Part 1 of a 3 part series - Part 2 - Part 3
Numbers. While some art teachers may reject the value of quantitative data, I don’t. It’s WHAT you are measuring that makes the difference. For example, we know that standardized test data is basically trash. I’ve mentioned in a few posts already this past semester how I’ve used data from my class to better inform my teaching and while I would accept the charge that what I’ve done so far is only ‘data light,’ I have nevertheless found the stories in numbers and patterns extremely valuable for my teaching. Shouldn’t that be the guiding principle of all data collection: Is this data valuable?
If there is no change, then nothing has been learned. So one way I was able to assess change in my students this semester was by using a simple self-reporting mechanism, the Likert scale (Strongly agree, somewhat agree, I don’t agree or disagree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). I collected self-reports from every student in the form of an Entry and Exit Survey which I gave at the beginning and end of the semester. For the purposes of this post, I’ve combined the somewhat and strongly agrees and disagrees. You can find more specific info as well as all the data here.
As the semester progressed, I realized that there were many questions that I should have asked at the beginning but I didn’t know what I didn’t know yet. Next semester my survey will be more robust. However, what responses I did get were very revealing and while I see tremendous positive gains in some areas I was also left with puzzling questions. This is the challenge of quantitative data - it must be interpreted and analyzed, and that of course involves subjectivity. There are many ways to read the data. As you will see below, results do not always make sense. We must resist the urge to tailor our questions to produce our desired results while also acknowledging that individuals are not purely rational actors and that there will always be a chance of irrational results. Above all, we must keep in mind that self-reports are not 100% accurate, but neither would be any assessment. This being said, let’s jump in.
For the following statements, students were asked to agree or disagree or state that they had no opinion. Let’s start with the good news.
Some people are creative and other people are not.
A major goal for this course is for my students to see all people as having creative potential. Hence, by the end of the semester, my hope was that all students would disagree with the above statement. Out of 29 students, we went from 12 to 26 students who disagreed by the end of the semester. At the beginning of the semester, more than half of my students thought that creativity is a trait that only some people possess. By the end, nearly the entire group thought creativity is something that all people have access to. Remember, these are future classroom teachers who will presumably be more likely to see creative potential in ALL students instead of just a “gifted” or “talented” few. Unfortunately, 2 students still did not see creativity as innate and 1 person had no opinion. But a 14 student swing is HUGE! This was my biggest win by far. How can I continue these gains in the future?
I feel comfortable sharing my opinion about an artwork or image.
Here we went from 19 to 26 students in agreement. It seems 2/3rds of the class was comfortable sharing their opinion regardless. 5 students had no opinion in the beginning while only 3 felt the same at the end. 5 students disagreed with the statement above in the beginning, but by the end not a single student voiced discomfort sharing their opinion about an artwork or image! I think eliminating that resistance in a handful of students is still huge. It was nice to see the time we spent in class talking about artwork paid off!
I feel comfortable leading an art activity or experience.
Here I saw another huge gain. We began with 12 students in agreement and ended with 24! 14 students disagreed with this statement at the beginning while only 2 disagreed by the end! I’m disappointed of course to see that 2 students continue to harbor discomfort at the idea of leading an art exercise, but the gains far outweigh any potential negatives. I haven’t parsed through the data enough to determine whether or not the 2 stubborn students were ones that had decided during the semester to not go into teaching, in which case there was a handful, which could explain the slight negative results. On the other hand, I will certainly think about how I can help all of my students become comfortable sharing opinions about images and leading art exercises in the future. It is also worth remembering that comfort can come with experience and one experience presenting an art activity may not necessarily produce comfort.
In some areas, there was little to no change.
Exploring and making art in a classroom setting is a good use of time.
I’m actually surprised a little bit by this one. We went from 28 students to 29 in agreement. No one disagreed at the beginning so it seems I won over one fence-sitter by the end. Was this self-selection? Students have the option to choose 2 out of 3 art-integration options including visual art, music, and theatre (sadly, no dance). It seems that most everyone who signed up for my visual art integration section already felt that art has value in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong - I LOVE this - but I would’ve guessed that some people might not have seen art as REALLY that valuable (remember this when we get to “art is a privilege” below). Am I expressing an inferiority complex after years of being called a “special” rather than a ‘real’ teacher? Were the students not being completely honest because they know my background as an art teacher? Doubtful. Should I rephrase the question in the future? Perhaps I should ask them to rank “art” in comparison to other subjects. But that would seem to betray the purpose of my class. Ranking would promote divisions between subjects when my class attempts to show how art can connect all subjects. I think the best solution will be to add more verification questions, in other words, ask the same question different ways, to get clearer data. Certainly things to think about for the future but overall it is heartening that a group of classroom teachers believe art is inherently valuable.
I enjoy looking at artwork.
I’m disappointed that I had almost no gains here. 24 students agreed with this statement at the beginning. 24 agreed by the end. 3 students disagreed, while 2 still disagreed by the end. This one I don’t quite get. If you don’t enjoy looking at art, why are you taking a visual art class? When it came to sharing opinions on art (see above), 5 students went from a negative view to a positive or neutral view. Yet here, 2 students continued to hold negative views towards looking at art? In a cynical way, I suppose it doesn't surprise me that some folks would be more comfortable sharing their opinion about something than actually engaging with it (see the comments below any article shared on Facebook, for example). But on the the other hand, I’m more disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to sway those few stubborn folks. Is “enjoy” too strong a word? Again, I need to ask verification questions. How would the results change, for example, if I asked if they found looking at artwork interesting? Or, do they seek out opportunities to look at artwork? Things to consider for the future for sure.
I like kids.
This is almost a trick question. If you’re going to teach, you better like kids. We don’t teach art, we teach people, I tell my students. If you’re going into teaching, you better answer yes to this question - or get out. I wonder if at some point in the future I will be compelled to counsel a student out of my class based on this question?
At the beginning of the semester, all 29 agreed that they like kids. At the end, one person went to no opinion. As I mentioned before, some students over the course of the semester decided that teaching was not for them. I was told that many of my students take the art-integration courses before actually being accepted into the College of Education, so changes of heart at this early point in their student careers is even more understandable. We had no direct contact with kids through my class, however, so I can’t really attribute any decline here to my course. I also wouldn’t give myself that much credit. But still, I’ll keep my eye on this area i the future.
And now for the bad news and the head-scratchers.
Art is a privilege.
I included this statement to mirror the language that I’ve seen commonly in arts advocacy. “Art is not a privilege” can be seen in materials produced by the Ford Foundation for example. I believe art is a right, a la freedom of expression, and not a privilege. If art teachers and advocates are saying “art is not a privilege” how is this understood by everyday people? Apparently, not very well.
12 students thought art was a privilege at the beginning while 14 students felt art was a privilege by the end - a increase of 2. 8 had no opinion at the start while 6 did at the end. 9 disagreed with the statement at the beginning as well as at the end. This makes no sense to me. After all, EVERY STUDENT thought art was a valuable use of class time (see above). I can only guess that we all had different ideas about what “privilege” means in this context. When I hear “art is a privilege” I hear “art is not for everyone.” This reflects the standard definition of privilege: “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.” Of course, what my students learned during our discussion of “authenticity” earlier in the semester is that a word can mean many different things to many people. I did not use the word privilege in class in this context. For example, I did not say “art is not a privilege” in part because I thought that our class discussions and exercises and assignments would naturally lead them to that conclusion. I would not have expected the results of this data - which makes it all the more important to collect. After all, everyone in the class made, looked at, talked about, and taught using art. So why did half the class think it was a privilege even after all that? My suspicion is that they may have maintained a belief that art is “special,” reinforced by the fact that some schools have art and some don’t, usually due to funding disparities, and practices like calling arts and gym teachers “specials” in some school districts. Additionally, the term “special” appears in the aggregated Google definition but not in Merriam-Webster, in case anyone had to lookup the term mid survey. Do I believe art is special? Yes. Do I believe art is for everyone? Yes. Others, however, may see a conflict where I do not. I can understand how some of the class could have thought that art is for everyone and that some of the class might’ve thought that art is special in a way that deserves respect. But for me, this contradicts what I was trying to accomplish in the course. I shared the Entry survey results with the class but I don’t think I went into what “privilege” might mean for me and the good folks at Merriam-Webster. I remember discussing privately with an art-loving student how she was disappointed to hear that so many in the class thought art was a privilege. She and I were on the same page, but many others were not. I had assumed that some would think art was not for everyone then and fully expected the majority to see art as something that anyone can do at the end because they all had in fact made art more than once in various forms in our course. This did not happen.
I can’t quite view this result as a failure, but moreso as a puzzle. Clearly, there is a disconnect. More importantly, there seems to be a disconnect between what art advocates say and what the general public may hear. We must speak the same language and perhaps the term “privilege” may have lost its communicative value. I will most likely keep this same phrasing for future surveys, but will need to ask additional questions to drill into what is really going on here. Additional statements such as “art is a right” or “every student should have access to art in school” or “art is for everyone” could clarify the views of the class. Perhaps unpacking “privilege” in tandem with our discussion on “authenticity” would be beneficial? Of course, you can’t cover everything you might like, but I think further investigation is needed.
One can become more creative.
Here we finally come to my weakest area. At the end of the day, if the students leaving my course cannot state that they believe a person can learn to be more creative, then I have failed, at least in part, as a teacher. While I saw huge gains in several areas, this feels like a defeat. And again, it is truths like this that make collecting data all the more critical. I would not have assumed a decline in this category, but nevertheless, there was - and that is something I have to face as a professional.
Out of 29 students, 27 agreed that someone can become more creative at the beginning of the semester. By the end, it was 25. A decline of 2. 2 students disagreed at the beginning and the end. Instead of 0 at the beginning, 2 students had no opinion by the end. Being in my class had a negative impact on my students belief that individuals can become more or less creative. While the numbers are small, I can’t ignore them. I’m shocked at the slight regression.
How could this be? What went wrong?
I’m of course very pleased that the vast majority of the group came in and left seeing creativity as dynamic and something that could be improved. This should not be dismissed. But they came that way, through no effort on my part. Another example of self-selection? Throughout the course, I included readings which addressed how creativity can be improved and spoke multiple times of the importance of a growth mindset in general and in regard to creativity specifically. We learned creative models, methods, and research on systematic creativity (see Made to Stick). They all chose a creative growth goal and had to provide evidence for how they had demonstrated creative growth! So how is it possible that my course have no impact on 2 students and a negative impact on 2? What is going on?
While I’m elated that more than half the class realized by the end of the semester that creativity is something that all people possess (see above), how could they also still believe that one cannot become more creative? Is this cognitive dissonance? Did they fail to see themselves as creative somehow? Were the 2 people with fixed trait views of creativity also the 2 people who felt that only some people are creative? I understand that beliefs are difficult, if not impossible, to change, but I’m still surprised. I have work to do here clearly and must reassess my methods. It’s important to see that everyone has creative potential, but it is just as important that creativity be seen as something that can be improved like anything else.
What do you think? Are your interpretations of the data similar to mine or do you see something different?
In the end, do I think going gradeless was worth it? Absolutely. Do I think I could’ve seen the same quantitative results with a more traditional approach? I think that is possible. None of the questions featured here dealt with the assessment, for example. Do I still have a long way to go? Absolutely. But check back soon for How far have we come? Part 2: The Words where I dive into the qualitative data, namely student comments, which have their own story to tell!
NOTE: It has been a tumultuous few weeks since the Fall semester came to a close including traveling, family tragedies and emergencies, and illness. As a result, I apologize that this post has been delayed. My plan is to make 3 posts to bridge this past and upcoming semesters. Here, part one deals some of the quantitative data I collected; whereas part two will examine the qualitative feedback I collected, mostly in the form of student comments; and part three will reflect on our final meetings in which I met with students individually to determine final grades as a preface to next semester just around the corner! Stay tuned and as always, thanks for reading and your support!
I'll mostly be blogging about my experiences teaching. I teach a class online right now called Teaching K12 Art Online where I'll be exploring art online with art teachers. I also currently teach a (formerly?) face-to-face course called Visual Culture: Investigating Diversity & Social Justice which is an art, critical writing, and research course for undergrads. Before this, I taught a class called Art Curriculum & Concepts for Teachers where I was experimenting with cooperative & creative teaching integrating art and "going gradeless" with preservice early childhood education majors.