Shifting Focus


A new school year is upon us and with that comes great changes to the art room. I am excited to shift the focus in my classroom. We will be working with a “new” way of becoming artists. We will focus on building artistic behaviors and creating artwork from conception to final work. The students will have more control and choice over materials and techniques to solve “problems” given to them. And we will be writing about the process and the decisions made along the way. This is a way of teaching art called TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior).

~First blog entry on my art classes’ new website.

Why am I shifting focus? Sometime last year I had found this Facebook group for art teachers and it was a gold mine. Here was this group of people like me from all over the world wanting to share and discuss all things about teaching art. It was from this group that I was introduced officially to this idea of choice or modified-choice in the art room. Some of it was familiar as I was starting to offer more choice to my kids, but I was still a mostly “teacher-focused” art room.

One day as I was standing in the hallway between classes (as teachers are supposed to do) I was focused on the display cases in front of me and something occurred to me: every single painting in the case was identical. I mean there were some differences in the trees and the clouds and the mountains, but for all intents and purposes they were the same. It was then and there that I decided no more. I wanted my kids to think, to have a voice, to create something “original”. And choice was going to be the way.

Back to the Facebook group. It was from this group that I was introduced to Katherine Douglas, a pioneer in TAB, Ian Sands, Melissa Purtee and the other art teachers at Apex High School in North Carolina, and Colleen Rose, an art teacher from Ontario. Along with a few other TAB teachers, they helped me to understand what TAB could do for me and, more importantly, for my students. The teachers at Apex wrote this 5 part series on choice in the HS art classroom. This helped me to see how wonderful it could be. (parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) I would like to thank them for all their help over the past few months.

I tried out choice several times during this past school year (here, here, and here), well, sort of choice. I guess it was more of a modified choice. I learned a lot about how my students would handle have such “freedom”. I learned what I could handle. And I saw first hand what my students could create without me. That was the best one.

So, I decided to make the shift from a teacher-focused classroom to a student-focused classroom. I no longer wanted to come up with the lesson where the outcome has already been decided. I want to be surprised. I want my students to go through journeys similar to the journeys I go through when I make art. I want them to know why they made a certain choice. I want them to be able to talk about their work. I want them to stop copying others. I want them to learn from their mistakes and to take chances. I want my classroom motto (stolen from Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame) of “Take Chances. Make Mistakes. Get Messy.” to actually mean something.

And, I think this fall, it will.

4 responses »

  1. Good for you. I hope you have “admin” who support your efforts. How can students think like artists if never allowed to “think like artists?” I have taught art this way for more than 20 years. Now, I too, found TAB; I just didn’t know there was a name for it. I have stayed the course until I was reprimanded for “not having everyone on the same project.” I explained until I was blue in the face. I made a flow-chart for the superintendent so she would understand nearly all projects fell under “the big idea” of composition, but everyone was attacking the problem in a “differentiated way.” Well, I sort of lost my battle with teaching art in the public school, but that’s why I have my “Artist Within” summer camps for the kids where we get to learn the TAB way. I am the man who asks many questions. Call me “Socrates.” I am happy for you.

    • I’m sad that your admin acted that way. For me, my admin is pretty hands off when it comes to what I do, as long as I differentiate and follow IEPs and stuff. So, i think they will be good with it. I look forward to this year…all the ups and downs.

  2. Congratulations on taking the leap of faith! One day (soon!) you will look back and think “Why did I wait so long?!”. I switched over to TAB 7 years and ago and have been blessed with so many wonderful mentors through the years. You will find this group to be generous and compassionate and extremely helpful. Hold onto your hat, because this school year the kids will blow you away!

  3. Pingback: Day to Day in My TAB Classroom | Art Class by Mrs. B

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