Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Something kind of TAB-ish

Today (err, yesterday) I posted to my Facebook "Fanpage" (which still cracks me up... as I think that my "fans" are really just people I know, and maybe feel bad for me and thus "like" my fanpage... which is still appreciated, don't get me wrong!): 

Trying to get back to my blog (which has to be feeling a bit abandoned) but in the thick of curriculum rewriting and rethinking the teaching style. (You know, reinventing the wheel.)
Thank you to my amazing brother-in-law who always keeps me real, it has been 187 days (now 188) since my last entry.  I mean, it is called project ART A DAY, right?  What's wrong with me? 

As my title states and as I mentioned in that post, I am rethinking the way I teach.  Now, this isn't a total rethinking so much as a philosophical thinking.  I know what you are thinking, "What the hell does that mean?"  I think it means that I have a style of teaching, that evolves and shifts depending on my students, and that I believe that my style has always been a little bit TAB-ish without calling it that, or even realizing it had a name.
My process has changed a little from the above after working with my music counterparts on... how to create a more cohesive language for the entire fine arts department.  This makes the artistic process EXPLICIT to the students, and demonstrates how many "words" move fluidly within that process. 

I also want to preempt this conversation and say that I also STRONGLY believe in teaching the "Artistic Process" of Plan, Create, Critique/Refine, and Reflect (again, can be another post), and I believe that this goes hand in hand with TAB (not the same as TAB, but is necessary to discuss and understand or question art).  I think that I'm working currently on wrapping my head around what this all looks like for me and my students (because I also believe that changes depending on your "clientele"), as well as MAKING IT EXPLICIT in my classrooms.  So here goes trying to explain my journey in a nutshell.

Sometime this past fall, I was on the ever-so-lovely-and-engaging facebook art teachers page and Ian Sands said something like... "Anyone interested in learning more about TAB for HS, join this new page!" And so I did. I had heard about TAB before, but really only in reference to elementary school teaching, and it sounds very Montessori-esque.  Which in my mind, sounds amazing, but in all logistical purposes sounds like a free-for-all mess.  Stations open at time for kids to make any kind of art they see fit.  Pro-CHOICE based teaching; students are given a theme perhaps and then can use any material available to them to create upon that theme or prompt.  (Now, don't yell at me because I realize that I may have over simplified, or really butchered that, but that's what I read into when I first saw posts about this.)  TAB stands for Teaching for Artistic Behaviors.  The concept of this sounds like an art utopia where we all come out full STEAM ahead, with amazingly creative problem solvers who will save the world from our current state of disaster.  (Which, if you know me, you know that I do have deep faith in our next generation and have seen what type of kids are next in line to rule to world.  I feel optimistic, but I will save that for another post.)

I decided to ease on in and creep around listening to what people post.  Oh wait, I didn't do that.  Nope.  I posted right off the bat like the ignorant jerk I am.  (And another shout out to Melissa Purtee who responded so quickly and was highly supportive of my floundering questions).  Here are 5 big picture thoughts from that discussion that have me constantly thinking about my teaching:

1. I might not be Nik Wallenda, but...:  I wouldn't say I'm all in or all out.  I'm teetering with my toes in each pool thinking about how my students still need tools in their toolbox through very process oriented projects (that is not to say that the outcomes look the same, so much as there are very specific expectations to fulfill to demonstrate to me that the students are "getting" it).  I feel like if I just give my class "free reign" then their art may or may not turn out like crap.  Only because many of them just don't have "tools in their toolbox" to help them succeed.  

The beginning of a PPT in Sculpture on Artistic Behavior. 
1.5  Free for all is a free-for-all?:  I also wonder along those lines, how we have students who are so used to being told what to do, how to succeed (ie get that grade), that they don't know how to handle the "free reign" quite yet.  I feel like easing them into this process is more successful (for me).  On a tangent, (as I usually do) I said to my sculpture class (who are currently my guinea pigs for this process), "My rubric that you see for this first assignment looks differently than my usual rubric, as many of you know me.  I'm really thinking about never grading again.  What do you think of that?"  And the students said, "Wait, what?  So, everyone gets an A?" or "So, if we hand it in on time, we get an A?"  They just are so wrapped up in a society of grading, that they aren't truly creating for creation/art sake.  I feel like in my classes, they are getting steps closer to that, but still ultimately want to know what they can do to get an A.  It's a bit painful... but I also wonder, so how DO I grade them (as I'm required to).  That's another post.  

An example from that PPT about how artists make choices.
2.  Thinking deeper:  I love the idea of pushing my students to think deeper.  I typically suggest ideas and say, "now you don't have to do that.  There are a million ways to accomplish your goal.  I'm just throwing out ideas to get you to think outside the box."  But, are they really THINKING deeper?  And is that okay?  Because I'm still giving them skills to think beyond the expectations (which most of our students are driven by... "here's the expectation, so you can get an A."  

3.  Back on the grading wagon:  I hate the idea of a grade.  I really do.  I do believe that students should be able to demonstrate concepts just like in any class, to receive the marks.  However, I also believe that some things you just can't measure like that.  For instance... risk taking, connections to life, EFFORT (omg, how do you measure and quantify effort... really?), participation (wow, I have come up with rubrics upon rubrics and honestly, I just can't stay consistent with that to keep it up).  


4.  Art shows and competitions:  How to fore-go some of the end result, polished products that are expected for art shows, for the real learning and growth that occurs in a TAB-ish classroom?  Who doesn't want to show off the amazing work of their students?  What students don't want to be recognized for their hard work and vision OUTSIDE of their school environment?  Yet, consistently, my students are not the "chosen ones" because their work doesn't fit into a neat and tidy little box, check-marked on a rubric full of expectations that I never set for them as their teacher.  I want to teach students to be artists and creative problem-solvers.  At this time in their life, I don't need them to be technical savants.  (Now, don't get huffy... I'm clearly on the technique/process bandwagon.  I just think about the benefits and detriments of only teaching with that sole motus operandi.)


5.  Time; it's never on my side:  How to take the time needed in a semester long course to fully develop this process.  How to then get over the emptiness that occurs when that semester is over and knowing you may never see those students again (ie to selfishly develop the process further).   Another part of the time factor is how do I fully get to spend time with all of my kids who are on totally different playing fields.  It went from "Hey, everyone!  Look over here, this is the next step" or "Hey, look!  Johnny just had an issue with this that I see a lot of people struggling with.  Let's talk about different ways to overcome this obstacle," to "Mrs. Taylor! I need you when you are done with her." "Mrs. Taylor!  I need you too!"  "Mrs. Taylor!  When can I come talk with you?"  Which is amazing, but also so challenging!  Especially when I teach Ceramics 1 in conjunction with Sculpture (in two separate rooms with an adjoining door).  Thankfully my students are super self sufficient this semester and very good at dialoguing together about their issues.  Hence the even more student centered studio experience.  (Wow!  It's happened without me even realizing it!)  But again, this seems to work for this "type" of group of kids.  The more advanced level.  The kids who can problem solve more on their own because they all have some tools in their toolbox already.  My other "fear" sometimes is being able to provide all the tools and materials that the students would want or need in order to create their artwork.  I might have to teach a student to grommet (for example), but then teach another to solder.  Again, I see this as teachable moments for all, but I want to then see it in practice.  Hence... why I "toe the line" like Nik Wallenda.  (Ok, not at all like Nik Wallenda, but you get the analogy... right?)

I do fully admit that that was more like 10 things crammed into the space of 5.5, but I can't help it.  I'm not so neat and tidy as I'd like to be.  Plus, this is a blog, not a research paper, for crying out loud!  

Any thoughts?  Leave them in the comments below!  I'll be posting about my TAB-ish sculpture class this semester most specifically (but will also try to update lessons I've taught, and my Adapted Art class which is comprised of multi-needs students paired with gen-ed mentors.  It is one of the most fulfilling classes I have ever taught.  More on that later!) 

Example of how artists choose materials.
Another example of how artists ask questions.
And then I show them an example of how when an artist chooses the material, how then essential question and form follow along.  I then show many slides of different types of forms created with plastic bags.