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excerpt from “10 General Ideas About Assessing Teaching Artist Work”

1. Assessment of teaching artist work begins with the teaching artist and the medium.

--Many arts education organizations and institutions look to develop non-medium specific frames of thinking about teaching and learning, such as “collaboration,” “critical thinking,” or “engagement.”  That doesn’t mean you have to begin with such frames.  Just as your teaching develops out of your expertise and interests so too can your assessment strategies.

--Just as you teach what matters to you in your medium, you should assess based on what matters to you in your medium and as an artist.  Teaching artist work is not just about teaching students to make art, it’s about engaging students as artists who develop original work and develop new ways of thinking and working in a medium.  These “products” of the work are often what are most exciting to our students and to us as fellow artists and they should be highly valued in any evaluation of the work.

--Often the most useful and far-reaching insights are gained by looking at the most specific and detailed dynamics of teaching and learning in an arts discipline.  If you can clearly describe what you and your students are doing in the work, you will be able to communicate useful things to other teaching artists and educators.  Specificity is everything; what is vague is never profound.

2. Assess in the language of your practice and medium.

Arts education is a field currently awash with jargon: educational jargon, management jargon, cognitive science jargon, and spiritual and self-help jargon.  Some of this jargon is useful in the fields from which it derives.  Much of it is vapid and empty in any field.  It helps no one when we substitute such jargon for clear and specific discussion of the work we do.  If you are a sculptor speak in the language of sculpture.  Where that language may be obscure or inaccessible to others, explain it.  Don’t abandon the language of your discipline. Bring others into it and translate where necessary.

3. Assessment and reflection should lead to conclusions about practice.

--The point of assessing teaching and learning in teaching artist work is to refine, develop and strengthen practice.  If it becomes too divorced from practice or is seen as an end in itself it can quickly become sterile in a way that distracts from the actual work.  Generating new questions can be a good thing to do, but questions are of limited use if we don’t at least try to find answers to them however partial.

--If assessment and evaluation are to serve practice they must reveal both successes as well as failures, strengths as well as weakness, clear insights as well as questions to which we do not yet have answers.

4. Be clear for yourself and others about what purposes assessment and evaluation are designed to serve.

--Many organizations that hire teaching artists devote great resources to advocating for their work and for your work.  Often they use research, assessment and evaluation as a key part of this advocacy.  Such research may overlap with your needs as a teaching artist, but it also may not.  It is important to be clear about this distinction: some assessment is about explaining the work to funders; some is about teaching artists developing their practice; some is about evaluating student learning and development; and some is about all these things at once.  The clearer we are about the purposes of assessment the more it will be useful to you and to the work.

--Just because assessment and research may be a top priority for the organization that hires you does not mean it that it has to be for you.  Certainly you will have to provide documentation and other information if that’s part of the gig.  But in many cases the heavy emphasis that some organizations place on research and assessment, particularly of non-arts related outcomes can be a distraction to you and to students.  While art making may be a kind of “inquiry” or research for some artists, constant “data collection,” “reflection” and “documentation of process” that is not a natural part of how you or students work in the discipline can quickly turn a real art making environment into something that feels more like a psych lab.  This is not good for you or for students.  Where you need to erect a firewall between the parts of the gig that require you to be a researcher, and the parts where you are an artist among artists, then you should do so.