Pedagogy Now! Creating Effective Evaluation Techniques

Thanks to everyone who attended our CAA workshop, Creating Effective Evaluation Techniques. We had a great time presenting and got a lot of feedback through all the fabulous questions and comments.
As promised, here is our powerpoint presentation PDF. Please feel free to give us any feedback, to ask us questions via the blog or email, or to ask us to address particular issues in the blog. We are also happy to come to your school to do a workshop tailored to your program’s needs. Contact us here:



Grading Rubric for Studio Art Visual Thesis

In the University of Cincinnati’s School of Art, Fine Arts majors are required to spend their entire senior year working on their thesis projects. These projects consist of two parts: the written thesis and the visual thesis. )For information on the rubric for the written thesis, click this link.)

The Senior Thesis Seminar course is set up to provide guidance and support for the seniors as they actualize their projects. This course has three learning outcomes, one of which is directly related to the visual work they are doing:

“Students will demonstrate substantial professional accomplishment in a coherent body of artwork through exhibition in DAAPWorks.” (Ed. The title of the senior end-of-year show.)

Here is the rubric that is used by faculty to grade the visual thesis projects. There are six major categories that faculty want to evaluate, and this rubric makes clear that they are not all weighted equally. The standards of excellence for each category are well-defined, although it should be noted that tweaking is done to the wording every year, depending on who is teaching the course.

Grading Rubric for Studio Art Written Thesis

Many studio art programs require not only a visual thesis of artwork, but also a written thesis that accompanies the visual work. Given that the students are writing about their creative process and research methodologies, this kind of written document can be challenging to grade for professors.

Here is a rubric that is used by faculty in the School of Art at the University of Cincinnati to grade the written thesis papers of their studio art seniors. Please note that they chose to focus the grading process on three main areas: Content, Sources and Mechanics. These items cover everything that faculty want to see in the document, and enabled them to keep the rubric relatively simple.

This rubric also ties in directly to one of the three learning outcomes for the course, specifically:

“Students will demonstrate their ability to research and articulate their visual thesis project and its connections to art history, to contemporary art, and the cultural milieu through verbal and written critical discourse.”

This rubric enables faculty to see very clearly which students are achieving that  outcome and which aren’t.

For information about the rubric for the visual part of the thesis, click on this link.

Sample Grading Rubric

Let’s say you have a basic understanding of the value of specific criteria for grading and now need to create a grading rubric that you will fill out and hand back to students. There are many different formats you can use for creating rubrics.

Here is one example that I’ve used for an Introduction to Photography class. This is used to grade the final project of the semester, and, as such, covers both technical expertise as well as aesthetic issues.

Things to Consider When Planning an Assignment

Is the assignment /project consistent with the learning outcomes for the class? Have you adequately communicated to the students how it fits into the large context of the class?

What skills must be demonstrated in the completion of the assignment?  How much (if at all) does it engage student creativity?

How realistic is the level of stringency of the assignment?  Are the students equipped with the expertise to handle it? (Don’t give freshmen a senior level project and expect success.)

How clear have you made your expectations/criteria for grading? Do you have a specific ‘vision’ for how the project should turn out?  Have you communicated this to your students?

How realistic is the time-demand of the assignment? Remember that they are taking other classes, too!

Class Participation- What Exactly IS That?

We all know that “class participation” ranks high on the list of criteria for grading in art and design classes. What is astonishing is how many teachers simply state either in their syllabi or rubrics that “class participation” will count towards a grade, without explaining what they mean by that.

What most of them mean, unfortunately, is that they want/expect the students to speak up in class. And that’s it.

But where does that leave the “quiet student”? You know, the ones who rarely say anything, but who are clearly engaged in the class despite the fact that they don’t speak up. Grading “class participation” solely on whether someone has said something in class is very short-sighted, and can in fact be counter-productive because it encourages students who are talkative in the first place and intimidates those who are less verbal.

Broadening the definition of what constitutes “class participation” can get around this problem and be a fairer assessment of a student’s true engagement with the class. Here are some suggestions for what might be included in that broader definition:

• Volunteer during class.

• Do in-class exercises.

• Have in your possession the proper materials & equipment necessary to satisfactorily complete the work.

• Show initiative throughout the duration of the course.

• Be in class on time and prepared.

• Ask questions and comment on the subjects being discussed in class, both verbally and in writing,

• Participate in field trips.

• Do all homework as required.

Those points would provide a teacher with a far truer picture of a student’s actual participation in a class. So why not list them either on a syllabus or in a rubric to let students know that you value all those things and that they will be rewarded for exhibiting them?

The Evolution of a Grading Rubric

When I first started teaching, I used a rubric similar to the ones that my own teachers had used. That can be found here. But as time went on, I became increasingly dissatisfied with it. I felt like I didn’t really know what I meant by “imagination” or “clarity of communication”. And if I didn’t know what I meant, how could students possibly know?!

After attending a few teaching workshops, I radically revised the rubric I was using. The revised version can be found here. I used this kind of rubric for a number of years, but again became dissatisfied, so tried a new layout and changed some of the criteria wording. The most recent version can be found here. In reviewing all three documents, one can see that each rubric became more specific about what I am looking for in a quarter-long project, and thus clearer about what is expected.

I post my rubrics on Blackboard at the start of each quarter and tell my students: “If you want to know how to get an A in this class, just read the grading rubric for each project to see what is expected.” Being more specific about my expectations has led to fewer after-hours discussions about grades, a definite plus!