Thursday, October 26, 2006

I teach art at Bountiful Elementary School, using the TAB teaching model. I stumbled on this method last year. It was my first year teaching art, and I was struggling. I had some students that loved every project every week, but many were dissatisfied.

One week I introduced pastels, and "Randy" loved it. He was usually disruptive, but not that week. He was engaged, fascinated with the pastels, and the way they'd glide over the paper. When the hour of art was over, he ran to me, breathless, "Can we do this again next week, Mrs. Dyer? Please?" I mumbled some sort of noncommital "we'll see, Randy", figuring that by the next week, he'd have forgotten all about it.

Randy walked into class the following week, and marched over to me as quickly as he could, "Mrs. Dyer! Mrs. Dyer! Are we going to use those same things today? You know, those papelle things?"

I was stunned. Here was a boy that was usually antsy, uninvolved, silly. He couldn't remember where the trash can was from week to week, but he remembered using pastels? Even if he couldn't remember how to pronounce it, I knew that, clearly, this was something he was excited about.
I had to disappoint him, "No, Randy, we're not using pastels today. But we are going to do something just as fun!" He just kind of hung his head, "Can we use them again another day?" he pleaded.

That was when I knew that I was going to make changes. I began by coming up with a "free time" table; after students finished the assigned project, they could use the free time materials as they pleased. The kids hurried through their assigned projects, then raced over to the free time materials, often creating complex and well thought out pieces. I thought to myself, "too bad we can't have free time for the entire art period". But I was convinced that somehow, that wasn't allowed, it was against the rules.

Fortunately, last November, as I was surfing the internet, trying to come up with a Thanksgiving themed art project, I came across this blog: It was a revelation! Here was an accepted method of teaching children art! Without forcing them to churn out cookie cutter projects! I read up on this method, mostly here:

I started making the transition in January 2006. And you know what? I haven't looked back!

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How does TAB work?

To implement TAB, I began with 1 center--the drawing center. It contains different drawing media: pens, pencils, crayons, markers, pastels, chalks, as well as various papers. Also included are dozens of different "How to Draw" books. We discuss as a class what artists draw. Some draw real things, or pretend things, or non-objective designs.

I also discuss the variety of drawing media available, and explain how to clean up.

It is amazing how much the kids enjoy this. I've recently added plastic animals and dinosaurs for the kids to look at while they draw.

The second week, I introduced the collage center, containing colored paper, glue, glue sticks, staplers, scissors, brads, and fabric.

I showed them some collages by Romare Bearden, as well as many student created works. I had to tell them how to determine what adhesive to use, and showed them the stickyometer poster.

They could then choose to go to the collage center, or the drawing center. The kindergartners LOVE the collage center. I love to watch them create. They are so free, so unlimited.

The third week, I opened the watercolor center, with watercolor pans, brushes and paper. The main focus for me was to teach them how to care for the brushes, put on smocks, and where to put their work to dry. They could then choose watercolor, drawing, or collage.

I kept it with just three centers for a few weeks (I see them once a week). It's important for them to learn to care for their supplies and the classroom. But while I wasn't introducing new centers, I did introduce new materials into existing centers, explaining their use (for example, I added whiteboards and markers to the drawing center). I also demonstrated new techniques (crayon resist with watercolors). And I've even started to integrate art principles and elements. Of course I included numerous examples and prints from to reinforce the concepts.

With those three centers humming along, I added the clay center. I did a super brief demo, showing them how to work with it. I did tell them that they could simply create with the clay and not try to keep it, or they could create things for me to fire in the kiln. I gave them admonitions like: "Clay can't be thicker than your thumb, or it will take too long to dry." and"Be sure to join any attachments securely". (Which we all know is MUCH easier said than done!)

Of course, the day I introduced clay, ALL the kids wanted to use it, but I had to limit it to eight. The kids grumbled a bit, but soon were off to other choices (it helped that I introduced craft sticks and chenille stems at the collage center!).

I tried to be as hands off as possible at the clay center. I stayed at the table with them, giving demonstrations as necessary. Joining clay is very difficult, but the determined kids will learn. One third grader created an adorable dog with toothpick thin legs barely hanging on. She wanted me to fire it. I knew there was no way that those pitiful little legs could hang on, I said, "Okay, but you'll need to put it on the shelf to dry." The shelf was only a couple of feet away, but poor little dog was legless by the time he got there! I will admit I felt more than a little coldhearted, but really, this is the only way for them to learn! The student sat with me, and I demonstrated joining and adding just a bit of moisture for her. She worked and worked on that dog, and it finally came together.

After clay was going (it took several weeks for all the students to have a chance, and I stayed at the clay center so they could all have some individual instruction), I was free to add some more centers.

First, I added painting with tempera paints. Next was the architecture or "temporary art", containing legos, blocks, cuisenaire rods, magnets, mosaic boards, and geoboards. This is where the students learn hands on about spatial properties and design elements.

I introduced the fiber center, with weaving and sewing. Kids truly enjoy this one, but they do need significant hands on instruction (especially threading the needles!) and I've put this one away for a bit.

The collage center was joined by the construction center. They can use cardboard, small boxes, and other castoffs to create. Kids have made houses, boats, star wars aircraft, cameras, and so much more here. Their adhesive of choice, though, is tape. Rolls and rolls and rolls of tape! I've spent some time with them, encouraging them to use some of the glues we have, or even to paper mache over the tape, but very few takers so far.

Now, midway through the year, with many centers going, I can work with the students on some art history and appreciation.

TAB is truly a wonderful teaching method. The kids can create things because THEY want to, not because I (or some other teacher) think they look neat. The energy and excitement in the room during class time is thrilling! I LOVE my job!

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A different approach to art education:

TAB stands for Teaching Artistic Behavior It is a research-backed, student driven method. Kids are taught a new concept, technique, or medium each class period, and then are able to choose what art to make.

The idea is to teach them to work like artists. We talk about how artists get ideas, where they get inspiration, and how they behave.

At the beginning of the year I have to focus extensively on set-up and clean-up routines. I want them to learn to be responsible for their own art experiences.