Poetry Assessment in Art Class

We had a huge wind storm all across the state a few weeks ago. It blew down trees and houses and power lines up north, and it took down the Internet at my school.
When we do art projects, I usually play selections of music from Pandora or my Rhapsody account. On Fridays, I take student requests but during the rest of the week, I select a mix of music.
However, with the Internet down, I couldn’t get any online music, and as I scrambled through my desk drawers, the only CD I could find was an old favorite of mine, classic poems set to music by a folky group called the 3 Ds.
The really really hard-core hard-rock kids heard the first folk chords and politely said, “No, thank you,” but everyone realized it was this or nothing, so they all agreed to go ahead and listen. The poems were familiar, classic:

  • Annabel Lee
  • Soft Rains Will Come
  • Gunga Din
  • The Crayon Box
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade
  • Abou Ben Adhem
  • The Shooting of Dan Magrew
  • Richard Corey
  • The Jabberwocky
Then came a big surprise. Just as in any grading curve, there was a big spread of those who knew the poetry, including poetic conventions, and those who didn’t.
Those who knew poems commented on what they were hearing (imagery, rhyme, etc.) while those who didn’t listened carefully to the songs and to the comments.
Students requested repeats of some favorites like “Jabberwocky” and “Charge of the Light Brigade.” I could see some of the students repeating some of the lyrics under their breath as the song poems unfolded.
Well, this was interesting! I could have drawn a bell curve for the mastery of poetry based on the skills and understanding in my art class.
But that would have been ridiculous, you would say. For one thing, it’s ART class! But the more ridiculous thing is this:
Our poetry experience enriched our world. It gave us a chance to experience challenging academic work in a safe setting. It offered those without poetry experience something beautiful and new at their own skill level, raising that level as we went. It was a magical moment–and no Utah legislator will ever know that it happened, because it was never assessed.
But why even assess this?
Take the question further then, my friends. If education is intended to enrich and expand our lives, why assess at all? I think of my friend, Jeff Z, who teaches math at the junior high where I teach. He approaches math with the same mind-expanding, enriching idea as I teach English. He knows that sometimes students learn quickly, sometimes plateau, sometimes lose ground, but ultimately, that math will enrich their lives.
Math, poetry, art. Give us a chance to help students, not whip them to greater and greater test scores.

2 thoughts on “Poetry Assessment in Art Class

  1. What a great experience, for the students and for you as an educator! And such a neat learning opportunity to fall into that ended up working out so well! That’s why I love teaching, those little moments that fall into place.

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