Saturday, January 16, 2010



A Proud Moment


You need to know that I think of myself as a facilitator more than a teacher. A person who facilitates creative endeavors and processes. Someone that helps young people look inside themselves for ideas and teaches them to cherish and value those processes.

My job is quite wonderful, I have lots of autonomy, and creative freedoms. The classroom teachers I work with are very accepting of the TAB model. Occasionally, I have moments of insecurity when I see traditional classroom art. You know what I mean; matched sets of art "in the style of so and so". These pieces look so polished, that I find myself wondering if I'm doing the right thing.

These doubts go away when I remember what happened last month. I had a first grader approach me at the store, or church, or some other non-school venue. "Mrs. Dyer," she said, "next art time me and my friends want to do an art show. Well, maybe not next art time, because we still have to make all the art, but probably the art time after that." I told her that sounded like a great idea, and that I would be able to help if she had any questions.

The next art time she showed up with a couple hand drawn pictures (one of them was quite striking, an abstract image filled with lines and angles, juxtaposed against a couple of rather cliched hearts and flowers). "These are the first things for my art show. I'm doing more today, and so are my friends. We want to do the art show today, in class, can we?" I assured her that would work well, and that I was looking forward to it. We discussed the set up time, and together determined that fifteen minutes would be enough time to set things up. "Would you like me to let you know when there are fifteen minutes left?" I asked her. "Sure! That's great!" she responded.

She and the other students (three or four girls, with a couple boys) got right to work. I observed her and her friends grab cardboard from the construction center. The leader pulled a monoprint (something that she discovered on her own) and showed her friends. They squealed and began to make their own monoprints. Another student observed that if you peeled off the first layer of paper, it revealed the corrugated cardboard underneath--she quickly made some prints with this. "Ooooh, look Mrs. Dyer! It's kind of a pattern."

With the deadline approaching, I informed the art show group, "Okay guys, you'll need to clean up your centers and start setting up your art show." They quickly divided the tasks. Two would clean up the paint center, one would help select art pieces, and the others would assist the leader with the art display. "You should get to decide where to put them, it was your idea," they told her. "Can we use the whiteboard, Mrs. Dyer?"

They decided on placement of the pieces (of course at this point many of the other class members decided they wanted things in the art show, too. An argument ensued and I had to force myself to step back--I'm glad I did. The art show kids reminded the others that they had been invited to be in the art show at the beginning of class. "And, we had to clean up early to be ready in time," the art show kids said. "It's not fair for you guys to not clean up early, and still put your stuff up." Most of the students begrudgingly agreed that was true. "Besides," the art show kids continued, "you can share your stuff another time during sharing time anyway.") Finally it was time! The classroom teacher arrived early as promised, in order to see the show.

Each of the students proudly described the media and processes they'd used to create their pieces. Observers asked a few respectful questions, which were thoughtfully answered: "How come you painted just flowers?" "Mostly because flowers have lots of colors, and I like flowers, me and my mommy plant flowers outside, but they died now, so she can have these flowers."

It was over in under ten minutes. I had hoped they would let me borrow some of their art works, but they all went home, "I'm going to my dad's tonight and I want to show him this robot picture, the one that was in a real art show!"

The students hurried up the stairs, and out the door, with tangible evidence that artwork, THEIR ARTWORK, matters. And that is when my self-doubt vanishes.







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.