So I’m going to talk about meetings - WAIT! STOP RUNNING AWAY! This is going to be interesting, I promise! Because this is the best I’ve felt assessing my students’ progress in a long time! Do you hear that?! Assessment. Felt. Good. Now do you want to hear more? Read on, dear reader!
My favorite part of this week was definitely conducting midpoint meetings with my students. It was such a pleasure getting to meet with each student and check-in, even if it is only for 15 minutes! I still have about a third or fourth of the class left for next week due to “fall break” which is something that doesn’t really apply to teachers or grad students I suspect. I was really worried about these meetings before they started because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stay within the time limit I set. Time is a struggle for me as you already know. Additionally in the past, when I would meet and advise art education students, our meetings would regularly last 30 minutes plus because their journey through their courses and program requirements were so complicated and because I was determined that they would leave as informed as possible, unlike the adviser I had while an undergrad who made it clear she didn’t enjoy seeing students and mostly left us blowing in the wind on our own. It’s a terrible feeling. I saw that on more than one occasion, namely advisers who expected students to know what they didn’t know. I was so excited (and pleasantly surprised) that we were able to move through our meetings efficiently without any traffic jams!
This wasn’t luck, however. I did several things to make sure we made the most of our short time. First, I created a midpoint meeting agenda of 5 items we had to cover. I always tell students not to give students more than “a handful” of things to think about or do at any given time and since we have 5 fingers on our hands 5 items must be more than enough. Any more is asking for trouble (but this is anecdotal and arbitrary on my part - 5 is not a magic number but it is a concrete visual). The agenda’s items were:
I printed out one for each student and for myself and filled them out and checked them off as we progressed. At the end of the meeting, I asked each student to sign to confirm what we had covered those points. This gave us structure and allowed us to move expeditiously while practicing good habits with students, in this case always having something to take notes with at meetings, and committing to decisions, hence the signatures.
Second, I took a page out of Terry Barrett’s playbook, or so I’ve heard, and told students that if they didn’t come prepared for the meeting that we would have to reschedule. If they’re not ready to meet, why meet? How would I know if they’re prepared to meet, you ask? They had to bring a form filled out that I had emailed them and handed out in class. Set your students up for as much success as possible by printing the important or easy things out for them so they have both online and analog and no excuses.
The form I gave them was what I’m calling their “Creative Growth Goal.” It asked them to identify a creative lesson (Eisner), habit (Project Zero), or disposition (Columbus Museum of Art) they would like to work on and show growth in by the end of the semester (about 8 weeks from now). And no one forgot to bring it so far! My students are so on top of everything! I can hardly believe I didn’t have to be the bad guy...yet. We all know that if you set consequences - you have to follow through. But I typically explain I don’t like being put in that position but it’s not my call - its theirs.
This form set us up for two important conversations: A) thinking about their mini-lessons they’ll be preparing for their final; and B) how they will be assessed overall in the course. I explain that there are two widely accepted ways to evaluate student progress in education. One is growth and the other is mastery. I describe how their mini-lesson will be where they will demonstrate mastery, because they will have multiple opportunities to receive feedback, reflect, and revise BEFORE they perform. We’ll be grouping up to talk about ideas next class. The upcoming midterm is practice since it involves two one-on-one conversations involving art looking or making in someway. The draft of the lesson plan will be practice. Even presenting it to the entire class will still be practice technically since it will be with adults and not children and it’s the first time they’ve tried to integrate art probably. It will nevertheless be a “performance” that will make it more real and allow them to “play the whole game”. The final polished product will be the art-integrated lesson plan which they will hopefully carry into their teaching careers. I wonder if I can check in with them somehow and find out if they use it again? How many teachers use the lesson plans they create in undergrad? I further explain that I use a one-point (yes or no) ‘rubric’ for mastery so - Did they integrate art? Did they integrate it authentically? Did they hit these important mechanical parts of a lesson plan? Yes. Yes. Yes. Mastery.
Growth, I explain, will be their “creative growth goal.” I want to be able to put a “creative growth mindset” into practice. I use the metaphor of exercise - a la Dweck’s growth mindset intervention where she refers to the brain (or intelligence) as a muscle. I say that if I walk into a gym, I sure as heck don’t want someone coming up to me to tell me what part of my body I need to work on! I can make that decision myself and they should too! I want them to have ownership over what skill they want to learn. I have no expectation for how much growth or what that growth should look like. My only expectation is that there is growth, regardless of whether it is leaps and bounds! Just like with exercise, we have to be as honest as possible about where we are and where we end up and we have to hold ourselves accountable, but maybe with a little help from a coach or teacher in this case. And whatever you decide to work on, why not work on it together with your students? If I was teaching a workout class, I would definitely be moving and exercising along with my students - not standing still and yelling at them. I’m working on vulnerability and I create conditions for students to work on their vulnerability as well.
Having framed the way they’ll be assessed in the course and making connections, we begin talking about specifics and I try to help them by providing different methods for how they might work on their goal, just like how a trainer might identify various exercises to help someone reach their athletic goal. I want to plant seeds. I tell them how important it is not to overfeed your students by giving too much direction or too many specifics because that can take ownership away from the student. On the other hand, no advice can leave students feeling adrift, confused, or frustrated. It’s a line you have to walk for yourself.
We checked-in on their upcoming midterms quickly to try to resolve any confusion that might escalate their stress and affect their work. Things always come up during these conversations and I’m always really interested in how different students can construe things in different ways than I might intend or how little miscommunications occur or how students can identify areas that need clarification or fixing for next time. I learned a lot about the course their eyes. I’m often gobsmacked at teachers who act like confusion is not a necessary and vital part of learning.
While uncertainty is built into the course, students have only so much tolerance for ambiguity and it can be a big stressor if left unattended. So my goal was for each student to walk out knowing whether or not they were “on target” or off target and what they needed to do to get back on track. We went through any late or missing assignments. I explained that by de-emphasizing grading, I’m not scoring their work, but I am checking it off. If they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to mindfully, then I’ve checked it off, provided feedback, and they are “on target.” I found I learned a great deal about their lives and challenges and that they learned more about my specific expectations and we “lifted the hood” together on how assessment works in the class. I told them that if an assignment was checked off that I had everything that I needed. If it wasn’t, I let them know why specifically in my feedback. One of my goals this semester is total transparency.
My goal is not to tell you you’re a number or a letter, because you’re not, I say. You’re a person and we can do better than that as teachers. My goal is for you to have a clear understanding of where you stand in regard to your own growth and mastery in this course as I’ve observed it and how to move forward. For most students, I was able to gladly tell them just to keep on doing what they’ve been doing because it is working. They’ve managed their time well, despite many personal, work, and other academic obligations. They’ve responded to material thoughtfully in their responses and engaged with material during class in projects and discussions as well as with their classmates.
There were some notes given but most were merely explanations of why I might not call on a student repeatedly to make ample space for other students to speak up or asking students to speak up a little bit more. What a blessing to be able to give students notes like that! I thought about how lucky I was to engage students in dialogue through our written responses and feedback, creating that feedback loop, so that I know how deeply they are engaging with material and how thoughtfully they are reflecting and how many connections they are making even when they don’t speak up much in class! Seeing their thinking makes me a much more confident teacher. I know who is engaging and who might phone it in. I mention this to at least one student, just how grateful I am to be able to see their thinking that other teachers and classes might miss! This is why dialoguing with our students is so critical! Our students are multi-dimensional - not just their presence in class but all the rest of the time between classes as well! How do you make their learning visible as Harvard’s Project Zero Shari Tishman asks? Response journals / portfolios is such a powerful way for me!
One takeaway I leave several students with is just how much I believe it is important that you make time to meet with your students, even if it’s just a quick check-in. EVERY student. No matter how big your classes get, every student deserves some of your time and an opportunity for a one-on-one connection with their teacher on a human level. Those student-teacher relationships are crucial for building trust and communication for learning. I feel as though these meetings have gone a long way so far towards strengthening my relationships with my students this semester.
Do you think I’m crazy? I’ve been meeting with students individually throughout all my courses for the last few years of teaching art education, education, and studio art classes but then again I’ve had the luxury of being able to meet both in and outside of class time. For those of you with younger students, I know you don’t have that luxury of meeting kids outside of class. You might only see your students a few times a month sadly! But can you take just one class session, maybe even if it is only once a semester, to meet face-to-face with everyone for a little check-in while the rest of class work on something together? 5 minutes? 2 minutes? What can you accomplish even in just one minute? If you imagine an elevator ride together? How could you creatively overcome your own unique challenges and obstacles? Do you already do this but differently? Am I asking too much or can we make “one-on-one-for-everyone” a reality?
Hopefully I’ll talk about what happened in class this past week in my next post. This post I think is long enough already. It was a great class looking at and talking about art together while thinking about “sticky” ideas and systematic creativity. But I was SO EXCITED getting to connect with my students and - guess what -THIS WAS AN ASSESSMENT! THIS IS WHAT ASSESSMENT CAN LOOK LIKE! THIS IS WHAT ASSESSMENT CAN FEEL LIKE, PEOPLE! DO YOU HEAR ME? ASSESSMENT FELT GOOD! In our Internet age, where more empathy and eye-contact are regularly called for - where we say we miss human connection - spending some face-time with your students and other humans is more valuable than ever. It’s priceless. Humans, like creativity, depend on connection. Community too requires connection and requires that we treat each individual within our community with dignity. Meetings do not have to suck! Pass it on! :)
Here is a link to my day 6 outline (we did about half - the rest was aspirational)
I'll mostly be blogging about my experience teaching pre-service teachers about creativity and artmaking. I teach a class called Art Curriculum & Concepts for Teachers for undergrads planning on becoming classroom teachers. Among other things, I'm attempting to "Go Gradeless" while experimenting with more effective approaches to teaching visual art integration.