Doing arts assessment right

By Jennifer Nash

PORTLAND — How can teachers equip the students of Maine to be better citizens, engaged learners and effective contributors to society? Inviting them to be integral players in the learning process is the key.

For four days in early August, 18 arts educators from across Maine collaborated during the first Arts Assessment Institute held at the Maine College of Art in Portland.

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The institute focused on leadership, assessment and technology. The sentiments participants echoed throughout the week included excitement, enthusiasm and encouragement.

Assessment done right empowers students by involving them in all parts of the process, creating a student-centered model, University of Southern Maine professor Jeff Beaudry said during a presentation.

The student-centered model gives students the reins in their learning. Educators are still providing the transportation, but learners must decide the next move. The “glass process,” Beaudry said, allows students to see all of the expectations. They will understand rubrics, learning results, and what is expected of them in order to achieve the individualized expectations.

A music teacher, during one session, said it is her goal to have students become self-learners and motivators.

“I want students to be able to observe a concept on their instrument, apply it, and then be able to take it home to do it independently,” she said. “Once they take it home, they are able to monitor their progress through understanding benchmarks. Eventually, they build an inventory of tools to teach themselves.”

Participants delved into what it takes to be a great leader by comparing teaching skills with students, and leadership skills with adults. The session broadened the understanding of what it is to be a leader and the idea that educators are naturally heads of the classroom. How can this thinking help the participants to step up to the plate while sharing ideas and visiting others around the state?

Technology was a common topic of discussion throughout the week. Educators around the state are at different levels of understanding technology and its uses in the classroom.

Some have feelings of frustration and anxiety when approaching this subject. If not carefully monitored, some said, technology can be abused in classrooms.  Uses without legitimate ties to the curriculum or to assessment can defeat the purpose of having technological tools.

Ann Marie Quirion Hutton, a representative from the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, was there to lend a hand and share MLTI programs that can be incorporated into the arts. Without patience and proper training, those who are digital immigrants will not connect to the generation of digital natives. Teachers and students must meet somewhere in the middle.

Tools from the world of technology are also changing how assessment looks in the classroom. Programs that provide “live” grading, surveys via the Internet and online student portfolios are helping to involve learners. Students have more ways to take ownership of their work, and teachers are learning the most up-to-date and effective ways of assessing their students’ progress.

Throughout the week, the arts educators worked hand in hand across disciplines to prepare presentations for the Statewide Visual and Performing Arts Education Conference to be held Oct. 7, 2011. The presentations will cover the assessment institute’s three primary topics: assessment, leadership and technology.

The Maine Arts Assessment Institute helped to advance the Arts Assessment Initiative, which is constantly expanding and connecting visual and performing arts classrooms across the state. It is educating effective leaders to spread the word. Most of all, it is focused on the advancement of student learning.

Isn’t that what education is all about?

Jennifer Nash is a music teacher at the Etna-Dixmont School in Regional School Unit 19. She can be reached at

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