If you teach high school, you know that there is no way to get away from grades. Grades determine GPA, which determines the top 10%, which could mean automatic acceptance into a state college, etc., etc., etc. It’s a vicious cycle that personally I dislike. A lot.
If you have ever read a Facebook post by me about grading, then you know the struggle for me is real. I am tasked with too many “mandatory” grades in too short of a time. I wish I could be like Ian Sands and not grade anymore. However, that really isn’t an option. I already push it and not fulfill my requirement every marking period. But shhh…don’t tell nobody.
Now, we all should know that grades=/=assessments. They are not the same thing. Currently for me, grades in art are equal to the hoops I make the students jump through. Did you complete this on time? Did your artwork have 3 lines and 6 warm colors? (For the record, I don’t grade like this, and I think you should not either. Seriously, when you make artwork, do you want to be told how many colors you should have? But I digress. That’s a topic for another day.) Do you have at least four sentences in your reflection blog post?
What do these types of things tell me about how well you, the student, are doing in art? How well are you understanding the process? How are you improving your artistic behaviors in your journey on thinking and behaving like an artist? Answer: They don’t. They tell me nothing, except that you did something I arbitrarily asked you to do.
As art teachers, we assess our kids every day; or at least we should. I do. I make adjustments for what I see my students need. I make mental notes of where a student is and how can I help facilitate him/her to get to the next step or level. I am constantly thinking about my kids and where they are going and how can they get there. What resources can I share? What artists or art movements can I ask them to look up? What other media might intrigue them? I am taking mental notes of how my students are growing as artists and thinkers. Isn’t that my job?
This summer I have done a lot of thinking and talking about how to connect the assessments I am making everyday with the grades I am required to give to appease administration, students, parents, whomever. How can I make the grades I give actually mean something…both for the students and for me. I don’t want to give meaningless numbers anymore. I want my students to understand that their grade in my class is directly related to how they are growing as an artist.
This is my plan. I will no longer grade final artwork products. The product shouldn’t be what is important about the student. The learning that occurs while creating that product is. The real product is the student herself. I want to grade her. How do I do that, you ask? Good question.
I have taken something I already use to assess my students and that I ask my students to use to assess themselves when blogging about the process. Apex Art generated a wonderful list of artistic behaviors that I have adopted in my classroom. I then thought of how my son is graded at his school, and how much it means to me. I go over with his teacher the standards and where he falls on each standard. That is so much more useful than being given a report card with an arbitrary number on it. He got a 3 in math…so what?! I combined these two things and came up with a 4 level scale: exceeding, meeting, progressing, and emerging. I then assigned numerical values to each level. Now, I know this may seem arbitrary, but it is commonly understood that an A/90 is proficient in a subject. So, I figured meeting a behavior is kind of like proficient, so that would be an A/90. Exceeding=100; Meeting=90; Progressing=80; and Emerging=70. I took these behaviors and levels and put them into a chart, with a space for notes.
This makes sense to me. I plan on having the students and myself look at 6 of the 9 behaviors for each grading period. (In my case 6 weeks.) We will have discussions and meetings and the student will have his/her chart to see where they are at and where they need to go. I will look carefully at how they assess their process and work in their blog posts. For me, this will make the grades they receive more meaningful. We can have conversations about it. They will be able to explain why they are at the level they are and know why they received the grade they did.
I am very excited to bring this into my classroom. I think it will help bring forward the “for” in the Teaching FOR Artistic Behavior (TAB) classroom I have set up. I challenge you to make a greater connection between your assessments and your grades this year as well.