Art Teachers as Members of Collaborative Learning Teams

As part of the PLC leadership team at my school,  we have been reading Learning by Doing by Richard & Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker, & Thomas Many. Each time our group meets another chapter is presented and discussed. I chose Chapter 5- Building the Collaborative Culture of a Professional Learning Community. I could have chosen any chapter to review, but after scanning through the book I chose this chapter because as a specialist I frequently feel out of the loop. As the only full-time art teacher at my school, in my basement classroom with a busy schedule, it is easy to become disconnected from the rest of the school community. I rarely have time to co-plan with our part time art teacher, let alone meet weekly to discuss plans for student art assessment and intervention. Grade level teams meet at least weekly at our school and work collaboratively to meet the needs of all students, but since these grade-level meetings rely on the specials schedule, specialists are generally left out of the discussion.

I have been working this year to gather the specialists together to form a team with scheduled time to share information and co-plan, but that time has only been able to fit into the master schedule once a month, and it took quite a while to organize. We will have our first team meeting at the end of this month, which doesn’t allow much time for collaboration. Even though it is an improvement to have a schedule time to meet and share ideas, a specialists team meeting does not address the problem of never meeting with grade level teachers to co-plan.

As an art teacher I have my own standards and county-mandated curriculum to follow, so I have no shortage of material to cover, but I would love to be a more involved part of our school’s collaborative community. With our new school-wide, daily intervention and enrichment time, I can think of tons of ways to enrich the academic lives of my students by creating connections between their classroom curriculum and the world of art. Without a direct link to the grade level team planning, however, it is hard to make those meaningful connections outside of my own class schedule and set curriculum.

This chapter of the book examines possible team structures and scheduled collaboration time, and the issue of establishing meaningful connections through logical cross-curricular links was the part of the book that has struck me as most powerful so far. What a fantastic opportunity to share potential cross-curricular art enrichment opportunities. Being plugged into a grade-level team would give me a chance to collaborate to create extended art activities  adding depth and personal meaning to my students’ experience of other subject areas. We are still at the beginning of this transformation into a professional learning community, but I hope to start establishing these connections now.

How many of you are active participants in your school’s professional learning community? How do you contribute to grade level planning? How do address student enrichment outside of your regularly scheduled class times & standard art curriculum?

Here is the link to my Prezi reviewing Chapter 5 of Learning by Doing.

Lesson Inspiration: Sixth Grade Yearbook Cover Designs 2011

Long time no see!

As you can probably tell from the time without posts, it has been a busy winter. With winter break, many snow days, and two winter colds behind me, I think it is time to get back to the work of blogging my artventures. I thought a monthly challenge might be a good idea to help keep me motivated, so this month I will be posting at least one art project or tip per grade level that I teach. I will be starting with sixth grade and working my way backwards. Hopefully this will make up for my inactive blog for the past month or two.

Closer to the beginning of this last semester my sixth graders embarked on our annual yearbook cover design competition. Each year our yearbook editor selects a theme and my sixth graders are challenged to create a cover design that incorporates the theme. This is their first and sometimes only drawing project during sixth grade, and the pressure is on, as every drawing is entered in the final competition. Students have two full weeks to complete their drawings, and the drawings are submitted to the yearbook editor for judging. In years past our editor has even taken these cover designs to her graphic design company and asked her coworkers to judge the work and select the finalists, which is very exciting for my students.  Each finalist gets a ribbon, and the winner receives their yearbook for free, paid for by our PTA. I make predictions regarding which will make it into the top ten, but I never know who the winner will be and it is especially exciting project for my students.

This year’s theme was “Building the Future”, as our school is currently in the middle of a major rennovation. Students were allowed to choose from the following media: colored pencil, marker, crayon, watercolor, and one student even chose to use photoshop to create his artwork. Students were graded on neatness and control of whatever media they chose, as well as their ability to incorporate the theme in their design. I was excited to see the designs roll in, and I have to say, these are the best designs I have seen since I started teaching here three years ago. Below are photos of the finalists’ designs.

Busiest Week Ever Part 2- Slightly Delayed

The second part of my busiest week ever was submitting fourth quarter and final grades for the year. Grading and report cards are the most loathed part of my job as an art teacher. Although I make every effort to be fair in my assessment of student effort and achievement, I always wonder- isn’t there a better way?

In our school system we currently grade on a four point scale. Each student receives an effort grade and an achievement grade once a semester, as well as final grades at the end of the year. Here is how we are supposed to reach our grades according to the handbook we receive during our first year of art teaching:

Achievement Grades in Art
Did you:
• follow the sequence of directions for the lesson?
• meet the objectives of the lesson?
• complete the project in the time allowed?
• go beyond the minimum requirements?
• use good craftsmanship?

Effort Grades in Art
Did you:
• behave properly in the art room?
• put forth best effort?
• follow art class rules?
• work safely?”

While I understand the importance of assessment in the art program, I am not completely on board with this method of assessment. Art work is difficult to grade, because we are grading a creative work that is personal to the individual that created it. Many parents wonder how we arrive at the grade they see on a report card. Usually when a parent is concerned about their child’s grade in my class, they quickly defend the student’s work, stating that they did their best. I always explain that I assess based on how neatly and completely a student followed directions, as well as whether they participated in the lesson and included all of the concepts that were addressed in the lesson. If I ask students to create a landscape painting of a Virginia region that illustrates painting from background to foreground, illustrates illusions of depth through overlapping, size & placement, and demonstrates at least four different painting techniques, including sgraffito, then when I assess the painting I look for those concepts specifically. I am not grading the artwork based on whether I personally like the way it looks or would I hang it on my wall at home. Instead, I have been instructed by my school system to focus solely on the evaluation criteria set forth in the lesson. For the student’s effort grade, I focus on what I have seen from the student overall in my class- does the student try their best? Did they stay focused and attempt to meet the criteria of the lesson? I approach grading in this way because that is how I have been instructed to. I am not grading based on how the artwork looks, only on whether the student followed the very specific instructions of the lesson.

The trouble here is that I want my students to feel confident in my art room. I want them to trust that if they take a risk and it turns out to be a flop, that the risk was the important part- not the final product. I want to encourage my students to grow creatively, and I know that many of my students are more focused on these specific letter grades, rather than the creative process and their own personal growth. Sometimes my students make beautiful, creative and unique artwork, but their work doesn’t illustrate all of the concepts that it was supposed to include. Sometimes students work so hard on one area of their work that they forget about the other criteria. They make fantastic work, but their grade does not reflect this. And it works the other way too- every once in a while I have a student who appears to be wasting the majority of their class time, but when I grade their work, they have included everything required by the evaluation criteria. When asked to add more, push farther or do something extra, they are completely unwilling and unmotivated to do so. And the worst is the student that says “That’s ok, a C is fine.” These students don’t see grades as an opportunity for personal growth. THey are not learning about themselves from the grade on the report card. They are not being inspired to learn more and grow as an artist by looking at a tiny letter in a box.

Each semester, I slave away filling out little scan sheets for each of my 500 students, and every time I am reassured that this method is a terrible one. I don’t believe that my students really understand more about themselves from the grades they receive on their report card.  I don’t believe that one letter is enough to show a parent how much their child has learned or how well they learned it. Those grades don’t tell a parent how brave or creative or clever their child was. They are just a letter, and as long as that letter is A or B, I don’t hear anything else from the parent or the student about the grade ever again. I have yet to receive a call or email from a parent asking me how I thought their child had grown in art class, or whether there was a specific area that should be addressed at home when a child received an A or B in art. I think the A or B on a report card is received as some sort of pass. “Don’t worry about it, there is nothing else your child needs to strive for in art this quarter. See you again in another nine weeks!”

Our school system is currently revamping their grading system, and when I had the opportunity to sit in on a focus group regarding the new and “improved” report cards I jumped at the chance. When I saw the draft of the new report cards, my heart sank. Instead of four possible letter grades for effort and achievement, we will be giving one of four possible number grades in four different achievement categories, and one for effort.

Here are the proposed categories:

  • Engages in the creative process to develop artworks
  • Uses art media and techniques appropriately to produce artworks
  • Expresses meaning in artworks in a variety of ways
  • Applies an understanding of art history, culture, criticism, and aesthetics when making and discussing artworks

Possible grades for each category have been broken down as so:

Explanation of Marks:

3 – Meets all concepts and skills of standard taught this quarter

2 – Meets most concepts and skills of standard taught this quarter

1 – Does not meet most concepts and skills taught this quarter

3e – Extends standard – Meets and uniquely extends standard

na – Not taught

/ – Introduced but not assessed

While I am happy to see that the variety of ways a student can achieve success in art class is being broken down into a wider variety of categories than “Achievement” I still don’t think that giving a 1, 2, 3, or 3e in each category is the best way to encourage student learning and academic growth.

Grading has been brought up a few times in my Twitter feed recently, and I’m glad to see there are other teachers out there who are interested in changing this outdated and ineffective system. I don’t have a perfect solution, and I’m not sure anyone else does yet either, but there is a great discussion going on about changes in assessment and grading policies, and I am glad to be a part of that discussion. Here are some links to a few blog posts that I have stumbled on regarding grading and assessment over the past few weeks:While this is more specific, giving the parents more information regarding how their students is doing in a wider variety of categories, it doesn’t solve the number problem at all. I see this as a step in a better direction, but a much smaller step than I was hoping for.

NAEA Monthly Mentor guest blogger Rosie Riordan regarding assessment in art education :

Suggestions for Abolishing Grading by Joe Bower includes links to many other posts by Bower regarding grading and why we need to focus on formative assessment.

I’ll be working toward portfolio creation with my students beginning next year and I hope that I can find a balance between giving the grades required on report cards while encouraging student creative growth in my classroom.