I wrote in an earlier post about elementary assessment methods relying on oral examination. I brought this up in a discussion with two other Art teachers. One of them made the point that the kind of assessment-based testing practiced in the STEM classrooms cannot be applied to Art. I disagreed because I did use lessons learned about RTI to test my middle schoolers in my previous placement.
Here’s how: At the beginning of the quarter the students took a written test based on the principles and elements of design. This was a way to gauge basic understanding. Using the results of this test, I was able to see what the students needed to learn. After a lesson on color, I administered a written exam where I asked the students to fill in a color wheel and show tonal value. I could ask the question: Did my students learn what I was trying to teach them about color? If not, I could change course. For that class, a course change led to a lesson on landscape painting where we studied the work of several famous Artists and created our own painting. Afterwards, the students took a test to see what they learned about the elements of landscapes. I draw from the principles and elements as well as color theory in writing the landscape test. Finally, the students took a test at the very end of the quarter that essentially mirrored the very first test on the principles and elements of design. I’ve graphed some the data I collected from these interventions. Looking at the post and pre-test scores, I can prove that the students learned about the basic principles of art and design. Moreover, in the second graph, I can prove that the students who scored lowest on the pre-test began to close the gap with those students who scored highest. That gap went from 80 points to 48 points in one quarter with a consistent average rise of test scores at both the top and the bottom.
Series 1: Average Class Test Scores
2: Color Theory Test
3: Landscape Test
Series 1: Average score of lowest 5 test takers
Series 2: Average score of highest 5 test takers
Series3: Average gap between highest and lowest test test takers
While I agree that Art is different from other areas of study, I strongly believe that certain groups of students will learn in different ways. Tests, quizzes, worksheets and oral assessments work (for me) to drive course work. If I teach a lesson where the students practice perspective and I find, when its done, that only half the class can point to a horizon line I know that I have to revisit perspective. If I test the students on principles and every student knows how to show texture then I know I can avoid lessons on texture. I see RTI as a benefit for me as a teacher. I see it as way for me to hone my craft, nothing more. I think some of my friends who teach Art hear the word ‘testing’ and shut down. I agree with some of their arguments, too. You can’t effectively test creativity, for instance. A student who cannot define space or focal point might create a masterpiece. What grade should that student get? Tests in Art should effect a small part of the students’ grade when compared to the actual Artwork. A professor I once had would often say ‘the proof is in the pudding’. Collecting data is important, but I find the data suggests that students who improve their understanding of the principles and elements of Art and design will also improve their ability to create Art.
Recently, I contracted the flu that resulted in a solid week of shivering, coughing, headaches and physical weakness. My cooperating teacher, who was also struck hard by this insidious and very unpleasant virus, missed the better part of last week so I was able to meet three, very nice substitute teachers. Unfortunately, in my case I felt that I must suffer through the week because I’d worked very hard to prepare for an observation (my last). In hindsight (being 20/20) I should have opted to stay home. When I left school, after my observation on Thursday, I discovered that I was suffering from a fever of 104 degrees. Despite the fever, I felt like the observation went fairly well and I was very diligent about washing hands and keeping my distance from the students and faculty members.
Each of my classrooms was missing at least a few students and some were missing as much as eight. Getting those students up to speed requires a lot of effort. In many ways, this week has been like teaching two lessons simultaneously in one classroom. It has become a classroom management challenge that, so far, I have been able to tackle successfully. I begin each class by asking, by a show of hands, which students missed the first day of a particular lesson. I tell those students to pay attention and to meet me at the blue cabinet after I am done talking. I then go on to teach the second day of the lesson (like I normally would). After handing out materials, even to those who were absent, I remind the students who were sick to meet me at the blue cabinet where I teach the first day of the lesson. I try to touch on all of the main points in the learning, but I am brief and do not ask for a lot of feedback from those students. I will usually demonstrate the process as the students are working in a ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ style. This way, they can catch up rather quickly.
For those students who miss more than one consecutive Art time it becomes much more difficult to catch them up. If the project only spans two Art times the student will not have the opportunity to work on it at all, which is sad but inevitable with pace set by the schedule. I have modified projects that last three or four Art times to accommodate those students who have missed more than one day of school. In two cases, I’ve let students use the projects I’ve begun in process demonstrations. In one case, I’ve permitted a student to use a piece of blue construction paper as a background for a rocket instead of painting blue on white as the rest of the students did. It is important to be creative when making these modifications and to ask yourself: what is the point of this project? What do I want this student to learn from this project?
As the 3rd graders finish up their calendars this week I am looking forward to Monday. We will start a new project and I will have a new sub in the room. Ms. K has asked me to show the new sub where things (row folders, supplies…) are so she can sub successfully on days when she flies solo.
The new project asks the students to consider some work by Picasso: specifically, the Blue Period and Cubism. Ms. K has provided a book, a poster and a project sample along with detailed instructions on how to teach the project and the best method to distribute materials to the students. I have come to appreciate her ability to critique my lesson delivery, giving me the chance to improve from class to class. The third time I teach a lesson is always my best performance. Indeed, her guidance has led me to a level of teaching ability that I have become proud of while still being aware of plenty of room for improvement. On Monday, however, she will be absent. The sub, I am told, is actually a retired teacher from the district so I plan on tapping her for suggestions and advice. The lesson itself, written by Ms. K, seems fairly strait-forward.
I will begin by introducing Picasso by asking the students if they have ever heard of him. After some brief discussion (famous painter, 40,000 artworks…) I will read from the book an excerpt on the Blue Period, pointing out a vocabulary word: Monochromatic which I will write on the board. “Mono means one” and “Chroma means color”. Cubism, I will also write on the board. “Cube is like a 3D square”. To make a monochromatic artwork we must utilize tints (color plus white) and shades (color plus black). I will then demonstrate how to collect materials, writing my name on each piece of paper, cutting shapes (nose, eyes, mouth…) and gluing them down to create a self-portrait. The over-head projector works very well for gluing and cutting demonstrations. I know that a few students like to change seats to get a better view of the demonstrations. The over-head helps reduce that behavior. While cutting I must remember to show Ms. K’s sample as well as the Picasso poster.
The 2nd graders are also starting a new project on Monday and Tuesday, but I think we will work on sketchbook assignments so I can start fresh with new projects on Thursday when I will be observed.
In the later grade levels I find that short quizzes can help assess student learning. With my 7th graders, I was able to see who understood what and who needed more help. In one case I restructured the curriculum because very few of the students learned what I was trying to teach them (color theory). For elementary I have been at a loss. The artwork itself is a good way of assessing student learning, but I want to know how they are learning before the end of any given project. I also want them to learn vocabulary, which isn’t apparent with visual work.
So here is my solution: At the end of each class period I ask a series questions of the entire class. I remind them to raise their hands if they know the answer several times before and during the process. The right answer wins a coveted place in or near the front of the line. On the second or third day of any given project I can start the class with questions that acts as a form of review.
To illustrate this method of assessment I offer a list of questions relating to the Amphora Vase project currently being worked on by third graders.
(Beginning the class, review)
(End of class for line-up)
Here you can see that I am using relevant vocabulary words: Amphora, neck, belly…
And I am also finding out which students know the relevant history we have studied: time period and region. For most who didn’t get a chance to answer or who answered incorrectly this Q and A is more of a reiteration (student to student) of the topics discussed. I still have to move around the classroom during work time to gauge student learning on a one-to-one (teacher to student) basis. I’ll ask a student who is struggling, “Can you point to the foot of the vase on your drawing?” or, “Did you know that this kind of vase was used in Greece to transport olive oil and wine?”