Serious Art Ed

Bartel on Art Assessment

Professor Emeritus of Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana (US), Marvin Bartel contributes to the movement I’m calling “Serious Art Education.” He posts insights and ideas online on his old website, last updated in 2009, as well as a new website, updated through 2013 at the time of this writing. The two interweave, preserving older and refining his newer ideas. Teachers look to Bartel for guidance in teaching ideation and creativity in art class. With relevant interests and experience dating back to his 1970 doctoral dissertation, he also recently contributed a chapter (p. 131-142) on self-directed learning to the The Learner-Directed Classroom: Developing Creative Thinking Skills Through Art (Jaquith & Hathaway, 2012).

His career emphasis has always been teaching to engender what Hetland (2007) calls dispositions, including abilities, behaviors, inclinations, attitudes, awareness, etc., in a class that is “directed toward generating creative ideas rather than getting preconceived end products.” He promotes what he calls upside down art curriculum and inside out grading. Given the 21st-century sea change in the writing of educational standards toward process skills in all disciplines, we may begin to see classrooms reorient themselves with new vectors matching Bartel’s sense of up and out.

What to assess in art

In a website section entitled, Turning Grading Criteria Inside Out, Bartel proposes basing grades on observable and testable criteria as listed below:

Observable Empathic & Creative Behavioral Criteria.

  • team participation
  • observed skepticism of existing experts
  • inquisitiveness
  • class contributions
  • affirmative art studio building contributions
  • ability to empathize with other student ideas
  • ability to promote creativity in others
  • awareness of surroundings

Testable and Measurable Criteria

  • knowledge of the creative processes
  • ability to learn new strategic thinking abilities
  • demonstrated creative thinking skills such as flexibility, fluency, skepticism, opposites, similarities catching, etc.
  • employing unique ideas that work
  • divergent thinking ability
  • ability to phrase insightful questions
  • ability to think critically with an open and inquisitive mind

Bartel’s page on Grading Art lists the kinds of things he wants learned in art classes, which he says should be reflected in the grade.

Mastery of creativity strategies — If I know that accomplished highly creative individuals have certain traits and strategies, I need to assess my students accordingly, and they need to realize that these traits and thinking strategies may help them become more creative. Are they learning to habitually use creative strategies?

Imaginative ability — Are my students becoming more imaginative or more dependent on preconceived ideas?

Visualization ability — Do they sketch things to see how well things will work? Imagination and visualization are very closely related.

Divergent thinking — In the typical classroom, a lot of problem solving is taught as convergent thinking. There is one answer, and students have to figure out the one right answer. In art and in life, most problems have many alternative solutions. Where and when do our brains get practice in divergent thinking? Studio art class is the ideal place to ask for multiple alternate ways to approach a problem.

Empathy & Relationship abilities — As we work as artists, we constantly imagine how others will experience out work. If we were wired to a brain scan, empathy neurons would be lighting up. During critique sessions, we learn to phrase our questions in ways that other art students will become more aware while being encouraged and affirmed. Studio art may be one of best places for students to learn empathy.

Helpfulness & Collaborative ability — Art studio classes offer many opportunities for students to work creatively in teams. In the art world, there is an assumption that creative artists generally are isolated in studios. In some cases this may be, but many artists work in teams and lots of creative tasks and projects in life are too big for one person. Teachers can foster a studio culture that encourages the sharing of ideas in ways where students learn how to ask each other questions in ways that multiply options and alternative solutions and experimental approaches. Some teachers include this in their grading by sharing a collaboration rubric in advance. Like anything that is graded, advance notice is only fair. The rubric might be very formative for students who have not yet learned the various ways in which they can make a contribution and how they might benefit from being in a team.

Passion — Ken Robinson calls it The Element. He has a whole book of stories about how creative people and how they found their passions.

Experimentation skills — Are students learning how to design and learn from experiments that respond to questions that come up?

Appreciation for Mistakes — Do my students fear mistakes or are they beginning to notice that mistakes often show them ideas that they would have never been able to think of on their own.

Discoveries — Are students making unexpected discoveries as they work and in the work of peers. Do they discover things in works that they have never seen before?

Skepticism and the need to question the status quo. Are students developing the ability to generate positive ideas because they just do not like what they are seeing.

Original ideas — How original are their ideas?

Technical skills/dexterity

Juggling ability — Highly creative people have many unfinished tasks. They know that the brain can work on unfinished ideas when they are unaware of it. As they return to tasks, they make new discoveries.

Transfer learning — Students need to earn credit for using what they learn in one project when they are working on another project. Unless we know how to use things in new contexts, most of what we learn in school is not ever needed in life. Teachers who give credit for transfer of learning are more apt to help students practice it.

Compositional skills — Whether a work communicates, depends on how things are arranged. Are students discovering and using principles that they learn?

Expressiveness/evocative aesthetic skills — To what degree to students experiment with unexpected things as they work?

Three distinct assessments

Other than a carefully crafted universal artwork grading rubric, Bartel points out three ways of assessing artistic dispositions. He suggests that observable characteristics and behaviors become visible in critique sessions, for which he provides guidelines that support authentic and empathic critiques. He also writes about using art awards as a pedagogical tool, with “Smart Awards” for exhibited artwork that indicate 50 different ways student artwork can succeed. He briefly outlines art test items, presenting them in order from those that require maximum divergent thinking to those that require a minimum. The stated goal of art tests is to be valid, relating as consistently to what the course teaches, and reliable, eliminating variation due to other factors than learning in the course.

Bartel’s top 6 art test items for assessing creative thinking:

  1. Flexibility test items Give more points for the least expected and most unusual correct answers to a question. Tell the class how you are scoring these items. Give correct answers credit in relation to their infrequency as well as a feasibility ranking.Example question: How does an artist get the viewer’s attention? Common responses would get less credit than uncommon responses that seem equally feasible.
  2. Fluency test Items. Ask questions that have more than one acceptable answer, and give credit based on the number of correct and tenable answers a student offers. Ask the student to rank the answers according to which answers are best, which are average, and which are less than average in quality. Example question: What are the reasons that an artist might be inspired to make a drawing of a landscape?
  3. Draw the opposite test. Ask students to create a one-inch drawing next to each test word or concept that illustrates the opposite of the meaning of the selected word. This provides creative thinking practice because it requires both knowledge and imagination.
  4. Write the opposites test. The students are asked to fill in the blank after each word by writing the opposite meaning of the word. In research, highly creative people have been found to intuitively come up with opposites faster and more frequently than average creative people.
  5. Draw it test. Ask students to create a one-inch drawing next to each word to illustrate the meaning of the selected word. This requires both knowledge of the meaning as well as imagination or memory to think of a visual example of the concept.
  6. Essay test. Essay tests can assess creative thinking or they can be directed at only memory and knowledge. Good questions can be posed to require imagination and problem solving that builds on knowledge acquired in the course and on thinking skills practiced in the course. For example, “List and describe the drawing and seeing skills you practiced during our ‘Negative Space’ assignment. Then write a different assignment that you could do at home to practice the same skills. Make it as different as you can, but still practice the same seeing and drawing skills.”

Grading for growth

When it comes to assigning grades or marks for an art class, Bartel promotes what he calls longitudinal assessment, in which “students who progress the most from their starting point are the ones who earn the best grades.” Ultimately, however, he maintains the belief that good critiques and rubrics are more important than grades.



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