Art, craft & design assessment advice
Art assessment should never be a judgement passed from teacher to pupil, it should be positive guidance for improvement. Art assessment should promote and improve learning and the most important aspect of the assessment process is creativity itself.
The creative process should be the brain of the assessment model because creation and critical judgements go hand in hand. When an artist stands back and looks at their own art work they are analysing, trying to establish what is working and what isn't, what they need to develop and what their next steps should be:
1. Creative inspiration
2. Creative development
3. Creative analysis (evaluation)
4. Creative decisions
This process is usually cyclical as the artist moves through it again and again but at any moment, the creative process can end: ‘It’s gone wrong, go straight to the bin, do not pass Go and do not collect £200.' This process should form the basis for all assessment. Students need to understand that it is perfectly normal to feel frustrated and yet be able to give themselves credit and move on. They should not only learn how to develop technique but also how to analyse their own work fairly and make good choices, Assessment should become a positive, healthy experience where pupils take creative decisions comfortably and learn from their mistakes.
How do I assess art?
You should try to develop a culture of non-judgemental discussion in your classroom. These should be learning conversations and can be done in circle time or group discussion. In art colleges, they call this method a crit and they use it all the time, sometimes at the end of projects, often during projects at key times.
Try to lead the discussion into appraising the success or failure to meet the learning objectives of the work. Highlight what success would look like, but try not to identify names of pupils such as; 'Tom's is really good, look at how he has used colour.' Rather, say; 'This piece of work is successful because they have used colour how it was demonstrated.' Highlight what went well and how it might be improved.
You should use this time to build confidence in pupils who may not be feeling very good about their work and this can be done by getting other pupils to talk about the work they like and why they like it. All pupils have a powerful negative self and this is a good time to try to overcome it with positive reinforcement.
Sometimes I need to assess the work into grades, in the UK we use three attainment levels of Meeting, Exceeding or Working Towards, but this does not address two other attainment areas - Gifted and Talented pupils and Special Education Needs or SEND students, which, in my opinion can be assessed separately or as part of the class depending on your preferences.
Assessment should ultimately be advice and guidance for improvement. It should never make me feel like a failure and demoralise me, as some assessment often does. I don't write on work, use purple pens or grades because art doesn't need grading. If you want to encourage a lifelong love of art then you need to teach pupils that art is a life long process of improvement, not a quick mark on a test sheet. For that reason, try to avoid focussing all of your attention on attainment within the class, but focus on individual progress. Get the pupils to look back at their earlier work regularly so they can see the improvement they are making and put your spotlight on that.
What should I look for when I assess art?
1. Quantity and quality of participation - Have the pupils gained experience of the activities you have provided? If they have, regardless of their attitude, effort or skill they have participated. But you might want to measure how the quality of that participation. Be careful here, because some pupils may be wary or even frightened of using clay etc. and so it’s easy for some to be penalised unfairly. But clearly, if some have not made any effort at all whilst some have tried really hard then you want to recognise this. This might be assessed as an effort grade on a numerical scale from 1-10 or 1-5.
2. Progression - You need to make it clear to everyone what their basic starting point is; high ability for age, the class standard or working towards the class standard. Then when assessing progress you should be highlighting how much the person has progressed from where they began. This is fundamentally different to assessing quality of outcomes and makes for a very different art room because often, you realise that high ability students aren’t making as much progress as the less able. This is actually quite normal, because it’s harder to make big learning steps when you already possess the skills being taught, but it really helps the less able to feel more confident.
This might be assessed as simply; has made outstanding progress, has made good progress, progress is in-line with class/age expectations, slower progress than expected, minimal or no progress.
3. Attainment and ability - It is important to recognise what ability level the pupils are and what they have learned and achieved. I would assess the pupils’ outcomes as one of the strands; high ability, class standard (good), working towards the class standard. There are two other strands to mention; Students with special education needs and those who are Talented. By understanding pupils individual needs you can make more informative assessment decisions based on their needs or abilities. What I would suggest is that you may wish to separate both of these extremes from any whole class assessment activities you do. It is a sensitive issue and needs careful handling but I try to take the needs and the opinions of the pupils into consideration when assessing these extremes in front of the whole class.
By summarising what learning has taken place in the course of the work and reminding pupils what they have done you are strengthening their knowledge and understanding, placing this learning more firmly in their memory and improving confidence. Ask the pupils to highlight which work they like and say why, make a fuss of pupils who overcame adversity and mention those who made good progress.
Differentiation in art
Whenever you are teaching art there will always be some distinctive areas that emerge:
1. There will be 3 main areas of attainment in your outcomes; High, Middle and Low ability.
2. There will occasionally be some students who will demonstrate ability way higher than that of their peers (Gifted & Talented).
3. There will be students who will struggle to produce anything of quality and find it very difficult to access your lessons (often, but not always SEN)
Every unit of work you plan should cater for these areas of attainment. When planning a project you should always prepare for this. Ask yourself: What have I got to extend and enrich this project for the more able? How am I going to support the less able? You cannot simply say: there will be differentiation by outcome, because this will not provide a suitable platform for everyone to achieve. If your task is suitably open ended to enable students to work at their own level of ability then you may not need to think much about extension work, but you will always need to think of support for students who are struggling to access your lesson.
Typically, high ability artists will already be able to draw, shade and colour skilfully without much input from you. High ability thinkers will create unusual and interesting colours, shapes and patterns and have more imaginative outcomes that are not necessarily skilfully produced. Often, some students who are very skilful at drawing and/or painting have little or no imagination. So you need to know if you have high ability thinkers, high ability creators of art or both. To extend your students work they should be challenged to push the boundaries and branch out into their own, creative outcomes. For example: You have asked the class to paint and draw insects for a pattern design. The students finishing early might be asked to create something using that pattern, such as a dress or clothing. The key is to ask ther right questions: That is excellent work, how would you like to develop this work further? In what way might you build on this work? How might you apply this pattern? Can you think of alternatives? What would happen if you used different colours?
To support the more able try these methods:
If a student finishes their work quickly, ask them to check it and think about how they might improve it. When drawing and painting, students finishing early can nearly always improve their use of colour, shading and/or the tone in their work.
They should be asked to think about what THEY would like to do next. Students who are more able and finish work quickly usually have a head packed full of ideas that they want to express. Have an extension box in the classroom filled with interesting work. Try to build a collection of activities, tasks and objects that can inspire a piece of artwork. You might be able to download many of these from the internet or from photo-copiable booklets. Encourage 'Free Drawing time.' I love free drawing time in art because the students love free drawing time! It is also a great gap filler and extension task in lessons. Why not simply allow a student some free time to study an art book of their choice? It's quick, easy and very educational!
To support the less able try these methods:
Show them how to ghost draw shapes on the paper to help them.
Show them how to sketch lightly with a sharp pencil.
Help them to build the drawing from simple shapes such as circles, squares.
Provide tracing and copying facilities wherever possible. A piece of tracing paper is a Godsend and it is not cheating.
Provide one to one support where possible and do small demonstrations on scrap pieces of paper.
Break the task up into smaller sections.
Provide good resources on the whiteboard and/or handouts.
Think of more simplistic alternatives with strong outlines. Tracing cartoons is a very good way of improving the fine motor skills needed to help the less able.
If all else fails then you might start them off with a few basic guidelines. Try not to do too much but just enough to get them going.
Put a homework book together of activities to help develop motor skills.
As an NSEAD registered art consultant, I offer a friendly, professional art consultancy service to schools, from early years right through to Secondary GCSE. I've worked with infant schools to improve art assessment, delivered primary school CPD on skills and progression, worked with Subject Leaders to raise attainment and done whole school, secondary art department audits including formal lesson observations and department reviews. My over-arching strategy is to support the professional development of hard working professionals with positive and constructive advice for improvement.
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