Tag Archives: assessment

Vienna sausage and the arts

Okay, on second thought the title should have led with Vienna arts instead of sausage. But it would not have been as much fun. I just wrapped up a spring break from school and had a rejuvinating time in Vienna visiting friends, consuming schnitzel, sausage, and of course absorbing the arts. And if you are a fan of both, the best sausage shack in town is right behind the Vienna Opera House outside of the Albertina museum. Incroyable!


But I digest.

When I roamed the fabulous corridors of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, I found myself as absorbed in the stories of the famous creations as the art itself. Did Rubens really have that much pain in his hands from rheumatoid arthritis that he depicted gnarled hands in several of his portraits? I became fascinated with the stories of the artists, the lives of the characters and the story behind the scenes in the paintings as I did the finished work. Process and product. Of course you know where this is going…

And then I saw this.


And not just one person trying to copy a masterpiece, but lots of people. Have you seen this? It seems to be a fairly new phenomenon and can be quite interesting when you watch these people work, trying to painstakingly mimic the masters. Wow it’s hard to paint people, copy or not! I stood behind this woman above for over ten minutes as she touched up her strokes, carefully adjusted tone, and most of all stared at what she would do next. All in the hopes of creating what had already been created. Now I am not criticizing her efforts one bit. I cannot imagine the hours it takes to copy a masterpiece and have it look half decent. And these looked really good. What I was thinking about was the purpose of the product. What influenced her desire to finish other than to have it look like something else? The artists who created these works had something completely different in mind. They were creating. They were, in many cases, suffering as they brought their work to life. Process. It was so human and so interesting that it engaged me much more than the fascination with how they managed to get brush strokes to look so real.

As we head into the final stretches of spring, with the product of IB testing on the horizon, do we think of the process of our students (the artists?) Do we appreciate and engage their suffering as they seek to create, to learn and to bring their art to life or are they standing with an aisle, trying to copy something that has already been done?

I contemplated this as I stood outside this beautiful building, consuming the meat product of a process I am probably glad I knew little about. But with a fresh baked bun and plenty of mustard, it tasted so good.

Welcome back from break (or have a good one of you haven’t already). And keep in mind the process of those amazing artists in front of you.

Let’s wrap up this “AHA” moment with an all time AHA classic.

Senses Working Overtime

Hey, hey the night fights day
There’s food for the thinkers and the innocents can all live slowly
All live slowly…

I found myself humming an old XTC song this afternoon and didn’t know why. And then it hit me when I was doing my end of term grades. Ever have one of those moments when your subconscious provides you with the perfect tune to match a feeling you didn’t know you had until later?

My senses were working overtime on a beautiful Swiss Alpine Spring afternoon when I should have been yodelling in my backyard but was instead doing end of term grades and comments. My senses were working overtime because I always look at grading (and yes, the letters are intentional) as a bittersweet moment where I am judging, sorting and cajoling my students to do something, be something, aspire toward something that they may or may not understand.

This is what goes through my mind, whether or not they have done the “work” that I have deemed important.

A) Providing an affirming snapshot of a child’s progress that is a stepping stone towards a potential that he or she has
internalized, is motivated by, and embraces.

B) He or she is ticking the boxes, doing what is asked for the most part, and wants to get by but could aspire to so much more.

C) An external judgement based on a set of practices that the adult has deemed important and the child does not entirely understand. In other words, “I taught it, she didn’t learn it.”

I embrace the psychology of grading because I am a firm believer that teenagers are motivated by feeling much more than grades. Yes, our top students may be motivated to turn that A- into an A, but for many, the gentleman ‘C’ crushes a lot more than it inspires.

That does not mean I don’t have high standards. I give zeroes, I have arguments about what they think is good and what I think is average. The difference is for me (after 20 years) is that they always get a second chance, they will always have a shot at redemption, and here’s the most important part; they will always know I believe in them. I fret over grades because that psychological balance is so critical. I am sorry teachers, but the truth is that they don’t love or hate history. They love or hate YOU. Yes, it’s that personal with kids and grades. I am not a straightforward, “they get what they earned” type of teacher/grader. It’s a currency. It reflects so much more than “that assignment that was due.” It reflects ideas, improvement, inspiration, and helping others. A second chance. A first chance. An act of bravery.

This afternoon, as I finished my comments, I looked out the large glass window that looks out onto our horizon and thought of each one of them as I participated in this exercise that is so outdated but so important to these kids. I thought of each one of them and what young men and women they were becoming, and what I wanted them to realize in themselves, not what they thought about that grade.

Oh, and I didn’t exactly sit inside all afternoon. My son and I got out for a little bit. Talk about authentic assessment.