Monthly Mentor

Leslie Gates (May)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Leslie Gates, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Art Education at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she coordinates the undergraduate and graduate art education programs. She has taught visual art at the high school and elementary levels in both urban and rural contexts. Leslie's research interests are art educator's professional learning, assessment in the arts, and feminist and choice-based pedagogies. Her research, using participatory and feminist approaches, often means she is working alongside art educators to identify problems and work towards possible solutions. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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« The Practice of Assessment as Information Gathering | Main | Assess What Matters Most »

May 17, 2017

Assessment is Gathering Information About Student Learning

From: Mary Elizabeth Meier

Typically, the term, assessment is associated with numerical grading scales, objective testing, and quantitative accountability measures. In the art studio-classroom, I recommend that we shift toward a qualitative process of gathering information about student learning. When we gather qualitative information, we focus on qualities of experience rather than quantifications or arbitrary numerical representations. I advocate for a method of assessment that moves beyond simplified criterion based evaluation. Instead, rich descriptions and documentation of the qualities of emerging experience, process, questions, thinking, and making that fuel each students’ artistic process are important.

What does this look like in practice for teachers and professors who work in a studio-classroom context? One example of a shift toward gathering qualitative information is to work with students to develop open-ended lists that describe qualities of idea development and artistic behavior. For example, using the Studio Thinking 2: Habits of Mind (Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2013) as a framework, teachers and students can work together to explore the ways that an artist can “stretch and explore” or “engage and persist.” Students can learn to identify, analyze and reflect on the habits and dispositions that are related to creative thinking.

When I teach idea development in my University level Printmaking I course, I use the following student learning outcome (SLO).

Student Learning Outcome: Students will creative and revise ideas in stages of creative process.

SLO Assessment task: Students will 1) develop a sketchbook into a research notebook, 2) analyze and reflect on sketchbook entries, and 3) develop a series of prints that grows from individualized research and creative idea development.

Students made frequent entries in a spiral bound blank sketchbook. They used the sketchbook as a place to gather evidence about their individual creative process and in generating and revising ideas in the stages of monotype, monoprint, and relief printmaking methods. There were four opportunities during the semester for students to demonstrate their learning and processes. At two times during the semester they selected 5 pages from their sketchbook to photocopy and share with me, the professor. We conferred about their ideas using their visual and narrative analysis of their sketchbook entries. Students made their analysis visible to me by using sticky notes and marginalia to annotate the photocopies of sketchbook pages they selected. Later, they expanded their annotations to write a reflection paper as an interpretive analysis of their sketchbook work. Lastly, students developed their unique idea development workflow as they created a culminating print project in which they made many choices and exercised freedom in demonstrating 1) their understanding of the process of research in developing imagery as meaning making and 2) creating a hybrid process of making prints using two or more methods (e.g. planographic and relief).

The following are descriptors of habits for creative idea development. I have written them into an open-ended, flexible list that is a tool for assessment. I use these descriptors to encourage university students majoring in graphic design, art education, art therapy, and studio art to use their research notebook/sketchbook in the idea development phases of works in progress. These descriptors appear on the checklist under the heading, “engage and persist” (Hetland et. al., 2013). The list is not intended to prescribe precisely how students will engage and persist. Rather, I use it to provide ideas for a student to begin their own working process. There is also a blank, open field in the list for students to write in their own descriptors of their process.

* Poses new questions, expands an idea that originates in wondering, questioning
* Experiments and refines work with tools, materials, methods, techniques
* Tries new approaches, ideas, with curiosity
* Takes risks and plays with error/failure
* Pushes the limits, imagines more possibilities
* Plays with ideas and concepts using multiple approaches
* Seeks alternatives, finds what is missing, views the problem from a different perspective
* Moves between what is and what could be
* Adapts a known model

This assessment task draws on formative (sketchbook pages with annotated analysis and written reflection) and summative (culminating project) components. To give students feedback about the information we were gathering about their learning, we used one open ended checklist as a scoring tool to give individualized feedback in the form or written comments as relevant to three sources of evidence (10 pages from sketchbook, reflection paper, and final artwork).  To meet the University administrative mandate of the SLO, I set the target/goal for 75% of students show strong evidence of the qualities of generating and revising ideas in stages of creative process. We met our target when 79% students in the Printmaking I course demonstrated proficiency in the following dimensions of the assessment rubric:

* Research and making connections with artists and movements
* Observational drawing and sensory observation
* To engage and persist in idea development and technical methods
* To stretch and explore in idea development and technical process
* To reflect, revise, and refine stages of creative process

I believe that idea development and habits of creative thinking are worth assessing. We must empower art teachers who may feel caught up in institutionalized assessment practices (e.g., grading, testing, SLOs, and teacher evaluation) to find support in contemporary assessment literacy that is aligned with what we believe about art education. I argue that we should assess what matters most. In the next blog post I will expand the idea of failure as part of the principle, “assess what matters.”



Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K. M. (2013). Studio Thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.




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