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Choice-Based Art / March 2019 | Arts & Activities
Feb 2019

Choice-Based Art / March 2019

Choice-Based Art / March 2019

Choice-Based Art classrooms are working studios where students learn through authentic art making. Control shifts from teacher to learner as students explore ideas and interests in art media of their choice. This concept supports multiple modes of learning to meet the diverse needs of our students. Learn more at teachingforartisticbehavior.org

by Clyde Gaw

I’ve wrestled with the problem of grading and student assessment often during my 34 years as an art teacher. The problem became more acute after I switched from a teacher-centered curriculum to one that supported emergent curriculum inside a Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) classroom.

Reporting on children’s creative growth within an education system built to assess mass-produced experience is a complex problem to address. Back in 2004, my colleague Clark Fralick and I noticed that once we transitioned to TAB, a child’s personal connection to their art experience was increasingly significant, due to the personal nature of art making.

I remember Matt, a student who moved to our district in 2009. He loved our student-directed art classroom experience and worked at the painting, drawing and block building centers on personally meaningful, time-sensitive ideas. One day, while in the fourth grade, he confided this to me:

“Well, when I was at my other school, being creative was especially frowned upon. I made an alien clown and I got a D!!! One time we were making self-portraits, and they said if you don’t do it right, you will have to do another one. I used red, and they said, don’t use red. And then they said, OK, we are not gonna give you another one, until you get a bad grade, because you did it a wrong way … My art wasn’t appreciated there.”

HOW MANY CHILDREN LEAVE ART PROGRAMS as frustrated about their experience as Matt? If art education advocates are going to make the claim that art class offers opportunity for self-expression, how can we as art teachers penalize children when they self-express through their art? Art making in which a child originates an idea through memory, experimentation, observation, imagination, feelings and emotions is, psychologically, a powerful learning experience. One of the larger education goals for American schools is to enable and support creative growth.

Accepting children’s productive idiosyncrasies, natural inclinations for learning, and recognizing unique cognitive capacities, is a hallmark of the TAB art education approach. In a TAB classroom, student driven learning activities can go far beyond the given information, connect with transdisciplinary content or differ from the teacher’s expectations. Children’s art that might seem insignificant or does not meet adult standards, may in fact harbor immense psycho-emotional power for its creator.

WHAT ASSESSMENT OR GRADING TOOL will allow the teacher to flex with student needs and account for differences in a child’s cognitive capacities? How does an art teacher assess idiosyncratic ideas like the alien clown? My answer is based on a very old assessment practice: the portfolio. Teachers can help children keep cumulative portfolios, containing selected works.

Children in classes as early as fourth grade can successfully develop an electronic portfolio using tablets with apps such as SeeSaw. Older children can be taught to use Google Presentation, Google Site, Blogger, Weebly, or the old standby, PowerPoint.

Prompted by the teacher, students can document their creative experiences or trans-disciplinary learning events through writing and include artistic samples inside the portfolio. From the beginning of the semester to the end, children can insert images, video, artist statements or other writing that regularly account for learning experiences.

BECAUSE THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PORTFOLIO is based on time and the technical skill of inserting images and writing artist statements (which can be done in class or at the child’s discretion), grading the portfolio, and not individual subjective works of art, relieves the pressure over grades related to students’ personal connection to art making. Simple pass/progressing reporting designations are substituted for letter grades. Art education sage Peter London reminds us that how human beings feel about their art experience when they are young affects their views of art education when they are older (and become tax payers). Matt, now an 11th-grader in a TAB art class, writes:

“This is my main attraction. This was the piece that defined my style. It encompasses what my brain goes to make coherent thought. It was essential when making this that no line touched another. The colors had to be spread evenly. Too much of one speaks redundancy. Like a mine field, one wrong move and all is lost.”

From an art education advocacy standpoint, placing a subjective grade on a child’s art experience is tantamount to playing with fire. 

Clyde Gaw has been teaching art since 1984. He is the advocacy advisor for the Art Education Association of Indiana and has been a member of Teaching for Artistic Behavior since 2004. You can visit Clyde’s choice-based art education blog here: www.clydegaw.blogspot.com.


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