Writing Prompts- Lessons Learned

Fall 2016 was my first session as a member of the Marwen Assessment Team. (A small professional development group that meets 3 times in a term to discuss our outcomes and to design tools to support our- and our students’-understanding of their growth.) In our pre-term meeting we discussed many options for assessing student learning and decided to implement writing exercises: one at the beginning and one at the end of our classes.

I taught two classes in Fall 2016: a Screen Print and Sew class and Fashion Lab, both for middle schoolers. Although the two classes were very different, I found I had overlapping educational goals for both. 1.) For students to feel that they have the ability participate in fashion culture; for them to feel empowered to share their ideas and identities. 2.) To give the students the technical support they need to walk out of the room at the end of the session wearing/carrying something they felt proud of.

designs-and-critique-collage

(Fashion Lab, Day 1: Design-a-Line Activity and sticky note critique.)

To assess these goals, I started the session by asking each class a slightly different variation of the following questions:

WHAT are you hoping to communicate with your design?

WHY is this message important to you?

HOW do you plan to communicate your message? 

The responses I got were… mixed. Writing is not something I feel 100% confident about myself and teaching/assigning writing – although I can very much see the value in it – is something I’ve steered away from in the past. I’d done my best to set the students up for success. We looked at many images, created group vocabulary lists with definitions and walked through examples of how to answer the questions. However, many of the responses still belied underlying confusion. Not only that but, as we went forward with the session, student ideas and projects – especially in the Fashion Lab class – evolved so wildly from where they started that their final projects bore almost no resemblance to their original designs. 

 print-and-sew-collage

(Print and Sew: T-Shirts, Tote Bags and Swag. Left: printing the second color layer. Right: sewing the bag together.)

I decided to end the session with more open ended questions:

What’s next? If we had 10 more weeks of class, what would you like to do? (Both Classes)

If you could wear your Fashion Lab design anywhere in the world or space or time where would you wear it and why? (Fashion Lab)

If you could carry absolutely anything in your tote bag, what would you carry and why? (Screen Print and Sew)

I learned so much more about my students with the second set of questions than the first. The open-ended nature of the questions allowed student’s personalities to shine through and also, I imagine in hindsight, put a lot less pressure on them to answer “correctly”. 

It is an inevitability of student assessment to be assessed as an educator and, indeed, I learned a lot from this exercise. If I choose to implement writing in the future, I’ll start the session with open ended and generative questions that help students brainstorm instead of testing them. More specific questions about their work can be better answered after 10 weeks of discussion and implementation of techniques and ideas. 

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(Screen Print and Sew: T-Shirts, Tote Bags and Swag. Last day of class.) 

photoshoot-collage(Fashion Lab. From our final-day photoshoot.)

Nora Renick Rinehart About Nora Renick Rinehart
Nora Renick Rinehart holds a degree in Fibers from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Since moving to Chicago in 2010, she's held many positions at Lillstreet Art Center where she is now the Textiles Department Director. Nora enjoys teaching fashion, sewing and screen printing to middle and high schoolers at Marwen and she’s always happy to show you pictures of her cat or talk about Star Wars.

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