Education is changing profoundly every single day. There were times when students memorized concepts taught in class by heart as in most cases, they were expected to focus on whatever was taught in class from the textbooks only. Over the years, with the invention of computers and other digital media, learning has become more extensive and students are expected to express their learning through a variety of ways. However, what remains is the fact that grades are still a matter of life and death for some students and teachers. We observe a huge competition in all areas of academics today.
The race to compete is not only restricted to core subjects where students decide their career choices, but also in creative activities like the Arts and crafts. Students brawl to get the highest grades not only in major subjects but also in creative activities.
Being an art teacher for many years has made me come across countless students who love to paint. I have also witnessed the amount of joy a student might feel while painting or drawing. The Art lesson is supposed to be the most creative lesson of the week. It’s supposed to be fun and completely subjective. So, I wonder if little kids should even be graded at all for their art.
IS GRADING NECESSARY?
Grades are set criteria to give parents and students a picture of students’ performance in class even in Creative art. A general impression for both parents and teachers is that their child or students will work harder if he/she is graded on produced work and it does in some cases. Students take it as a motivation and in the long run start to improve the quality of their work but on the other hand, some may find it exasperating and the work which they enjoyed may end up as a failure and as a result, they give up the effort.
For primary school kids, art is an extremely fun activity. Most students eagerly wait for this class. They not only practice their motor skills, learn to communicate their thoughts and emotions but also learn how to demonstrate their imagination and personality through art. We observe artwork done by different people on the same theme but with a huge difference in the presentation depicting their personalities which is amazing and must be considered when assessing work. Another thing that this subject helps with is a child’s self-esteem. Completing a piece gives them a sense of achievement and that’s extremely important for a child of that age.
Now, the question is, how do we react to a painting produced by an eight-year-old? Fortunately, some of us appreciate it keeping in mind that we are looking at an eight-year old’s imagination, but on the other hand, it’s a shame that many of us do not realize that. It may be a deformed object of playdough or a scribbled pattern on paper, but it is still art. I’m not just talking about teachers rejecting a piece made by a student, but I’m also referring to subtle taunts some teachers have for these students whom they call “weak.” Telling a small child, “You need to draw/paint that again” is enough to tarnish the child’s confidence. And sadly this does not always happen only at school but sometimes by adults at home as well. This sort of attitude by the adults kills the self-confidence and instinctively pushes them into a shadowy corner where they get familiar only to the fear of “making an attempt and being rejected.”
Let’s look into a student’s mind when being assessed on something they are not very good at. When a child produces something, especially an artwork, he completes it with extreme attention as he enjoys it and the finished product is definitely done with love and concentration. When he puts that in front of you, he unconsciously expects you to look into those features which he took into concentration. He will never expect you to point out the faults he has overlooked. It is human nature that when we assess we start with negative so we can assess fairly. Isn’t this strange?
Over the years I have observed students giving up completely after being rejected for putting in maximum effort. Students end up finishing a halfheartedly done work or in other words, get rid of the task with the concept that they will never be able to meet the teacher’s standard. Doesn’t this condense the morale of the student? Doesn’t this make him feel inferior to the others? This in the long run makes the student lose his concentration. The teacher may not do it harshly or by being rude, she may understand that it’s not the child’s fault but when it comes to grading the work the result card shows that it was “not up to the mark”.
Students need encouragement at every level but at the primary level encouraging and motivation is far more important than a sense of competition. We as teachers work hard to make mature citizens, doctors, engineers, scientists very successfully but, making humans who accept others the way they are is still a huge struggle. Students at the primary level have limited minds but great expectations. They look for huge praise and encouragement for minor efforts. They are in a stage that is the foundation for everything they will become, and one of them is to accept others as individuals with different traits and skills. Being different is not wrong but treating others because you are different or someone who may not be able to match your set criteria gives them the concept of inferiority and superiority complex. And creative art is definitely the wrong area to do this. Beethoven was one of his kind. His melodies still make him a person with exceptional talent.
Grading Pros and Cons
What can be done instead?
Grading can play a positive as well as a negative role for a student. It helps students in many cases to overcome weak areas through constant hard work. Grades definitely help students to look into their own performances closely and improve them. Students when observing that they have done better get the force to further maintain it or do better than what they have done now. Shinning grades definitely gives a sense of accomplishment and motivation to carry on with the intended goals.
On the other hand, grades can also create a negative sense of competition and failure. It may also make any student give up the effort completely. There are different circumstances that can lead to frustration and a sense of failure. There are times when some teachers grade students on projects and home tasks although they did not put in any effort but got the highest marks for work done by a parent or an elder for a marked home task). There are also cases where students simply buy a readymade product and fulfil the criteria. Are we as teachers fair with the ones who sat day and night to complete their work on their own but get lesser marks than someone who has conveniently got it done by the elders? How do we justify this? Competing should be the last thing on their minds. Let them have fun and more than that let them create things without a sense of rivalry. Let them accept that the child sitting next to them is better than me in some areas. Let them see that if I am not good at Art, I am better than this artist in my Science or Math class. Let them explore their own personality traits and see what the others are good at and appreciate it. Teachers at this point can play a huge role by giving them a chance to look into each other’s work and appreciate it. Devise means and ways to let them assess and accept the way they produce things. Communicate with the parents so they get equal support from them even when they are not at home. This does not mean ruling out the concept of healthy completion. It will come in the long run. When students take Art as an option at higher levels they are mature enough to understand that this subject will decide their career and he/she has to make a distinction to make a good profession. It does not harm their personality because they know that it is their own choice and the jeopardy of being rejected is out ruled.
If the teachers really feel grades are important then for creative art let it be a formative assessment but with a complete explanation.
Can’t we do without grading Art and creative other activities?
Through art, students hidden talent can be explored sometimes the student is not even aware of. They take time to learn new things and then practice them to become proficient in them. When a child is creating something he uses his imagination to its maximum capacity. The end product is what he has seen through his mind which a parent or teacher has no clue about.
I’m not going to get into the discussion about whether or not art should be called subjective or not for I agree it’s subjective, but others might not. However, I know that when children draw or make something, they have a valid description of what they’ve done and once they explain it, the drawing starts making sense. Rejecting it destroys what he has thought to be beautiful. This is why some children eventually start finding Arts and crafts boring. Because they know they won’t be able to produce what “others want to see.” Many successful institutions and art teachers help students overcome this feeling of rejection and enjoy it as a fun activity, but still many of us do not understand it.
What can be done instead?
Everyone is born different with different personality traits and skills. Beethoven for example was deaf but his music has no comparison. Just as everyone cannot become a dancer, an actor or a painter everyone cannot become a topper in academics. A student who is academically weak (as some teachers like to say) may be a good singer or an artist. Why do we need to grade them on everything? It’s very important to stop grading creative activity classes at least at the primary level or even until they take it as a proper optional subject where they’re being specially trained to work professionally.
Let students explore their own hidden talents and enjoy them. Our future is quite unpredictable right now, let’s give our students space to adjust to the new learning by at least giving them the freedom to enjoy their learning without the fear of failure.
Fatima Rafaqat Ali – Science / Biology