Blog Entry 2015
Jean Stith, Art Teacher
Portsmouth Public Schools

I often reflect on my teaching day, the decisions I have made and consequences quickly weighed. I always look back on the recent weeks of a semester and question the best use of time, materials and pedagogical strategies. At this point in my career I have the long view. My lessons and methods for a student’s skill and knowledge development have evolved over time largely because of the habit I have of thoughtfully reflecting on my practice. Many colleagues tout frequently trying new lessons to remain excited and engaged in teaching art. They find fault in repeating lessons too often. True, there is always the danger of growing stale in one’s presentation of a lesson, however I will wager that there is great value in a well-honed unit that is tried and true. A student’s successful art experience imparts a sincere sense of accomplishment that is not quantifiable. This brings me to the new student/teacher assessment practices in art education.

The new policy of pre-instruction assessment, mid-instruction assessment and post-instruction assessment merely formalizes something I have always been aware of and have always used to plan instruction. The policy asks that I monitor the creative growth and the development of the associated skills in my art students’ work over the span of 18 weeks. As an aside, I do not think that anyone managing curriculum and instruction at the state level realized the hours of teacher-time this endeavor would consume.

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Specifically, I will share the journey of one Art Foundations II student, Trekwon. Tre is a 15 year-old, African-American young man who likes art, but was uncertain just how he might find success in the art room. He truly wanted to know how to draw better. He worked hard as we moved through the preparatory exercises; drawing techniques, value scales, contouring skills and proportions of the head and face. Tre was fully invested in the process as I taught grid enlargement and as we talked about ratios and scale. If his attention did wander a suggestion of how to make his drawings better brought him right back to the task.

The pre-drawing assessment placed him in Tier 1. In that first drawing he relied strongly on designs based upon memorized schema, as you can see in the first image on the left. Progress through the unit included working from a mirror and drawing from direct observation. Tre applied the guidelines for proportions of the face and modeling well, as seen in image 2 with the mid-instruction assessment. His confidence grew and I appreciated how the sophistication of his questions changed as he began to really embrace the process, yet he still had difficulty letting go of his schema system. With further instruction on simulated textures and more careful observation Tre completed the post-instruction assessment drawing, image 3. As the unit came to a close I had given the entire class the option to use creative personal symbols and imagery in the negative space, he was one of just a few to give it a try.

He worked up his thumbnail sketches in his sketchbook and showed them to me. I told him that I would approve it if he would write a narrative to explain his symbols. This is what he wrote;

The fire represents the hot head that I was and the clouds with the rain coming out is putting the fire out to show I am not the hot head I [once] was.

Yes, this assessment work is a burden and it does challenge teaching creatively, but it has afforded my students and me the opportunity to appreciate the improvement of skills over the course of the semester and to their pride in the improvement of their portfolios. I loved seeing the smile on Trekwon’s face when he finished his last self-portrait. I am pleased that he feels so good about his work that he is allowing me to document it and to display all three of his self-portrait drawings.  In closing, I want to comment on the recent demand to turn art making into data, to test everything, and to quantify learning. I know that my teaching is not data driven and I am secure in that knowledge, because experience has shown me this is true. Teaching, for me personally, will never be data driven, because numbers do not motivate me, art students’ smiles do.

So, when I reflect on PD 360, administrative evaluations and teaching portfolios I remind myself that I have always authentically taught my students, always critically looked at my practice and I will continue to work for the smiles of proud art students. Teaching is about reciprocity, I thank you Trekwon.


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