>Assessment in Visual Arts classes is always challenging for new teachers. Especially in the area of marking creativity and self expression. What are some ideas or strategies that teachers can use to help make this meaningful for reporting to students and parents.
>I have found that having used rubrics for some art activities is cumbersome, time consuming and makes the Visual Arts objectives over directive, pedagogical and over scrutinized. Where does the "process over the product " theory fit in. Do any of you have any rubrics that address this and have worked for you?
JOKES ABOUT ASSESSMENT
Sorry to be flippant, but the only non-cumbersome way to assess and give grades in art that comes to mind would be to take a pile of drawings and throw them down a stairway and grade them according to where they land. I have been in a few juried shows that looked like the judge used this system.
For teacher comments, I suppose we could print out a bunch of stickers that say: It is like I really like it---very cool. It is like I sort of like it. It is like I did not like much. It is like it leaves me cold. How about using one to five smiley faces?
WHY WE HATE ASSESSMENT
As artists we can tolerate ambiguities, this may be why we ended up in art rather than in science or math. However, I find that we always have students that will demand more than subjective and ambiguous grading. As artists we also love to be imaginative and experiment. I suggest that beginning art teachers should use their imagination and experiment a lot until they find out what works best for them in marking creativity and expression. Then when they think they have it figured out there will be exceptions. They will need to experiment some more.
Another reason we hate or fear assessment is that many of us have suffered from bad experiences with art teachers that were very insensitive. In my opinion, we should avoid making negative comments and not offer any directions, corrections, or advice in a critique. As art teachers we should think about what we see and think of a non-judgmental way to be curious. Often it is more helpful and acceptable to ask neutral and open questions that help us and the students become more aware of what is happening in the work. It helps to draw out and build awareness while reinforcing he notion that all artwork is practice and experimentation. The next work should always the most exciting thing we are doing.
ART AND SCIENCE SIMILARITIES
Yes, this means good teaching is just as creative as being a good artist. Being an artist is much like being an experimental scientist. Just when scientists think they know how something really works, another scientist will discover another truth. I happen to be an artist with two kids that are creative scientists. We are surprisingly similar. Their science is nothing like science classes in schools where they do experiments that have already proven. In school they only practice so they can learn to avoid making any mistakes. Real science is more like a good art class where nobody knows how an experiment is supposed to come out until it is done. Good scientists are most excited when they get an unexpected result---it may be a new discovery with that leads to a miracle cure and millions in patent royalties. Sometimes mistakes lead to discoveries like penicillin. This happens to me in a small way when a new glaze combination surprises me.
In art, I generally put growth and creativity as the top items on a rubric. I never use the term neatness on a rubric. Some styles are anti-neat. I ask for appropriate stylistic handling of the media. I never use craftsmanship (it is not gender neutral). I do ask for care and skill in the work. I put Following Assignment Directions near the bottom with less importance. I am ambivalent about art rules and principles. I favor artists and students that bend and push the boundaries with passion and purpose. Finding a new principle is so much better than following somebody else's principle.
Creativity means being different and effective. A beginning teacher should be able to identify a creative work because she has never or seldom seen it before--at least not in the context of the students in this class. If this rare thing is also effective in expressive terms, it succeeds in spades.
GRADING STUDIO EXPRESSION
To grade self expression, I would have to depend on my intuitive response to the work. I have to be open to every mood imaginable. This is going to be very dependent on the teacher being familiar with what an aesthetic experience feels like. It also helps to know the students and what might authentically come from the self. Maybe, as teachers we should hook ourselves up to a lie detector. We could chart our involuntary galvanic responses while a student assistant moves each artwork into our view. If the work gives us sweaty palms it may be worth a second look. Since some of best art happens in the space between the conscious and subconscious, assessment of expressiveness may also be best when it happens in that part of our awareness.
As an undergraduate, my studio instructors had us put out our portfolio at the end of the term. At least two other instructors came to see our work, talk to us, and they each gave their grade recommendation to the course instructor. I thought it was a very fair method. It helped the new teachers learn how to assess some of more subtle qualities in our work. This is not easy with large classes, but it may be worth the time to mentor and support new teachers.
Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art Emeritus
Goshen College, 1700 South Main, Goshen IN 46526
studio phone: 574-533-0171
"Art is me when I am myself." ... a kindergarten girl when asked, "What is art?"
"You can't never know how to do it before you never did it before." ... a kindergarten boy working with clay for the first time.