Nurturing a growth mindset in art through an AFL colour code system

Leadership Legacy Fellow, Laura Drinkwater, writes in her think piece detailing the journey undertaken to develop an approach to marking which encouraged a growth mindset in students.

Art colour code system

MEA Central opened in September 2017 during which time I have progressed from a Teacher of Art, through to a Lead Teacher and now a Curriculum Leader. I have been developing bespoke assessment strategies since the school opened and have embraced the opportunity to develop an approach to marking which encourages a growth mind set. The root of the principle for assessment in Art is that students do not become fixated on numerical grades, and instead are encouraged to refine and improve their work with the incentive of moving up colour bands.

For students:

In Year 7 students are introduced to the colour code and understand that red is the lowest level and purple is the highest:







For staff:


This matrix is derived from the AQA KS4 Art mark scheme and has been streamlined for simplicity so it can be applied at KS3. This version is used to assess mid-unit work but is not specific enough for application on formal assessments. The colour bands are used in lessons to show the challenge level of work, or to show students how the staggered stages they need to follow result in higher quality work.







How students understand the colour bands: Lesson PowerPoints

When we ‘Name The Steps’ for demonstration tasks:









When we are refining longer pieces of work and need to encourage resilience:

The colour code reinforces the concept that artists refine and develop their work to achieve excellent end results.

Breaking tasks up into stages helps the teacher to motivate more passive students

e.g. “If you add x then you will move up from yellow to green” or “You’ve already made a great start with the red and orange tasks now you’re ready for the yellow task.”










How students understand the colour bands: Lesson Resource Sheets

We give students ‘level-up’ challenges:














 Nurturing growth mindset continues from Key Stage 3 to 4






















How students understand the colour bands: Display

Display is used for reference in lessons, and to embed the concept that we never have arrived.

All Art classrooms at MEA Central have colour code displays to support with discussion when work is compared.

The colour code is applied in various ways so it quickly becomes part of the language of lessons.

Students are focused on how to improve their work in stages which can be scaffolded and tailored to the class.
















Zoomed-in assessment colour code for formal assessments

The aim of this mark scheme is to provide students with more specific information about how they are performing. This will tell them if they are on the border between two bands, or if they are sitting too comfortably in the middle.

This mark scheme should be used in formal review periods, particularly on exemplar work, so students can see specifically how to move up to a higher level; this scheme also provides a clearer links between assessment feedback lessons and their reports home. Percentages are provided to both students and parents for clearer understanding of performance.








In what can be a highly subjective subject, it is important for students to understand the difference between a middle purple and a purple+ piece of work in art, and the colour code supports those conversations in lessons.

Students should also be told why two pieces of work that have been approached in different ways can still be given the same mark – clarity of justification is vital.





How students apply the colour bands: Assessment Review Lessons

Students are shown formally assessed work from across the whole year to compare. We never share or discuss examples that received less than a green (50%) to promote safe, comfortable discussions. Students need to see what they would do differently.


















The colour code allows students to articulate strengths and areas for improvement. Even students in the purple colour band are expected to explain how they would improve their work further. From Year 7 we make the implicit explicit and tell students how they are marked. We train them with the same comparative assessment skills that art staff use.



How Key Stage 3 students apply the colour bands to create future improvement targets


It is important students view assessments as the starting point to a period of review, recap and mastery rather than as a fixed judgment upon them. This is why the colour code is particularly useful if a student is disappointed with their performance, as the system is aligned with the principles of a growth mindset and means there are always opportunities to revisit and progress. Students must actively engage with their feedback in terms of celebrating their successes and also planning future improvements.

Embedding this from Key Stage 3 eases the transition to Key Stage 4 as students are already used to refining and developing their skills and ideas.















Adapting the Colour Code Assessment for Key Stage 4

At Key Stage 4 the colour bands are stretched, as students must push through yellow for longer to enter the green category.

The wider colour band for yellow is designed to encourage more intensive refinement, and to reinforce to students that they must ensure they have adequate evidence for all for Assessment Objectives s before moving up; this is the greatest shift from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4, as students understand they will not receive a mark on artistic skill alone, but must also develop project-based skills such as annotation and experimentation.

The purple band is now smaller as students who strive for that category must maintain excellence throughout the course, and continue to experiment and refine skills so they do not drop down into the blue band.

The AQA mark scheme has been converted into equivalent % bands to ensure students understand how they are performing as easily as possible (marks out of 24 as per the matrix are more difficult to comprehend and compare).



How Key Stage 4 students apply the colour bands to create future improvement targets

At Key Stage 4 the student receives strengths and targets for all four Assessment Objectives, an average mark is given with an equivalent GCSE level and a colour band position.




















The student must articulate their strengths and targets to explain how they will move up to the next colour band.

A low threat cutlure of share and compare is developed from Year 7 through to Key Stage 4






















AFL colour code in summary

  • The colour code is applied to praise progress not just to highlight improvements.
  • Work less than green (level 5) is not shared publicly in lessons.
  • Students in the purple band also receive improvement targets to encourage sustained excellence (and to minimise complacency).
  • The code is used consistently across the department, with staff inducted to ensure it is applied correctly as a supportive and coherent shared language between students and teachers in art.

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