Teachers have a million decisions to make. One of those decisions is how to grade an art project. My first year of teaching, I searched and searched for a method that would encourage the students to express themselves, and live up to the true intention of taking the class.
According to the book “Teaching Children Art”, the purpose of having art in the school’s curriculum is to offer a different type of problem solving experience. Art shows that some questions have more than one right answer. In math class, two and two equals four. But in art, two and two might be four. It might also be 22, 55, 52 or 25.
This is something children need to know if we want them to be able to deal with peer pressure. There are lots of questions that have more than one right answer. What kind of man do you want to marry? What church do you want to belong to? Where do you want to live? What car are you going to buy?
Art is also a safe and inexpensive way to teach decision making. As I told my middle school students, if you make the wrong choice in art, you’re going to mess up a piece of paper. If you make the wrong choice when you get married, it’s going to be a little bit more expensive.
Some teachers grade a class based on “willing participation”, which simply means that they complete the project and don’t act out. This grading works well in the lower grades like Kindergarten, but in my experience, when children get to the third grade, they begin doing as little as possible. In third grade and older, they need something that will push them into thinking about what they are creating, and to make something that expresses their own ideas. So, when the children were earning an “E” instead of an “A”, my grading scale was:
E= as Expected
G= Goofing off
N= Naughty or Nothing
Once the grading scale changed to the standard A,B,C method, my grading scale had to change too. I tried several approaches that were suggested by other teachers and magazines, but wasn’t truly satisfied.
If each idea is different, then subtracting points for mistakes doesn’t work. One project doesn’t have a hundred different things to look for like punctuation and spelling in an essay. It may have only four things to look for. If the total points of 100 are divided among those four things, then each thing is worth 25 points. Miss one, and the grade drops from an A to a C. Miss two, and the grade drops from a C to an F.
After trying everyone else’s method for grading art, I finally looked myself in the mirror. I have 15 years in scouts. I may not understand what a rubric is, but I know how to run a merit badge. I asked myself why can’t an art project be like a merit badge? I’ll give them requirements to meet, and if they do all of them, they get the badge of an A. Some students might not have a lot of talent, so if it’s good enough for scouts, then it’s good enough for me.
You’ll note that my art lesson plans usually have four requirements at the bottom of the page. Four worked out to be the best number. If the students do all four, they get an A. If they do three, they get a B. If they do two, they get a C. If they do only one, they get a D. If they do absolutely nothing, or are sent to the office, they get an F.
The requirements aren’t just pulled out of thin air. One of them will be to meet the main objective of the lesson by demonstrating an understanding of the method or artist discussed. One might be a problem to solve, such as making a sculpture engineered enough that it doesn’t fall over. Another might be a choice to make, like choosing contrasting colors. Another might be to demonstrate an understanding of a vocabulary word by doing what that word means.
Write the requirements on the inside of a file folder in large, black printing. Pin the requirements where they can be seen during class. After class, the lesson plan, examples and illustrations can all be filed in the folder and saved for the next year.
All of the requirements involve paying attention in class, but it’s more than just willing participation. It’s learning something, thinking about it, and using it to express your own ideas. It’s doing your best.