Sponsored by The Society for Classical Learning and The Alcuin Fellowship
I wonder if thinking of grades not so much as assessment, rather as communication clears or muddies the question? The pass/fail distinction doesn't convey much to the student, and (at a higher register, if you will) suggests that the class is of less importance.
Would a rubric based grading scheme better communicate to students the value of the work they're doing in the arts?
Part of the difficulty here is recapturing a sense of aesthetics, theory, and technique in a postmodern culture that has come to think of art as a matter of personal expression and taste.
I've learn the most myself as a teacher when I had the opportunity to brainstorm together with other teachers regarding the best values or standards for a class (as well as working collaboratively at the creation of rubrics to reflect these standards). Grades as a means of communication is a helpful concept to me. Verbal communication and feedback to students about standards (often in the form of live critique) is key, but grades can and should play a role in the process.
I would love to see teachers share and critique some standards (and rubrics) for specific classes and assignments on here in a way that could generate collaborative resources for us all to organize, use and adapt over time.
I teach a Bible class, and it has had to become a Bible-through-writing class, so that I can cover the theological content, teach much needed writing skills, and use writing as the medium for assessment. Writing is one of those subjects that's hard to grade numerically. Of course, there are all the grammar structures and punctuation that can be assigned point values and graded, but the rest- organization, content, argumentation... there are multiple 'correct' styles and many more 'incorrect' styles.
I also help with the secondary art classes, and see the full spectrum of student attempts, from painstakingly long tries for photographic accuracy, to loose and lazy "self-expression," to total disinterest and artless piles of pigment on paper.
What seems to be at the core of the issue of grading these kinds of classes is the intersection of cold, hard, structural absolutes and creative, dynamic, avante-garde artistry, both of which are necessary for good art, be it visual or literary.
I propose that the structure, techniques, foundations, etc. of the art be taught first and graded thoroughly. The skills, be they brush techniques, writing methodology, color theory, proper handling of setting/character/conflict, etc., should be clearly demonstrated, thoroughly outlined in an extensive rubric, and described to the students as necessary and foundational to art.
As these skills are being mastered, the product may seem un-artistic and formulaic, but this is OK. Once students demonstrate mastery of the form, they are freed to experiment within and over it, stepping up into the realm of artistry, creativity, and style. I believe this is closer to the classical style of instruction and learning throughout history.
As far as writing goes, my rubric is divided into two sections. The first clearly provides for every grammar and punctuation error conceivable and makes sure that the basic elements of structure (intro, thesis, topic sentences, etc.) are there, with a very low point value assigned to all. The second part ascribes a high point value to the organization and ideation of the paper: Is the thesis clear? Does it apply to the assignment? Do the main points support the thesis clearly? Are they all related, or random? Is there a clear progression through the points? Do the examples support or distract from the thesis and main points? Is there any 'fluffy' or unnecessary language? Does the conclusion integrate the main points, or merely repeat them? Does the conclusion make a final admonition, call to action, or final point? Etc.
I give my students many papers over a broad selection of topics, but require them to follow the same rubric so that they internalize the form and learn how to apply it to various topics. I weight the grading much more on the organization and presentation of material than on the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation, and if a student has obviously not proofed the paper, I'll simply reject it, have them revise it, and take the grade as late.
I believe the same method can be applied to the visual arts, focusing on the corresponding elements of visual design- value, line, variety, unity, rules of color and shape, positive/negative space, etc. I also believe that this is the way that 'unartistic' people can become creative and artistic. Giving a framework to start from sets the stage as best as possible for creativity to be displayed and clearly understood. Many good artists simply work hard at it and understand the structural elements that provide a place for creativity and artistry to be seen and understood.
This is a great question, Andrew. I think it depends much on the nature of the class. For instance, some classes are geared much more toward an end performance, whereas others are built more for the training in fundamentals (usually the performance-based classes assume this fundamental training and its maintenance, but that is not the focus). I can't speak much to the visual arts, but I can tell you a little of what I've experimented with in 7-12 grade orchestra classes over the years. I think the structure I've had the most success with in terms of setting reasonable objectives have fallen along these lines:
60% of the grade comes from rehearsals (daily classes) along these lines (10% each): preparation, punctuality, posture/professionalism, practice, performance, and homework. This will involve things like ear training, dictation, technique, mastery of certain sections, theory, etc. I usually equalize across differing ability levels by assignment of parts accordingly (more challenging to the more able).
20% is in minor performance opportunities
20% is in our culminating performance (one per semester)
We also have an audition-based group with a pretty strict set of standards that we guard closely. The idea is that no one gets into that group who hasn't mastered the foundational elements, so we focus almost entirely on performance there.
One example of something I require is a practice sheet. Students have to log a certain number of minutes each week, and there are bonus opportunities for those in private lessons.
Having said all this, I can tell you that it's only as good as my ability to stay on top of it, and what usually happens is that I end up leaning on intuition, and so long as students have done their part, been faithful in class rehearsals, and contributed positively to the performance, I don't mind handing out easy A's or B's. It's a lot to keep track of otherwise. But when I have been consistent it provides constructive ways to encourage kids and hold them accountable, regardless of their particular talent or ability. Excellence is always a goal, but building programs in small schools also involves working with what you're given, which is usually less than much bigger schools with hundreds of students. Grades and motivation play into this, like it or not (and I don't). We've built a pretty solid program, but I know there are many things we could do to improve it, and I've always interested in ideas from others.
That's a start, and it warrants more discussion, to be sure. Your thoughts?
I have used a (hopefully) more objective way of evaluating my students' work in studio class. Each project requires a clear set of objectives to be met. Other criteria to be considered should be use of materials, effort--i.e., can progress be seen in skill and competency in material usage?, attitude--did the student exhibit a willingness and desire to learn? How?, and the final criterion...which is rather subjective at times....did the student go above and beyond the "call of duty"...did they surprise themselves?
I think so much of the responsibility of grading relies on the competency of the methodology of the teacher. I believe all students (that can see) can learn skills necessary for drawing. There will always be those students that excel because they have a passion for the subject...that can be seen in all subjects... However, the post-modern "creative" mystique of "teaching art" should be abandoned for solid skill building at the grammar stage, problem solving at the logic stage, and the romance of engaging the subject/problem at the rhetoric stage. It is up to the teacher to lay out the clear objectives for the project, teaching the necessary skills to meet them, and encouraging each student through the maze of challenges they will encounter along the way. Students are created creative...competent methodology unleashes that creativity. Students should not be asked to be creative without, first, being given the tools with which to be creative, i.e. skills, historical examples, material usage, etc., and those things can be graded rather objectively.
CCA had Catherine Prescott speak for an event last year. She told several lively stories about the possibility (and value) of teaching everyone to draw. She also promoted objective standards in art instruction. A sampling from her talk (and her full lecture is here):
“Would I have to sit on you, to get you to hear this: I could teach you to draw in less time than it took to become a nurse, and at no greater cost than it takes to learn to score a goal by kicking a ball.” Talent, yes, talent is helpful, and it may, for some, be the starting point, but talent is the easy part because it’s the part that was given to you.