Thursday, November 10, 2011

Teaching for Artistic Behavior: Art is Not Easy

Ha! I love the way our innermost thoughts work their way to the surface when we create. In this case, it would be this student's struggle to create artwork that matches his standard.

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.

In the event you don't know, TAB is, ultimately, a grass-roots organization that recognizes and supports the validity of choice-based arts education. An organization? Well, yes, but one that is heavily researched, provides conferences and learning opportunities for educators AND is endorsed by many academic institutions. It's also a bit of a philosophy as well. Some students work at the window while others mix color palettes at their seats.

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.
Look ma, we're engaged! And, we're all doing different stuff!

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.
These two students creatively "feed" off of one another. They really are into peer-critiquing one another.

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.
exploring blending and shading -without prompting!

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."


  1. Hi Amy,
    I need your email again. Computer lost it!! I am interested in hearing more about TAB. It sounds scary to me with 900 kids. Hope to talk to you soon. Lauralee

  2. I love this post! You know that I'm trying out TAB as well. So far I have set up a Drawing Center, Painting Center, and Collage Center. I plan to add Printmaking, Sculpture, and Weaving. In elementary, I deploy this as follows: I do a short lesson on art history, a specific artist, a technique, or how to use different media. I then put an "Idea of the Day," on my projector screen such as, "Get a seashell from the box and draw it as accurately as you can. Repeat to make an interesting composition." Students then have 3 choices: 1.) They can do a project based on the Idea of the Day (like the seashell drawing); 2.) They can choose from one of 75 different art starter ideas I have posted on index cards on a bulletin board in my room; or 3.) They can submit their own idea to me in writing (a few sentences).

    I don't have them work AT the centers either. They have a box of supplies that always stays on their table with pencils, erasers, glue, scissors, markers, and crayons. They "go shopping" at the center of choice and return to their tables to work. So far the kids are loving it! It tales a LOT of up-front work on the teacher's part to make it more of a spontaneous experience for the students, as you have said. I am getting the occasional lazy, lame piece from a student, but I am also getting some amazing, original stuff that I never got last year.

  3. Interesting to see this. My school has introduced IDE(Innovative Designs for Education). It is a PBL based program and I started using it last year in my middle school art room. It is a lot of upfront work for me but while the students are working at different stations I have time to engage with individual students. This program is being used in science and math with plans to expand it. I personally love it because students are in charge of their learning and for the most part they are engaged. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Amy, I was at a workshop at my conference where someone was discussing how she uses (and LOVES) TAB. But she teaches in a rather exclusive (pricey) private school and has the room and resources to make this work. I understand the concept but find it a little scary. I already do a lot of stuff where there's a lot of opportunity for personal decision-making, and know how your room can get piled high with the 'stuff' of it all. Plus with the focus on assessment, it could be really challenging when everyone is doing something different. But I do understand why it can be successful in increasing engagement.

    Anyhow, I stopped in at your blog because I got a request to follow me on twitter and I have to laugh. So far my twitter account is a 'dummy' account - I signed up, you may recall, to use it to sign up for Pinterest since I didn't want to use my facebook (more personal than prfessional) account. On twitter I do not have any followers (but yours is my 2nd request) and do not follow anyone, and have not written even one tweet and not even sure I understand the whole thing. So if I say 'yes' to you, don't be shocked that I don't really exist!!

  5. Ok so, I have just taken over a middle school art program mid semester...I was hired on Friday and started today... Monday.. I am a believer in TAB and must be totally deranged because I am trying to switch the class over to TAB methodology. I am obviously naive, but a young teacher can put up with a fair amount of awkwardness, for a while... anyhow I am having the kids and myself re organize the room into centers and then will be diving in full force. Advise? I have worked in elementary TAB programs and just don't see any other way to teach art. I have introduced the idea of an open studio and started to get them amped but I am sooo clueless as to a more than three day out plan as of right now... oh god help! anybody! my e-mail is if you have instructional materials/ philosophy/ sage advise you can pass along... thank you oh network of genius TAB teachers... I believe!

  6. Hi Amy,

    I am educating myself on how to best begin TAB in my art elementary classroom which is both title 1 and a part of a dual language program with my classroom being an English environment. More than half my students are ESL learners and very low in English. Any resources or tips to help with ESL, particularly with the primary grade levels??


  7. Sure! My answer is pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Posters are helpful too. I try to always offer a visual explanation in addition to an oral and written explanation. I offer my kiddos packes when teaching TAB tha offer written and pictorial information. I heavily rely on these bc many of my students have reading challenges. I hope this helps!

  8. This is my first year as a TAB teacher. I have changed things weekly to perfect my system and the students are finally accepting responsibility for supplies and the system in general.
    My problem is that I cannot get any WOW work from them. They have great ideas, some come through with very inventive ways to solve their problems, but everyday I have the question of "can I take this home now?". In their hand they have a a bank box, some tp rolls halfway glued to it and they want to hand it in. They won't take it to the next level.
    I am struggling with the answers too. What is practice? Do they take that home without an artist's statement? A piece of WOW work is finished with a statement attached, do they turn it in for a grade first, or should they be able to share that day?
    Any help would be appreciated. These small details are driving me crazy because I know there must be a simple way to do it. Thanks.

  9. Amy--I found your blog very belatedly. Thank you for your thoughtful writing. I like to tell people that I began teaching this way in an effort to survive with difficult working conditions--960 students per week, small room, few supplies, no time between classes and so on. It does NOT require a fancy private school to work--quite the contrary. For anyone interested in the informational support available here is a list of our resources:
    Internet Resources for choice-based art education
    Katherine Douglas





    SMOKE AND MIRRORS: Art Teacher as Magician











    Adapted from the iPad version for Kindles






    TWITTER @twoducks

    Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) is a nationally recognized choice-based art education approach to teaching art. Developed in Massachusetts classrooms over thirty five years, and through courses and research at Massachusetts College of Art, the Teaching for Artistic Behavior concept enables students to experience the work of the artist through authentic learning opportunities and responsive teaching.
    Choice-based art education regards students as artists and offers them real choices for responding to their own ideas and interests through the making of art. Choice-based art education supports multiple modes of learning and assessment for the diverse needs of students.
    Teaching for Artistic Behavior Inc. is a grassroots organization developed by and for art teachers, and serves to promote and support choice-based art education in public and private education settings.

    Many regards,
    Kathy Douglas

  10. Hi Amy, I am a new art teacher.. looking for inspiration, the TAB sounds great. What is on the two list you mentioned here--"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." Thank you so much. (hope you see this!) Brenda