Future teachers use art to gauge student learning

March 19, 2016

Future teachers use art to gauge student learning

When it came to assessing how successfully their young students had learned the class material, Warhawk education majors thought they could do better than a traditional computer test.

Born out of the frustration of student teachers — looking for a more holistic means of assessing learning than traditional testing — came a creative and colorful solution that will grace the walls of Whitewater Middle School for years to come.  

Thirty-one UW-Whitewater education majors had been tasked with teaching an integrated diversity unit to 97 seventh grade students at the middle school using language arts and social studies. Nine books reflecting diverse childhood experiences related to the Holocaust, Hispanic life, Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, and the Chinese both in China and in the U.S. were selected to generate discussion and exploration.  

Student teachers worked with their middle schoolers over the course of three weeks, weaving discussion with activities designed to engage the young students.  

Senior elementary education major Britney Anthony had her students reach into a bag and withdraw one object at a time and then explain the object's meaning in the context of the book they had read — "Chu Ju's House" by Gloria Whelan. Then she had the children do tableaux, or depictions of scenes from the book. One student stood bent over with outstretched hands, waiting motionless until another student guessed she was representing a worker in a rice paddy.  

When it came to assessing how successfully their young students had learned the material, however, UW-Whitewater students thought they could do better than a traditional computer test. They brought the idea to their instructor, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Ann Curry Ruff, who saw an opportunity.  

"My students told me they wanted to focus on what the kids were learning about the stories and the cultures in terms of assessment," said Ruff. "So we invited award-winning muralist Joel Schoon Tanis work with the seventh graders and translate what was learned in the diversity unit into four bright panels that will hang in the school."  

The college students helped the middle schoolers synthesize information from the books and other sources and translate them into imagery for the panels. Later the students worked with the muralist, who came to Whitewater from Michigan for one week. Schoon Tanis helped the students understand the process of brainstorming and then worked with them to develop ideas. He said he appreciated having the student teachers involved because they could better draw out the middle schoolers and encourage them to contribute.   

Ruff noted that the class helps the future teachers think more expansively and globally — and to think outside the box when planning their lessons.  

"I also want my students to see that a grant can be used to bring in outside resources," said Ruff. "I want them to see this as a model for when they are in their own classrooms."  

The panels were unveiled during a reception at Whitewater Middle School on March 16.  The project was made possible by an ArtReach grant, which is directed by Kristin Goble, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, and funded by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. The goal of the grant is to better understand and prepare future teachers to implement arts-based assessment strategies.


Jeff Angileri

Sara Kuhl

Written by Kristine Zaballos