Thoughts from a High School Art Teacher

It is that time of year. If you are a teacher, it is time to give semester finals and get all your grades together. Plus it is time to get ready for Christmas. Putting the two activities together could be an overwhelming experience. Notice the word “could”. I have learned throughout my years of teaching to make things easier on myself during this time of excitement.

I used to give written tests in Art class. Not anymore. I got smart. I changed my teaching philosophy. I started grading students as I watched them work in class. I assigned projects in place of tests.

I found this is a much better method of teaching a subject that I love. An added bonus is that my students seem to do really well. My special education students flourish in art class. I can see great progress in their art work and their self-esteem. Seeing them do well makes me very pleased.

The semester final is a drawing. I give each student a large piece of paper with a mark on it. The mark is drawn in marker. This year I used a blue marker and drew the mark with my eyes closed. The students are told to incorporate the mark into their drawing. Their drawing can be realistic or abstract. The whole point is to get creative.

I suggest that the student take a moment to look at the mark from every angle. The student is allowed to work in pencil, colored pencil, marker, or oil pastel. Students have free rein to do what they want. I watch them as they work. Not over their shoulder, but from a distance.

The purpose of watching is so I can see how much effort is put in to the drawing. I can see if they struggled. I can determine if they put their heart into the project. I can also see if they just sat there staring into space.

Determining effort can really be important for those students that have low grade averages. I remind them that their effort can determine whether they pass or fail the course.  Many times a student will raise their semester average if they give me incredible effort on their semester final.

After the allotted time, I ask the students to look at their drawings before turning it in. I ask them to then write a number grade at the bottom of the page. I want them to tell me what they think they deserve. You might ask, why would you do that? Wouldn’t the students just give themselves a 100?

I have been amazed at the results of asking the students to evaluate their work. They are almost always candidly honest. The grade they give themselves is often lower than what I end up giving them. The kids are extra hard on themselves. Now I do have a few that write 110 on their paper, not taking me seriously at all. But, that is not the norm.

Semester finals have a definite time limit which I have found to be good to use in art class. If I do not give a definite time limit for certain projects the kids would drag them out all year. So time limits are good. Short timed projects are a great way to get grades and good work from your students as well. That could be another article.

When my students begin their final I like to joke with them. I tell them, “No cheating!” It takes them a minute to realize that it is pretty much impossible for them to cheat on this type of test. How great it is not to have to monitor for cheating during a test!

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts from a high school Art teacher. I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Christmas.

Other articles you might enjoy:

Teaching Art

How to Make Display Panels for a School Art Show

On the Lookout for New Ideas

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