Curriculum Approaches

Breaking Down AP Portfolios, Part 2 (Ep. 290)

On today’s episode, Tim and Janet Taylor continue their discussion about AP Art and Design portfolios and the myriad questions that surround them.  Listen as they talk about revising old work, helping students document and write about their art, and how you can help set your students up for success. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show’s produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Welcome to part two of my discussion with Janet Taylor about AP art and design. As I said last week, I wanted to do these episodes because there’s still just so many questions that teachers have about what is involved with the portfolio that needs to be submitted. And before we get into this, I also wanted to reiterate that Janet and I, we don’t have all the answers but our hope is that this conversation about portfolios, about what we’ve done with our kids, just any part of this discussion, we’re hoping that maybe it can point you in the right direction. Last week we talked about sustained investigations. In fact, we talked about that a lot. It was basically a sustained investigation on sustained investigations but Janet also shared a bunch of her best resources, some articles that she’s written and some ideas that could work for you that can be helpful for your students.

If you haven’t had a chance, go back and listen to that and go back and check out those articles as well. But we still have more to talk about. As I said, this will be part two of the conversation. We’re going to dive into documentation of students’ work and documenting their processes. And we’re also going to talk about writing and hopefully this conversation will go a little bit more quickly. Our goal will be an episode that’s about half the length of what we did last week but we’ll see how it goes.

Janet Taylor, welcome back to the show. How are you?

Janet: I’m doing great.

Tim: Excellent. Now we could not finish our conversation on time because there’s just so much to talk about when it comes to AP and sustained investigations and how we help our kids along the way. A lot of great stuff in the last episode so thank you for that. And if you missed that, make sure you go check it out. A lot of great links, a lot of great conversation but as I said, there’s still so much more for us to talk about.

Let me ask you Janet, I was very curious, we talked a lot about all the work that we have our kids do, the processes that help them kind of be successful with things. But I also wanted to ask you about how you have your kids document their work, their ongoing practice. Do you have strategies that help kids write and photograph and document their work? Or strategies to help them to continue to ask those questions to revise and to experiment and to develop their ideas that they have? I know that’s a very broad question but can you share with us just some ideas for continuing ideas and documenting how they develop those ideas?

Janet: Sure. Yes. Thanks again for having me for all of this information. I know it is a lot and can be super overwhelming so I appreciate being able to kind of talk through all this.

Tim: Well, I think it’s an important conversation and I don’t think it happens a lot of places and we have this platform where we can actually spend some time diving in.

Janet: That’s awesome. Thank you.

Tim: I’m glad we can do that.

Janet: How do we actually get them to put all of this stuff together? How do we get them to create the portfolio? How do we document those processes? The first thing that I always do is set them up with a templated slides document basically. A slides portfolio. And I really do, they can express themselves however they want on there. I always tell them, “You can change anything on there but the content has to stay the same,” because the content is so getting them up to copy and paste stuff into AP when they’re ready for it truly. That’s the first thing because I think showing them what it is that they’re having to do and having to document for the exam and how to articulate that is really the first hurdle. If we wait till the end, then students are going back and trying to think about what were they thinking and all that stuff.

Piecing, I know is a concern with this because teachers don’t really know I guess, how to set deadlines for this artwork. Like we said in the last one, there are 15 images that need to be submitted. And so what if a student is doing a very large artwork and so you’re setting a deadline that they have to have an artwork completed every two weeks or whatever it is. Well, that student is probably not going to be finished with that. Or a lot of times, so you know how I feel about grades. I think I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll probably talk a little bit more about it today because I think it’s an important one to discuss when it comes to AP and piecing and all of that, the deadlines. But what I found was that students would not submit an artwork because it wasn’t finished on a deadline. Or they would submit an artwork that was unfinished on a deadline.

And so then the expectation was I’m grading this, I’m grading this and you’re getting less points or whatever it is for not turning something in. And students in my AP class, it was fascinating to me, they would be fine. These are kids, half of them, I would say half of them, a good chunk of them were kids who were already in six other AP classes or whatever. And then half of them were just not in any of that kind of stuff and that’s great. I love that dynamic. What was fascinating was the kids that were in this very advanced taking all these AP classes were okay with failing AP art. And it was because they didn’t actually, they knew that they wouldn’t fail AP art.

They knew when it came down to it, they were going to submit all the artwork. Everything was going to be fine. It was going to be fine. But I was watching them always fail. And so I started thinking, how can I get them to get more on track? And so this is, I know this is a long winded way of me talking about the pacing that teachers are expressing a lot about right now. It’s like, what does your schedule look like? How do I get kids to turn in on deadlines? How do I assess that? What does that look like? And so I turned it into deadlines of showing process and progress and not about a finished artwork. And so setting up these slides is a great way to do this. This is what I found works best for me, students still would, when they finished artwork, they would turn in their finished artwork so I could physically see it and maybe help them in a different way.

But I always graded or scored them or assessed them how you want to look at it from these slides. And what they were to do is every week they had to, a week or two, it depends on the schedule. They would submit progress or process slides. And these are the slides that they’re building to prepare them for their portfolio. And so basically the slides had to include an image, one image or maybe a small compilation of images, like I mentioned in the previous podcast. And then they had each little blurb is what AP is asking, like media and processes. That little section that you’re saying.

Tim: Just all the information about the artwork.

Janet: Exactly. And so then they’re practicing that. And they’re also a lot of times they would type in a ton of notes so that they could, they were like, how can I make sure that Mrs. Taylor’s going to give me a good grade on this because sometimes they can’t show their process. They’re not good at it yet. And so it was great way because then I could give them feedback on their slides. This is the interesting thing is that with these slides, then they ended up showing that process. I could give them feedback and then they could replace images along the way. Every time I had a quarter progress grade due in the way our school is set up. And so I would look at their progress as a portfolio. And so maybe they had four slides on that in the first progress report.

And I would look at that and that piece was how I would assess them or grade them. And so usually their score was kind of lower, on the lower end. I would literally score them like AP with a number. But it was usually on a lower end because they hadn’t figured it out. But then as time goes on, those progress points become more heavily weighted and then the kids are just adding and replacing and trying to tell their story along the way. Basically they’re documenting their work, which I’ll talk about in a second because I know that’s actually the question you asked me but they’re showing it and they’re working through that process that helps them understand how to tell that story. You’re not waiting at the last minute going, how do we put it all together?

Tim: Hey, so can I ask you about photographing the work? I don’t know, I guess in my classroom, I always just have a spot for kids to photograph, I was lucky enough to have some really nice natural light and then I would just talk to kids about standing over their artwork. This is the angle you need. This is how you crop. Is that similar to what you’re doing? What does that look like in your classroom? What kind of instruction do you give your kids?

Janet: Yeah, that’s pretty much the same way that I teach them too. I have a display station in my classroom where I kind of just really small. It ended up being a junk zone a lot of times but we clear it off and we have a white piece of paper, whatever and we’d photograph off of there, gray or whatever color. And then they’d photograph with their phones. And I think a big piece of that is yes, it’s all those technical, having good lighting, make sure you’re not looking in the shadows. And I used to teach them too, a technique Tuesday. It might have been, hey, we’re going to go into the lab today and we’re going to learn very basic Photoshop or Photopea or Photopea or however you pronounce that online one.

And we’d be like, this is how you do this very minimal work because some kids are photo kids and some kids are not and don’t have any experience with that. And so we kind of talk about composition of that and how are you showing that, whatever. But it’s more about getting them in the practice of always documenting their work. At the end of the class day, they felt like they made significant progress in the last two days, they put their artwork that’s in progress on the display station, take a photo. Very few kids don’t have a phone right now. They all have a way to document. And then I try to encourage them to upload that to their Google Drive so they always have that. Do they do that? No. It’s a pain in the butt to get them to do anything.

Good habits, are really hard but that’s when those slides come in play because they can just toss them in there. And then I can also say, “Hey, your photo of the is not so good, you need to adjust this this way,” before it’s too late and they don’t have that thing anymore. The other thing that I would just add is about revision and documenting revision. Specifically when it comes to well process and revision are very difficult for photographers, photography students to understand how to show their process. And so there’s a lot of ways to do that through contact prints or editing or taking screenshots of those things along the way. Showing their research, their artists, their annotation. I always had my kids work in a sketchbook. I don’t care if they’ve never touched a sketchbook. This is, they’re all learning something new. Because again, my class, my AP class was always all of the portfolios in one. And so that’s kind of a piece of that too.

But there’s a lot of ways to revise artwork. You could take a photo of an artwork for example and you can digitally alter it and that can go into the revision piece of your process. I think a lot of times we overthink, oh, I have to take a photo of it. It doesn’t always have to be a photo of a finished or mid finished piece. It can also be literally these other pieces of evidence that show revision or show process.

Tim: Yeah. Okay. No, those are some excellent tips so thank you. I also wanted to ask you about writing because that is maybe the hardest thing for a lot of kids or in my experience, it is hard for a lot of kids but it’s an important element in the portfolio. What do you do for writing? How do you help your kids develop and how do you help them refine their writing over the course of the year?

Janet: Yeah. That was a big shift with this portfolio because it does place weight onto the writing and articulating of thoughts. And I will say that is a stuck point for a lot of people of inequity. If students are not as developed in the writing that doesn’t discount their amazing thought process and conceptual thinking that goes into that. And so I get that and I just again, it’s another one of those I hear you and I see you because I agree with that. But I do also agree that writing or articulating our thoughts or trying to explain things should be helping our understanding of the artwork. And AP is supposed to put a blind eye to poor writing and not discount it but it should only help and not hurt but I know that’s really hard. Enough on that. But what I’m saying is that writing is really hard. And I will say, as a teacher, I am never okay with putting my hand on any of their artwork nor am I okay with writing stuff for them.

Tim: Yes. Thank you. Thank you.

Janet: You know it happens, it’s happening. We all know it happens. Students come up with a really bad writing at the end and you know that their work is amazing and you really want them to do well so you go in and rewrite the heck out of it.

Tim: No, there is a temptation to do that. And I know a lot of people fall into that trap. I really don’t like it but like you said, you know it happens.

Janet: And I think, this is a whole nother conversation but I do think a part of it is I’d like to be more empathetic and say, maybe the teacher is also realizing, shoot, I did my students a disservice and I didn’t prepare them enough for this. And so I don’t want them to do poorly because of my inability to teach them well enough. And so I get that too, but man, it just feels real icky to me. I would say, let’s see. I would say this, so how do I support this? The first thing is, like I said, in my slide setup, I set up that template that includes exact language expectations from AP. And so that way literally they can copy and paste and all along the way they’re practicing what that means.

What does it mean to say media and whatever? What does that mean in, what is it? It’s a 30 character count, which is nothing. That’s nothing. I could be misspeaking exactly on that right now so don’t quote me on that but it’s a very small amount that they have to fill in there. In the beginning they’re practicing that, they always do a pretty crappy job of that and then I go back in and I give them feedback and then they get better and better at writing. It’s not just about the work. It’s about the articulation of that. And then the statement is a big one because that’s usually a big deal. And so what I do is I don’t even address that until halfway through the year because our class is a full year, I know not everybody’s class is structured that way.

But midyear, I will have them write an artist statement without any support or structure. I’ll just say, “Write an artist statement or what you think it is on your work,” because they’ve already created several pieces. They should be having a good idea of what their investigation’s about. And then I look at that and I usually go, “Whew, that needs a lot of work.” And that’s where I take my information on exactly what I need to give them to prepare them. That’s when I give them feedback, I teach them how to write an artist statement. Usually the beginning of the semester, of second semester, we then resubmit that, they rework it, resubmit it as they go. And again, their portfolio’s developing, their inquiry is getting more specific. They might be on a different path than they were before and then they submit a final draft towards the end and then I give them feedback.

Now, here is the big kicker. If your school, so at my previous school, they had a writing lab that students could go after school to access. It was the most amazing thing ever and it took me a while. I think I was like, oh, I can use that. It’s not just for English students. My student can use this. And so what I did was I talked to the person in charge of that and I said, “Here’s the requirements for the AP statement. My students need support. What can we do about this?” And she’d be like, “This is perfect. We have all these students that mentor and work through the draft.” There are students who are very good at English. Very good at writing and they need service hours so they do it.

And then they could go to that sometimes during class. Sometimes they could go after school or before school. They could submit it virtually and then get feedback that way. But it really helps take some workload off of me because if I’ve got 30 kids that I have to read all of this and give feedback and on top of look through all their work, it’s very, very challenging. I think anytime you can find any resources to help you and take a workload off, I think that’s, yeah.

Tim: I was just going to say like, we’re not all cool enough to have a writing lab, but.

Janet: I know, right?

Tim: I always had my kids look at each other’s statements and just give some feedback there and then I don’t want to overload one English teacher with all of these things but I talk to them and say, “Hey, if you guys could help, I’d really appreciate that.” And then I’d just ask my kids, say, “Hey, who’s your favorite English teacher you’ve had since you’ve been here?” Maybe they go back to their sophomore English teacher or whoever. And they usually don’t mind helping out a couple of kids.

Janet: Where you bring them a box of chocolates and a gift card to Starbucks.

Tim: Exactly. And just say, “Yes, can you look this over for me? I will bribe you with coffee,” whatever the case may be. And that can be really helpful, just getting those outside eyes on it and just some additional support. And that can be huge. All right, Janet, I think we covered everything in a somewhat reasonable time for this episode.

Janet: Oh my gosh.

Tim: That was good. Do you have any final thoughts? Anything else you want to share before we get out of here?

Janet: No, it’s so much. It’s so much. Oh, okay I do have more.

Tim: You do actually.

Janet: I always have a final one.

Tim: I’m shocked that you have something more to say.

Janet: Well, throughout this whole thing, we’ve really focused on the sustained investigation. And in the beginning of the first podcast, I mentioned about selected works and I don’t want to discredit that because that part asks for the same thing. And I guess I would just say the nice thing about that again, is that you can pull those works from your sustained investigation.

Tim: Yeah, for what’s already been created.

Janet: Yeah. Or sometimes I have students look through their old artwork. Sometimes they have some really stellar work from the past and they’ll include that. But don’t forget again, you’re talking about the processes and materials. They want to see your thought process, even in the selected works. I just don’t want to forget about, it’s not a second thought or whatever.

Tim: Well it’s not the thing that everybody has as many questions about, but I think you’re right to bring it up and it’s definitely worth thinking about and those are good ideas. Well, Janet, thank you so much. It’s been a lovely two podcasts. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you and hopefully these ideas can help people. Thank you for everything.

Janet: Thanks so much.

Tim: I wanted to, before we wrap up, just say, thank you to Janet for all of the various conversations over the past few weeks. We talked about behavior and some strategies for dealing with kids who are dysregulated. That was a great conversation a couple weeks ago. We talked to AP last week. We finished the conversation this week and I hope that all of those are helpful to you.

Now, as I said, in the beginning of the episode, I hope you’re able to take something from these discussions that we’re having, that can help you and help your students. I will link in the show notes to a couple of additional articles that kind of supplement the topics from today, as well as last week’s episode if you want to revisit that. And until we circle back to more AP discussion, who knows when that will be, best of luck to you as you guide your students through sustained investigations and portfolio development.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Big podcast coming next week with author Ulcca Joshi Hansen and I’m excited for that one. I hope you will tune in for that one. We’ll to you next week.

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.