How Far Can I Push It?

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There’s been a lot of talk lately on all the art related Facebook groups I am a part of.  I mean, it is a subject art teachers discuss a lot, but in the past few weeks the conversation has been longer and more engaging.  We have been discussing grades vs. assessment, participation vs. engagement, eliminating grades all together, how the high school GPA would be affected, is it even possible to not give a grade at the high school level, and much more.  It is enough to make your head explode…and it’s beginning to make mine explode.

Grading and assessment is always on my radar.  I wrote about my assessment model in this post earlier this year.  I even presented on the model at the AOE 2016 Winter Conference stating how we as teachers need to grade less on compliance and instead create meaningful assessment.  So it is easy to understand why all this talk about grading has caused the wheels in my head to go into overdrive.  I began to look closely at what I am currently doing, what it means, and how could I change it?  I wish it was as simple as deciding I won’t grade anymore, but because there are so many facets to all this, it’s not. In this current education model we are in, as a high school teacher with parents that expect grades, colleges that look at GPA to determine a student’s acceptance to their school, a UIL board that requires passing grades to play and compete, and students who are motivated by them, I HAVE to provide a grade.

Currently I give a mixture of completion grades and grades(numbers that are perhaps arbitrarily assigned) that reflect artistic behavior/growth assessments.  I find that the assessment feedback is important to my students and their artistic growth. I want to continue to provide that to them, but I hate that I have to translate that feedback into a numerical grade.  However, the assessments boil down to only doling out a few grades…many less than the amount my district “requires”.  That’s where the completion grades come in.  But, do those grades really show anything other than the fact that a student completed an assignment?

And then all the “WHAT IFS….?” start to walk in.  What if I pushed?  How far could I go? What if I just stopped caring and gave everyone a 100–what would that do to my classes and the “importance” of them?  What if I gave the minimum amount of grades I get away with giving, would I get a stern talking to?  Would all this change the student input/output in my classes?

I don’t have the answers.  I have been creating some sketchnotes to work out my thoughts.  I am on a mission to figure this out before next August when school starts again.  Yes I know that is 7 months away, but this isn’t an easy issue.  Like I said, there are so many facets I have to take into account: district requirements, local admin expectations, parent expectations, student motivation, UIL guidelines, coaches needs, pass to play, meaningful grades, assessment v. completion, and ultimately, what I believe the purpose of the grade in my class should be.  That is the ultimate question that I just can’t answer………….yet.

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Artistic Behavior Boot Camp

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One of my goals this year was to have my students really understand the artistic behaviors.  I thought last year the students were looking at them only on the surface.  I want a deeper understanding for them this year as I feel the behaviors I use are important, not only for growing as an artist, but they are things that can be transferred to other aspects of their academic and their personal lives.

One way I am stressing the artistic behaviors and thinking like an artist is that I will be assessing my students based on the process/behaviors they show in class, not on the physical artwork they create.  Here is the rubric I created based on the artistic behaviors.  I wrote more about it here.

I wanted my students to be introduced to the 9 Artistic Behaviors before we jumped into creating art.  But, I didn’t just want to do a power point on them.  I wanted something more to go along with each behavior.  That’s how I came up with my Artistic Behavior Boot Camp.  In this boot camp, we would spend about a week and a half being introduced to the behaviors.  As a class, we would do an activity.  Then the students would be given a reflection sheet where they were asked to look through the artistic behaviors that are listed on their sheet and posted on the wall (with a brief description under each), and choose which behavior they thought the activity best connected to.  They had to say why they felt that way, what they learned from the activity, and how they thought it connected to being an artist.


THE BEHAVIORS AND THEIR ACTIVITIES

Artists Collaborate:  In this activity, I copied an MC Escher print I had and cut the print into 2″x 2″ squares.  I handed the students a square and a 3″x 3″ post-it.  The students had to transfer their piece to the post-it and then go in the hall and assemble the puzzle.  In hindsight, I chose a very hard image to work from.  I know better for next year.

M.C. Escher, “Reflection”, 1950, linocut printed from two blocks, 26 x 32 cm.

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Artists Solve Problems:  I had lots of ideas for this activity.  In the end I decided to show the Ted Talk “Embrace the Shake” about artist Phil Hansen.

Artists Take Risks:  I had stumbled upon this video we ended up calling the “Baby George Video”.  It was short, but I think the message was super clear.

Artists Communicate.  In this activity, students found a partner.  One partner was given an image and had to describe the image, and without showing the partner or pointing to the partner’s page, get them to draw the image.

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Artists Observe: I had taken this quiz on facebook that I thought would make a great observe activity.  The students were shown four squares and had to choose the one that was a different shade.  Every time they got it right, a new grid (with more squares) would appear.  It got harder and harder as the difference was slighter and slighter.  On top of that, it was timed.

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Artists Create Original Art:  What better way to kill 2 birds with one stone, but to do a short Slides presentation about Copyright, Fair Use, Appropriation, and Parody.  In the presentation, I briefly went over a concept, then the students were shown a case and they had to decide what the outcome was.  The presentation ended with a mock violation between DisneyLand and Street Artist Banksy’s Dismaland.

Artists Develop Art Making Skills: Each student was equipped with a marker on the end of a 3′ dowel.  We went out into the hall where I rolled out a long paper and had the students look out the window and draw what they saw.

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Artists Have a Global Awareness of Art Making:  The third video I had them watch was the trailer for Season 7 of the PBS series Art 21.

Artists Reflect:  For our final activity, I handed back all of the 8 previous reflection sheets and gave them a new reflection sheet.  I asked the students to review what they had chosen and written for each activity over the past week and a half. They then had to choose one behavior for each activity.  (On the previous reflection sheets, many students circled several behaviors for each activity and had repeated behaviors from activity to activity.  I will come back to this shortly.)  After making connections, they were left with one behavior,  They were asked what filling out all the sheets had to do with that behavior, and they had to connect that behavior with being an artist.


I returned all the reflection sheets the next day and we had our Boot Camp Wrap Up.  I created one more slide show and engaged the students in a discussion to decompress all we had just done.  We went through each activity and I asked them what behavior they thought it was.  I asked why.  Sometimes they all agreed and sometimes they didn’t.  And, they were able to say why for all opinions.  I would reveal what behavior I had intended to connect with the activity.  Then with my enormous passion and animation, I talked about what that behavior meant in terms of art and being an artist.  As I walked around the room and looked at the students, I could see they were taking it in.  I see the sparks.  When I got to taking risks and how my classroom was a place to be comfortable, a place to explore and fail, I could see the looks on their faces change–a change I thought was positive.

The slide show ended with a review of how they would be assessed in my art class.  I asked them what an 87 on an artwork meant.  I could see them reaching for something, but floundering.  I assured them that their lack of finding a answer was okay. The number grade in art seems arbitrary.  It doesn’t help you know where you are or where you need to go.  They agreed.  They now knew why we spent time looking at these behaviors and how we would use them in the coming year.

I learned as much from this boot camp as my students did.  As the first reflections sheets started to come in and I began reading, I was surprised.  Surely the students would have the same thought process I did.  ::face plant::  I became so interested in the different behaviors they chose for each activity and the various reasons why.  I decided to make a chart to record all the different choices.  Artists collaborate and artists communicate were two that were often connected to each other.  The same was true with artists solve problems and artists take risks.  The students made connections between the behaviors without even knowing it–connections that are just inherent in the behaviors.  Of course there were those students that went through the motions without much thought, but there were many that I saw really thinking about what they had just done and making connections.  And, students were honest by saying they didn’t understand what a behavior meant (like global awareness), so they weren’t really sure if they were making the right connections.

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The Artistic Behaviors Boot Camp achieved what I hoped it would.  It introduced the students to the artistic behaviors. It enabled the kids to begin to think and to make connections between what they are doing and what artists do.  And, I got to learn a little about my students and how they think.  Were there rough patches?  Yes.  I wanted to throw in the towel after the first day. But, I am so glad I didn’t.   I am sure I will make tweaks to it in the few weeks before school next August, but for now, I am calling this boot camp a success..

My week at the TAB Institute in Boston, 2015.

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On July 12, I woke up at 4 am to get things ready to board my flight to Boston, MA so I could attend the 2015 TAB Institute.  I would be in Boston for 6 days–living, breathing TAB (Teach FOR Artistic Behavior), surrounded by others who felt the same as me.  It was a week-long intensive look into the world of TAB–what TAB is, how TAB came to be, how to implement, how to assess, how to advocate, I could go on.

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Our “Treehouse” home for the week

Treehouse at night

Treehouse at night

By Monday night, I knew I had found my tribe.  We all knew it.  It was the most amazing thing to me to be surrounded by others who just got it; who just felt the same way I did.  I had talked to some on the interwebs, but to meet them and talk face to face…it was a whole other thing.  A better thing.

I got to meet several of my mentors.  In particular, Kathy Douglas and I finally got to meet face to face.  And, if it wasn’t for her suggestion of me going to Boston this summer, I probably wouldn’t have made it.  So, thank you Kathy for the suggestion.  I also got to meet Ian Sands.  Granted we met briefly in New Orleans, but this week in Boston, I really got to meet Ian.  Ian (and his colleague Melissa Purtee) have had major influence on me and my switch to TAB.  I am so grateful to have stumbled upon them.  So, for me to converse with Ian and work through things TAB related, and to become (dare I say it) friends with him, is a big deal to me.

Kathy, Diane, Clyde, Julie, and Ian

Kathy, Diane, Clyde, Julie, and Ian

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Our other faculty members included Julie Toole.  She is so much fun and if you want to know how to advocate for your TAB program, she is the woman to go to.  Clyde Gaw was there.  His Facebook profile picture makes him out to be this scary guy. He is the complete opposite of this.  He is fun and a big child and has this amazing way of connecting his vast knowledge with what/how artists act and the choices they make.  Lastly, the woman that made it all come together, Diane Jacquith was a wealth of knowledge.  The week ran so smoothly and she had set up an amazing group of mentors, guests (including George Szekely and his daughter, Ilona) and wonderful places to visit, like the Museum of Fine Arts and Fenway Studios.

George Szekely talked to us about play

George Szekely talked to us about play

Fenway Studios

Fenway Studios

Studio of Mae Chevrette

Studio of Mae Chevrette

Studio of Ed Stitt

Studio of Ed Stitt

Studio of Peter Scott

Studio of Peter Scott

I can’t leave out the people who I came to love while I was there.  While I clicked with everyone, I want to give a shout out to my crew that just made the trip over the top—Liz (Leg Day), Andy (Canadia), and Hillary (iPad).  Thanks guys.  You accepted me for who I was and celebrated it.  I am normally a shy person around new people, but you guys made me feel at home.

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Enough with the mush.

Breaking into two groups, we met in tracks first.  Track 1 was for those completely new to TAB.  Track 2 was for those that had practiced TAB for at least a year.  This is where I was.  We also met as grade levels–elementary, middle school, and high school.  My HS group was made up of 4 of us, Liz, Meta, Kathy, and myself.  Of course, Ian was our guide.  This was most helpful to me.  The conversations were lively and honest.  We talked about assessment and grading and how we set up an open studio without centers.  Sometimes we didn’t even notice how long they went on.

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Ilona Szekely

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Tasks from our Task Party

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I have come to point in this blog post where I just don’t know what to say.  I have been trying to decompress it all once the haze of the TAB utopia wore off.  I have been trying to figure out how to sum it all up and write about it for over a week now. And, honestly, I just can’t.  So, instead I will end the post with some pictures of this amazing PD.

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Process Over Product?

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A couple of months ago, I joined an art teacher’s forum on facebook.  It was a great find–a great use of social media.  I am in contact with hundreds, if not thousands of art teachers from around the globe.  It has really got me to thinking about how I run my art room, what is important, what isn’t important, what is art, what is craft, should we have more choice, should technique be the main focus, should, should, should.  In short, it has made me think, learn, and grow…3 things that are important to stay a relevant and qualified teacher.

It is through this group that I was introduced to TAB or choice-based art.  It is through this group that I have been introduced to this group of teachers from Apex, NC at Apex High School.  They have been experimenting with choice this year, and recently they have  brought to the front of my mind the question of process over product.

Is the artistic process more important than the product produced?  I don’t know.  Is the process just as important than the product?  I also don’t know. But as I begin to explore this topic and experiment with it in the classroom, I find I might lean more towards them being equals.

As I began to think about stressing the process in art making and really trying to have my students participate more in the process and making decisions regarding their art just like artists do, I began to think about how do I assess this?  Unfortunately, assessment is always towards the front of my brain. (It’s hard not to think about it when you have to have a minimum of “X” grades per marking period without question, complying with district policy, blah, blah, blah.)   I want my assessment to be fair and meaningful.  I want my assessment to be as objective as can be in a very subjective area like art.  I create rubrics for almost everything.  I have to. Otherwise, I feel like I am grading on a whim.

But back to assessment.  How does one grade process?  How does an artist think?  What actions does an artist do?  Fortunately for me, the very nice people of Apex have sort of figured that out and are willingly sharing their work here.  The questions/artistic habits that Melissa Purtee designed are wonderful and so helpful.

This week I participated in a video art chat and the topic of process over product was the topic.  Ian Sands, a teacher at Apex, discussed how he and the teachers at Apex HS are having the students do what they call a “snapshot”.  Bi-weekly the students go into blogs that they have created and they write about their process.  They must pick 3 of the artistic behaviors and add pictures.  It is a really interesting way to be able to assess the process and to see how the kids are working, thinking, and growing as artists.  The teachers are also discussing using the snapshot as their grades and not grading the final product.

This is where I become unsure.  This is where I veer off.

I decided to give this focus on process a try.  On Monday, my Art 2: P/D students started altered books.  For me, this is a project for the students to really focus working around a theme and trying new ways of making art. (They have prompts to jump off from.  Prompts include things like draw with glue, layers, glazes, burn the page, etc.  I want them to think about doing things other than just “traditional” drawing/painting. )  I have always graded the altered book in a way where each page was graded and then the book as a whole was graded.  I had a rubric that I had created for the assignment, but I wasn’t in love with it.

However, the project has always been more about the process of art making.  Why not then assess it more about the process?

I walked in to class today and told the kids we were trying a different approach to grading this time around.  I told them to disregard everything I talked about regarding the rubric and individual page assessments.  I have decided to have the students do a weekly reflection for the duration of this process instead.

I borrowed the artistic habit domains and wrote up the questions in Socrative. (No time to really set up blogs at this point.) They will answer 2 of the domains each week…their choice.  (I do think I will tell them that they can’t always answer the same two.)  Then that will be their grades.

However, I will still give them an overall product grade based on some basic questions that I outlined for them yesterday…more of did you fulfill the requirements of the altered book type things.   I can’t walk away from the product completely.  I think the product is equally as important.  I think it is important to see things through to the end, even if it is not successful.  Then you can reflect back on the artwork to see what worked and what didn’t.  But this is a conversation for another post.

I am excited to see how it goes.  I am excited to see what students will write. Many are already excited about the altered book, and I think this focus on process over product will let them be more free and willing to try new things.

I will update as we continue with this process process.  (See what I did there?)