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Students come to your art room from many diverse backgrounds. They have different home lives, cultures, religions, and, of course, learning preferences. Along with those variations, you must also determine how to motivate each student. Motivation can be a tricky thing. After all, what works for one student may not work for another. For example, one student may need an external reward for their efforts. Another may genuinely enjoy drawing and be intrinsically satisfied. Then, we have students who care most about their grades and will do almost anything to earn that “A” or “B.” So, how do we motivate students to care about their creative learning outside of grades?
Student engagement levels depend significantly upon the teacher. You have a lot of control over how involved students are in your studio. The Student Engagement Continuum names five categories to reflect how occupied students are. Use them to determine if kids are complying with creating your project because they love it or just want to follow the rules.
The five categories are:
Not everything needs a grade. Remember: assessments come in all forms. Many formative assessments, meaning those done during the learning process, do not need to be officially graded. Quickly scan through the results and use the data to inform your teaching moving forward. Check out this article for 20 Quick Formative Assessments You Can Use TODAY.
Everybody makes mistakes, even students. Provide specific feedback with grace and kindness when you do assign a formal grade.
Do not be afraid to change the goal of an assignment if a student is struggling. You may need to break it down into smaller goals to motivate students with more frequent and feasible wins. Likewise, accommodate different types of learners and differentiate your lessons to match them. Modifications and accommodations such as this may help all students and may be a legal requirement for students with IEPs, 504s, or other special educational needs. The objective can often remain the same, but you can be flexible with how your students get there.
Connecting with other content areas can broaden a student’s scope. It can also cast a wider net of interest for students. Here is an introductory article on how to build cross-curricular connections in the art room to get you started.
Specific and timely verbal or written feedback matters to every student. Provide it frequently and as students are working versus at the end when it is time to grade a final project. Likewise, ask students for feedback on your teaching practice and curriculum. Their comments can shed light on the how or why behind disengagement.
To find more strategies for giving strong feedback, take a look at these three articles:
These tips are great for encouraging students to focus on a piece of knowledge they find intriguing or a technique they love. It shifts the endgame from only thinking about earning a grade to knowing a skill, caring about their learning, and understanding how to make improvements. You can further advance this process by intentionally crafting your lessons with motivation in mind. As educators, we know grades can give students more anxiety or create avoidance of certain tasks. Soften the focus and take off the pressure. You can help kids hone in on what truly matters in your room: learning through creativity, imagination, and crafting meaningful artwork they can enjoy.
Choose a project that does not have one “right” answer but is open for interpretation. A project introducing a heavy skill like perspective or shading may not be the best option. Instead, try collage or another medium providing many routes to render a subject matter.
This is where your students take the driver’s seat for the lesson with you as the guide. Students thrive with autonomy and environments that prompt curiosity. You can enlist their help in developing questions and setting the room up.
Let students work together on an art piece. They can build a sculpture, draw large-scale, or even paint a mural. Working with their partner or small group has the added benefit of tapping into their social skills.
Click on these three articles to explore more ways to incorporate collaboration in your art room:
This approach focuses less on a final product and more on the experience of making a piece of art. Artists who exemplify this are Jackson Pollock and Marcel Duchamp. Zeroing in on the process of artmaking with lots of formative assessments can take the pressure off of producing one huge artwork at the end. Consider process portfolios or other ways to document the steps students take to achieve the objective.
Art educators know the value of making a work of art. Grades are just a formalized method of communicating a student’s skills or mastery level in a simplified, systematic way. In fact, there is more merit and value in kids grading themselves than in someone else giving them a grade. Other important factors in a student’s learning can include teacher efficacy, classroom discussions, scaffolding, and integrating prior knowledge. Hence, grades in and of themselves do not carry a lot of weight, yet they have immense power to influence a student’s mind and motivation. By trying some of these ideas, coming up with your own, and shifting the focus away from letter grades, you can create a welcoming classroom environment where risk is acceptable and students learn from mistakes.
As progressive thinkers often do, we like to imagine other worlds or the impossible becoming possible, such as wondering how a classroom might look without grades. Wonder no more! Read the articles below. Maybe these avant-garde teaching approaches will inspire you to make changes, abolish your grading system entirely, or at least think about grades differently.
Are your assessment systems currently working well in your classroom?
Which grading procedures or practices would you consider changing?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.