Thursday, July 20, 2017

What TAB or Choice Based looks like in my classroom... Part 1

About 2 years ago now, I first learned about TAB- Teaching for Artistic Behaviors.  The idea was interesting, and I joined the Facebook TAB for HS Group to learn more.  I'll be honest here- I'm not entirely sure if I'm doing it "correctly" in my classrooms, but I do what works for my students (so far) and continue to adapt and reflect on that each and every semester.  

You can see a bit of my journey in my previous posts: Something Kinda' TAB-ish, and Something Kinda' TAB-ish part deux, and TABish and More- NAEA 2017 Presentation.  

In this post, I want to outline how I used what I learned from my guinea pigs (my sculpture class), to apply to future classes and how I am slowly transforming my classes into a more TAB or Choice Based format. (Please note:  I use the words TAB and Choice Based interchangeably here because, while they are not exactly the same thing, I teeter between these and so therefore I mash them together in my verbiage.)  

Sculpture (Spring 2016):
The setup:  Teaching a class of 18 Ceramics 1 students (all hand building) in one classroom, and a class of 10 sculpture students in the adjoined room.  These 10 sculpture students were juniors and seniors- many I recruited to get the program started.  They were an ideal group of students to challenge my teaching because they were all very smart, very creative, and in general a great group of students receptive to out-of-the-box teaching.  These kids were self directed on the most part, so I was able to run between the classrooms without worrying too much about keeping them engaged.  We have class every day for 53 minutes, and it is a semester long class.  

In our classes, we have an expected curriculum through our district (what is being taught by us should be the same as being taught at our other high school to ensure kids are receiving the same experience).  I took a twist on this and feel that if my students are learning the same concepts and techniques, their "experiences" may still be very different, and that is okay by me.  This is where I shifted from project to artwork.  In the past, I had created the project from start to finish, and had them follow steps to achieve great looking artwork.  Students learned skills safely, and created "artwork" that was unique to them, but when you put theirs next to their peers, they looked like they could be a series from one student.  (I feel that the words "cookie cutter artwork" can be pretty harsh, but that's basically what it is.)  Now, I learned to teach like that!  Most art teachers have.  I remember learning how to teach concept and just thinking... my kids won't get that.  They just won't be able to wrap their heads around that in order to actually make the amount of "product" that I am expected to teach.  These are what I call, PROJECTS.  (My definition of projects:  Highly structured, teacher designed and researched lessons that create a similar product for each student.)

I began the class by explaining how this is new for me, and how we are going to try this together.  We talked about Artistic Behaviors- ways in which artists think and approach creating and their own personal creative process.  This is how we approached our units.  For example, I taught a unit on subtractive processes, and I feel it is important (and fun) for the students to learn how to pour and carve plaster.  In my previous class, I taught this by showing a powerpoint on abstraction and showing examples from Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.  Students made sketches and started creating.  If they made mistakes, it wasn't that big of a deal because we talked about how their work can morph from those mistakes, and since it was abstract, there was less risk.  

This time, I started the unit talking about How Artists Observe.  I can't even tell you how different this was for me, and my students.  Starting this conversation, the students kind of stared at me.  I asked them, "In which ways do artists observe, before they create?"  The conversations transformed from "with our eyes" to "by feeling an object with our eyes closed" and then into "listening to the community discussion."  It was amazing!  Then, students researched and sketched their ideas from THEIR observations.  They created additive clay maquettes, practiced subtractive techniques with floral foam, poured plaster of their choice of size, and carved away!  Lastly, we talked about ways to display the work (on a pedestal, handing on a wall, hanging from the ceiling...).  

Here is their Subtractive Plaster ARTWORK: 
(please ignore the plaster dust- didn't have time to touch up the photos)
Can you tell what these pieces are about?  You might notice how some students changed their artwork from maquette to subtractive plaster artwork, or how some faced the challenging and frustrating limits of the materials (oh no!  It broke!  now what?!).  I found it INCREDIBLE to read about each student's journey in researching, creating, and creatively problem solving, and discussing these artworks, the deep personal meaning they had with these works, and the investment and engagement was phenomenal.  Their critiques were profound as they discussed these ideas and the various ways to communicate visually, as opposed to looking at and critiquing the same "project."  
I was impressed by how my student artwork looked so different than it had prior, even though it was the same material and technique being demonstrated.  

Researched antlers and how the animal would fight
for its young (demonstrated through the scratch marks)-
ultimately displayed using wire posted to a pedestal)
Observed how water travels and carves out space.
Heard about the word Biomorphism and researched.  

During our mounting political environment,
student demonstrated how we are
linked together and divided politically-
neither side coming together.
Researched geometric prisms combined with organic matter. 
Originally created a heart to demonstrate her passion,
this student included the ceramic needle tool piercing the
heart to demonstrate her passion for ceramics.  
Researched mountain ranges and trails.  
Discussing the Syrian Refugee crisis.  
Demonstrating the highs and lows of mental illness.

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