Choice-Based Art classrooms are working studios where students learn through authentic art making. Control shifts from teacher to learner as students explore ideas and interests in art media of their choice. This concept supports multiple modes of learning to meet the diverse needs of our students. Learn more at teachingforartisticbehavior.org
FAQ FOR TAB
by Nan E. Hathaway
I get questions all the time from art educators who are interested in Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB). Following are questions (FAQ) with practical answers based on my own personal experience in the classroom. I hope they will answer some of the questions you may have.
HOW ARE YOUR SUPPLIES SET OUT? DO YOU HAVE CENTERS? I arrange supplies in centers for student autonomy. In our studio, the centers are set up along the outside edges of the classroom so I can use the walls for signage and visual references. Students get their tools and materials and take them to nearby tables. The Clay Center and the Construction Center have their own, dedicated tables, but the others can be used flexibly, although there is one area for messy/wet materials (paint, papier-mâché, collage, pastels, etc.) and another for dry/clean materials (pencils, markers, fibers, paper-folding).
HOW DO YOUR STUDENTS GENERATE IDEAS? We talk about how idea finding (problem finding) is an important artistic behavior. Together we explore various ways artists generate ideas. We do this through observing and relating personal experience, slideshows, gallery experiences, videos, and sometimes serendipity. I try to emphasize ways in which artists stay alert to possibilities, follow their curiosity, and dig deep for subject matter. I practice “transparent teaching” and expose how, where, and when I find ideas for my own artwork.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON USING A FULL CHOICE APPROACH as opposed to using themes? My favorite approach tends toward full choice. When things are going well, there is a hum of student engagement, bursts of joyful discovery, and many possibilities in student work for me to “frame” for students or extend for greater depth and understanding. Occasionally student interest flags, or students show me that they need more scaffolding. This is when I might introduce a whole group theme, as a way to refocus attention, kick-start creative problem solving, and nudge learners to reach outside their comfort zones.
HOW DO YOU TEACH SKILLS? I teach skills in a variety of ways. The first is through whole-group, brief mini-lessons, or what are sometimes called “5-minute demos.” This is content I feel everyone should know. Next, I teach in small interest groups. This allows me to go into greater detail for those who are interested in diving deeper. Next, I offer one-to-one instruction for needs and interests specific to individual student work or individual need. One of my favorite teaching methods is student-to-student, carried out in any of the above configurations (whole-group, small-group or peer-to-peer).
ISN’T YOUR CLASSROOM CHAOTIC WITH SO MANY CHOICES? When students are new to my choice-based studio-classroom, centers “open” one at a time. Care is taken to familiarize students with the tools, materials and choices each center provides. Students are instructed in how the center and its contents are cared for. Clean-up and storage procedures are taught.
Students let me know when they are ready to use and care for a new center by responsibly using and caring for each in turn. The more centers that are “open,” the more students can spread out around the room. A well-organized choice-based classroom feels and appears busy and active, but should not feel chaotic or overwhelming.
If care for the studio or student conduct begins to unravel, that is the signal to re-teach procedures, reorganize supplies, limit materials, rework a center for easier access, or “close” a center until students demonstrate that they are ready for and can manage the responsibility you have given.
WHAT ABOUT ASSESSMENT? Assessment is usually the first thing art teachers ask me about, when considering the idea of choice-based art. “How do you assess student work when everyone is doing different things?” This is not insurmountable, if you reframe the question and think a little differently about what is important to assess.
Instead of assessing the students’ artwork, I assess students’ artistic behaviors. To what degree are students able to generate ideas, select materials, tools and techniques, work with focused attention, care for materials and tools, and reflect about their work, considering next steps and future direction for their work? What references or resources have students used in planning or creating their work? To what extent does the work reflect students’ interests, knowledge, or purpose? Have students decided to display or share their work in some way?
It seems to me that these questions and observations are more in keeping with the new National Model Content Standards, and more accurately reflect what we want our students to know and be able to do.
CONTEMPORARY EDUCATIONAL THEORY continues to drive movement toward the importance of choice and student ownership in teaching and learning. Choice-based teachers are ahead of this trend and positioned to mentor and share their work and knowledge with teachers who are ready to offer more student choice and autonomy.
Nan E. Hathaway teaches art at the middle school level. She is a member of Teaching for Artistic Behavior Leadership Team, is co-editor, with Diane Jaquith, of “The Learner-Directed Classroom: Developing Creative Thinking Skills through Art,’ and Contributing Editor to Arts & Activities. Visit her blog: studio-learning.blogspot.com and the Teaching for Artistic Behavior webpage: teachingforartisticbehavior.org/