Recently I was reading an article by Matthew Sweet in the ‘Art Quarterly’ magazine, the publication that arrives four times a year as part of the ‘Art Fund’ which I am a member of. He is discussing how his daughters’ art homework is set out as prescriptively, making comparisons to maths work- such as parameters of pages of research to complete and drawings to produce. I found this a very interesting article, and I reflected on my students when they returned to me groaning at the pressure from their art classes and have been asked to do ‘5 pages of research’, or ‘2 pages of drawings’ as a homework.
I admit, I have set work such as this before in my pathway, when grading criteria and unit specifications are pressing to be completed, and students can sometime try to get away with doing the bare minimum. However, recently I set some written work for my class with no parameters and it was the students who turned back around to me asking for a length and word count to clarify how much they had to produce. Is setting work like this a safety net for all of us involved? I also recently asked a class to consider the strengths and weaknesses of their final piece, and a student immediately asked ‘how many do we need to have’.
Sweet continues to discuss in his article how his daughter was completing a project inspired by Picasso, he hypothesises about how could this set prescription risks eliminating any creativity, and compares the situation to copying from a textbook. The art of independence and creative processes is discussed a lot in art and design assessments and grading criteria. In the article he references his daughter being in senior school. Recently I visited a local senior schools art department who had nearly 300 students taking one qualification with 3 members of staff. As a teacher I can honestly say I would not know how to progress that many students through prescriptive criteria without utter regimental precision.
I currently teach 16-19 year old students, where we need to prepare them for the independence of university in such a short amount of time. Working between the school ages and university, I find the students join us very used to the set parameters of what they are expected to complete, achieve and do. Although our qualifications use phrases in their assessment such as evidencing working with ‘total autonomy,’ ‘critical thinking skills,’ or ‘complete independence.’ I find this quite hard for students to achieve these without specific delivery on a previous project for them to learn what is expected of them, as for most, this is a totally alien method to work to start .
How do you teach students independence? How does your course increase autonomy in learners? Do you feel students can learn autonomy if they have more options and less prescription?
Recently I gave my students more options on their roles for the latest productions we are working on, allowing them to voice opinions on the area they wished to work within. They showed an excellent level of autonomy in undertaking the roles and upheld an exemplary learning work ethic. However many of them risked getting swept up with the production and missing their grading criteria for assessment. This bring the question to mind about vocational courses and could the grading of these not in essence be vocational enough? I recently also visited a higher education provider who explained they taught delivered lessons to students in the first year of their study. Then ran the department for years 2 and 3 as a live working studio with students having roles on productions, and they assessed students through observations and documentations of their live job roles. How do you think we should integrate varied assessment methods more often in courses we deliver?
Sweet. M. 2015, ‘The modern world as we want it to be, not as it is,’ Art Quarterly, Winter 2015, pp 30.