20 Practical SLO Ideas for Busy Art Teachers

As I sat down to read one of our favorite books, The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday, to my daughter the other night, I saw the concept of Student Growth played out in the most innocent form. “Look how much you’ve grown in the past year,” Sister Bear’s mom says to her, showing a drawing and some writing examples of her improvement from Kindergarten to 1st grade.
Ahh… if showing growth was as simple as holding up two pictures and saying – look! You’ve grown! Although writing a really good SLO seems simple, getting quality data that is meaningful is another thing.
There is one thing, however, that will make the entire process feel more authentic– tracking something you actually believe in.
Ask yourself: What do you want your students to learn by the end of the year? Pretend no one is twisting your arm or making you fill out extensive paperwork. What are your true and authentic wishes for your students?

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again: When choosing a growth goal to track, ask yourself,

What is an art concept that I teach that is SO important I would be embarrassed if my students walked out of the classroom and didn’t know it?

What is an art concept that I teach that is SO important I would be embarrassed if my students walked out of the classroom and didn’t know it?

The secret to finding the perfect topic for your SLO is to choose something you care about. When you first became an art teacher, what were some of the basic things you hoped you could teach students in art? The more meaningful your goal is, the less grueling the data collection process will be.

You see, I believe we shouldn’t rearrange our curriculum for new initiatives. We should find ways to make new, top-down initiatives work with what we are already doing. This requires a little bit of creativity and artistry.

I am sure a list of ideas is forming in your mind. Even better, let’s brainstorm topics together, just like our participants have a chance to do during one of the assignments in AOE’s online class “Showing Student Growth in Art.”

Inspired by the great conversations students are having in this class, here is a list of 20 topics you might consider tracking for your SLO.


  1. Fine motor skills – cutting, drawing, gluing
  2. Talking about artwork
  3. Writing about artwork
  4. One (or several) of the Elements and Principles of Design
  5. One of the Studio Habits of Mind
  6. One of the New Visual Art Standards
  7. Creativity (hard to assess, but possible!)
  8. Time on task or engagement
  9. Proper care and use of materials
  10. Portfolios
  11. Vocabulary words and definitions
  12. Art history periods or concepts
  13. Techniques – brush strokes, wheel throwing, etc…
  14. Technology – camera settings, photoshop techniques, iPad apps, etc…
  15. Describing artistic processes
  16. Genre – self-portrait, landscape, still life, etc…
  17. District-specific standards or common core state standards
  18. Writing an artist statement – through Artsonia or the ‘old fashioned’ way
  19. Museum etiquette
  20. Expressing ideas or philosophies through artwork

You can download a PDF of this list to take back to your art department right here.

Click for Free Download!
Click for Free Download!

Keep in mind, the pre-test data you glean can make the topic decision for you, too. If all students bomb a pre-test on one-point perspective, chances are, it would make an excellent growth goal because there is a lot of room to, well, grow!

I’d love to hear about the topic you chose for your growth goal this year and how it worked for you. Please share in the comments section!

What would you add to this list?

Are you working on a growth goal right now that you are really enjoying?


Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Nancy Prisuta Murphy

    Wow, like an idiot I chose all the elements, never realized focusing on one would be the way to go- I also like museum manners, reason to fund a field trip! So many good ones in there

  • Mr. Post

    Hi Jessica,

    I really like the way the Berenstain Bears think. It’s an artist’s way of approaching growth. I guess that the Berenstain Bears approach isn’t data driven but I think it’s a very valid way of seeing growth in the arts. If you are learning to play a musical instrument, your first attempt at learning a new song is not going to be as strong as your 100th playing of that song. In music you will be able to hear your growth, in the arts you will be able to see your growth.

    I think that kids can learn concepts through our teaching. They can learn what contrast means or how to mix colors, paint shapes, create compositions and learn about artists that we as adults consider important – but their growth as artists happens over time. Usually the kid who makes the most art grows the most. When I find a kid who is really interested in some subject, and they have a question about it, that is the time to step in and critique what they are doing and give that kid some additional information that wasn’t part of the original goal.

    I was teaching my 6th grade students about Escher and perspective and one of my students wanted to know if he could try to draw a triangle in perspective instead of the cubes and rectangular forms I was drawing. I told him to try it on his own, which he did, then I critiqued how that worked out and demonstrated how to turn a circle into a cylinder using perspective as well as how to draw alphabet letters in perspective – none of these extra things were part of my lesson, but the lesson just morphed its way into a discussion of those things.

    I think that when we set Student Learning Objectives we are really setting goals for us as the teacher – these are our priorities. Maybe student learning objectives really measure our teaching and not the kids’ growth as artists? Maybe we are just measuring how well we got our teaching message across? The rubber hits the road when we see that kids have internalized what we have taught and use it in new situations, not just when we direct them to use it.

    I think that student growth happens when they are interested in a subject and start to dig deeper into it over time and have repeated experiences working with that subject matter. Growth happens by learning to do things better. You can’t grow if you try to learn the tuba one day, the guitar the next and the trombone the day after that. You have to grow through time with repeated experiences involving the same materials and subjects.

    Mama Berenstain Bear’s observation about her baby bear’s growth is right on the money because she can see it.

    • Vicky Siegel

      Great response, Mr. Post. I love your sentence, “..when we see that kids have internalized what we have taught and use it in new situations, not just when we direct them to use it.” I had a kindergartner remind the class that we could fold our paper to get 2 shapes, just like we did for a different project!” For my SLO I use 10 vocabulary words for 4th graders (they write the number of the word to fit in the definition). I want them to know these words anyway, and this way I can see that 80% of them can pass at proficient or advanced by the end of the year.

  • Leitha

    I love this article. I am no longer a teacher in the artroom, but a school leader in a charter school. This article is perfect for any teacher and helping focus and this about SLO’s for the next school year.

  • Shannon Gehen

    Hi, would you happen to have SLO’s for high school? I am new to the idea, although seems to be similar to objectives.

  • Michelle Mc

    Hi, interested in the links but several of them don’t work.

  • Courtney C

    I am a first year art teacher and was never taught how to write these in college. This is super helpful for starting to write my first set of SLOs. Thank you!

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