Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. ~Twyla Tharp

Monday, August 3, 2015

2:00 a.m. ramblings on grading, assessment and the upcoming school year.

It’s the middle of the night here in the middle of North Carolina and I can’t sleep.  My mind is on school.  (NO!)  It’s August (Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?) and there are but a couple of precious weeks left in the summer of 2015.  With all of the Back To School commercials on the teevee and the Back To School sections that popped up weeks ago in my favorite stores that I am now avoiding, it is getting more difficult to ignore the fact that the 2015-2016 school year will soon be upon us.  I am not giving up on summer yet and I have one more adventure planned but my brain is thinking how to set up my classroom, what to do the first day, the first week, what am I going to do different than I have in years past, what can I keep the same? And I can't sleep. Sigh.

One thing that I struggle with each year is grading.  How do I communicate how I assign grades?  I have rubrics and posters that illustrate expectations and standards that are written on the board.  I show students exemplars that are teacher or student made. Still, it seems that the point is missed by many. Some might argue that it is impossible to grade an art project because it is subjective.  Most of those ‘some’ might be my students who might argue that I ‘gave’ them an inferior grade when they clearly completed the task at hand and that I am just making up grades based on my mood, or if I like them or how close to the end of the grading period it is. What my students (and their parents, ahem) should know that in many ways, grading is the hardest part of my job, which is why I have spent most of my career trying to figure out a way to communicate how I assign grades.

After a lot of thought and research culled from many different sources, I think that I have come up with a philosophy that fits in my classroom and the way that we work in the Bulldog Art Room.  

What my students need to know:
  • Fair isn’t always equal.  Most of my classes have students in them with special needs.  We all need to work up to our levels of ability but what we all need to understand is we all have different levels of ability. My students (and their parents) might not understand that Susie sees an occupational therapist 2x a weeks to work with her on her fine motor skills and I take that into account when I am grading her work.  I am a visual arts specialist and I have been trained to do this.  It’s not just a magical assignment of arbitrary grades.  Coincidentally, when Johnny breaks his right wrist on the football field during the homecoming game, which is of course the hand that he writes (and paints, and draws) with and I take that into account when I am grading his work, too.
  • We give grades to give you constructive feedback.  Like any other class, you should look where you have succeeded and where you may have fallen short and try to do better the next time.
  • Just because you turn something in doesn’t mean that you get a 100%.  That’s all I have to say on that.
  • I can tell when you rushed through something because you were being lazy or just tired of doing something.  I’m kind of smart that way.
  • Yes, grading art is kind of subjective.  That is why I have my students put their names on the back of their work. My first impression of your work when I am sitting with it with a pile of other similar works is usually spot on.  But grading art is also kind of qualitative.  I am looking at the QUALITY of your work as well.  I look for how you used the materials you were given.  I look at the neatness of your work.  I look at how far you pushed yourself creatively.  Then I look at your name.   I try to be as objective as I possibly can.  
    • If you are interested in more information about Qualitative Assessment, click here.

These are some of the things that I am going to be looking for from my art students this year:
  • Comes to class prepared, daily.
  • Works collaboratively.
  • Learns how to manage time well.
  • Follows school rules and having integrity.
  • Shows creative, innovative thinking.
  • Handles conflict appropriately.
  • Has a good attitude.
  • Has high standards for themselves and their work.
  • Is committed to responsibilities outside of class.
  • Is an effective communicator.
  • Is flexible.
  • Is a leader.
  • Sees that a less than successful experience as an opportunity for growth.
This is from the NC Visual Arts Essential Standards:

From the beginning of time, the compulsion to create a visual vocabulary has been as innate in every society as the desire to acquire a system of spoken symbols. Visual art from past civilizations is frequently one of the few remaining clues with the power to illuminate which values were held most dear. Today, every aspect of our designed environment will serve to explain who we are to those of the future. The pattern of human growth in society is to develop a multi-sensory means of communicating symbols and values. A child discovers objects, those objects take on meaning, and this meaning is denoted and communicated through the various means of expression available to that child. The visual arts program is designed to develop visual literacy by promoting fluency in the various modes of visual communication. Students learn the visual arts by using a wide range of subject matter, media, and means to express their ideas, emotions, and knowledge. They evaluate the merits of their efforts and this assessment forms the basis for further growth that extends to all disciplines in school and to life. Visual arts education is a multifaceted creative process which includes the development of perceptual awareness and the ability to use materials expressively. Through participation in visual arts, students have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the creativity and diversity inherent in all of us.

I’d love to hear from you and how you tackle grading and assessment in your classrooms. Until then, I'd better turn out my light and try to get back to sleep. It's going to be hard enough to get back to a normal sleeping schedule as it is. Good night, all!

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