Tag Archives: Assessment

TAEA 16 in Dallas

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It’s November here in Texas, and you know what that means…warm weather, rain, Christmas decor explosions at all stores, and of course, the Texas Art Ed Assoc. annual conference.  This year it fell the weekend before Thanksgiving.  So, that was a bonus for me because I got 2 extra days of vacation added to the week off for Thanksgiving my district gave me.

On Thursday morning, I got packed and drove on up to Dallas to stay at the Hilton Anatole. While I enjoyed having my own room and a whole bed to myself, I did not enjoy the price it all cost.  I kept getting asked why my district didn’t pay for it.  Well, I don’t know why, they just don’t, so I deal.  I do it all in the name of continuing education, and because I love my students.  If you know how to convince my district to pay for me to go to these conferences, let me know.

Anywho.  Let’s talk conference.  The state conference is something that when I first started teaching–I mean like still in college to become an art teacher, I religiously attended.  Then, I had kids, so I stopped attending.  I started attending again again 2 years ago, but since switching to TAB, I find there isn’t as much for me here anymore.  TAB teachers seem few and far between here in this big ‘ole state, but maybe I’m wrong about that…who knows.  So, now, my main reason for attending is presenting.  If I can make a few teachers think about the way they teach and why they teach the way they do, then I’m good.

This year I presented twice.  Once on assessment, and once on TAB in general.  I felt my assessment presentation did not go well.  Don’t feel bad.  I’m okay with that.  It was dry and the flow wasn’t very good.  It was on assessment after all, so, no love lost.  The best part of the session was when I got to grading and how I don’t grade.  That was my favorite part.  Maybe I will do a no-grading session next year.

My second session about TAB basics, called Embracing the Chaos, went a million times better.  I had a pretty full house…well, 75% of the seats were filled and for a 4pm session on a Saturday, the last day of the conference, I’d say that is pretty good.  I was able to be my energetic and animated self.  There were a lot of questions.  We even went over time, which I felt bad when the next presenter did come in and finally said something.  But in my defense, usually the next presenter is there right at the ending time, tapping their foot, ready to set up.  After we left the room, I did get to talk to a couple of people for another half hour.  I think I have some converts.  So, success!!!

While I didn’t go to a lot of sessions, I did have a good time.  I met and befriended the Terraforma card guys, Michael and Stewart.  They are a fun duo, and their cards are kinda cool.  I got to catch up with Justin Clumpner and hear him speak.  His session on AP art really made me want to usurp the AP program at my school, and perhaps start a Pre-AP program.  He gave me lots to think about.  And bonus, he took me off site to get a burger, which was a total win! I attended a session by fellow TABber, Wynita Harmon, where I got to participate in an art challenge with some strangers.  I saw Cassie Stevens do a keynote and provide us with this quote full of wisdom, “Stop giving a shit.”  I participated in a #K12artchat tweet-up. It was totally interesting to be tweeting to the people sitting right next to you.  And, I got to throw a few pots for a local empty bowls event.  I think this was the best idea this Dallas team had!  It was so relaxing and fun!  It brought me to my happy place.

One thing that always interests me when I go to the state conference is the VASE winners’ gold seal artworks.  I am fascinated to see what types of works are considered tops in my state from the previous year.  Last year I wrote a post about my feelings on VASE that got me on the wrong side of some people.  My feelings haven’t changed, but this year I am going to be a little nicer.  While most of the 2-D winners were still very “portrait steeped in realism” heavy, I was happy to see that many were breaking away from the usual media I had grown accustomed to–prismacolor and pencil.  I snapped some photos of ones that I really liked.

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I do always love the sculpture winners.  They are always full of creativity, originality, and fabulousness.

In the end, I enjoyed this year’s conference.  Was it as fun as a National Art conference? Hell no!  I mean seriously, that’s when I get to see my tribe and my TAB mentors.  But, for a state conference, it was one of my favorites.  I am glad I went, and that I have decided to start going to them again.  See y’all in Galveston next year, and look out for at least one TAB presentation from me.

The “No-Grade Challenge”

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Sounds interesting, right?  Well, my good friend Ian Sands nominated me earlier this summer to go “no-grades” this year.  And, after much consideration, I have accepted his challenge…well, mostly. There is no way at the high school level, with the GPA reward system we have going in America right now, that I can not grade. My kids need to have some numerical grade…for UIL purposes (pass to play), for college applications, and for the “ever important” class rank–which if you live in the great state of Texas like me, it is important to those kids in the top 10% (or for some colleges like UT–Hook “Em!!–it’s the top 7 or 8%) for automatic admission to state schools.

Anyway, I have accepted his challenge and plan on grading as little as possible this year.  I know I am pushing it, and it my admin gets wiff of it, I may be up sh*ts creek. But, if I am going to start a change and get people talking and thinking about change in the grading arena and the education realm, I need to start somewhere.

Now, don’t confuse what I am doing in so far as grading with what I am doing in terms of assessment.  THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING!!  And, you better believe that I am going to assess the hell out of my students.  In fact, together we, my students and I, will asses their learning and growth like there is no tomorrow.  It will mostly be informal and occur through dialogue between us–the students and myself.  And, that is what an ideal classroom, at least in my opinion, should be like.  It should be about growth and understanding how to think and move forward in the thinking.  And, in order to do that, things need to be assessed.  Grades have no part in that.

Now comes the part where you say, but how will you do that?   You have to grade.  Why not put numbers to your assessment levels?  Then you can be in compliance and all that jazz.  I answer you with, I’ve done that.  And it works well, but I feel it is truly not a good showing of what a student in my studio has learned or how they have grown artistically–either in skill or thinking or both.  It doesn’t really show growth over time.

Last year I read the book “Hacking Assessment” and I have taken a few things from the book about assessment, like having conferences with the kids and letting them be part of the conversation.  I also went to a fabulous session at NAEA-Chicago with Justin Clumpner who at one point talked about grades and what they mean to each individual student.  I think at one point he even said, I ask the kids what grade they want. Those things really resonate with me right now.  Students need to be involved in their assessment of their learning.  It is a 2-way street.

Now, if you know anything about the program I run, I like to have my kids reflect on their learning and their journey.  We have done that through blogs and, more recently, BlendSpace.  So, it occurred to me, why not combine all these things and thus my answer to the “no-grade challenge” was formed.

I do have to have at least a grade every 3 weeks…one a progress report time and one at report card time.  (Technically I am supposed to have more, but don’t tell my admin, okay?) My plan is to have my students reflect on their learning and art making processes to help them determine their grade for that time frame.  Of course, I have final say if I feel they have either graded too high or way too low.  But, I think this will help shift the focus away from grading and back onto their learning, which is what it’s about….or should be. (Do I say that a lot, because I feel I do.)

Here are some screen shot of the google form they will fill out for this reflection process.

 

Will this work?  I don’t know.  Will it need to be tweaked?  I am sure.  What document is perfect from the get go?  I am confident in what I am about to embark on. I think that it will make a difference; a difference even bigger than when I stopped grading artwork and focused on the processes only.  Keep your eyes out for updates as the year progresses.  And who know, maybe soon you too will also be up for the challenge.

NAEA 2016: Chi-Town (part 2: the sessions)

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imag5687_1.jpgWhat is the most important part of going to a National Art Ed Conference? If judging by my first post, Chi-Town (part 1: the intro), you would think it was hanging out with friends.  And you would be right.  But, just a small percentage point behind that is the sessions.  I mean, I did pay to go to some relevant professional development so I can become an even better, more awesome teacher. I don’t want to go too awesome though, I don’t think my students could handle that.  😉

imag5601.jpgSince I am somewhat old school, I wasted a whole bunch of trees and printed out a copy of the sessions.  Yes, I know that I would get a program once in Chicago, but that’s not very helpful to a planner like me.  (Don’t be too mad, I did print them double-sided.)  I sat down in my kitchen with my coffee, my stack of papers, my yellow marker, and my phone.  As I read thru the sessions, I circled the ones that were interesting to me.  Then I would fire up the conference app on my phone and add them to my agenda.  Is this a little more work, maybe, but who wants to carry a quarter ream of paper around the McCormick? Not me.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do.  In case you didn’t know, I teach all TABbish and my interest is finding better ways to run my TAB classroom so it is more meaningful for my students. However, there are a couple of problems that I come across at art ed conferences.  I teach high school, and it seems the majority of sessions (especially TAB/choice) are aimed at elementary. Also, out of the TAB/Choice sessions, many are geared towards getting people interested in TAB/Choice.  I am already interested, I don’t need to go to those.  So, while I did attend one or two of those sessions (my fav being “Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way”, presented by Julie Toole, Nan Hathaway, and Ian Sands),imag5836_1.jpgI opted against most because I would rather give up my seat to someone who needs to learn about TAB/choice and their awesomeness.  And, I am glad I did because those sessions were packed.  I mean, standing room only, out the door packed.  This makes my heart happy, by the way.  IMAG3327_1

So, powers that be at NAEA who deal with choosing sessions for NYC, we need more sessions on TAB…at all levels and areas of interest (getting to know vs. already am in love with) of TAB.  Obviously it is a hot topic and people want to know.  I, personally, am willing to present a session or two or three about TAB at the secondary level.  I know some others too who would be as well.  Hell, we would even do some joint presenting.  Just sayin’….

Over the course of the 3 days, I attended 15 sessions.  One was not all that, and only 1 did I walked out.  I lucked out and found 13 good/great sessions.  Don’t worry, I won’t go over each session, but I will give you some highlights.

10612715_10107362239544810_1343979125320880173_nI started off the conference with a great session called “Break theimag5692_1.jpg
Wheel”, presented by Chris Wills.  His session was about brainstorming and ways to help students get over the creative block.  It really got me fired up to go.  He had us do a small version of his activity called “60“.  I really enjoyed the activity.
I enjoyed it so much that I brought it back to my classroom and used it already.  At first my kids were all, “what the…”, but after completing the activity, which we only did for 20 minutes, they were glad we did and I think they have some ideas to work from for the next artworks.
After that I was pumped and went to a couple of more sessions that day.  One was a look at the way the AP portfolio was “graded”.  While I don’t teach AP, I was able to take some things away from this.  The presenter talked about looking into the creative process and being able to imag5699_1.jpgcapture the day to day…which is something I am working on in my classroom.  There is so much more to artwork than just the final product, and wouldn’t it be great to allow our students to showcase the process instead of just the end of it?

Rounding out the day was a presentation by Jeff Pridie that made me think about what my program goals were and why my program should be there.  And a session by the Journal Fodder Junkies.  I had seen them before in NOLA and was excited to see them again.  Every year they encourage me to have my students develop visual journals.  Maybe next year will be the year I incorporate them.

Friday started off big as well.  “Art Without Authority” was standing room only.  Presenter Justin Crumpner is an art teacher from Dallas, and he feels the same way about our state VASE competition as I do…so right then I knew I liked this guy.  The more he talked, the more I realized that he believed in the TAB philosophy, but just didn’t know there were others out there like him.  In the middle of the session I texted Liz asking why he was not part of our tribe.  He talked about his realization of moving to student-centeredness when he had an AP student that wouldn’t finish her work.  But, when he saw her sketchbook that was filled with fabulousness and asked her why she wasn’t doing that in class, she replied, “I didn’t think I could do this.  I didn’t think this was “school art”.”  WOW!   Seriously, talk about a way to start reflecting on your teaching practice.  Anyway, he said some things during his presentation that were right on:  “Your (students) work is VALID”; “their voice (student) = your voice (teacher)”; and “create a climate; don’t create winners and losers”. Of course I paraphrased that last one, but still… If you missed his presentation, you can still see it.  He posted it on his blog.  As a final note, we (Liz, Hillary and I) did run into him later on in the conference, we talked over a beer, and he ended up coming to our TAB meet-up.  He has since joined our tribe on the Midwest TAB teachers page.  I look forward to meeting up with him again next year in Fort Worth/Dallas at the TAEA 2016 conference.

I know I am getting long winded and I still have more to say, so bear with me.  I attended Joy Schultz‘ presentation where she talked about choice and her students use of Blendspace.  She had the presenter’s nightmare where the technology was non-existent. But, being the rockstar she is, went on like it was no big deal.  Again, standing room only.

I attended a session on authentic assessment in a choice classroom presented by 2 elementary teachers.  While it was interesting, and it gave rise to a sudden interest in a badge system, it wasn’t anything really new to me.  I am not sure I will use a badge system, but it is something worth looking at–extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards.

Ian dragged us to a session called “New Weird Ideas”.  There were four presenters and they each talked about how they set the tone for the beginning of the year.  And of course, they said the same thing that I kept hearing over and over through out the conference…”Focus on the process and how to make the process meaningful.”  It is at this point I should mention that they presenters were giving away free e-zines and Ian drafted Andy to go get us some…you would think that a 6′-4″, lean guy would be able to leap his way up to the front and procure some, but noooooooo….smh.  No e-zines for us.

Saturday was the last day of sessions.  We got there in time to see “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way” where Nan dropped this gem, “If there were no grades in art, how would that affect your work?”  Just let that sink in.  Yeah.  Exactly.

I didn’t really have any sessions lined up for the day, so luckily, I was with Ian who did. We went to a session about Shepard Fairey.  There is a lot more to him than I thought there was.  I left with the idea of “post-museum art“, which is art of the people; it’s an interesting concept.  Ian and I also went to a session on maker spaces.  I am now considering trying to get a 3-D printer, some paper circuits, and conductive ink.  For more info on maker spaces, check out the Makelab.

Our final stop of the day was one that Ian and I are very interested in.  It was titled “Stop Grading Art!”  It started off great with ideas like we should moved from being art focused (fixed mindset) to learning focused (growth mindset), and questions like what is the purpose of grading, what are my standards, and what are my learning objectives/goals? Next he talked about looking for evidence of learning.  It was here that it became frustrating and where I wanted to just start arguing with the presenter. He wasn’t talking about getting rid of grading (which is what we had hoped the session was about), and he was basically using assessment and grading as interchangeable terms, which of course they are not.  There was nothing new learned from this, and it seemed that he was pushing grading in art as we know it now, but with a different language.  His example was very simple, and didn’t really seem to assess any learning.  He said the learning objective (from either the state or national standards) was to provide multiple solutions to a problem.  And the evidence of learning was based on how many thumbnails a student created.  There was a cute rubric that went with it too.  How is that really assessing the learning?  That is just grading on how well a student jumped through a hoop.   And, that is what I am trying to get away from.  I walked out of the session frustrated, but with lots to think about; so #winning?  I got stuck on what my learning objectives really are and how to see the evidence of that learning.  So, while I walked out with a new conversation in my head, I’m not sure I needed a session to get me there…I have already been on that path.  Maybe I will figure something out and present on this topic next year in NYC.

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This post shows just a snippet into some of the notes I took.  If you could see my imag5715_1.jpgnotebook, your head would be swimming too.  I took a lot away from this conference–things I want to bring to my program, things to stay away from, ways to enhance the process more and to bring the kids to “buy in” sooner.  Overall, the sessions I went to and the buzz I heard about other “popular” sessions made me realize that I am on the right path in my teaching philosophy.  I look forward to hopefully presenting next year at both the TAEA [Texas] conference and the NAEA17 conference.  ::hint, hint::  I promise my sessions won’t disappoint.

Book Review: “Hacking Assessment”

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I recently joined the FaceBook group Teachers Throwing Out Grades and it was suggested to read the book Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School by Starr Sackstein.  So, I went to Amazon, saw that book was relatively cheap (and it does have a kindle version), and I ordered a copy.  I mean, what could it hurt?

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This isn’t the first time I have read a book on teaching practice.  But, it is the one of the rare times I read a teaching book that didn’t bore me, put me to sleep, or made me give up in the middle. Most books I read about teaching are full of wonderful ideas, but it gets lost in “grad-school paper talk”, if you know what I mean.  Hacking Assessment is written in a way that is comfortable and not off-putting.

Assessment must be a conversation, a narrative that enhances students’ understanding  of what they know, what they can do, and what needs further work…..they need to understand how to make improvements and how to recognize when legitimate growth has occurred.                               -Starr Sackstein, Hacking Assessment

Alright, let’s get to it.  Hacking Assessment is one of several books in the “Hacking” series. Starr Sackstein is a teacher who actually threw out her grade book and goes as gradeless as she can at her school–she is still required to have a grade for each semester.  So, she writes from a place of first-hand experience.  She also adds in the experiences of other teachers who have also tried to go gradeless.  One thing, for me, that was a major plus is that Sackstein is a high school teacher, and so were most of the other teachers who shared experiences.  As a high school teacher myself, it is helpful to hear from other high school teachers.  They understand the issues of GPA, college applications, and a whole “lifetime” of using grades as a measure of learning and smartness.

Sackstein breaksdown her book into 10 chapters or what she calls “hacks”.  Each addresses a different area of grading and assessment.  The different hacks include:  shifting the grades mindset, promoting buy-in, rebranding assignments as learning experiences, facilitating student partnerships, digitizing your data, maximizing time, tracking progress transparently, teaching reflection, teaching students to self-grade, and cloud-based archives.

Each hack is broken down into different parts: the problem, the hack, what you can do tomorrow, a blueprint for full implementation, overcoming pushback, and the hack in action.  It is this breakdown that makes the book so accessible.  As I read the book, I kept shaking my head in agreement and saying, yes…this makes so much sense.

As we rid ourselves of the grades, risk taking and questioning became a natural part of the process.                                              -Starr Sackstein, Hacking Assessment

As a TAB teacher, I already do some of the things she suggests, but I don’t do all of the things.  Hacking Assessment outlines how each hack is important, but as you read you understand how they all work together to create a meaningful learning experience for the students.  The addition of the hack in action section helps to put it in perspective.  You start to think, if this can be done in a math class, or an English class, of course this can be done in the art class.  I also really appreciated the pushback sections for each hack.  It gives the common arguments against that particular hack and how to combat that.  For me, having it all in one place is helpful.  I have conversations about the different aspects, but they seem to be everywhere, all over the interwebs, and it is hard to gather my thoughts easily on the matter.  It helps me to focus and have the conversation more easily.

Hacking Assessment is a quick read, but one I encourage if you have any thoughts about going gradeless, or even lessing the amount of grades in your class.  If nothing else, using some of the hacks will help your students be more reflective of their learning and gain back a little bit of the love they used have for learning.

How Far Can I Push It?

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There’s been a lot of talk lately on all the art related Facebook groups I am a part of.  I mean, it is a subject art teachers discuss a lot, but in the past few weeks the conversation has been longer and more engaging.  We have been discussing grades vs. assessment, participation vs. engagement, eliminating grades all together, how the high school GPA would be affected, is it even possible to not give a grade at the high school level, and much more.  It is enough to make your head explode…and it’s beginning to make mine explode.

Grading and assessment is always on my radar.  I wrote about my assessment model in this post earlier this year.  I even presented on the model at the AOE 2016 Winter Conference stating how we as teachers need to grade less on compliance and instead create meaningful assessment.  So it is easy to understand why all this talk about grading has caused the wheels in my head to go into overdrive.  I began to look closely at what I am currently doing, what it means, and how could I change it?  I wish it was as simple as deciding I won’t grade anymore, but because there are so many facets to all this, it’s not. In this current education model we are in, as a high school teacher with parents that expect grades, colleges that look at GPA to determine a student’s acceptance to their school, a UIL board that requires passing grades to play and compete, and students who are motivated by them, I HAVE to provide a grade.

Currently I give a mixture of completion grades and grades(numbers that are perhaps arbitrarily assigned) that reflect artistic behavior/growth assessments.  I find that the assessment feedback is important to my students and their artistic growth. I want to continue to provide that to them, but I hate that I have to translate that feedback into a numerical grade.  However, the assessments boil down to only doling out a few grades…many less than the amount my district “requires”.  That’s where the completion grades come in.  But, do those grades really show anything other than the fact that a student completed an assignment?

And then all the “WHAT IFS….?” start to walk in.  What if I pushed?  How far could I go? What if I just stopped caring and gave everyone a 100–what would that do to my classes and the “importance” of them?  What if I gave the minimum amount of grades I get away with giving, would I get a stern talking to?  Would all this change the student input/output in my classes?

I don’t have the answers.  I have been creating some sketchnotes to work out my thoughts.  I am on a mission to figure this out before next August when school starts again.  Yes I know that is 7 months away, but this isn’t an easy issue.  Like I said, there are so many facets I have to take into account: district requirements, local admin expectations, parent expectations, student motivation, UIL guidelines, coaches needs, pass to play, meaningful grades, assessment v. completion, and ultimately, what I believe the purpose of the grade in my class should be.  That is the ultimate question that I just can’t answer………….yet.

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