Today I received a question from a reader asking for advice on how to grade art work. Here is her question:
I have been using your site for ideas, thanks a bunch. I have a question for you. I can’t give out grades like A’s, B’s or C’s, so how do I get them to actually work hard on their projects? All I can give them is a participation/behavior grades. Please give me any ideas. Half the time the kids take so long on their projects. These are mainly 4-8 grade kids.
After reading her question, I realized that her concern might not be about grades, but student efficiency. She wants to know how she can encourage her students to work efficiently and creatively. Basically, get the darn work done. It’s a good question so I’m going to try and answer it and then solicit everyone else to add their two cents. Deal?
Here’s what I think:
Before I answer this question, I should put out a few disclaimers.
Number 1: I teach K-6. I have no experience teaching Middle or Junior High students.
Number 2: I don’t give grades. The classroom (homeroom) teacher does.
Number 3: The reason why I don’t give grades is because I’m not credentialed.
Still want to hear my ideas?
I ask this because I only have theories on why students don’t perform their best work. And my theory about grades is that they really shouldn’t matter too much. Students who work hard and finish their projects should get good grades. Students who listen and watch a demonstration but then do the exact opposite, should get a good grade if he completes a piece of art because really, aren’t these the type of kids who are the most interesting to watch? Students who get upset and frustrated with their work and then rumpled it up should get good grades because at least we know they care. Students who get so excited about art that they CANNOT STOP PLAYING WITH EVERYTHING IN THE CLASSROOM should get good grades because we should all be so excited.
I think you get the idea. But you probably need some concrete advice, right?
If you are finding that your students aren’t motivated and they just piddle with the lesson, then maybe it’s a bit boring for them. If this is the case, try something different. It may be that the project is too technical or historical or hard to understand. Never under-estimate kid appeal when selecting lessons. Make sure you give a thorough demonstration and pick something that can be completed in under an hour. It’s your job to give kids something to sink their teeth into and get excited about.
If you are using grades for motivation, try switching your perspective. Pretend that every child has an A. Then give them the opportunity to live up to that grade. Provide every opportunity for them to want to work on their project. I already mentioned that a lesson should have kid-appeal, but how do you know? Try the project yourself. You need to physically assess the project and decide whether or not students can do it within a reasonable time-frame.
Determine how you structure your class. It may be that you aren’t giving an engaging demonstration. One of my biggest pet peeves with art instruction is the notion that if you tell a student/child what to do, you are suppressing creativity. I just don’t buy it. I’ve done a few experiments, I mean lessons, where I place an inspiring picture on the white board and tell my students to begin. This is way too hard. Kids, adults, dogs…everyone needs a bit of structure or at the very least, a small perch in which to jump off of. Make sure you can demonstrate and teach something new, cool, interesting, etc.
Do you think these ideas might help?
Did I miss the point of the question? Do marks really inspire student achievement in the arts?
All you super-smart, credentialed art educators out there, chime in and provide some different points of view. I might be in a little over my head here!