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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« Looking to Next Year and Beyond...Reverse Engineering, the Journey | Main | We’re in this Together; Art Educators and COVID-19 »

April 29, 2020

Looking to Next Year and Beyond...Moving from Testing to Talking

By Matt Young

What if I told you to stop testing your students?  Would you be okay with that?  What if I told you that you could test your students, but in a way that they had to answer the questions and could not cheat? Does that sound better? So far, if you have read any of these posts I have written, I have asked you not to teach for the first couple of weeks, allow personal choice in projects, provide clear rubrics, and reverse engineer your thinking.  Now I am asking you not to test them?  I bet you’re thinking, “Who is this guy and what is he doing?”.

I do not know about you, but only 10% of our students will move on to Intermediate and Advanced levels of art. So that means 90% of our students will not have any more art after they take two beginning classes with us. Is it important for us to give them a traditional test, have them memorize terms, and answer true and false questions?  Or, is it more important for them to be able to talk about their art, remember the experience, explain the process, and articulate why they made the choices they did? I would argue the latter.  My job is two fold: To prepare “non” art students to appreciate art and the process and to prepare my 10% to be able to critique and talk fluently about their and others’ works.

My call for this post is for you to think about preparing your students to be lifelong learners of art that promote an artistic culture in their community.  What is the difference in these two questions?

1. List 4 design elements.

2. Describe where you used 4 design elements in your work.

Both of them show the need to know art elements, but the first asks a student to memorize the elements, the second asks the student to apply this knowledge to their work. The second question cannot be answered without a personal understanding of their work. This is a much more powerful connection.

How about these two?

1. What is slip?  What does a scoring tool look like (insert image choice here)

2. Describe on your project where you had to slip and score.  Why was this process important to the overall construction of your piece. 

Again, one question asks for memorization the other for understanding.

The other great thing about switching to this personal level of thinking with beginning students is it allows for you to build on these questions when you hit the intermediate level questions. The goal is for students to be able to speak about their own work and ask meaningful questions as we send them off into the world. Here is how we structure this at our school:

Beginning level - Students will be given questions that direct them to personalized answers using “art language”.

Intermediate Level - Students will choose their own questions (from a question bank) that pertain to the work they are doing and will answer these questions using “ art language”.

Adv/AP Level - Students will participate in classroom critiques where they generate their own questions and answers using “art language”.

My challenge to you this week is to take a look at your testing.  Do you need to test?  If you do, consider at least adding a section to the test where your students are asked to answer questions that pertain specifically to their work.  If I have not said this clearly enough in my posts, our job is to produce self sustained artists and creative thinkers that value personal choice.  We need to make sure that everything we assess in our classrooms pertain to that.  And keep this in mind as we utilize/nurture these concepts/process/skills.



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