HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

Picture your way to Success: using visual rubrics

Let’s set the scene- first graders are working on the second day of painting their ceramic pinch pot monsters. After demonstrating painting all around a three dimensional object last class and saving the details for last... most of the students' work still looks, well, less than.  Is the product of this lesson beyond saving?

No!  A rubric can clearly define the qualities you’re asking your students to improve.  Traditionally, rubrics are tables with the requirements for each element written out and graded.  Visual rubrics are wonderful tools for differentiation and especially non readers, english language learners or early readers.  

 Back to those not-so-hot sculptures. A simple 1-3 star rubric shows students that one star work  is a pinch pot monster where it is mostly painted and all the same color. Two stars demonstrates that the sculpture is painted all the way around and uses more than one color and has well crafted eyes.  Three stars for using multiple colors, giving careful attention to the teeth, eyes and lips. Students who have broken pieces are given the option of addressing these missing parts with chenille stems, small stones or construction paper.  

As educators, we want to give students the criteria for success AND access to the materials or techniques that will get them there. With time to improve their works and the rubric as a reference point, the quality of these pinch pot monsters takes off.

So, next time, plan ahead! Meet at your carpet area or demo table to use a simple 1-3 scored graphic or one-three stars to show and discuss with students what elements will make their artwork more successful.  Better yet, use the rubric to spark a student led discussion on qualities for an awesome outcome.  

This technique can be used for any short term goal of the lesson. Often it is applied to craftsmanship, but can be a great tool to communicate success criteria for other principles we teach as well.  For example,

  • A craftsmanship rubric
  • A composition rubric
  • A rubric on balance  or variety of mark-making


Rubrics work best if they are specific to the outcome.  General craftsmanship rubrics are good reference to have as a poster in your classroom, but if your teaching goal is for students to better address a specific element in their artwork, then your rubric needs to be specific as well.

 If you’re making an actual paper poster, it doesn’t need to be enormous. If the students are working on 12x18 paper, the rubric graphics need not match the size. They are there to demonstrate quality. Of course, written explanations can accompany the pictures, but the graphics should be clear. If it’s something you’re going to put under the document camera, then consider what will fit!

Rubric graphics can be:
  • Drawn by hand
  • examples by past students (make sure they’re from several years back! )
  • photos of three dimensional pieces (great for ceramics/clay)

Even beginning Kindergarten students are able to reference a visual rubric throughout the lesson as a form of self-assessment as they work.  Another fantastic way to use your rubric is as the basis of an oral exit slip.  Easily refer back to it as you ask students to tell you or - pair and share with another student, questions such as,

How many stars would you give your artwork right now and why?  

And follow up with,

What could you add or change to make it better?

When students have been absent, post that rubric, give a copy of the previous directions and voila! The absent student is prepared and you are not losing the current day’s instructional time.  

Paired with demonstration, good scaffolding of the skills and sequencing of directions, a specific visual rubric is one more awesome tool to provide to your students. When it comes to instructional strategies, play every card you have!  A tool like this, nicely wraps up teacher assessment by making expectations clear, and self-assessment and reflection an all in one.

Have you been able to turn a project around using a rubric?  What other tools do you use for reflection/self assessment in your classroom? 

Thanks for reading!  Catch me daily on instagram @emily_art_teacher_smile

signature photo, emily mceneely