research study, I had adopted the Elegant Task approach for my art lessons as it fulfills the 2009 Art Syllabus set by Ministry of Education. It encompasses the six guiding principles of “learner-centred”, “process-oriented”, “contextualized”, “interactive”, “initiative-related” and “fun”. Pupils were given opportunities to identify visual qualities they see around them during the Tuning-in Activity, arouse their curiosity through guiding questions during the exploration and the discovery stages, express their inner thoughts, feelings and imagination through the use of different medium during the art-making process.

Four Unit topics totalling eleven Elegant Task lessons were covered. These Unit topics were (a) Colour Theory, (b) Drawing from Observation, (c) Fold and Dye and (d) Printmaking. I have used the Colour Theory lesson plan as an example on how I have linked the Literature Review into my lesson plan. In addition, I have also added in three new pointers as my own initiative to value-add and to enhance my pupils’ engagement in the art lessons.


Qualitative data were collected through focus group discussions. The questions for the focus group discussions were patterned after the six specific questions. They covered the three themes: pupils’ reactions to the use of Elegant Tasks to learn Art, what they had learnt in the Elegant Task Art lessons and how the use of the Elegant Task approach had helped them to improve their artworks. The three themes were used to narrate the data on the pupils’ perceptions on the use of Elegant Task to learn Art.

The findings from this study showed that pupils like the adoption of Elegant Tasks in their art lessons as they were given enough room to explore materials, make new discoveries, and work collaboratively in groups. To the pupils, the Elegant Task lessons were “exciting”, “fun” with “a lot of interesting activities to do”, and “cool and amazing”. They not only “got to play with their friends when doing art” but they also learn “new things”, “a lot of new techniques and skills”. They found learning meaningful because they understand the reasons for doing their artworks, and they could do them “creatively”. Besides, this approach has also developed a strong sense of ownership and pride in their artworks as witnessed from pupils’ presentation of their artworks at the end of each elegant task topic.

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