Hi, my name is Keisha Farmer-Smith from Become, better known as Dr. Kei-Kei! I received my nickname from young people in an afterschool program while conducting evaluation and outcomes work. It is an honor to learn from children and help create quality youth development programs. Artwork is one way to creatively explore program strengths, opportunities, and challenges.
Recently, I had the opportunity to use artwork in evaluating an innovative program, Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering (ChiS&E). In ChiS&E, “little engineers” aged 6-9 explore their community and have fun! The program’s mission is to increase the number of historically underrepresented African American and Latino students who are motivated and academically prepared to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As a part of a longitudinal program evaluation, ChiS&E youth participated in interviews with an art component. Little engineers were invited to draw pictures of their ChiS&E experiences:
1st grade drawings- students demonstrate a strong understanding of experiment steps and the chemical engineers’ tasks when combining components to get a reaction as well as enthusiasm about lab work. The figures in the pictures are smiling and working.
Elijah: We put the vinegar and baking soda in the water bottle, we went outside and put the cork on it the cork exploded off the water bottle.
Evaluator: Awesome! And that’s what chemical engineers do? They do things like that?
Elijah: (nods head)
Evaluator: And what about you, Paola, what did you draw?
Paola: I was trying to put the hand up here to hold it and the bottle was bubbling, and the bubbles that had air on it was putting the air inside the balloon.
Lessons Learned: When evaluating youth programming, art-based activities are an exceptional way to learn because:
- Drawing artwork together builds rapport and engages program participants. Young people may feel uncomfortable talking to unknown evaluators/adults. Art-based activities are a fun, nonthreatening way to break the ice.
- Art is a great communication tool. When young people explain their art, relevant and meaningful information about programming is shared. During this process, it is incredibly important for adult evaluators to actively listen as youth share the intent and meaning behind their artwork.
- Art can be a strength-based tool. When young people make art it affirms their vision, voice, and opinion. As the artist, the young person has power to explore topics that are important to them.
- Using art as an evaluation tool helps evaluators collect rich, interesting and valuable information. Sometimes, it is easier to express emotions and experiences while drawing. Art-based evaluation should always be accompanied by a listening or discussion session.
- Using art as an evaluation tool is not difficult. From stick figures to complicated images, art is fun for everyone! The artist’s skill level doesn’t matter because the story behind the art can still be shared.
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