Sunday, February 28, 2016

Nuts and Bolts: Grading and Art?! Curriculum, and THE ARTIST'S PROCESS

Grading in Art?!  Is it important?  How important?  Should I be challenging/pushing my son/daughter, my student to be (re)focusing on visual art if they got a two (or, heavens, a 1) in Jumprope?  At the heart of these questions are deep philosophical questions of the importance of visual art and making nowadays, of the myths surrounding what it means to be "good" at art, defining what art actually is, whether grading takes away from the freedom or joy involved in creating, whether process is more important than product or vice versa.   Then there is the question of Intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivation with middle schoolers?! A whole bird's nest of interwoven ideas.   Really, what it comes down to is how can I, the teacher, give meaningful assessments, a critical aspect to learning, to my 160 students that guides and helps them develop as artists, communicators and global citizens?

I do it by engaging students in the artist's process, which has reflection and assessment built into it.  Let me explain what the artist's process is and how it fits into your child's development, and then I'll explain the nuts and bolts of reporting to them and to you.  The artist's process is a complex step by step process of coming up with an idea for a project, making said project, and reflecting upon it.  Let me break it down even more:

  • Step 1: Begins with a bunch of ideas that are honed down to one idea through a process of first receiving inspiration, then brainstorming, making connections to your life.
  • Step 2:  Honing/developing ideas (sometimes collaboratively, sometimes individually)
  • Step 3:  Implementing/making the idea in visual form
  • Step 4:  Reflecting/critiquing/assessing 
  • Step 5: Taking ideas culled from step 4, and then revisiting and refining
  • Step 4/5 Repeat as many times as necessary
  • Step 6:  Finishing and making ready for presentation
  • Step 7:  Presenting
  • Step 8:  Then lastly reflecting on the process, the product, feedback from viewers... 
  • And throughout it all, encouraging them to be open, to push themselves, to help others, and to show a respect for the materials and the classroom 
Throughout this process, I am introducing ideas and concepts, they are researching and developing ideas on their own.  I am showing them how to make connections, they are doing rough sketches/mockups of ideas. I am giving them feedback on different directions to go in, they are giving others feedback and reflecting on their own work.  I am demonstrating technically how to do specific things, they are collaborating and/or helping eachother out through their own demonstrations. And, together we are constantly assessing our own work and giving feedback to others.  I often argue that step 4 is more important than step 8...

This whole artist's process is pretty similar to what all of us do when working in teams in whatever field we specialize in, and that gets at the heart of my classroom.  Student's are getting the skills they need for the constantly evolving world out there, and they get to do that all the while expressing who they are as people, using their own voice and doing it in their own way.  Art is an empowering experience that brings people together. There is just something about making stuff that we all love to engage in.  Can I grade it?!  The product?!  Well, I can tell you, the parent, whether Billy has mastered glazing and layering in painting, and I can tell you that Jane can score and slip her clay piece like a champion, and I will, to an extent, but my focus will be more on the larger ideas surrounding the making of art and transferable skills.

Specifically, throughout the year I expose students to a variety of mediums and a variety of concepts with, hopefully, lots of freedom of choice within each project, and if one project doesn't gel, I can promise that the next one will be very different.  I link these projects to their everyday world, to curriculum within their other classes, to large schoolwide concepts and ideas, to what they love and want to do (I try and honor as many requests as possible), and sometimes just to whatever is inspiring me as a practicing artist myself and teacher.  As the year goes on, I try to be more flexible and choiced based, really emphasizing the artist's process.

All of my curriculum and grading is based on the National Art Education Standards  and the CVU graduation standards, which I have made into three different broad categories to report on in Jumprope:

  1. Creatively Problem Solves Using the Language and Tools of Artmaking--this one focusses on the specifics of making art/medium.  A student may get a '4' first trimester because they are out of this world and very focussed with whatever medium we are working on then (ie claymation.)  That may be a "2" next trimester because maybe they weren't quite able to nail the "still life drawing" in the same way... 
  2. Shows Initiative, Self Direction and Persistance-- this exactly that.  Did the student show this throughout the artistic process?!  Worked hard generating ideas, stayed on task during studio time, followed through with refining, constantly pushing? The same student who might get a 2 in "still life" may have worked super hard for the whole thing and got a "4" for really pushing themselves.  Or gotten a "4" in still life because drawing comes naturally, but a "2" because they could've really taken it to the next level and chose not to.
  3. Responsible and Involved Citizen--This is about their contribution to class: listening during presentations, helping others, giving feedback, great at clean-up, etc.  Both this and #2 are transferrable skills taken from the CVU graduation standards, as well as fitting into the National Art Education Standards.
Whew!  I've never written a post like this, and it feels great to get it out.  If you still have questions or need clarification, feel free to drop me an email ( or connect with me during PT conference times-- drop in or scheduled, if desired: Tues March 15, 3-4:30; T,W,TH March 22-24 3-4:30  

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