Rewarding creativity and technical skill ‐ a pupil’s choice

vermeerThere are plenty of art teachers who will recognize the following situation, it’s one that I see particularly in the younger pupils (aged 12–‐14) that I teach. A painting assignment is finally finished and is being handed in after several lessons work. There are a number of immaculately made paintings, extremely neatly and carefully completed. However the works lack imagination and creativity. Pupils have relied very much on the approaches they know well and haven’t explored other possibilities as well as they could have done. There are also other works made by different pupils that are rather untidy and perhaps carelessly made in terms of technical execution. However this second group shows great evidence of creativity and invention. The pupils have thought hard about the assignment in relation to content, but the technical facility of the pupil has let them down in the final finished quality of the work.

The problem I face as teacher is one of where to I lay the emphasis and weighting when I mark the work? Is technical ability to be rewarded the most or creativity and imagination? The truth is, as a teacher, you would probably like to have both in a piece of work. I have often designed marking rubrics that give a sliding scale of grades for both qualities. This way you can at least make clear to the pupils that you are interested in both areas.

But a recent workshop on differentiation in the class has set me thinking in a different direction. The workshop focussed on the fact that within any given class you have pupils both with a range of abilities but also with a variety talents or skills. This would certainly seem to be the case in the example I have described above. My own feelings are that pupils who lack a certain dexterity in the way they use their materials (even if their ideas are imaginative and ambitious) generally get short changed during this early stage of secondary education.

Greater emphasis on specific judgment criteria in a marking rubric certainly goes some way to helping in this area, but in a way I would like pupils to look even more critically at the work themselves and in doing so identify for themselves their own strengths and weaknesses. In order to try and reach this goal I am considering adjusting my marking for a couple of forthcoming assignments. My plan is to continue using a marking rubric to produce say, two grades that are marks out of ten, one for technical skill and one for creativity and imagination. These two scales will be accompanied by the normal descriptors explaining the sorts of standards in both areas I am looking for.

The difference though would come in allowing the pupils themselves to decide what the overall weighting between the two grades should be. They could decide for 50–‐50, or 30–‐70 for example, anything up to a maximum or perhaps 20–‐80 or 80–‐20. Obviously I would ask them to make the decision for the weighting before they get to hear the grades that I have given the work. The whole point of the exercise is to get them to look critically at the strengths and weaknesses in their own work and to help them to identify areas where they could improve and to give them the feeling that they are able to be rewarded for areas that they are successful in.

I’m not sure how often I might use this approach to marking, at this stage it is very much an interesting experiment. However, I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has experimented in similar ways. I am of course also interested to know and see for myself if it has any effect on the qualities of the work pupils produce.

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The loneliness (and rewards) of the long distance examiner

Around April and May each year I am reminded of a stressful few weeks I endured in my last year at school as a eighteen year old doing my final art exam. A three hour drawing paper and a twelve or fifteen hour painting paper that came on the back of two weeks preparation time if I remember correctly. The end result was C grade, it was OK, but it wasn’t the A or B that I hoped for.

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Now, quite some time later, I’m an examiner for the visual arts exam of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program. I’ve done it for years (and they don’t mind my C grade a-level!). It used to mean that each April I would go and visit a couple of schools, interview eight or ten pupils per school, be wined and dined at the school’s expense when necessary. Each pupil mounted an exhibition of their work, presented their work books and I would interview them for thirty to forty minutes. It was all very interesting and enjoyable, and also, it has to be said, quite an experience for the candidates.

All this changed two years ago when the IB switched to a fully digital examination system. Nowadays, for each exam candidate I am supplied (online) with the following:

· A fifteen minute interview or a 1000 word statement

· A 300 word statement about their work

· 30 pages of documentary photos from their research workbooks

· Up to eighteen photographs of studio work.

That’s quite a few documents for each candidate……and I have 69 candidates to work my way through, mark and write a short report about. That is quite a few hours staring at the computer screen. But on the positive side, working as I do in a secondary school in Western Europe, it is incredibly interesting to see work made by pupils from all corners of the world. This year for me it England, Norway, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the US and China.

Although I don’t actually teach the IB Diploma course myself I am a pretty big fan of the possibilities it offers, in particular the way it interweaves the practical work of candidates with their art historical and contextual studies. It is interesting to see what the candidates have produced during the two years that the course takes, but it is almost as interesting to read a little between the lines and see how different teachers in a variety of countries approach the curriculum.

Yes there are definitely positives about doing this examine work, but it is something of a relief when you reach the end of your allotment of candidates, a point that I have just about reached.