written by Amy Courtney and Sarah Zbornik
With the new National Core Arts Standards and its emphasis on creating, performing, responding, and connecting, there has been much discussion to how we will now assess our students. In the arts, we say that creativity is the most important aspect, but in the past it we have rarely assessed it, primarily because of the difficulty in doing so. Thus, questions emerge. How does one assess creativity? Can a letter grade be attached to it? Is this type of assessment possible with standards-based grading? For Amy Courtney, addressing these issues, and at the same time allowing for improvement and student reflection, is now essential to her pedagogy.
Amy’s greatest challenge is changing perceptions and perspectives, especially with parents and teachers whose art experience is focused around technical skills. She focuses her attention on showing a student that he/she can be successful in the art room even when a student doesn’t have the highest level of technical skills. For her, art isn’t about being able to draw perfect still life photo; art is about changing the world around you.
Throughout her career, Amy has sought to educate students, families, community members, and fellow educators of the positive impact that artistic development can have. She hopes for people to understand that artistry is a learned skill that anyone can enjoy rather than something that is simply innate. Ultimately, she strives to make her classroom a safe and supportive space where artists of any skill level can learn and grow.
This shift in focus also impacts the way Amy assesses students. Previously, her priority has been on craft, technique, and the end product. But, if creativity is the most important element, how can this be reflected in assessment?
As Amy reflects, she realizes the process is important, if not more so than the end product. Now, she focuses her attention on “What do I want the kids to understand?” instead of “What do I want the final product to look like?” To get to this point, she built the assessments from the ground up. To assist in the process, she utilized the book Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe. For each grade, she broke down the four separate standards: Creating, Presenting, Responding, and Connecting. Then, she determined the most important strands for each area.
From here she developed the questions and built rubrics. Here is one section of her rubric for her unit on Power and Privilege:
To view the complete rubric , please see Grade 7 Rubric - Power & Privilege.
Even though she still struggles with putting a grade on the process, this rubric helps the students see that work is always in progress. Students can see that creativity is a learned skill and can be improved upon. In an area where innate talent is often assumed to be critical, everybody can now show growth.
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