Inclusive Education and Visual Art


A key concept of inclusion is that students benefit, rather than experience their learning environment (Conway 2011). A concrete definition of inclusion has yet to be settled on, but currently, it can mean at least all children achieving and participating despite challenges stemming from issues including disability, poverty, social class, race, religion, linguistic and cultural heritage and gender. (Topping 2012).

As contemporary education focuses on standards and results, the emphasis is on a cognitive, rational style of learning, more dependent upon linguistic or logical-mathematical intelligences (Gardner, H., as cited in Simons, H., & Hicks, J., 2006). For students with difficulties in these learning styles, visual art is a viable subject for study, for as well as offering a creative and personal means for self expression, the assessment of achievement does not rely on written and verbal outcomes alone (Simons and Hicks 2006). This encouragement of creative forms of expression, and a lesser emphasis on written and oral skills, make adaption for students with special needs seamless, individual, and inclusive.

Inclusion is not only an guide for education, but more importantly, its government policy backed by legislation. Australia’s commitment to inclusive education stems from its support and signing of the Salamanca Statement of 1994. By signing this statement, Australia agreed to, and committed itself to a number of principles including those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools which should accommodate them within a child centred pedagogy capable of meeting these needs (UNESCO 1994). Australia has shown this commitment though the Australian Human Rights Commission Act of 1986, which entitles an education on a basis of equal opportunity (Federal Register of Legislation 1986), and the  Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 which states the ways it is unlawful for an educational authority (or provider) to discriminate against a person on the ground of the person’s disability (Australian Government 2016).


The unit of work to be used in this report come from the NSW Board of Education’s ‘Advice on Programming and Assessment’  for Visual Arts, Years 7-10.  The unit is titled ‘Portrait in Words’. The focus of this ten week unit is to “develop a language of personal symbols and codes to represent themselves, their personality and interested to an audience.” (BOSTES 2003)

By the end of this unit, should be able to:

  • Use a range of strategies to explore different art making conventions and procedures to make artworks (LO4.1)
  • Explore the function of and relationships between the artist - artwork - world - audience (LO 4.2)
  • Make artworks that involve some understanding of the frames (LO 4.3)
  • Recognise and use aspects of the world as a source of ideas, concepts and subject matter in the visual arts (LO 4.4)
  • Investigate ways to develop meaning in their artwork (LO 4.5)
  • Select different materials and techniques to make artworks (LO 4.6)
  • Select different materials and techniques to make artworks (LO 4.7)
  • Explore the function of and relationship between artist - artwork - world - audience (4.8)
  • Begin to acknowledge that art can be interpreted from different points of view (LO 4.9)
  • Recognise that art criticism and art history construct meaning (LO4.10)

“Portrait in Words” will be delivered to a Year 7 class of 20 students in Queanbeyan, a satellite town located outside Canberra, but located in New South Wales.  The school has approximately 500 students of a variety of backgrounds, performing above, below and at the expected grade level.



“Traditional educational practices create barriers for many students, particularly those with a disability” (Gallagher, in Conway, 2011)

Curriculum encompasses topics like subject matter, pedagogy, assessment and issues concerning planning and the teaching of a course (Loreman, Deppeler et al. 2010)

Visual Art is seen as an ‘elaborate curriculum’; meaning it is not a ‘core curriculum’ subject like Maths, English, or a similar functional concept.  (Loreman, Deppeler et al. 2010).  This should not belittle Visual Art’s importance, as learning should be a combination of the two (Loreman, Deppeler et al. 2010). To make these curriculums accessible to all students, universal design for learning (UDL) principles should be incorporated. 

The principle behind UDL is that all students should have access to the same curriculum and actives without alterations (Loreman, Deppeler et al. 2010). UDL involves three elements that can be incorporated into the Portraits with Words unit:

Multiple means of representation:

A variety of, and alternative ways of transmitting the same unit material to every student is needed. Visual art obviously has a visual focus, so materials like pictorial powerpoint presentations with printed handouts, watching documentaries, and listening to audio interviews with artists and critics, can all add variety in delivery.
Another option is to make material available online, via a teachers blog. For an example, when students need to learn about Australian and international artists, designers and architects from different times (BOSTES 2003), the teacher can make a recording of the presentation using screen capture software like Camtasia. This presentation can then be uploaded on to a blog, or youtube channel, where students, parents and assistants, can view outside of class hours.

Multiple means of expression:

Design a variety of assessment tasks that give students options to demonstrate what they know. One of the assessment activities in this unit is for students demonstrate orally an understanding of the frames and conceptual framework relationships between artist and audience (BOSTES 2003). This can be done through a powerpoint presentation to the class, a video documentary or interview using iMovie on the iPad, and audio recording, or a one on one discussion between the student and the teacher.

Multiple means of engagement:  

‘Concentrate on what our children can do, not what they can’t’ (Conway 2011). Different needs, abilities and learning styles and interests need to be considered.. The visual art course can provide numerous alternatives for students to express themselves and abilities through their art and literacy projects. One of the art making exercises making a portrait using words (BOSTES 2003). This can be completed in any number of ways - from a collage, sculpture, painting, drawing, photography and even digital imagery via photoshop or an iPad.


Pedagogy is not just the ‘science of teaching’, but also the ‘art and craft of teaching’ (Cornish and Garner 2009). Of the many pedagogical strategies available, graphic organisers can be implemented to assist all learners with their projects.

Visual and graphic organisers are a great teaching tool to help students of all levels deconstruct information, construct meanings, and create structure, as well as help teachers identify difficulties and understanding in the task, often being the organisation before a writing task (Cornish and Garner 2009). They also help the teacher monitor students understanding and learning during the deconstruction and reconstruction processes. They also help highlight which students can work independently, and which students might need focussed teaching (Anderson and Boyle 2016).

The conceptual framework behind the visual art syllabus puts forward four frames for understanding, making and studying artworks (BOSTES 2003). The four frames are cultural, subjective, structural and postmodern. One of the assignment tasks of this unit requires students to analyse a work of art through a structural frame investigation (BOSTES 2003). Incorporating the ‘Frames Analysis Questions’ (FAQ) graphic organiser (appendix xxx) will help all students with this assignment. The FAQ graphic organiser created to assist students analyse and understand the four frames that make up Visual Art’s conceptual framework. The organiser helps students explore and answer the key issues of the frame. These questions include;

  • What material has the artist used?
  • What are the elements that make up the art (Line, Tone, Texture Colour etc)
  • Discuss the principles of art (Composition, Balance, Proportion etc). These Graphic Organisers can even be completed using the Jigsaw cooperative learning strategy. Students work in groups to make a documentary on the artist. Each member of the group is then given a specialty, they research within a specialists group (eg, the principles of art group, the elements of art group, the symbols used group and materials group)


The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Eduction (2007) describe the goals of inclusive assessment as supporting and enhancing the successful inclusion and participation of all pupils vulnerable to exclusion. 

There are three ways to adjust assessment tasks - process, task and response (Anderson and Boyle 2016)

Some of the adjustments to process already mentioned above include a one on one oral presentation with the teacher, audio recordings of the presentation, and completing the FAQ graphic organiser using the jigsaw cooperative learning strategy. Extra time can also be given if necessary.

Tasks can also be adjusted by using digital technology - word portraits can be created by digital drawing using photoshop, iPads, and even Microsoft Word.

If appropriate, reducing the amount expected from the student is an acceptable response adjustment (Anderson and Boyle 2016).

To help with participation, It is also important to cater for a range of learning styles in the classroom (Loreman, Deppeler et al. 2010). Bloom’s Taxonomy / Multiple Intelligences chart is a good way to cover a breadth and depth of assessment outcomes. A range of assignment options could be created to cover multiple intelligences. For example, 

Assessment for Learning (AFL) is a proven method for measuring student progress (Deppeler 2012).

It’s also important that any changes in the unit are also adapted in the assessment tasks (Conway 2011).


Bucholz and Shuffler (Bucholz and Sheffler 2009) state the classroom environment should be as encouraging to cooperation and acceptance as the teacher’s teaching methods. They list a number of ways to create a more inclusive eduction environment

Create a Warm and Well Decorated Classroom. 

It is important that students feel a sense of ownership in their classroom environment. The room should be calming and inviting (Anderson and Boyle 2016). It can be decorated, but not over stimulating. The colours red and orange can make children uncomfortable, while blues and greens are calming (Bucholz and Sheffler 2009). Previous assignments can be displayed on the walls. This can also have the benefit of showing the students how others have interpreted the portraits.

Create a Neat and Organised Classroom

All areas of the room need to be accessible to everyone. There needs to be space for students to move effortlessly around the classroom. All materials and equipment must also be easily, and safely accessible to all. Specific content in this unit requires collages, 3D and 4D artworks to be created. This could imply scissors, knives, glues and other sharp and potentially toxic materials may be used. Teachers must ensure all students are aware (through oral and/or printed direction) of the appropriate safety procedures (Bucholz and Sheffler 2009). 

Classroom setups can vary for the assignments. For the cooperative learning exercise investigating the structural frames, the class can be arranged for small group work. When working on the word portraits, the class can be arranged for whole class work, or large group work.


Loreman, Doppler and Harvey (2010) believe universal design for learning offers the best opportunities for inclusive practices, but still acknowledge the importance and value of student specific adaptions and modifications. 

Conway acknowledges how these curriculum adaptions and modifications can be time consuming to create for an individual teacher, but the benefits of these changes are in the potential for more positive student participation, and less disruptive behaviour (Conway 2011).

There is no evidence to show special needs students have a negative impact on their class, however, when appropriate support can be given, inclusion can have a highly positive influence (Boyle and Topping 2012). Teachers with a positive approach to inclusion also attain higher levels of success with their students (Boyle and Topping 2012). 

Inclusion in an incomplete, but ongoing and evolving concept. There maybe issues involving the levels of inclusion, and at which point should a student be excluded. However, the principle of inclusion is worth striving to attain, and that is to work together, collaboratively, to achieve positive outcomes for students benefits everyone (Anderson and Boyle 2016). Inclusion doesn’t just benefit the student with special needs, but also the classmates, teachers, parents, school and community who all cooperate in making a more positive, proactive and welcoming society.


Anderson, J. and C. Boyle (2016). Lecture notes, topics 3 & 4: Adapting Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Strategies. Armidale, NSW, UNE.

Australian Government. (2016). "Disability Discrimination Act 1992." 2016, from

BOSTES. (2003). "Visual Arts Years 7-10 Advice on Programming and Assessment." 2016, from

Boyle, C. and K. Topping (2012). Conclusion. What Works in Inclusion. C. Boyle and K. Topping, McGraw-Hill Education200-205.

Bucholz, J. and J. Sheffler (2009). "Creating a Warm and Inclusive Classroom Environment: Planning for All Children to Feel Welcome." Electronic Journal for Inclusive Education2(4).

Conway, R. (2011). Adapting Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Strategies. Inclusion In Action. P. Foreman. South Melbourne, Cengage114-178.

Cornish, L. and J. Garner (2009). Promoting Student Learning, Pearson.

Deppeler, J. (2012). Developing Inclusive Practices: Innovation Through Collaboration. What Works In Inclusion. C. Boyle and K. Topping, Open University Press125-138.

Federal Register of Legislation. (1986). "Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986." 2016, from

Loreman, T., J. Deppeler and D. Harvey (2010). Inclusive Instructional Design. Inclusive Education: Supporting Diversity in the Classroom, Routledge137-160.

Simons, H. and J. Hicks (2006). "Opening Doors, Using the Creative Arts in Learning and Teaching." Arts & Humanities in Higher Education5(1): 77-90.

Topping, K. (2012). Conceptions of Inclusion: Widening Ideas. What Works in Inclusion. C. Boyle and K. Topping. England, McGraw-Hill Education10-19.

UNESCO (1994). The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. Salamanca, Spain.