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Group reflection: student generated authentic assessment.

Assessing student work is one of the most difficult tasks I must perform in the classroom. As a teacher, I find that my role in the classroom is always changing. If I could select my least favorite task, besides replacing paper towels in the towel dispenser, it would be grading a table full of projects. The process of creating is always exciting, but the culminating assessment seems like a big rubber stamp of approval or disapproval by the teacher.

Assessment has been mainly a teacher dominated task. Through classroom research, conducted as part of my graduate studies in the New Art Basics program at Iowa State University, I have developed a classroom strategy which enables students to become more actively involved in the assessment process.

Empowering Students

One of my favorite classes to teach is beginning drawing for grades nine through twelve. We were about to complete a contour line drawing assignment, when the thought of grading seventy-two contour line drawings began to weigh on my already over stressed mind. How could I empower students with the ability to take over this somewhat grueling task with validity and make informed decisions.

After researching the use of reflection as a self assessment tool in the creative process, I asked students to reflect on the classes' work as a whole. Basically, we gave a new twist to the classroom critique. Students randomly lined up their work, to be viewed by the class (a bulletin board, or wall could be used). When all works were in place, I asked students to take a few moments to reflect on everyone's work.

Group Reflection

The focus of the reflection time was for students to stand back and look at their work and the work of others. This enables them to place their work in context within the "art world," not on a global scale, but in the smaller art world of the classroom.

I asked them to physically arrange the works in order as to what they thought were the least successful to most successful. Right away, a question is raised in the students mind. What does success look like? I found most students to be very good at identifying successful work.

The class as a whole needed to come to a consensus on the order of their work. Discussions broke out (even a few arguments as to why one work should take precedence over another.) This type of argument doesn't happen in my classroom on a daily basis. Students arguing criteria for judging art work? Students arguing the merits of one work over another?

I selected a student to record comments made during these discussions. Most comments pertained to quality of line, composition, and items we had discussed previously in class. They were applying criteria that had been set to assess the work--not me.

Grading Made Easy

I then asked them to make divisions within the line up between high, middle, and low range. They were to identify which works could be grouped into these areas and why, based on the criteria they set up. To my delight they were able to target and mirror my unspoken professional choices. After the group decision, period of reflection and discussion, I spoke up. I stated that the works the class selected to be in the "high range" would receive an A, those in the "mid range" would receive a B, and those in the low range would have an opportunity to reflect on what an A and a B look like and also have the opportunity to go back into their work, begin anew, or have the low grade recorded.

Self Assessment Scores High

Nobody was asking why they received the grade they did. Nobody argued with the result handed down by the group. It was as if the jury was in and the decision made. The assessment criteria were clear and those who fell short knew without question what success was and even what it looked like. Clear visual assessment messages had been developed by students for their own assessment.

I recorded the scores painlessly, not agonizing over whether I was being fair and being swayed by any outside factors. I had coached them through the process and in the end it was the students assessing themselves. YES!

Students in the high and mid-range accepted their grades. The students that were given the opportunity to improve generally went back into their work making revisions or started over. Only a couple students elected to accept the failing grade.

I obviously do not use this method with every assessment task. But, I feel it is both liberating for the teacher and provides the student informative feedback from a multivocal source. Everyone enjoys the stimulating process and the outcome!


Assessment concentrates on the development of three Interdependent processes: Production, Perception, and Reflection. Reflection is thinking about art in terms of generating ideas, improving one's own art through revision, becoming aware of one's method of working, and continually evaluating one's attitude toward art. --Assessing the Visual Arts, Strategies for Art Educators Teleconference, 1992.

Laura J. K. Lengeling is an art instructor at Newton Senior High School in Newton, Iowa.
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Author:Lengeling, Laura J.K.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1997
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