At the end of July, I attended a summer class for teachers who offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses through College Board. The workshop was packed with great information and teaching ideas that should make every student better at thinking and creating. Of course, these techniques are also intended to bolster scores on the AP Studio Art portfolio exam. Many of the ideas were basic, some were common sense, but most of the course centered around fully understanding what was desired when a judge was “reading” a portfolio. I feel so much more prepared to teach my upper-level and introduction Art courses. These are some of the things that I learned.
Critiques are a great way to build knowledge of what is expected on the next project. We as a group of teachers created artwork, then proceeded to critique it using a variety of strategies. One of my favorite techniques was using a set of Art Vocab Cards. Each artist was given a card with a different word and its definition. In turn, everyone read their definition, then chose a work of art that exemplified this word, and explained how. In a class of nearly 20, a huge variety of concepts were deeply covered in one critique. I have since bought a set of the cards, and plan on using them in the coming weeks.
A portion of the AP Studio Art portfolio is called Breadth. It consists of 12 disparate works that show the students skill in a variety of approaches to creating visual art. My students have not struggled in having enough work for this category, but have often not had great work. One of the problems is that usually they only had 12 or 14 pieces, and we could not eliminate poor examples. We simply submitted what was available. The idea was presented to assign short projects of 1 or 2 days where students prove their abilities. As it happens, this fits perfectly with my plans to show MSL (Measures of Student Learning) to comply with a new part of Colorado law titled SB191. I have already planned to use first and last projects to prove student growth. Skills tests simply enrich the amount of knowledge I have about student. Because the projects are short, they work well for risk taking, and should feed very nicely into the Breadth section of a student’s portfolio. My current plan is to assign a 2 week project, then a 2 day skills test. We will start with some straight observation drawings and paintings, then introduce risk to stretch the students.
I have so many new project ideas. After 10 years of teaching visual arts, I was finding myself tapped out. I would find one or two new ideas each year, but they were usually tired re-workings of something I was already doing. I now have pages and pages of new lesson ideas. I need plenty if I’m going to offer skills tests every two weeks. Many of the lessons were designed to either help a student create a body of connected work, or add to their breadth of work. The breadth assignments can easily be adapted to any of my courses.
I hope this boost of energy and surge of new ideas will raise the production level of all of my students. I believe that what is good for AP students is good for introduction students in the same way that strategies targeted at English language learners help all students in the classroom.