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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Writing Assignment I - The Meaning of Art, take 2

I recently went to the Harlem Dance Ensemble performance at the Municipal Auditorium, here, in Albany, GA.  It was a great performance, and the auditorium was packed.  Part of the performance is instructional, and the head of the ensemble, acting as an MC, would explain different techniques and historical information.  He also introduced the audience to the dancers and spoke a great deal about their workout routines.  At one point when he was discussing the classical ballet  workout sessions that all of these dancers completed everyday, he said, "...and that is really the science of dance."  He was referring to the repetitive, exacting postures performed and refined identically everyday.  There was a method and standards.  Of course, the first thought that popped into my mind and the reason why I mention is this is, well, what is the art of dance.

If the science part is the methodical repetition of standardized posture, then maybe the art part is how those postures are arranged into a performance.  This certainly makes sense to me.  I arrange shape, color, texture, line, etc. when I paint.  Arrangement, therefore, has something to do with the definition of art.  Yet, there is a real science to arrangement.  We base our decisions on hypotheses that have been tested and re-tested over centuries of performance and production. When we arrange things, whether sequences of movement or musical notes and chords, we consider things like balance, symmetry, cohesion, harmony, dissonance, etc.  All of these things have scientific reasons for working.  For instance, red and green intensify each other as complimentary colors because of the wave lengths they produce.   It is the same with music.  Each note has a different wave length.  To take that scientific data or proven relationships, though, and arrange  with intent... Now, that is art.

It is the intent part, though, of this definition that is tricky and even controversial.  The maker of things (i.e. painter, sculptor, dancer, guitarist, percussionist, actor) has an intent or purpose in what they do, and that intent is not always pleasant or even conspicuous.  Yet, intent does not get the job done.  Intent is simply desiring an outcome and response.  A physical action must take place.  (The difference between an author and someone who always thought it would be cool to write a book is that the author writes a book.)

When it comes to the actual making, composing, or performing, we have to consider craft.  Instead of intent, perhaps we should call it purposeful craft.  It is interesting that we refer to sorcery or pagan practices as witchcraft.   Craft can imply deception, illusion, facade, etc.  As we saw with the Brancusi and Mapplethorpe shows, there is a certain distrust of art among some circles.  Sometimes this distrust or suspicion may be warranted or not.  Sometimes this distrust or suspicion may result in censorship.  We should also keep in mind that this suspicion and censorship have been around for a long time, as Laurie Schneider Adams points out, Michelangelo and Manet were also subjected to censorship and speculation.  Part of this distrust, it would seem, could be attributed to the craft of art.  The audience may feel threatened or endangered by the intent of it.  The audience my feel fooled or taken in by the craft of it.  It should definitely be noted, here, that the deception or illusion (or even threat) can be quite pleasurable, and that is part of the joy of art.

To be continued.... 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Spring '11 - Writing Assignment One

It is Spring Semester, 2011.  I begin each semester with an in-class writing assignment, asking the students to write down in a few sentences their first, immediate, gut response to the question, what is art?  I preface it by asking them not to try to impress me with a lot of discourse.  I ask them instead to be as direct and immediate as possible.  It is pass fail with no character judgement or reprisals.  Sadly I have yet to get a negative answer.  The answers generally range from something pretty or unique to mentioning specific art forms, genres, or mediums.  The original idea was to repeat the exercise at the end of the course and see how much the answer changes.  Recently, one of my former students told a peer of mine that "art can be anything."  She went on to say that "Chazz said so in class."  Well, not exactly...

We looked at images of different cars in class.  I asked which they would choose, and we discussed how those judgements were made.  Of course, some of those judgements were based on aesthetics.  What's more, the students were distinguishing that one car is better than another.  We categorized the criteria for this decision, including looks, performance, quality, practicality, etc.  This also lead to a discussion of form and  function.  I then asked the class to apply that to fine art.  If one object is better than another and has value based on specific criteria (including personal taste), then there is something more to art than just being any expression of feelings.  Perhaps, what we have accomplished is to distinguish between Art and art.  How ever one wishes to phrase it, there are different levels and qualities of art, and some of it has tremendous cultural relevance.

The question, of course, is quite complex.  We typically discuss the discourse from the textbook, The Making and Meaning of Art by Laurie Schneider Adams, including the Brancusi vs. the U.S. case in the 1920s and the Mapplethorpe trials in Cincinnati.  We go on to discuss design, comparing and contrasting art and design as a way to refine our definition.  We also talk about science and craft as categories and how these categories share processes and the distinctions between them blur.  The contemporary art world seeks to blur them further.

How useful is it then, beyond providing handles for critical thought and discussion, to delineate these categories.  Particular to this semester was the emergence of a kind of unifying definition that Art is what an artist makes and Design is what a designer makes.  Actually, it is not a bad definition.  When faced with defending the funding of college art programs, I am quick to respond that there needs to be little justification beyond the demand from students for our curriculum.  

We can talk about art as a process; we can talk about art as an outcome or product, and we can talk about art as a way of life.  I gave an example in class, though, that I just cannot shake.  We always hear people say that there is "a real art" or "a real science" to something.  The book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, comes to mind.  The author, Robert M. Pirsig, does a wonderful job of defining quality as an important cultural value and an almost spiritual way of life.  Pirsig's idea of quality is relevant because it attempts to describe (rather successfully) an intangible value.  Pirsig states, "The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn't any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it's right. If it disturbs you it's wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed."  There is an esoteric understanding of art that I wish to explore, the way that Pirsig explores quality. 

I have heard people say there is a real art to fly fishing, repairing old technology, gardening/landscaping, etc.  It seems the more disparate the thing is to our conception of art, the more provocative the statement.  This says something, I believe, about our societal view of art.  A mechanic or athlete, for example, may have a social connotation of someone who is strong, masculine, scientific minded, able, rational, self-sufficient, et al.  These are important values associated with the American character.  Art is sometimes associated with things affiliated with high society, intellectualism, femininity, liberal politics, ephemeral or esoteric understanding, beauty, homosexuality, counter-culture or sub-culture.  This delineation, of course, is somewhat of an assumption, a generalization, and not the subject of this post, but it bares mentioning because social perception is an evident part of real artform statements.  The value of art is not always its function or necessarily its form.  So what is the stuff that makes fly fishing or adjusting fuel injectors an artform?

To be continued


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Writing Assignment 6

Visit one of the QEP writing labs at Peace 230, Simmons 328, or ACAD 270 to do this assignment.  Remember the QEP part of this class is the Wiki writing assignments.  You will be asked about how that has added to the class and whether it is beneficial.  The following is an excerpt from the email I received:
-The QEP writing assessment was mentioned in the syllabus, as part of the QEP class
-Time frame:  over the next 2 weeks, starting Monday
-Students visit QEP writing labs at Peace 230, Simmons 328, or ACAD 270
-Writing Specialists help them log in and they can write the assignment then -- 20-30 minutes
-Students will write about having been in THIS QEP (Art Appreciation) class this semester
-Questions will prompt them to reflect on comparing being in this class to being in other ASU classes, assignments and techniques they have found worthwhile, etc.
-It is not an essay, but paragraphed. It is scored by an off-campus service, and students will be able to see results afterward.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Writing Assignment 5

Writing Assignment 5 is for each student to suggest how these writing assignments should be graded in the future.  I would like everyone to take this seriously.  Your input is important and will affect a lot of students.

Consider one or more of the following questions when you answer.  It may be helpful to go to my blog and look over some of the critical thinking rubrics (grading models).  Maybe you could even rank the importance of these items

1) Should we consider grammar and spelling, for instance?  
2) Should we consider whether information is correct or incorrect?  
3)How should we take into account commenting on other student's posts (something as yet to happen here)?
4) Did the student use vocabulary from lectures and text?  
5) Did the student make a connection between the subject matter and his or her life?  
6) Did the student exhibit an understanding of the subject matter and its importance?  
7) Did the student present information or ideas that support his or her claims?  
8) Did the student make specific references or simply write in generalities?
9) Finally, should we develop a way for students to grade or score each others' posts?

I decided to include student input in formulating a scoring rubric for critical thinking assignments.  Thus far, the answers are pretty general, either "grade strictly on participation" or "grade for effort."  I revised the prompt to try and fish for some more specific answers.  I am considering one suggestion of grading for participation and giving bonus points for doing it well.  I wouldn't do that exactly, but I may give many more and more varied assignments with values relative to the complexity of the answer required. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Scoring Rubric for Critical Thinking

The rubric below came from:

And specifically from:
"Peter Facione and Noreen Facione have developed the four-level Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric to assess the critical thinking skills and some of the dispositions identified by the Delphi project as these skills are demonstrated by by students in essays, projects, presentations, clinical practices, and such. The Facione and Facione Holistic Scoring Rubric (1994) is copied below and is available free, with a page of instructions, at"

This is typical of the rubrics that I have found.  I think it is useful for the most part.  I like that it is broken down into 4 levels that easily correspond to the traditional grading scale.  One problem that I have with many of these rubrics is that they seem to be based on the Toulman method of argument.  Warrants, claims, and evidence are all the Toulman terms.   My students have not been instructed in logical argument, and I can only teach so much.  While they may get it as a kind of secondary objective, if they don't know what a "warrant" is (and it is not a simple thing to explain) then a rubric like this one cannot be used as a peer assessment or self assessment tool.

 Consistently does all or almost all of the following:
Accurately interprets evidence, statements, graphics, questions, etc.
Identifies the salient arguments (reasons and claims) pro and con.
Thoughtfully analyzes and evaluates major alternative points of view.
Draws warranted, judicious, non-fallacious conclusions.
Justifies key results and procedures, explains assumptions and reasons.
Fair-mindedly follows where evidence and reasons lead.
3  Does most or many of the following:
Accurately interprets evidence, statements, graphics, questions, etc.
Identifies relevant arguments (reasons and claims) pro and con.
Offers analyses and evaluations of obvious alternative points of view.
Justifies some results or procedures, explains reasons.
Fairmindedly follows where evidence and reasons lead
 Does most or many of the following:
Misinterprets evidence, statements, graphics, questions, etc.
Fails to identify strong, relevant counter-arguments.
Ignores or superficially evaluates obvious alternative points of view.
Justifies few results or procedures, seldom explains reasons.
Regardless of the evidence or reasons maintains or defends views based on self-interest or preconceptions.
1  Consistently does all or almost all of the following:
Offers biased interpretations of evidence, statements, graphics, questions, information, or the points of view of others.
Fails to identify or hastily dismisses strong, relevant counter-arguments.
Ignores or superficially evaluates obvious alternative points of view
Argues using fallacious or irrelevant reasons, and unwarranted claims.
Regardless of the evidence or reasons, maintains or defends views based on  self-interest or preconceptions.
Exhibits close-mindedness or hostility to reason

I like the following rubric from WSU because it breaks down each level as "emerging" and "mastering."  It seems more positive than the Falcione model.  I also like the "Contexts for Consideration" component.  Our Art Appreciation test, The Making and Meaning of Art by Laurie Schneider Adams, includes a chapter on "Methodologies" that discusses Formalistic, Marxist, Feminist, Structuralist, Post-Structuralist, and Psychoanalytic models of criticism.  It might be interesting to incorporate some of the methodologies as contexts for consideration.  I found this on the same site as above, Designing Rubrics for Assessing Higher Order Thinking by William Peirce.

WSU Critical Thinking Rubric
1) Identifies and summarizes the problem/question at issue (and/or the source's position).
Does not identify and summarize the problem, is confused or identifies a different and inappropriate problem.

Does not identify or is confused by the issue, or represents the issue inaccurately.
Identifies the main problem and subsidiary, embedded, or implicit aspects of the problem, and identifies them clearly, addressing their relationships to each other.

Identifies not only the basics of the issue, but recognizes nuances of the issue.

2Identifies and presents the STUDENT'S OWN hypothesis, perspective and position as it is important to the analysis of the issue.
Addresses a single source or view of the argument and fails to clarify the established or presented position relative to one's own. Fails to establish other critical distinctions.
Identifies, appropriately, one's own position on the issue, drawing support from experience, and information not available from assigned sources.

3) Identifies and considers OTHER salient perspectives and positions that are important to the analysis.
Deals only with a single perspective and fails to discuss other possible perspectives, especially those salient to the issue.
Addresses perspectives noted previously, and additional diverse perspectives drawn from outside information.

4) Identifies and assesses the key assumptions.
Does not surface the assumptions and ethical issues that underlie the issue, or does so superficially.
Identifies and questions the validity of the assumptions and addresses the ethical dimensions that underlie the issue.

5) Identifies and assesses the quality of supporting data/evidence and provides additional data/evidence related to the issue.
Merely repeats information provided, taking it as truth, or denies evidence without adequate justification. Confuses associations and correlations with cause and effect.

Does not distinguish between fact, opinion, and value judgments.

Examines the evidence and source of evidence; questions its accuracy, precision, relevance, completeness.

Observes cause and effect and addresses existing or potential consequences.

Clearly distinguishes between fact, opinion, & acknowledges value judgments.

6) Identifies and considers the influence of the context* on the issue.
Discusses the problem only in egocentric or sociocentric terms.

Does not present the problem as having connections to other contexts--cultural, political, etc.
Analyzes the issue with a clear sense of scope and context, including an assessment of the audience of the analysis.

Considers other pertinent contexts.

7) Identifies and assesses conclusions, implications and consequences.
Fails to identify conclusions, implications, and consequences of the issue or the key relationships between the other elements of the problem, such as context, implications, assumptions, or data and evidence.
Identifies and discusses conclusions, implications, and consequences considering context, assumptions, data, and evidence.

Objectively reflects upon the their own assertions.
Contexts for Consideration
  1. Cultural/Social 
    Group, national, ethnic behavior/attitude
  2. Scientific 
  3. Conceptual, basic science, scientific method
  4. Educational 
    Schooling, formal training
  5. Economic 
    Trade, business concerns costs
  6. Technological 
    Applied science, engineering
  7. Ethical 
  8. Political 
    Organizational or governmental
  9. Personal Experience 
    Personal observation, informal character
Source: Washington State University Critical Thinking Project Critical Thinking Rubric 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Critical Thinking Rubric -- How do you assess CT? -- Part I

Mind map of Bloom's Revised Digital Taxonomy

I found this map about CT based on Bloom's Taxonomy at .

I think it is useful to our discussion of assessing CT or creating a rubric.  I think it is so pertinent, in fact, that I am considering organizing each unit of my class in steps based on this map.  I like that it breaks each skill into synonymous verbs.  I also think it is useful because it illuminates the essential problem.  The essential problem is that "lower level" thinking is easy to grade.  "Higher Level" thinking is what we all profess, but it creates a lot of work for us.  The work is not in the grading, per se.  It is in the learning.  We have to learn a great deal of new skills, both critical and technological, in order to grade these Higher Level skills that we all seem to want.  We have to exhibit "Higher Level" thinking in the delivery of content and the assessment of student work.

Put simply, it is easy to grade vocabulary or arithmetic.  It is either right or wrong.  It becomes increasingly difficult to assign a grade to "Higher Level" work beyond simple participation.  In other words, it is fabulous that a student would create a video as an end result, historical document that evidences knowledge, analysis and application of the subject matter.  Does one assess the video for subject matter, effort, quality, personal development, time, participation?  Few of us know how to assess the quality of a creative product fairly (with the exception of the arts folks).  What's more, the course is not in video production or blogging, so why is production quality of a creative endeavor part of student's grade for a course in Biology or Macro-economics, for example?

My answer to that question is two-fold:  1) Production quality demonstrates effort, self-evaluation, and caring; 2) Video production, blogging, video conferencing, texting, and whatever else is out there are all pertinent skills for the 21st century work force.  Still, is it fair that someone gets an A and another student gets a C based on there artistic inclinations and prior creative skill sets?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Video About Changing Educational Paradigm

I was introduced to this video via Facebook friends.  It is entertaining, provocative, and astute.  Regarding critical thinking, I like the term "divergent thinking" addressed in the video.  Of course, I also like the tip of the hat to the arts.  We all should watch this and think about it.

Video on Changing Educational Paradigm