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Agreed. Assessment is a big issue in the arts and granted assessment is a
sticky wicket. It seems that art educators are divided in their ranks by
those who assess and those who don't. I maintain the generally unpopular
contention that if something is worth teaching then it is also worth
assessing. I do not say this lightly. My background is in the elementary
art class and it took years of personal struggle to get to the point where I
am today with the idea of learning objectives and appropriate assessment.
The struggle continues as I work with graduate students (all teachers in the
field) as we develop art-based units of study.
Perhaps one of the ideas we need to overcome is the idea of students feeling
that assessment is something that happens to them, not something of which
they have a part. Students should be involved in the assessment of their
work. Reflection is a big part of learning.
To develop appropriate assessment, however, we need to begin with appropriate
learning objectives. Learning objectives are broad and provide multiple ways
for students to demonstrate proficiency. For example:
Students will actively respond in a variety of ways with compelling reasons
in regard to the strengths and weaknesses of the artist's work to address
This type of learning objective requires a rubric for assessment. The rubric
for this objective could include the range of "Novice," "Competent," and
"Exceptional." Novice might state that the student had no active response
with limited reasons. Competent might state that the student had some active
response with slightly more compelling reasons. Exceptional might include
those students who truly exceeded expectations by having both active
responses and a variety of compelling reasons. The words "active" and
"compelling" become key to this rubric.
For those teachers who want more specific rubrics, active and compelling can
be further explained. For example, active might be defined as oral and
written communication in both individual and group situations. Compelling
could be defined as supported by information found within works of art or in
research about the art or artist.
These descriptors can be further refined to include somewhat of a checklist
within the rubric. Novice could be "no active response and one or no
compelling reasons." Competent could be "good oral communication but not
good written communication (or vice verse) and 2 - 3 compelling reasons."
Exceptional could be "good oral and written communication with more than
three compelling reasons."
Compare this to activity-based objectives and checklists.
An example of an activity-based objective is:
The student will write and talk about the work of art
This type of objective does not provide for an expansive sort of assessment.
It seems to suggest either a student did the work or did not do the work. A
checklist would do the trick here. This is an activity masquerading as a
learning objective. It says what the student will do, not what the student
will demonstrate as learned.
So, going back to what we were taught in preservice courses, we were told to
write "measurable" objectives. My understanding then was that measurable was
something I could physically see the students do (e.g., make a painting, draw
a portrait) not what they learned. However, now I am seeing measurable in a
broader sense that means what kids have learned. Measuring learning is much
more difficult than measuring how well they can follow instructions to create
a painting or a draw a portrait. Measuring learning also makes us, as
educators, stop and ask what it is that we really want kids to learn, what it
is that we are teaching, and if what we are teaching is something that will
impact our students when they are adults.
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