Who Grades Who?

May 16, 2010

Chianti Bottle, Oil on Canvas 14" x 11"

The Spring 2010 watercolor classes are completed. Another session of watercolor classes has ended. Four evenings per week. Ten weeks. We started in mid-February, took a week off in early March for Spring Break and finished the last week of April. When the classes started, some friendships were renewed, other friendships were begun. As we got midway through the semester, the students  were in the flow of watercolor exercises and paintings. When we arrived at week ten, many students expressed remorse that the semester moved all to quickly and they hated the thought of waiting until September to come to watercolor class again. But before the end of the last class, it was time to issue grades.

Grades. A critique if you will. The whole time that I attended classes in school, I, the student, received a grade from my instructors. It was the teachers means of letting me know how I was doing and what I should do to improve myself. Now, I am the instructor. However, I am the one that gets graded. I am the one that finds out how I am doing and what I need to do to improve myself and my classes.

This practice was required by Rock Valley College when I started teaching classes. It was Rock Valley’s  means to ensure that I was meeting my students expectations. I used Rock Valleys form and changed a few questions to gain more feedback from my students. Prior to the last week of class, I forward a questionnaire  to my students and encourage them to let me know what they liked and what they didn’t like. I give several questions to get the students thinking of ways to amend the class structure to be a greater value for their art. I encourage students to hand in their class assessments during the last class. At the start of our last class, we spend a few minutes discussing their thoughts, ideas, and input. The group dynamics can create a great deal of insight and can be very helpful. Their comments, suggestions and critiques can also be rather humbling.

Some artists and teachers cringe at the idea of asking students for their comments and criticisms. After all, who wants to ask to be criticized? Spending twenty plus years in industrial sales, I found that customers, or students, comments can be very valuable. The worst thing that can happen is to not receive any feedback, especially when students are disappointed or feel let down. You can mistakenly believe that class went great, until students stop enrolling in your classes or workshops.

Students comments confirm that some exercises were helpful (note to self: make sure to keep this exercise in the lessons. But can I tweak it and make it better?). Students comments alert me when some exercises were duds (note to self: Do I feel it’s a necessary and valuable exercise to teach my students?  Was it poorly executed, or not explained right? Should I try it again? If so, what changes need to implemented?). Students also give guidance concerning my demonstrations. They let me better understand how to execute my demonstrations to be of more help to them.

By September, when my next session of classes begins, we will see if I made the grade.

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