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The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers

Nurturing Independent Thinkers

Arts teachers use formal and informal strategies to assess their students' progress and to modify their own teaching practice. In this session, participants meet a vocal music teacher who splits his choir into groups that give each other feedback; he also has students tape-record themselves during rehearsal, so he can judge their individual progress. A dance teacher critiques original choreography by a student and asks her peers to participate in the process; this feedback helps the student deepen the impact of her work. Next, theatre teachers give an in-depth critique to a student, and then ask him for feedback on their teaching. Finally, a visual art teacher helps students develop their observation and analysis skills throughout their high school careers, so they learn to be their own best critics.

In This Program

Visual Art

A visual art teacher helps students develop their observation and analysis skills, so that they learn to be their own best critics.


A dance teacher critiques original choreography by a student to help her deepen the impact of her work.


A vocal music teacher uses formal and informal assessments that provide information for him and for the students.


Theatre teachers give an in-depth critique to a student, and then ask him for feedback on their teaching.


Learning Goals

The goals of this workshop session are for you to:

  • Identify qualities of effective assessment in the arts
  • Compare and contrast assessment practices across the disciplines of music, dance, theatre, and visual art
  • Explore how assessment is used in the three stages of the artistic process – creating, performing, and responding

Arts teachers find many different ways to help their students develop as artists – and as people.  By using a variety of assessment strategies, teachers can help their students become mature, independent thinkers. Teachers can also find ways to refine their own teaching, based on a clear understanding of their students’ progress and problems.

To nurture independent thinkers, assessments:

  • Focus on thinking and judgement, not just on performance skills
  • Help students look at the work of others in useful ways
  • Give students opportunities and tools to assess themselves
  • Give teachers insights to help them adjust their teaching

Getting Ready

(15 minutes)

Discuss the following questions:

  • How do you assess your students’ progress and achievement?
  • How do you give your students feedback?
  • How do the students give each other feedback?

Watching the Program

(60 minutes)

The information sheets below provide helpful background on the classrooms, programs, and schools featured in each segment:

Segment 1: Music (PDF)
Segment 2: Dance (PDF)
Segment 3: Theatre (PDF)
Segment 4: Visual Art (PDF)

Consider the following questions as you watch the program. You may stop the video after each segment to discuss the questions with your colleagues.

MUSIC William Taylor Informal/Formal Assessment Techniques

  • How did Will’s assessment techniques help students improve their skills?
  • How do you assess individual performances within group work?

DANCE Michael O’Banion Senior Solo Critique

  • What were the benefits of Michael’s feedback to Monique and to her peers?
  • How do you make criticism a reflective learning experience rather than a judgement?

THEATRE Joseph Mancuso and Andrea Arden Student Evaluation Session

  • How did Daniel benefit from hearing – and giving – direct feedback?
  • How do you use feedback from students to improve your teaching?

VISUAL ART Jon Murray Students Assessing Their Own Work

  • How does Jon develop the critical habits of his students throughout their high school years?
  • What do you do to help students become their own best critics?

Activities and Discussion

(45 minutes)

For this last session, choose which of the following two activity options you think would be most effective as a conclusion. Be sure to leave time for the wrap-up discussion that follows.

Activity Option A. Qualities of Effective Assessment (30 minutes)

Effective assessments provide experiences that help students move toward independent thinking. The chart below shows four approaches to assessment that were seen in this program. Choose one of the approaches and decide which criteria of effective assessment–shown in the left column–it meets. At the bottom, add any other criteria you think are important for assessments.

Think about an assessment approach using this blank worksheet. Which criteria does your assessment approach meet? How might you improve your assessment so that it better nurtures students’ independent thinking?

Activity Option B. Assessing Students throughout the Artistic Process (30 minutes)

The National Association of Educational Progress Arts Education Assessment Framework specifies that meaningful arts assessments should be built around three arts processes: creating, performing, and responding.

  • Creating refers to expressing ideas and feelings in the form of an original work of art, for example, a dance, a piece of music, a dramatic improvisation, or a sculpture.
  • Performing refers to performing an existing work, a process that calls upon the interpretive or re-creative skills of the student.
  • Responding refers to observing, describing, analyzing, and evaluating works of art.
  • Assessment priorities often differ among the arts. In this activity, you will be asked to draw on the expertise of your colleagues from other arts disciplines to gain new perspective on assessing your students.

Draw the grid below on a whiteboard or chart paper. Chart the assessment practices you typically use in your discipline during each stage of the artistic process.

As a group, discuss the similarities and differences among the four art forms in assessing student progress at each stage.

See how your group’s notes compare to these general statements:

  • Visual art places a high value on first-hand, creative expression and response to visual media, but often gives lower priority to the replication of existing art.
  • Music education, on the other hand, places great emphasis on the performance of existing music and on students’ responses to performance, with less emphasis on the original musical compositions of students.
  • Theatre and dance see creating and performing as a combined act, and the response of the director, choreographer, actors, dancers, designers, and audience as integral to the development of a piece.
  • Looking at the chart, identify an area of assessment you would like to improve. Discuss with your colleagues how techniques from their practice might transfer to your arts discipline.

Wrap-up Discussion (15 minutes)

At the beginning of this workshop, you talked with your colleagues and wrote in your journal about how teaching is an art. Think about those ideas as you discuss these questions:

  • What have you learned from seeing teaching practices in other arts disciplines, and discussing them with colleagues?
  • How would you assess your own artful teaching, and how has it changed over the years?
  • How would you like your teaching to continue evolving?


(On Your Own)

Think about two students – one who exhibits independent thinking and another who has trouble critically evaluating his or her own work and progress.  In your journal, describe each student. As you do so, think about what qualities the ‘independent thinker’ has that allows him or her to be self-reflective and critical. Think about the characteristics the less independent student exhibits, and what specific techniques or practices might help this student become more self-reflective and independent in his or her thinking.

Now look back at the journal you started at the beginning of this workshop, and think about how your attitude toward your own teaching has changed.

Additional Resources

Selected Unit Materials

Honor Choir Performance Evaluation (PDF)
Evaluation sheet used by William Taylor’s Honor Choir

Men’s Ensemble Singing Test Rubric (PDF)
Rubric used by William Taylor to assess students’ singing based on tape recordings

Theatre Evaluation Summary (PDF)
Assessment summary used by Joseph Mancuso for the acting program

Theatre Evaluation Rubric (PDF)
Rubric used by Joseph Mancuso to assess students in the acting program

On the Web


National Assessment of Educational Progress: The Arts
Helpful resources for understanding how the US Department of Education assesses arts learning

Highlights of the NAEP 1997 Arts Assessment Report Card (PDF)
PDF document highlighting a 1997 national “Report Card” on arts education at the eighth-grade level

Coalition of Essential Schools, Assessment
Select: Resources, then Assessment
A wealth of information on alternative assessments, including portfolios, exhibitions, and rubrics


East High School
Web site for music teacher William Taylor’s school

Denver School of the Arts — Dance Major
Select: Majors, then Performing Arts Department
Web page for the dance program that Michael O’Banion chairs

Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School – Performing Arts
Select: performing arts at scvths
Performing arts program information including curriculum and photo gallery

Mamaroneck High School Art Department
Select: Departments and Class Web Pages, then Art
Student art gallery and description of course offerings

In Print

Arter, Judith A., & McTighe, Jay. Scoring Rubrics in the Classroom: Using Performance Criteria for Assessing and Improving Student Performance. Corwin Press, 2000. ISBN: 0761975756

Practical approach to assessing challenging but necessary performance tasks like creative writing, “real-world” research projects, and cooperative group activities

Costa, Arthur L., & Kallick, Bena. Assessment Strategies for Self-Directed Learning. Corwin Press, 2003. ISBN: 0761938710

Strategies for designing diverse ways of gathering, organizing, and reporting evidence of self-directed learning

Eisner, Elliot W. The Arts and the Creation of Mind. Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN: 0300095236

Description of how various forms of thinking are evoked, developed, and refined through the arts

Johnson, David W., & Johnson, Roger T. Assessing Students in Groups: Promoting Group Responsibility and Individual Accountability. Corwin Press. 2003. ISBN: 0761939474

Practical guide explaining how to form productive groups and assess individual student performance during group work


Produced by Lavine Production Group, Inc., in collaboration with EDC's Center for Children and Technology and the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts. 2005.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-769-X