The image above is hilarious, but has been altered a bit. It used to say, "CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!" and it's from this incredible blog: Hyperbole and a Half.
But I digress.
I read a post recently from one of my favorite blogs, ever: Art Teachers Hate Glitter. In this particular post, she touches on the concept of having to grade student artwork. This can be a touchy subject depending on what type of art you teach, and what age groups you teach it to.
I've found that an overwhelming number of art-teacher-bloggers out there are primarily elementary and/or middle school art teachers. In fact, my blog is the only blog I can find that focuses on teaching art on the high school level, and therefore, I think my feelings on grading the artwork of my students is vastly different than most.
I love the fact that I have to grade artwork!
Now, do I love individually assessing every.single.project each of my 175 students makes from September until June?
Hell, no! It's a lot of hauling art works back and forth, a lot of late afternoons in the classroom, a lot of lunch breaks spent filling out rubrics, a lot of entering grades in our finicky online grading system and updating rubrics to our also finicky online lesson plan system. But I put on a brave face, an up-beat attitude and I tell myself I love it. Why do I do this?
The ability to prove that art is an assessable subject with benchmarks is what allows me to keep my job.
In other words, if I can't prove that art is assessable, then essentially I'm saying, 'it doesn't really matter' and if I'm saying that, then my higher-ups start asking themselves: why bother paying anyone to teach it?
And really, who can blame them?
I mean, I know why art is important. I know that it can teach you so much more beyond color theory and composition. I know that creating works of art help students to see problems from different angles, to envision the outcome of a situation before making an important decision, to be persistent and dedicated to the tasks we take on, and to be playful and creative with our work.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows that. And if I can't prove all of the above to them through my grading, then there's no way for them to know that.
One argument I get a lot from my students is, "I got a C? That's not fair! You can't grade me on my talent!"
I usually reply saying, "You're right. That's not fair. In fact, it's so unfair, it's illegal and that's why I don't grade you on your talent!"
Grading based on talent! Can you imagine? Being graded in Algebra based on your natural talent for the subject? Lord have mercy!
In grading my student works, I use a rubric.
I know, I know, I said the word. The word. The worst word in teaching: rubric.
But I've crossed over! I'm here on the other side and I'm alive, and I'll tell you, it's really not that bad!
I've discovered the trick to using rubrics. See, the thing is, you need to make them specific enough to meet the needs of your state's standards, but also general enough to encompass more than just one project.
Essentially, I've got a basic rubric that I use for each and every project my kids create, and that rubric changes form to meet the objectives I set out to teach in that lesson.
Example: My basic Photography Rubric:
Student has shot at least 20 studies by due date.
Student has shot at least 15 studies by due date.
Student has shot at least 10 studies by due date.
Student has shot less than 10 studies.
Student has shown clear decision making considering light, subject, setting and story.
Student has shown decision making considering at least three of these things.
Student has shown some decision making considering at least two of these things.
Student has shown little decision making considering only one of these things.
Student’s work shows a clear understanding of this week's concept
Student’s work shows some understanding of this week's concept.
Student’s work shows little understanding of this week's concept.
Student’s work shows no understanding of this week's concept.
Student has professionally edited and handed in all four photographs for grading by due date.
Student has professionally edited and handed in at least 3 photographs for grading by due date.
Student has professionally edited and handed in at least two photographs for grading by due date.
Student has professionally edited and handed in less than two photographs for grading by due date.
It looks scary, but it isn't. Basically I'm asking four questions:
1. Did you do the homework?
2. Did you try?
3. Did you get the main idea?
4. Did you finish and hand in your work?
Based on these four questions, I can look at the student's product and effectively say, "This student has earned a great/good/eh/bad grade" and grade them accordingly.
Now, a lot of you are thinking, "Well, don't you just know if it's an A/B/C/D/F just by looking at it?" And to that I'll say absolutely! Thing is, if you see something that's obviously an A, wouldn't that kid also most likely hit all the "advanced" sections of my rubric? Likewise for a C student hitting all the "limited" parts?
The only time I find the rubric not coinciding with my personal opinion of an A/B/C/D/F grade is if I have a physically/mentally handicapped or learning disabled student in class. I've most definitely received artwork that by looks should be a D, but based on the individual student's effort and abilities will get B+ or even an A. There are always exceptions- but by and large my general rubric works for the majority of each class.
Additionally, the way my rubric is set up it hits most, if not all of the individual state standards for Visual and Performing Arts for my state. It's a win-win!
Lastly, and my most favorite reason for using rubrics to grade student artwork, is when I get a parent e-mail or call in to complain about their child's grade. "Why does Johnny have a C+ in art? I mean, it's not even a real class."
This has happened.
And then, I send over my rubrics and prove to Mama Johnny that he has not met the project/class requirements and has not met the state standards and therefore has not earned an A.
In closing, grading sucks. But keeping your job definitely doesn't suck. Rubrics aren't necessarily the devil if you make them work for you.