Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 03.29.10

Assessment: Reporting to families

After teaching for twenty years, it has become very real to me how important it is to tell it like it is, whether it is personally or professionally.  Of course, in certain situations, it is vital to show a little restraint or at the very least control when sharing information.  And this is very true about reporting to families.

To conclude my month-long blog entries for NAEA Monthly Mentor, I would like to briefly discuss reporting to families.  Most of us are familiar with the typical ways we communicate student progress…mid-term evaluations, quarter-end report cards, parent/teacher conferences, as well as, phone calls and emails.  No matter the style of communicating about student progress, one must have the evidence collected, which is based on standards and objectives.  It is imperative that when we share with families (and you will notice I said families as many of our students are being raised by adults other than parents), that what we’ve collected supports the comments and/or grades that are shared.  For examples, when my district rewrote its elementary report card several years ago, the entire report card was based on national and state standards.  Using a 4 (exceeds the standard), 3 (meets the standard), 2 (approaching but not meeting the standard), 1 (does not meet the standard) system, I am required to share four times a year, student progress in 5 areas in art and 4 areas in technology.  In art, I must assess the creative process, connecting with art, communicating with art, expressing through art, talking about art, and work habits.  In technology, I must assess using the computer to produce, using technology to research, keyboarding skills in grades 4 & 5, and finally, work habits.  I must collect the necessary evidence every 9 weeks to confidently share with families the current status of their child based on the standards.  I often find myself collecting the final pieces of evidence the last couple weeks of each quarter by basing my objectives on what I must collect.  Then, at the end of the quarter, using a web-based system, I diligently enter all my 4, 3, 2, and 1s to each child’s report card.  I give comments to about 40% of my students.  Students who receive a 1 or 2 automatically receive a comment.  Any child who receives 3 or more 4s also receives a comment.  If a child receives 3s and 4s, there is no comment made as a 3 means the child has met the standard.  As I share comments, I am concise and precise with the comment focusing on the standards and objectives.  I do have families question me at times about grades and/or comments, and I confident using my data that I can defend a grade or comment given.

In the end, sugarcoating grades or comments is not fair to the child and does all who are involved no good.  You must be confident in your grades and comments, and they must have strong connection to standards and objectives.

I am honored to have been the NAEA Monthly Mentor for March.  It has been a pleasure thinking about, reflecting on, and writing about assessment. Everyone should be part of a process like this.  Special thanks to Linda Scott for her direction and support all month long.  I am happy to continue to be a resource for you.  Please contact me at or call me 402.560.2735. May your assessment and evaluation continue to be descriptive and informative for children and families yet manageable for you.

-Bob Reeker

Wednesday 03.24.10

Assessment: Continued Discussion about P.L.C.s

As an art and technology specialist (there are five of us in Lincoln Public Schools, Lincoln, Nebraska who teach this combination), we write S.M.A.R.T. goals for both areas of art and technology.  We balance the academic regimen of P.L.C. work with the need for creative growth by dividing our goals between the two areas.  Often, we use technology to collect our data and as formative interventions.  The goals specific to art are often addressed in formative interventions as well as through products created as part of the goals.  An example from last year is a focus on color for fourth grade.  We, as a group, decided our essential learnings or outcomes for this element were to understand and use six color families (primary, secondary, warm, cool, neutral, complements).  We collected our baseline data via technology and then set our S.M.A.R.T. goals.  We then implemented a variety of formative assessments including review, grouping, identification, small group, etc.  Post data was collected to see if we met the goals.  The balance with creativity was how the students used the essential learnings in their art products.  For example, my fourth graders were in a unit on mask making and were required to demonstrate at least one color family on their mask.  I purposely left it open-ended to allow for creative exploration, but the goal was implemented to meet the essential outcome.

There is a way to address the work necessary with P.L.C.s without sacrificing creative expression.  With a balanced approach, teachers and students can explore essential learnings, meet S.M.A.R.T. goals, and still create works that are personal and expressive.

-Bob Reeker

Sunday 03.21.10

Assessment: Professional Learning Communities (P.L.C.s) and Creativity

Whether Professional Learning Communities is a new term or one you've heard before or have experienced, it is a term you want to become familiar with in the near future.  P.L.C.s provide an opportunity and a time for teachers to discuss what teaching is all about...student achievement. But as with most things in life, one must learn to balance the evidence-collecting portion of P.L.C.s and the open-ended problem solving of creativity.  Professional Learning Communities can offer the vehicle in which art educators can share what they teach, how they know their students are learning it, how they work with those students who don't learn it, and finally, how they provide further experiences for those students who do understand it.  Goals are written as S.M.A.R.T. goals:  S-Specific, M-Measurable, A-Attainable, R-Realistic, T-Timely.

As is with most things in life, work with P.L.C.s and creativity is a balancing act.  Lincoln Public Schools started the PLC model three years ago; the last two years, art specialists have been allowed to meet to work on goals pertaining to the art curriculum.  Although we have come a long way in understanding and using the PLC model, we are still learning and growing.  And part of that growth is the balancing act of addressing measurable goals and still maintaining the creative growth of our children.

In my next entry, I plan to share more specifics about P.L.C.s.  Please share your experiences using the P.L.C. model for assessment.

-Bob Reeker

Wednesday 03.17.10

Assessment: Digital Portfolios as Summative Evaluation

I remember senior year in high school.  Rushing around early spring to pull artwork together to send off to colleges for scholarships.  Back then, you either sent the full portfolio with the original work or sent slides; there were no digital images to send or CDs to save the work.

Wow, have things changed!  We have so many possibilities with the technology afforded us today.  No matter the program you choose, one can make a stylish and attractive portfolio.  I work with my 5th graders to create art portfolios using PowerPoint.  By the time my students reach 5th grade, each has made at least one PowerPoint per grade level starting in 2nd grade…so my kids know PowerPoint well.

I give them a beginning template with two slides:  an introduction slide and a “About Me” slide.  They must include a visual on each slide whether it be a photograph or clip art.  As we complete units during the year, students take digital photographs of their work (I let students take the photos; most have used a digital camera before but I always run into a few students who have not, so it is a good learning experience).  On each of the art slides, students must include the image, a title, medium, and an artist statement.  The statement must be at least three complete sentences and may address:  inspiration, struggles, changes they would make, title choice, etc.  This piece is vital as a summative evaluation as the children are reflecting and thinking deeper about the work each has created during the year.  At the end of the year, and depending on time frame, students share in some manner.  We may share as a large group with the PowerPoints projected on the screen or they may partner or trio to share the portfolios with each other.  Students may bring a blank CD/DVD at the end of the year to have the portfolios burned onto to have as a keepsake.  Click here to see examples of student digital portfolios [PPT].

.I find this form of summative evaluation to be very beneficial for my students.  Each experiences something different as they create the work, photograph it, and then write and reflect about it.  I can use the technology work and the writing to meet objectives in both technology and art.

If you do not have access to a lab, you might consider teaming with the technology teacher in your building.  Technology is simply a tool for learning and what better way to learn than to reflect on the whys and hows of creating artwork.

Next week, we delve into Professional Learning Communities (P.L.C.s).

-Bob Reeker

Monday 03.15.10

Assessment: Research + Practical Classroom Application = Effective Learning and Teaching

The work we do in the art room with children must be based in research; without research support, practical classroom application has little validity.  On the flip side, work in the art room with a focus on research only, his little “real” application.  Research and application must go hand-in-hand to make what we do with kids the most effective and beneficial.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I was part of my district’s art assessment committee several years back.  Our work was based in research. Researchers and research we consulted included Donna Kay Beattie – Assessment in Art Education, Elliott Eisner, Tom Guskey, Rick Stiggins, Carmen Armstrong - Designing Assessment in Art, NAEP Report 1994 and several others.

Last week’s blog posts focused on formative assessment.  This week, let’s talk summative evaluation.  First, you may notice the use of the terms, assessment and evaluation. Assessment is formative in nature using data to improve instruction.   Evaluation is summative in nature and focuses on the determination of a final grade as in a grade given on a report card.  There are many ways we can provide summative evaluation for students.  Two I use are rubrics and P.A.T.S. (Praise, Ask, Tell, Suggest).  The teacher can develop rubrics solely or the teacher can create them with student input.  I’ve found with multiple classes, it is often easier for me to develop the rubric from the criteria and standards I’ve set for the project.  Projects are open-ended and provide for multiple solutions.  However, students understand they must meet certain criteria for evaluation.    Below is an example of a rubric I created for a Georgia O’Keeffe unit for 5th graders:

O'Keeffe rubric

Students complete the rubric when finished with their art.  I then complete the rubric as well providing written feedback. I’ve also had peers complete the same rubric for a classmate and turn in the rubrics for comparison.

Another tool I use, which can be both formative and summative is called P.A.T.S.  The focus is on peer feedback.  If used formatively, students benefit from the information provided through the feedback.  If used summatively, an educator can use the comments to grade criticism as well as using writing in art.  Please visit this link for details about P.A.T.S.:

See example of P.A.T.S sheet below.

PATS sheet

Assessment and evaluation are all about giving feedback.  It’s about sharing with students and families how students are achieving in our classrooms.  Later this week, I will share with you information about electronic portfolios as summative assessment.

-Bob Reeker

Wednesday 03.10.10

Assessment: K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Silly

I believe that at times, we as educators believe that we have to be everything to everyone who walks through our classroom doors…and that is an impossible image to live up to on a daily basis.  We can do many great things daily for children that build upon the success of the students who are in our care.  We just need to think about keeping it all simple.

One of the simple assessment pieces I’ve implemented in my classroom is the use of my record book on a clipboard and a pencil attached with a string to the board (I know there are some great digital record book devices out there people use).  I carry this around with me as I monitor student progress, keeping my ear on the pulse of what is being said in the classroom.  I find I am able to write down qualitative, evidence-based comments I overhear children making about their work and the work of others.  Do I lay down my clipboard sometimes and can’t find it? Sure.  We do an emergency search and rescue for Mr. Reeker’s clipboard…and they always find it for me.  I love to write these comments on the report card to provide that individual perspective for families.  I also use these comments as formative tools often stopping the classroom to point out a concept or to give students ideas.  Kids offer some of the best ideas as they work.  I just have to listen!

Another simple tool I like to use with children, as a formative assessment is the use of colored disks or squares of construction paper.  At some point in a unit (usually two thirds through the project), children will lay their artwork at their tables and find a different piece of art to assess.  In the middle of the table is a pile of colored disks or construction paper squares…usually 3 colors.  Each color represents a concept and/or criteria that has been shared with the children throughout the unit.  Red may be shape variety, blue may be pattern, and yellow may be paint technique.  Each child will assess how the art they are in front of has dealt with each of the 3 components.  If the critic feels shape variety is the strongest, a red disk or paper is laid near the art.  Blue is used if pattern is the strongest element to the work, and if paint technique is the best part, yellow is used.  Children will travel around to 3 peer works and do this activity for each.  The real assessment happens when children return to their own work and look at what peers have given for colors.  We spend time debriefing what the combinations may mean…having one of each means you have probably successfully dealt with all 3 criteria well; having only one color shows you nailed that criteria very well, however, the other two concepts may be lacking.  And finally, I reinforce that any missing color would be a criteria that the artist may want to review to see if he/she can address to make stronger.  And I do see children respond to this formative assessment and rework their art.  I find I can do this activity in about 20-25 minutes and will do this activity with children as young as 2nd grade.  It’s simple, quick, and provides much formative feedback to children.


I hope you are finding the entries I am making helpful.  Please comment here or email me at if you would like to share something only with me. We will look at summative assessment next week! Happy assessing!

-Bob Reeker

Monday 03. 8.10

Assessment: Doing it on the run!

I love going to Convention! It is one of the highlights of my year.  I first went in 1987 with Dr. Pearl from Wayne State and then took a few year hiatus and returned in 2002…and I’ve been going ever since.  I’ve been fortunate to present at each national over the last 8 years on topics like technology, mask making, and yes, assessment.

The assessment presentation’s title was “Assessment on the Run!”  If you are like me, you do feel like a world-class athlete trying to stay on top of everything happening in the classroom…I am constantly on the move!  In that presentation, I shared a variety of ways to assess and evaluate children and their artwork from quick formative checks to comprehensive summative tools. Click here to download my PowerPoint, "Assessing on the RUN" 2006 [PPT, 7 MB].  I will reference this PowerPoint in future entries as well.

Much of that presentation and how I assess today is the result of work in my district about 10 years ago.  My district art consultant, Nancy Childs convened a group of elementary art specialists to study and write a variety of assessment tools for teachers to use with students.  Much good work came from this group.

So, let’s start with formative assessment.  These tools help an educator gage where each child is in the learning and provide a possible direction or steps that need to be taken.  You may be able to move to the next concept/step or you may have to reteach based on the evidence collected from the formative assessment.

I call these assessments the 100-meter dash tools.  Some examples I use at the elementary level are:

Green_bullet  Questions are developed to get both individual and group feedback.  Students often use thumbs up or down to agree or disagree.  Students can rank or rate based on a 1-5 finger count.  Or questions can be phrased with 1, 2, or 3 choices with students holding up the # finger accordingly.
Green_bullet  Walk arounds:  All work is laid out, usually 1/2 to 2/3 the way through the unit. Students walk around and observe each piece.  Criteria for what to look for may be written on the overhead.  When done observing (and I do it with them to model), students discuss with the group and me what they saw.  Much information about understanding can be derived from the sharing following.
Green_bullet  Closure: Stole this from a student teacher….At the end of class, in order to line up, the table must discuss and volunteer an answer to the question I pose:  Name a significant style of art Picasso developed.  Tell me a color family.  What purpose might a Native American Hopi create a Kachina doll?

I would like to hear examples of 100-meter dash tools used at middle level, high school, and higher education.  Please share!

-Bob Reeker

Wednesday 03. 3.10

Assessment: Sharing your Stories

Years ago, when I was in school (I will not share what year as I would not want to make this art educator feel bad, if they are reading this), I was taking an art class.  I recall a critique and sharing session in which we each displayed our work, shared what we were thinking, and had the opportunity to receive feedback from peers.  This would have been great, if it would have stopped there.  This art educator then ask each of us to choose a piece of art and place it in the grade section of the room we thought it belonged…A’s go in that corner, B’s go on this table, C’s go near my desk…you get the picture….D’s are here, and F’s…you can imagine where they might go.  It put students in awkward and sometimes degrading situations and no one left that class feeling good about the work or about each other.

As I said in my first entry, assessment is about student growth and success.  It must measure those concepts, ideas, and criteria that we want children to succeed at in the unit.  There are so many different ways to assess and provide feedback from formative assessments to summative evaluations.  And there are many times in my teaching where peer feedback is utilized and encouraged, but a final, summative grade is determined by criteria met by the student and is shared only with that student.

With one unfortunate story about assessment, I could tell you several good ones I’ve experienced over the years.  One of my college professors, Dr. Pearl Hansen from Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska did an extraordinary job in providing valuable feedback to students in a conscientious and professional manner.  She highlighted the positives but was concise and firm in what was needed to make the work better.  I left her watercolor class learning much and loving the medium…to this day, it is my choice of medium.  She truly inspired me as an artist and educator.

Please take a moment to share any assessment stories from your schooling, good or poor.  I truly believe that each of those experiences with assessment shapes what we do with our children on a daily basis.  And we can learn from each other’s stories and take away something valuable.  I look forward to reading your stories.

-Bob Reeker

Monday 03. 1.10

Assessment: Making Feedback Meaningful

“Wow!  You won’t believe how much I made on my report card this time!”  “I know.  My folks give me $5 for every ‘4’ I earn on my report card!  Awesome!”  This is an example of a conversation I might hear between a pair of 5th graders after report card time.  Paying kids for grades – one of my pet peeves. Actually, it is more than a pet peeve. It goes against all I believe as an educator.  The focus of grades and reporting should be on growth and intrinsic-motivating success, not how much loot a kid can stuff in a piggy bank.  I also feel it demeans all the work and effort we as educators put into assessing and evaluating children.  And it is work!

I remember when I first started teaching in 1990, I evaluated students and reported to families by “gut feeling.”  I often had little to no hard evidence as to why a student received the grade I gave them.  The focus on gathering evidence and working through criteria and standards was not the emphasis.

Today, assessment takes a front seat when providing education to youngsters. I feel the need and desire to provide accurate, evidence-based, timely, and insightful feedback to my students and their families.  It is not easy to do when you are serving 300-700 or more students at any level, K-12.  But all students deserve to know how they are doing, how they can improve, and what else they can do, if they already understand the content.

I look forward to the discussions that will take place in the next month about assessment via this blog. During this first week, I will introduce the topic of assessment.  Week 2 will focus on formative assessment.  Summative assessment will be the topic for week 3.  Discussions about Professional Learning Communities will take place week 4.  And on the short week 5, topic focus will be reporting to parents.  Please share your thoughts and ideas.

-Bob Reeker