Is the format of a student product or performance one of the intended learning outcomes?
For art teachers, this is one of the most significant questions posed by Christopher Gareis in a recent training session.
Sometimes the format of the student response is an important part of the learning outcomes for a lesson or unit. Other times it is just a way to capture the learning and not part of the ILOs.
What does this mean? It means sometimes we should not grade the artwork!
This concept is difficult to grasp for art teachers who are so accustomed to product-based performance assessment and have learned through all of their years of experience as an art student and teacher that the artwork is always graded. We act as if the format is always important, but too often, this is a result of not identifying the ILOs in the first place.
Let me illustrate with an example that is not from an art classroom.
My daughter is a high school student who was recently asked to work with a small group of classmates to create a video news broadcast. The assignment was to analyze, from a particular point of view, the dystopian society depicted in a novel. This was clearly a literature assignment, and while it was delivered through an engaging project-based approach, it is easy to imagine that the teacher was looking for evidence that the students understood the nature of dystopian societies and could consider it from different perspectives. These are valid learning outcomes, but here’s the rub…
Grading for this assignment included scores for acting, the quality of editing, and the overall visual effect of the video. In short, the teacher graded the format, when the format was not part of the intended learning outcomes.
But, wait a minute! Perhaps we should give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. After all, these skills are real-world applicable, right? Just because they are not directly related to literature doesn’t mean they can’t be taught and assessed in a literature unit. This assumes, however, that the skills were taught, and they were not. The teacher gave no instruction on acting, or video editing, or what makes a visually appealing video, but he graded them. That’s where the failure is.
The same applies to art instruction. We must identify the intended learning outcomes early in the planning process so we can give appropriate assignments that will provide evidence of that learning. Then, when the format of the student product is part of the learning, we assess the qualities of the product that relate to the ILO.
As art educators, I think we have a long way to go on this work, but I think it is work worth doing. I hope to provide more on this in future posts.