Saturday, March 15, 2014

Final Report vs Final Paper

My winter quarter of the crazy teaching load is almost finished. Next week is finals and though I usually finish my grading mere hours or minutes before the deadline for posting grades on Friday afternoon, this year I am leaving for a conference on Wednesday. Though I have more students and more classes, I have tried to arrange the grading to be done by Wednesday morning.

Actually, the final grading has been interesting. This quarter is a doozy because I am teaching three Art Appreciation classes (with 29-35 students in each). Most quarters I assign a written paper about a a contemporary artist for a final project and spend finals week grading papers (and tests and critiques and other assignments). This quarter I nixed the paper and instead built the same information into an oral presentation. Each student meets privately with me for ~10 minutes and talks to me about the contemporary artist they've been researching all quarter. The requirements are almost identical to the written report, but after they present (about 5 minutes for most students) I have a chance to ask follow up questions.

gratuitous picture of sabbatical work (from the last time I was allowed near my studio)

I was worried, at first, that the oral reports would be too easy or that it would be hard to determine who knew their artist and who didn't. I was pleasantly surprised by both how fast and easy the oral reports are to grade and how clear it is who knows, not just their artist, but the class terms and concepts as well.

I have always preferred a written paper to a final exam because the students have more time to prepare and are less likely to make silly mistakes like filling in the wrong bubble on the Scantron. The silly mistakes they do make, like forgetting to spell check or not starting until the night before, are entirely preventable and/or an essential skill for college and life.

My sabbatical work will be on display at Oak Hollow Gallery in April

I have always required a one-on-one meeting with me before the paper was submitted. The students research their artist all quarter long in very short, weekly, graded assignments, then write a draft of their report and bring it to class where they have short "writing conferences" with classmates. The idea is that the classmates can help point out errors or missing information. All the drafts can get read and discussed at least twice in 50 minutes, far less time than it would take me to read and discuss them all.

After the students have a chance to make revisions on their drafts, they schedule a "conference" with me. I read their paper and make suggestions to help improve their writing. I think the conferences with me are very valuable and fun, too, because I get a sense of what they understand and I can help them clarify things they almost understand (or don't understand at all).

So this quarter I rolled the paper and the private conference into one assignment. I kept the student "writing conferences" but had the students present to their classmates as practice before presenting to me. The classroom was pretty noisy that day, but I think the practice was useful and students got some helpful feedback from classmates.

The show at Oak Hollow in Yakima opens April 12.  I'll be posting more about the show later. 

About half the students have now done their official artist report presentations with me. Some were better prepared than others, of course, but what was particularly striking was how useful the follow-up questions were. One requirement I have always had was to use citations correctly. I have students quote and paraphrase and give the source information. In a written paper, a well-placed quote can be very helpful in supporting what the student is trying to say. It is hard sometimes, though, to know how well the student understands the quote they've chosen.

Yesterday, during the string of student presentations, I wrote down part of the quote, particularly if the student used phrasing or words I wasn't sure they understood. After their presentation, I asked the students to explain the quote or define the word. Some were confident and were able to clearly explain their quote and even elaborate. It was easy to score these students high for their reports. Other students fumbled and demonstrated that they only had a vague idea what their source was trying to say. I was surprised, though, that some of the students simply told me they had no idea what the quote or the word meant. Some sheepishly admitted they should have looked it up. One told me that she didn't know the word and it didn't matter because it was just a quote.

Listening to and grading the reports has been much more enjoyable than reading papers. Partly it is nice to listen, take notes and then ask questions. Partly it is easier for me to mark a low score after having given the student a second chance to explain, and partly it is fun to hear what the students have to say about their artist after they finish presenting.

The show in April features work by photographers, so I won't be showing wall installations
With several students, I would guess that I got more information out of the student because of the relatively casual format. One student, in particular, was able to tell me a lot about the artist's method, but might have left that information out of a written report. Several students revealed understanding of class terms when I asked follow-up questions but had left that information out of the report itself. And, as would have happened with a written report, too, some students didn't do the report or barely knew their artist's work.

Next quarter I move back to a more manageable teaching load with only one Art Appreciation class of 35 students. However, I'm thinking I might keep the oral presentation format for the final artist report. I've also been thinking about how I might incorporate the presentations into class time so that students might benefit from hearing their classmates present.

Maybe next quarter I'll be able to find time to get in my studio again 

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