Archives for category: process vs. product

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStudents taking my professional development courses often ask me how to evaluate and grade artwork that their students have made. Unlike other curricular areas such as math or history, art is a subject that doesn’t result in answers that can be marked “right” or “wrong”, so how should a teacher go about grading it? The answer — in my opinion — is easier than you might think.

When I’m evaluating student artwork, I focus mainly on two things: their effort and their involvement.

Where art is concerned, people tend to get caught up in what the finished piece (or outcome) “looks like”, rather than the quality of the process that got them there. Differences in art exposure and experience will produce vastly different outcomes between students, so that hardly seems an equitable approach to evaluation. For example, as a trained artist, how my final art piece compares to the work of someone who has never held a paint brush doesn’t make sense. But EVERYONE can demonstrate a high level of effort and involvement when creating art, and I believe this is the key.

Rather than “getting the right answer” — in the form of a finished piece that looks a certain way — I believe that authentic art experiences should encourage exploration of subject matter and materials. Sometimes this exploration results in an end product that is expected and satisfying to the maker and the viewer… sometimes not. But both should be valued as creative growth and as successful.

With older students in particular, I often list requirements or expectations for a given art experience. This lets the students know in very specific terms what techniques and/or materials I expect them to use during their work. When such a list is part of the assignment, then naturally the use — or omission — of them becomes part of my evaluation process. If a required element is not explored or included, that counts “against” the grade. This circles back to my original premise of evaluating effort and involvement, because if a student hasn’t attempted the requirements, they clearly haven’t demonstrated their full effort, nor have they been fully involved in the assignment.

An example came up this week with a professional development student of mine submitting photos and an evaluation to me of an art lesson she taught to her own students. Of one student’s work she remarked, “His piece ended up just looking like a lot of black on the paper, rather than distinct lines.” Nevertheless, she included that piece in the display, and I applauded her for that. What I said back to her was that for that particular student, his process of drawing the lines — though he did it over and over again until his work was a mass of black — was a more important exploration and experience, than of having a final piece that looked a certain way. Did he demonstrate effort in the creation of his piece? Yes! He took the process of drawing lines so far that they became indistinguishable from one another. Was this student involved in the process? Absolutely! And do I love his teacher for not getting “hung up” on what his final piece looked like, and for accepting his creative effort and involvement for what it was? You better believe it!

If you have questions or thoughts about this topic, please share them in the comments section. If you’re looking for some fun, affordable, and convenient professional development credits, click here to find out more about the distance learning art classes I teach. (No previous art experience is necessary — but your full effort and involvement will be!) Thanks for reading.  😉

If you’re an elementary school teacher, you know that young students are very enthusiastic about art. They are willing to try just about anything, and they are willing to try it with gusto. The older children get, however, the more reluctant they become to try their hand at art. When art experiences are authentic, they usually say a great deal about the artist, so by their very nature can make one feel vulnerable. By the time students become young adults, many have completely shut down artistically.

As a teacher at both the elementary and the secondary levels, it has been my experience that the single most important way to engage the reluctant older student in art, is to first meet them where they are. Initial lesson designs should rely heavily on skills that they likely already possess or will find less intimidating. (For example, painting a still life realistically using watercolors would probably not be a good first lesson choice, but using a pencil to create an abstract design using thick and thin lines might be.) Beginning with art experiences that virtually guarantee success, and showing students that you value their authentic efforts, will build their confidence and enable them to move on to ever more challenging art production.

A second approach that I used time and time again was that of providing a specific age context for the work they were doing. For example, while keeping expectations for involvement and exploration of materials very high, I would ask my high school students to imagine they were creating a particular piece of art for a viewing audience of very young children. This would allow them to “play” with images and design like a child, while still remaining their “cool”, older selves. It consistently produced wonderful results.

By presenting thoughtful lessons, and by demonstrating interest through questions and constructive suggestions, the teacher can create an atmosphere where otherwise reluctant older students will feel safe and are willing to take creative risks as they explore new materials, skills, and concepts in art.

If you’d like some tried and tested lesson plans that are sure to engage students of all ages, please check out my professional development class offerings through Fresno Pacific University.

Do you remember the simple joy of creating one of these? Consider sharing this wonderful experience with your students this autumn. It couldn’t be easier and the rewards are great!

For supplies, you will need only three things. Paper… nothing fancy… copy paper works great here. Crayons… broken into easy-to-hold chunks with the paper peeled off. An assortment of leaves and maybe even some small twigs and branches.

Your students will love exploring outside to find just the right leaves and twigs. If you have magnifying glasses — even the super inexpensive ones — give them to your students to use. (You won’t believe how focused they get!) Once back inside, explain the process of placing their leaves and twigs underneath their papers so they can rub over them using the sides of their crayons. A simple pantomime of how they will rub over their paper using the crayon is enough — you don’t have do actually do it — let them have the thrill of discovery themselves.

And they will be thrilled! When the rubbed images appear, it’s like magic and they love it! And don’t be fooled into thinking your kids are “too old” for this experience. As a high school art teacher for many years, I was consistently shocked by how many of my juniors and seniors had never done this. And the ones that had, had such fond memories of it, that they loved the opportunity to do it again.

So why devote time to an art experience such as this? Besides the obvious — it’s fun! — so many important things are going on here. Being outside. Exploring. Talking with each other about what they’re finding and doing. Analyzing and making decisions about their leaf selections… colors, shapes, textures, sizes. Using small muscle control to make the rubbings. Deciding on colors and placement of objects. Talking to others about what they’re making. And what if you incorporated writing? Depending on your approach, the curricular possibilities are virtually endless. And then, what if you incorporated science and scientific observation? What about math? The point here is that this simple, joyful activity suddenly becomes the catalyst for a profound level of learning and involvement. (And did I mention that it’s fun?!)

For other simple ideas about how you can easily incorporate art into your classroom and support the curriculum you are teaching everyday, please check out the affordable, convenient, self-paced Professional Development courses I teach through Fresno Pacific University.

A recent article in the February 2012 edition of Educational Leadership magazine — published by ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) — had me cheering and wanting to share! This article, entitled All Students Are Artists, by Linda Nathan, makes a wonderful case for the importance of including the arts in education — something I have known and felt for years — and she presents the facts to support her case.

One point that really grabbed my attention, was her discussion about how much of today’s educational system is focused on “doing well on the test”. Nathan says, “What if arts education, with its emphasis on process, could help us think about not being finished, instead of failing?” What a concept! Since art expressions come from within, there are rarely “right” answers, but rather “explorations” that cause students to think, question, and puzzle things out for themselves. (As opposed to math for example, where 2+2 always =4.)

As our world continues to grow, expand, and change in ways inconceivable only a few years ago, perhaps our expectations need to change as well. Can we embrace the fact that learning — in any subject area — is a process, and that what’s important is the desire to learn, accepting that all students will not “arrive” at the same time? In fact, what if there wasn’t a “learning destination” at all, but rather a continuum of curiosity and a thirst for learning that lasted our entire lives? This doesn’t mean that there are no educational standards. On the contrary, as an art teacher, I continually push my students to higher levels of learning, making sure that everyone understands my expectations of hard work, patience, and practice. I fully expect that everyone will work to the best of their own abilities — pushing themselves to meet the objectives set before them. What I don’t expect is that everyone will be able to meet those objectives at the very same time. Making measurable progress toward the objectives? Certainly. Meeting them all on the same day at the same time — as with standardized testing? Not necessarily.

As Nathan puts it, “Students crave opportunities to figure things out — things that matter.” Including meaningful art experiences in the classroom curriculum can inspire this type of meaningful engagement with school and with learning, which in turn will have far-reaching effects on the students and their lives beyond their involvement in the arts.

To learn more about this article and Educational Leadership, go to

To learn more about my Professional Development art courses, click on Courses for Credit, or Fresno Pacific University at the top of this page.

Of great concern among many teachers I work with is the question of how art should be evaluated. Implementation of any sort of art program — no matter how large or small — should involve careful evaluation of the students and their work, just as any subject of study in school does. For many people though, their first and only thought about art evaluation is, “How does it (the finished product) look?” or, “Does it look good/real?” These are the kinds of responses we’ve been conditioned to think about because many of us equate making art with some sort of “contest”. The problem with this type of thinking is that it is extremely limited. To restrict one’s evaluation of a piece of artwork to the end product alone, leaves all consideration of the process out of the equation. In my experience, it’s during the process of making art that much of the “good stuff” — critical thinking/problem solving — happens!

In my years of teaching, I have found it makes sense to consider the process of art making as well as the end product. More specifically, I believe that both process and product should be considered within the framework of each student individually. This is not as overwhelming as it sounds. Effort and involvement are key considerations when looking at the process a student goes through when creating any piece of art. The teacher should ask him or herself things like, “How involved did this student really get with the art experience? Did they explore many possibilities, or rush to get through it? Did they explore the materials made available during the experience? Did they take any artistic risks? Did they challenge themselves? What type of thinking did they do while working on the piece?” … and so on. It doesn’t matter how much — or how little — art background an individual has, everyone can and should be expected to put forth his or her greatest effort during an art experience. Different individuals will most certainly bring a wide variety of skills and prior experience to the table, but an evaluation of their process — including their effort and involvement — instantly levels the playing field, no matter what the final outcome (product) “looks like”. (And really, who among us is qualified to “judge” the outcome only of an art experience when the expression is so personal, coming entirely from within the child?)