Wednesday, February 11, 2009


“If you don't like my opinion of you, you can always improve” – Ashleigh Brilliant

First thing early Tuesday morning, about an hour before class, I went through the assignment from last week and graded all the pieces. I find a little space between the review in class and the grading of said pieces is always good to get a little objective perspective on the work, as there will often be elements I failed to note the first time around, both plus and minus/for better, for worse. One thing I’m pretty consistent about is always making sure to write comments down, usually on post-it notes stuck to the back, then I also make a point to call up students individually and go over each piece with them while handing work back; expand upon the notes I made, ask if they have any questions, plus make specific suggestions for improvement and/or highlight certain successful aspects of the drawing.
There will also be plenty of opportunity for them to rework pieces and turn them back in if their grade isn’t to their satisfaction (or their work isn’t up to mine); either at home over the coming week or during the one “open studio session” scheduled specifically for catch-up in class, later on towards the end of the semester.

This fresh batch merited a few “A’s”, six “B’s” (four pluses + two minuses), five “C’s” (two pluses + two minuses), a “D” and two “F’s”. An average grade-point spread compared to other classes and semesters. Turning in work late, or on the wrong paper, or sloppy presentation (torn up, smudged and/or wrinkled) or no name on the pieces, etc. all contribute to loss of grade. A few took on way too much and were advised to scale it back, some rose to the challenge and pulled off really impressive pieces. Probably a third of the works fell for the common trap of nailing the surface plane of the tabletop and also having all the objects in perspective relative to each other, but didn’t align the two so the items appeared to be on a different plane than the tabletop (or worst-case scenario, floating above it) – which is the crux of the whole problem behind this assignment. And again, the handy-dandy tracing paper overlay was used to point up particular possible solutions to trouble spots, and the faithful sheet of plexiglass with a dry-erase marker was sent home again with another student.

Another related side-issue for time-management (for me) is that the grading takes maybe a few minutes per piece, as does the handing-back part with accompanying explanations and personalized attention. So in a class of seventeen students, at approximately five minutes each, that’s an instant loss of over an hour-and-a-half, or, over half the class time spent on a routine task. So I usually get the grading done before or after class, and hand back pieces while they are working on an in-class exercise.

There are differing approaches to grading the first pieces of the class: going easy or going hard. Fortunately it’s relative to each individual effort, though I tend to gradually tighten the screws and raise expectations in step with the respective abilities in accordance with each student’s growth over the course. It is easy to recognize when and which people have difficulty at first and are then rewarded by persistence, and the grades tend to reflect that; some of the comparatively poorest students as far as drawing ability have gotten “A’s” based purely on their obvious improvement compared to where they were at the start of the class. Other mitigating factors such as attitude and attendance don’t play as big a part when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of getting the work done, on time and according to instructions. They will at the end of the semester, but for now it is the basic, foundational stuff we’re worried about. There are always the students who obsess about grades versus the ones who shrug it off, some that have the dreaded inflated sense of entitlement (expecting an “A” for just showing up) and those who are tickled to death that they just didn’t fail.

Either way or somewhere in-between, it’s like Scylla and Charybdis almost every minute in the classroom. Which brings us to… the first critique.

1 comment:

  1. Dang, you're literate. I wish you'd been one of my teachers.