Art Teacher Talk

The Art of the Rubric

My goal for this blog and for my teaching resources is to help art educators reach a consistent level of excellence in the classroom. An excellence that transcends attitudes and artwork. Across the board.

One very specific and foolproof component to achieve this level of excellence is the method by which we assess student artwork.

When it comes to assessing artwork, the obvious questions are…

“How do I grade this?”

“How do I grade this fairly?”

“How do I grade this across skill levels?”

“How do I grade 36 of these in a timely manner without losing my mind???”

This is where the rubric comes in…

Let me tell you a little story about the BEST Cooperating Teacher and classroom experience a student teacher could ever have. 11 years ago I spent an entire semester with a lady who had been in the Art Teacher biz for 41 years. As I began to create lessons and get closer to actually teaching them, she insisted that I learn to write a rock solid rubric. One that would not only assess the end product fairly and equitably as well as encourage students to understand what they were being assessed on. A comprehensive rubric. A rubric that set the tone for the assignment. A rubric that parents could understand.

I thought, “wow, this will be easy.”

Oh. So. Very. WRONG.

What I discovered was not only was it difficult but it was time consuming! She insisted on a product specific rubric – one for every assignment. At first I thought this was a bit much, I mean, couldn’t you just have one that would fit all of the projects? Even one for a group of projects? “Why so specific? Why? I’m already half nuts from trying to learn how to teach it, now I have to go nuts grading it too?????”

Lucky for me I was also working alongside a teacher who was new to the district and came from a very successful program she had built up north. The artwork her kids produced was nothing short of amazing. She was a wealth of helpful information on how to assess work objectively. I ended up taking her basic framework and creating my own rubric that after multiple revisions (I can still hear my CT saying, “It still needs this – now go fix it”) I came up with rubrics that have served me well for the last 11 years.

We are all about measuring stuff in education….in courses where the answers are cut and dried this is easy. But what do you do in art class? How do you assess what is good? What is good? What does good even mean?

Here’s how we do it in my classes. For every single assignment there is a specific rubric. It usually has between five and seven sections. Each section evaluates a component of the process. From following directions to overall commitment to the task. And everything in between. I introduce the concept of grading everything on a rubric in my “Welcome to Art” Presentation on Class Procedures – they take notes and turn them in for a grade as this ensures they actively listened, read and wrote down everything on how our class operates. I give the presentation as a lecture both in person and virtually – I don’t just post it on my Canvas Course page. In a virtual situation students have 5 minutes after the end of class to upload the photo of their class procedures notes for a grade. After five minutes the assignment locks. This also serves as recourse if a student says, “well I didn’t know you graded on a rubric, or that you had a late work policy, etc.” They took the notes and uploaded them.

Back to the rubric…

Right now in my Drawing class we are finishing up the Art Element Space – specifically Negative Space. Students had a short presentation with notes, two skill builder worksheets, and a final project using chairs and rocking chairs with creative backgrounds. The notes are a 100 or a zero – all or nothing. The worksheets have rubrics built right in at the bottom of the sheet (all of my worksheets for all media are like this to avoid the, “I lost my rubric” dilemma – makes life easy). The final chair/rocking chair project has a separate more involved rubric because it is a finale to all they have learned in the practice phase.

I always provide the rubric up front. At the beginning of the project. I have gone so far as to have students take notes on the components of the rubric (during the project presentation). You would be amazed at how the “following directions” component skyrockets if they take notes on expectations.

Providing the rubric up front serves two purposes…

Number One: students know exactly how to get an “A”. If grades are not a driving factor, I spin it like this – “This is how you send the best message about yourself”. No matter what situation you find yourself in, one thing is universal – people appreciate it when you sincerely want the best for them. In return, they tend to give you their best. Side note: Kids have a “crap meter.” If you really don’t care how well they do or if they succeed, they will know it. In turn, they won’t care either. Whether we like it or not, when it comes to climate in our classroom, we are the driving force. Our energy (good, bad or indifferent) will set the tone.

Number Two: You will have full coverage (aka CYA) for that unexpected parent email questioning a grade for work that is obviously an “A” (“How can you not see how wonderful this art is? Or…the dreaded “Art is subjective” line) I’ll let you in on a little secret…purpose Number One (stated in the previous paragraph) will keep you from hardly ever facing a situation with a questioning parent. In 11 years I have had less than five conversations with parents concerning what they thought was an unfair grade. All it took was a moment with them, the artwork and the rubric (which their student knew was provided and explained at the start) and the meeting was over as fast as it began. And furthermore, the kids will not go complaining to the parents about unfair grades because they know the rubric is always there first, clearly stating all the expectations.

Added bonus: When kids know you grade on a rubric that assesses the product they feel safe. I tell them constantly that the artwork is an extension of them and that THEY are fabulous, so I expect the work to be fabulous as well. I have complete confidence in their capabilities and I am committed to their excellence. They trust me. They trust the process. This naturally translates to excellence across the board. I said this before, either in this post or a previous one, I rarely (maybe 5% of the time if that) get rushed or sloppy work from any of my kids. They come in each day ready to give their best to the task that day. Rubrics make the high bar easy to reach as they know exactly what to do and how to do it.

Please understand that not everyone in my room produces perfect work. What they do produce is work that is intentional. The effort is obvious. I tell them that what they create needs to be a testimony of hard work and when people view their work this testimony is loud and clear.

I do not use a separate rubric for students with accommodations. I simply assess the work based on that particular student’s effort as evidenced in the finished product. The efforts (and resulting evidence) of one student are not the same as the efforts of the person seated next to them. If a section of the rubric states that a drawing needs to have clean finished lines then the thing to remember is all clean finished lines are not created equal. Student capabilities vary and so do clean finished lines.

I treasure each student’s effort and fairly assess the outcome, regardless of perceived capability.

Now to the nuts and bolts part…WHAT to include on a rubric. You will need to evaluate exactly what the goals of the lesson are and what you want the kids to learn or master. How do you assess this learning?

I usually break it down into these sections – give or take: (you can assign weights to these categories in varying degrees depending on the assignment)

Following Directions (I will even break this down further most of the time – ex: “Student used 3 items in the composition”, or “Student used a monochromatic color scheme”)

Use of Media – this is the section on proper use of materials for this assignment

Use of Elements/Principles – Value, Contrast, Balance, etc.

Craftsmanship – BIG component and transcends all media (you can break this down as well and turn it into several categories)

Overall Commitment to “Fabulousness” – this can be as specific as you want – I have gone so far with first block to include punctuality (they end up leaving the house to pick up their coffee on the way to school earlier)

Be specific with each section and state exactly what you expect.

For example: In my Beginner Acrylic Vektor Painting (see pic below) I have a section of the rubric for a soft blend between values within each section and another section for crisp edges between each section. This sounds REALLY specific, but the paintings end up having these things in place (95% of the time). (Click on image for lesson details)

There’s an old saying, “You don’t get if you don’t ask.”

So ask.

In every section of the rubric.

Last but not least…

The Late Policy: I have a certain amount of points off for every day a project is late. State the policy right on the rubric. Every time.

Side Note on Late Policy: Do NOT bend on this. Unless a student has an illness where I have had parent contact, this is not a flexible issue. The unexpected plus is if you are firm in the beginning of the semester or year, the rest of the year late work will not be an issue as students know exactly what to expect. No inconsistencies. I have an entire section of my classroom management guide devoted to being consistent in your classroom – it is the cornerstone of your sanity in this business. I promise.

Of all the things I learned during student teaching, two things stand out. First, always state the value in the learning at the beginning of the teaching. Second, always grade fairly using a project specific rubric.

Before you panic and think you have no time…every resource in my shop has a corresponding rubric to get you started. Some are short, some are long, some are right on the worksheets. All are designed for quick and easy grading. (Shop link: MrsTFox Resources)

I hope you found my rubric mantra helpful. If I can answer any questions or you would like more specifics on the info above, please comment below.

Check out my previous blog posts and join my email list. There are exciting teaching resources on the way!

Have a wonderful day and Happy Teaching!

Tiffany 🙂

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