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Use of Feedback in Art & Design

Posted: 27.03.11

A study in the use of formative feedback in Art

 

Rebecca Ashford

 

This study explores the use of written and verbal feedback in informing students of their progress and next steps in Art.

The use of Praise

I have found that without positive comments students are reluctant to read on and listen to the critique that is offered. I decided to use the two stars and a wish method that helps teachers and students to appreciate the strengths of a piece of work before offering a suggestion for improvement. It can be very damaging to criticise a piece of work that students have produced. Art students can be very sensitive to criticism. Due to its aesthetic nature, students are very quick to compare their work to others and have already made their mind up on its value. Next steps have to be worded very carefully, so not to demotivate a sensitive student. The two stars method allows me to discuss the strength of the work but then offer an opportunity to make the work even better.

Having decided to use this method in my marking I needed to think very carefully about how I worded these comments. I had to be specific about the qualities of a piece of work and not just say a piece is excellent. Positive language is very important but the students are not always convinced of its authenticity unless the strength is elaborated on. In the past I have used comments such as ‘this is a fantastic piece of work but next time please work on your shading’. This comment holds very little merit. Students do not know what they have done so fantastically and may not even know how to improve their shading as they were unable to show this in the first place. Instead of using these insignificant comments I needed to ensure that comments were useful and informative.

Student Questionnaire

After offering the students comments in their books for a month, I gave them a questionnaire to find out how they felt about the way they received feedback. I questioned two groups of students, Year 9 and Year 10. Both groups are in their first year of the GCSE Art and Design course. I wanted to know how they felt about the way they are assessed, whether they liked to receive a comment or a grade and if they acted upon this feedback.

I split results into boys and girls. The majority of boys said that they read the comments and most of them understand how they are assessed. When asked if they prefer a grade or a comment the majority of boys said that they liked to receive both and it was quite an even split of those who preferred verbal and written feedback. Most said that they actively try and follow their suggested next step but they don’t always understand the language I use in my comments. All the boys either always or sometimes believed the praise that was given to them.

The girls’ results were very similar with a large majority liking to receive a grade and a comment. A large majority of girls also liked to receive a written comment but did also suggest that they didn’t always understand the comments but would ask for clarification of the words they didn’t understand.

 

Feedback

This feedback was as I had expected. Students are so used to knowing where they are tracking that without this they feel uneasy. The majority commented that they felt a grade told them where they were and a comment told them what to do next.

The comment-only experiment had its benefits. It forced me to consider the quality of my comments. I felt that students were receiving quality comments that went beyond just commenting on effort and presentation. A large majority of students, especially the girls, said that they always read their comments and the majority try and improve their work after reading their comments.

The Validity of Verbal Feedback

One area that I found interesting in the questionnaire results was that many students didn’t always believe the praise they were given. Their feedback suggested that this was because either they didn’t believe that their work had quality or they felt that I told everyone that their work was good so they praise had little credibility. I felt I needed to press this issue so I questioned some students further. I asked them why they didn’t always believe the praise. They said it was because I said it to everyone. I asked them if they could understand that people have different qualities in their work that hold value. One student said ‘I know you look for little details but I don’t always agree’. Another student said ‘you just say it’s good, but don’t tell us why’. I found this comment really interesting. The students accept the praise in the sketchbook because I explain why their work has merit. They are less trusting with verbal praise as it doesn’t always have a reason. I asked one student to prompt me if I wasn’t giving reasons for praise. When I told a student that her work was great, she prompted me very quickly and said ‘Miss, why is it great?’

I have to remember that year 9 and 10 students do not always share the broad aesthetic and conceptual notion when it comes to understanding and appreciating the qualities of a wide variety of art work. When students assess each other’s work, they are quick to disregard work that isn’t neat or realistic. Many students find it difficult to appreciate the subtle line qualities or energetic marking that some students demonstrate and disregard it as messy or childish. It is very important for me to continue to praise these differences students demonstrate if they hold an aesthetic value. However I must share my reasoning for this commendation or students will not develop their own appreciation or as I mentioned earlier they will not value the praise.

J. Thomas suggested that ‘praise could be a motivational tool in the classroom if reinforcement was descriptive and involved using the students’ name, choosing appropriate praise words carefully and describing precisely the behaviour that merits the praise’ (Thomas, J 1991, cited in Burnett 2002).

My Action Plan

Despite my enquiry starting out as an interest in how comment-only marking could benefit my students, it became more of an exploration into the perceived validity of the comments. The students made it very clear that they didn’t want constant praise unless they knew why they deserved it. I like to think of myself as a positive person and I use this positivity in my classroom practice to motivate students. On the surface the positive environment seems to do its job. Students are motivated in a happy and supportive climate, however this enquiry has made me question if my methods have flaws. I am not suggesting that I will stop praising students but if I want the praise to be a form of feedback I need the students to trust what I am saying. I think this issue deserves more thought. If I can use this positive environment and encourage students to listen to the praise and also to share this practice with their peers it may become not just a happy environment but a helpful environment, where students understand the smaller qualities that deserve merit.

One limitation of students using this verbal feedback effectively is that they are not always aware of why their work holds value. As a department I don’t think that we put enough emphasis on Assessment for Learning. We are so preoccupied with producing coursework that we don’t always stop and allow the students time to appreciate the characteristics of their works and the work of their peers. Shirley Clarke commented ‘Modelling success and improvement against learning objectives acts as training for students to be able to use this approach in their own marking and paired marking’ (2005 p78). Giving this process the time it deserves may help students recognise those qualities that I comment on in the lessons. As one of my students said ‘I know you look for little details but I don’t always agree.’ I need to give them time to express these thoughts and to debate them so that they feel equipped to accept or challenge the comments I provide.

(edited)

 

References

Books

Black, P J., 1998. Testing, Friend or Foe? The Theory and Practice of Assessment and Testing. London, Falmer Press.

Black PJ and Wiliam D (1998), Inside the Black Box, London, School of Education, Kings College.

Swaffield, S. (Ed) (2008) Unlocking Assessment: Understanding for reflection and application. London: Routledge.

Drummond, M J. (2003) Assessing Children’s Learning Second Edition. London, David Fulton Publishers.

Clarke, S. 2005 Formative Assessment in the Secondary Classroom. London Hodder Education

Websites

Andrei Cimpian, Holly-Marie C. Arce, Ellen M. Markman, and Carol S. Dweck 2006, Subtle Linguistic Cues Affect Children’s Motivation. Stanford University (online) available at

HYPERLINK “http://www.stanford.edu/dept/psychology/cgibin/drupalm/system/files/Suble%20linguistic%20cues%20impact%20children%27s%20motivation.pdf” http://www.stanford.edu/dept/psychology/cgibin/drupalm/system/files/Suble%20linguistic%20cues%20impact%20children%27s%20motivation.pdf (accessed 14 Jan 2010)

Burnett, P., 2002Teacher Praise and Feedback and Students’ Perceptions of the Classroom Environment, Carfax Publishing (online) available at,  HYPERLINK “http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/education/tfmentors/milestones/Progression/documents/TeacherPraise.pdf” http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/education/tfmentors/milestones/Progression/documents/TeacherPraise.pdf (accessed 15 Jan 2010)

Student Questionnaire

GIRLS

Assessment in Art

1. Do you read the comments that are written in your sketchbook?

Yes IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

No

Sometimes II

2. Do you understand how you are graded in Art?

Yes IIIIIIIIIIII

No I

Sort of IIIIIIIIII

3. Do you prefer receiving:

a) just a grade

b) a grade and a comment on your work IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

c) a comment on your work

Why?

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

4. Do you believe the praise that is given to you?

a) Yes IIIIIIIIIIII

b) No

c) Sometimes IIIIIIIIIIII

If not, why not?

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
5. Do you try to improve your next piece of work after reading your next step?

a) Always IIIIIIIIII

b) Sometimes IIIIIIIIIIII

c) Never

6. Do you prefer written or verbal feedback?

a) Written IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

b) Verbal III

7. Do you understand the comments that are written in your book?

a) I understand all the comments and the words that are used. IIIII

b) I understand most of the words and if I don’t understand them I ask. IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

c) I understand most of the words but I won’t ask if I don’t know.

d) I don’t understand the comments that are written in my book.

8. Can you read the comments that are written in your book?

a) Always IIIIIIIII

b) Most of the time IIIIIIIIIIIII

c) Never

Student Questionnaire

BOYS RESULTS

Assessment in Art

1. Do you read the comments that are written in your sketchbook?

Yes IIIIIIIII

No

Sometimes IIII

2. Do you understand how you are graded in Art?

Yes IIIIIIII

No

Sort of IIIIII

3. Do you prefer receiving:

a) just a grade II

b) a grade and a comment on your work IIIIIIIIII

c) a comment on your work II

Why?

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

4. Do you believe the praise that is given to you?

a) Yes IIIIII

b) No

c) Sometimes IIIII

If not, why not?

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

5. Do you try to improve your next piece of work after reading your next step?

a) Always III

b) Sometimes IIIIIIIII

c) Never

6. Do you prefer written or verbal feedback?

a) Written IIIIIII

b) Verbal IIIIII

7. Do you understand the comments that are written in your book?

a) I understand all the comments and the words that are used. II

b) I understand most of the words and if I don’t understand them I ask. IIIIIIII

c) I understand most of the words but I won’t ask if I don’t know. III

d) I don’t understand the comments that are written in my book.

8. Can you read the comments that are written in your book?

a) Always II

b) Most of the time IIIIIIIIIIII

c) Never