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  • Meredith Blackerby

Grading: Subjective or Objective

When it comes down to it, most art teachers' preference would be to remove grading entirely from the art classroom. Art is, at its very core, subjective, which makes it difficult to assign numerical value to an individual piece of artwork. And who wants to be the bad guy who squashes a child's creativity by putting a "C" on their project? Not me!

I often times consult my husband about matters like this because of the experiences he had with the arts as a child. Let me begin by saying, my husband is one of the most intelligent and creative people I know. But he always claims that "art isn't his thing". His creative strengths do not fall under the drawing or painting categories, which made his relationship with elementary art class not all that positive.

He always tells me stories about being so devastated when his artwork would be graded poorly. No matter how hard he tried, his projects were never up to scratch. It was never due to lack of effort, simply that the art teacher did not consider his work to be "good enough". This eventually led to a theoretical estrangement between himself and these particular types of fine arts.

I try my best to keep these types of students in mind when I set up my grading process. I don't want to penalize students for trying new mediums or branching out, even if that particular style is not their strongest skill. I want them to feel comfortable to explore and experiment without fear of getting a "bad grade". After all, most of our greatest artists came about because they felt comfortable to step outside the lines and try something against the norm.

Art is about creativity and freedom of expression. Not about making things "the right way".

So for that reason, I set up my grading system to include as little skill-based grading as possible. First of all, the students get to choose which project they would like to turn in every quarter. Sometimes we make something that doesn't turn out the way we planned, so why should we be judged on that project? For that reason, my students get to choose which project they are most proud of at the end of the quarter. This puts them in partially in control of their own evaluation.

When they have a project ready to turn in, they fill out a rubric to assess their own work (see below). They grade themselves in four categories: Effort, Behavior, Technique, and Materials. I let them self-evaluate before I grade their projects to get an idea of how they feel that they performed.

You are always going to get the kid who thinks they deserve 150% on everything they touch. But you will also get many students who are honest in their answers. I find that, more often than not, I am actually giving them a higher grade than they gave themselves. I want to teach them to be critical of their work (in a productive way, of course). We have a lot of discussions about how we can use our reflections to improve our work in the future.

Any grading system is going to be imperfect in a subjective field, but implementing these features makes it as productive and fair a possible. It allows the students to have as much control as possible over their own art grade and gives them the opportunity to evaluate themselves instead of just depending on me to stick a number on their artwork.

See below: example of student rubric/teacher rubric and pictures of the turn in station in our classroom.

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