Sunday, 8 May 2016

Grading: Be Kind but Be Real

We're in the summer term now and, for many of us, that means it's time to knuckle down, start assessing work and giving out grades. This is a notoriously thorny subject amongst art teachers; most of us just want to teach art and enjoy seeing the students create, without having the additional worry of grading work to an externally set criteria.

At Red Balloon, I have the additional concern of how emotionally vulnerable children might react to the grading process. The young people I work with have often had a bad experience of the assessment process and this is something I need to be mindful of when giving out grades and feedback. In an earlier post I wrote extensively about strategies I use with newer students in order to give them a degree of autonomy over their assessment work. The work of my Year 10 and 11 GCSE students, however, needs to be assessed to the examination boards standards. And its my job to carry out and feedback this grading without causing the students undue distress.

The essence of my approach is contained in this post's title; 'be kind but be real.' When giving out grades to my GCSE students, I have a lengthy conversation with them about why they've gotten the grade they've got and what they can do if they want to get a better grade next time. I usually start with the positives, saying what it is that I especially liked about their work and then connecting that to the examination board's assessment rubric. I then point out how that specific element could be improved in the next project. To take a hypothetical example. let's say a student carried out particularly exhaustive research into Andy Warhol and illustrated their pages with well executed copies of Warhol's work. I'd praise this and then suggest that next time they go beyond simple copies of another artist's work and produce some work inspired by the artist but not just copying them. Another example could be if  student produced a beautiful and well executed personal response, but there was little evidence in the sketchbook of the development that led to the creation of the final piece. In this instance, I'd  gently ensure the student understood that the journey towards creation was as important as the final outcome. This could be achieved through continual written reflection on work in the sketchbook, stating what has been learned through research and experimentation.

Clarity is paramount when giving student's feedback; they need to understand why they have achieved their grade. This can often mean translating from the examination board's (often obscure) language into that which is meaningful to a teenager.

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