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Dilemma discovery decision.

Several years ago, I developed an assessment tool for use in my art classes that is simple, efficient, and has proven to increase both student learning and student appreciation of the creative process. The format is based on a ten-point handwritten response to three specific prompts entered weekly in a journal. The journals can be collected, graded, and returned in a matter of minutes.

The journal process allows students to internalize cognitions and plan personal strategies for success. In the artroom, the goal is student success with the media process while being engaged in progressive levels of aesthetic decision making. This journal format facilitates the development of students' problem-solving and creative-thinking skills, and it works!

The Journaling Habit

It is important that students begin to use journals immediately as they first become acquainted with their media process. The journal can be used as a repository of terms and definitions, diagrams of tools and equipment, planning sketches for design ideas, notes on techniques used, etc. We make our own journals in the art studio with the help of a binding machine. A simple folder with center gussets will do just as well. I prepare several handouts for inclusion in the journal along with twenty-five to thirty sheets of blank paper.

Formal assessments of progress are important to any studio learning experience, but it is the journal habit that will most consistently document growth and understanding. A regular habit of reflection will help students to approach dilemmas encountered in working with media, and to formulate their own solutions allowing for greater enjoyment of the process. Teachers will find themselves less beset with recurrent questions. Students inadvertently answer many of their own questions as they formulate responses to dilemmas. In addition, students are challenged to be attentive to chance discoveries that occur in the classroom, making note of them in the journal.

Journal Entry Format

I found it best to establish a brief, prescribed format for the students' journal entries. This facilitates student response within the class period and minimizes the loss of production time. A highly effective format that I use involves having each student respond to a Dilemma, a Discovery, and a Decision encountered each week relative to process. Process is the key. Consistent habits of analysis engender many new insights and strengthen the students' self-reliance with the process. Each of the three prompts targets a different cognition, collectively engaging the student in analytical, speculative, and decisive reasoning skills.

Students make one written journal entry each week staying within the guidelines of the format established for journal entries. Responses to each prompt are purposefully brief--one or two sentences, no more. This allows me to quickly connect with their ideas as I read the journals and respond promptly to each student's intentions. It is imperative that the journals have a quick turnaround to maximize their effectiveness.

Writing the Entry

In the first days of a course, we spend some time during one class period practicing writing journal entries. This works well as a class activity immediately following a video or hands-on demonstration which students may reflect upon for topic ideas. I demonstrate to the class how they might comply with the format by soliciting responses to the three primary prompts: Dilemma, Discovery, and Decision. I construct written sample sentences from their oral responses explaining how to structure their writing in the first person. Students' written responses must be complete thoughts.

For every dilemma encountered in a process there is a possible solution; for every discovery there should be a consideration about how it could be used in future work; every decision should move the process forward somehow. Students' writings, though brief, should be constructed to describe their process experiences in this sequence. Students quickly catch on to this structure and enjoy the ease of formulating their reflections in this format. They are able to get quickly in and out of the journal activity, yet I have found their responses to be insightful and directly relevant to their involvement with their process.

Guiding Prompts

If ever a student seems at a loss for a topic idea, all I need to do is remind the student to recall what happened in the studio that week, revealing some new idea or solution. I sometimes refresh the student's memory by asking simple questions such as, "Remember what you had to do to get that lid to fit?" or "Remember your reaction to that glaze? What did you decide to do about that?" Then I advise the student to go ahead and write about that as part of the week's journal entry. Suddenly pens are no longer idle. I encourage students to reflect upon anything related to process, including ideas discovered while watching a video of during a field trip. Each of the three journal prompts, however, must address a different topic idea. Avoiding redundancy is very important to achieving a high level of cognitive engagement through this assessment.

Teacher Response

Each week, as I read and evaluate the entries, I write my own reactions and candid advice to each student alongside his or her remarks. I award points for completed responses. Students receive a total of ten points for each completed journal entry. (Refer to the Journal Worksheet and example questions to see how points are allotted.) Points will not be earned for incomplete responses, redundant responses, or responses that do not follow format. When this occurs, I ask the student to restate or clarify a reply to a particular prompt. If, for example, a student simply states a dilemma and does not think it through to a possible solution, points will be missing. I allow students to recapture missing points by restating or restructuring responses by the next turn-in of the journal.

Keep in mind that the format is designed for problem solving and creative thinking. The goal is student growth in the creative process. Revising and rethinking are part of that process and this format rewards students for following through:


I collect journals in an ongoing manner. I have two bins: one for student journals to be graded; one for journals after I have reviewed them. Students pick up their journals from the graded stack as they are cycled back and the process continues. Additionally, notes from text readings, assigned research, and technical information, along with project records are placed in the journal. These items usually have blanket amounts of point value associated with their completion, and add to the total points students should accumulate for the grading period. The journal should carry a significant weight in the student's total grade for

a given marking period. In my c]asses the journal counts for twenty-five percent of the quarter grade. Grades on individual projects collectively account for the other seventy-five percent. Thus the student who well accomplishes all of the assignments and has an up-to-date journal will receive the higher mark. It's just mathematics at that point.

Meeting Special Needs

All of my classes contain students of mixed grade levels, mixed experience levels, and mixed learning abilities together in one studio challenge. I find this environment of diverse learners to be stimulating both for my adolescent students and for me as their teacher. My strategy for assessment is to document student success on an individual basis as the student responds within a range of established criteria I design rubrics specific to each project assignment to help me evaluate as objectively as possible.

In consideration of students with special needs, the journal entry format herein described can easily be adapted. When it was brought to my attention that one of my students had a learning disability related to writing, I created the option for her to submit her journal responses in audio format. I made arrangements for her to use the school's language lab to facilitate her weekly journal responses via audiotape. Her enjoyment of and her engagement in her work greatly improved with the journal entry format in place.


As students become skilled in articulating what about their work produces satisfaction and what they desire to modify, they build self-esteem and self-confidence. The contribution to the broader school community is a body of learners who are self-motivated. This sustains the goals and purposes of art education and nurtures from within the school's student ranks a great source of pride and enthusiasm for learning.

Guiding Prompts

Students respond in complete sentences in their journals to the following prompts:


* State a problem that you encountered in your work. (2 points)

* Identify a possible solution to the problem. (2 points)


* Describe an exciting observation from your own work or the work of someone else. (2 points)

* How might this new knowledge be applied to your own work? (2 points)


* Define a plan for going forward with any part of the process. (2 points)


Students reflect analytically on various interpretations as a means for understanding and evaluating works of visual art.

WEB LINK Illuminations.html

Gloria L Brinkman is a national board certified teacher and curriculum coordinator for visual art at Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati. Ohio.
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Title Annotation:High School
Author:Brinkman, Gloria J.
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
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