I’m now midway through my first rotation of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) based lesson plans. Currently, four of my classes (the 6th and 7th grades) are working on TAB rotations. I thought it would be good to share my thoughts on this process.
If you’ve read here for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m very interested in how the brain works when we learn. Specifically, I am interested in what the optimum conditions for learning are and how I can create an “optimal” experience for my students. One of my mentors has long encouraged me to do more research and test out TAB in my own classroom. And, I’ve been reluctant to do so. . .For many reasons.
For one, choice based arts education? The phrase alone sounds tricky, and trust me, when I first mentioned it to my administration I could see the “oh no the Art Teacher is a crazed hippy” look pass across their faces. It can be difficult to help your administration bridge the gap between thinking the students “do whatever they choose” and the students are guided carefully through a structured environment that provides for positive, creative, informative, choice making.
Secondly, giving students choices takes a lot of planning. TAB is no joke. You need to plan and anticipate certain questions, theories, and ensure the materials are available as well as the distribution. And, TAB encourages working in centers. There is no way that would work in my educational environment. The kids would treat it like recess. Which means I had to build kits etc. for different tables/materials so the media was accessible to all.
Thirdly, TAB ain’t for sissies. While it does provide for some AH-MAZING authentic engagement, you better have some amazing classroom management plans. Because, a lot of TAB depends upon students being able to task themselves. On being personally responsible. In middle school. in elementary school. in high school.
So, when one of my mentors, way back when, encouraged me to explore TAB, I just nodded and walked away.
But, then came THIS year. You know I moan on here all the time about engagement and authentic engagement. It is soo important, critical, in the middle school years. For many of our students middle school marks the last time they will be actively enrolled in a visual art class. I want them to LOVE it. I want them to take away a lifelong love of some aspect of visual art be it art history, an artist, a style, a method, or aesthetics.
Also, I’m insane and willing to do anything to make this happen. I also, (insanely) want to be the best Art Teacher in the World. Ha! It is nuts. It is super crazy. But, when I think about lesson plans, projects, classroom management etc. I’m always thinking: “Is this the best for my students? Is this the best, period.?
Yeah, I’m crazy. Let’s just establish that.
So, far, I’m LOVING how much the students are LOVING TAB. I’ve polled them -informally- and they really like having a choice. They also really like having their talents acknowledged. Most of all, I see so much more exploration and trying happening in class. And, I don’t cringe when I have to say: “You have more talent that this piece shows. I know you can do better,” because I know that student has options wherein we can better incorporate his/her talents.
My TAB lessons are not entirely open to the students choosing whatever they want. I’m following a fairly tight structure, because my students aren’t prepared for me to just “unleash” them. We don’t encourage much independent, divergent thinking anymore at school. And, you should see how their minds are bent by directions that say things like: “You can also choose to do a project that is not on this list. BUT, you must first conference with Ms. J. and plan out your project.” I’ve had a lot option to do this, and with great results btw.
If you are interested, here is how I’m structuring the “unpacking” of TAB right now:
1. I present a topic -usually based on Art History
2. We discuss as a class
3. I introduce a question/statement. I explain this is like an essay question that I expect the students to answer by creating artwork instead of writing. For instance, for the Pop Art project the statement is: “Your work should recognize that Pop Art refers to creating art from everyday objects.”
4. I present 2-3 “five minute or less” demos on 2-3 different projects
5. Students can pick a project OR opt to design their own (but must meet with me first)
6. Students get materials and work
7. I keep a projection up with the overall question/statement along with a “To-Do” list and an “Expectation” list. Both lists have less than 5 items.
8. I circulate and aid as needed.
9. My grading rubric etc. refers back to the overall question/statement
What about you? Would you try TAB in your classroom? Are you doing TAB now? What do you think? DO you think your students learn better? Are they more engaged? Do you see more creative expression and exploration? I know my answers are emphatic “yes’s.”