In this part of my reflection on the 2014-15 school year, I decided that I would look back over the changes that took place by bringing TAB/CBE into my classroom. While I have offered modified choice in my room for a while, this was the first year to fully implement the TAB pedagogy. It has been a huge learning experience, both for my students and for me.
I had heard and read about all the wonderful things that have an open studio could do, but to be honest, I was still skeptical. Could my student population really do well with such freedom? The answer is yes.
Let’s start with some positives from this year:
- Kids worked through artwork until they were satisfied…at times starting a new piece because it just wasn’t working. This just amazed me. I’ve had kids work hard on things before, but never with the fervor I’ve seen this year. They pushed themselves. And it paid off.
- Kids learned from other kids on how to do something I didn’t teach them. They would see something someone else had discovered and asked how to do it.
- Kids tried new things, even when previously saying they didn’t like such-n-such medium. Some would try out a material, such as clay, just to discover they still didn’t like it. Others would finally break away from what was known to the, only to find a new love.
- Clean-up/ownership of materials and tools. I have to clean a lot less than in previous years. I am not seeing a mis-use of materials (paper, paint, etc.–except for ez-cut.) Trusting my kids to be responsible with tools and materials was probably my biggest hang-up when moving to full choice. But, I was pleasantly surprised when tools got returned, when I still had erasers at the end of the year, and when the majority of brushes were cleaned. I think that giving the students trust to maintain the studio was a big factor in this area.
- I am noticing I use the word kids a lot. My students are in high school and probably wouldn’t want to be called kids, and they aren’t related to me, but they feel like my kids. This year I have had the most comfortable relationships with students. I know more (and some things I would like to forget..can you say tmi?) about my students this year than I ever have before. I think this stems from a combination of reading their blog posts and the type of conversations I was able to have with my students. Because I wasn’t focused on them creating a certain thing or following a specific rubric, I was able to go deeper with them into their work and their lives.
- Lots of growth happened this year. Not every student grew. Some kids are just there for the credit. They don’t care one way or another, and no matter what you say/do or don’t say/do isn’t going to change that. There were classes I took in both HS and at my first college where I felt the same. It’s normal. It’s okay. And I accept that. But, for the majority of students, they did care. I saw them push themselves. Some grew in drawing skills. Others in painting. Some grew in meaning put into their artwork. I had a couple that finally stopped copying things from the interwebs and began making their own. One student who did the bare minimum for 90% of the year finally came alive at the end once he realized he could things in an anime style if that is what interested him. He didn’t pass, but he promised me that the flame I saw at the end would be there for the whole time next year. I have a hundred stories to tell about student growth. It makes me smile when I think about them.
- The art making didn’t always stop with just creating the theme artwork. Many students just kept going. They wanted to create this or that, so I let them. Why stop the creativity? Why make them sit there and do nothing?
- My school is a 1:1 macbook, and this year I felt I really had the students using the computers in a positive way. We weren’t using it just because it was an expectation. We were using it to communicate and reflect. The website/blogs created by the students and by myself were a great thing, even if their writing needs some help.
While I did change things during the year to better meet the needs of the students, I still have areas that need addressing over the summer. And of course, there are areas I feel that if I just changed it up a bit, students would be more successful.
- Helping the students to understand why we do the blogs. We started out with artist behaviors. The students wrote about what they were doing and addressing the behaviors. I thought they were moving along and understanding things. So, we moved to artist statements after winter break. Nope. Most students weren’t there yet. I then gave them the option to either do an artist statement or pick 2 behaviors like we did previously. After reading their end of year surveys, I know they didn’t really see the point of them. A handful of students did (and by handful I mean like 5), but the majority couldn’t see the point of writing in art and thought it was just busy work or for a grade. This is good to know. I know my student population has an issue with writing, and I am sure that our state testing is partially to blame. They are not good at writing, sad to say. But, what I gleam from all this is that I need to help them to see that artists write about what they do. That reflecting on the actions they are doing can help them grow as an artist. And, that writing is not just for English and History class.
- I did well creating demos for the students, but I feel I could do more. I feel that I left some things up in the air…like color mixing…and some kids never explored that on their own. Perhaps if I give them a taste of what color mixing could do…it could bring more life to their artwork.
- The students have the ideas, they just need a bit more help as to what is possible out there–both in image, media, and technique. How do I get them to see beyond the typical art room materials? How can I encourage them to try something new? How can I get them to go deeper and think further beyond the obvious? I need to address my line of questioning, the way images get shown to them for inspiration, and helping them to make more dynamic composition decisions.
- This is the first year I had all 3 sculpture levels doing ceramics. It was a lot of trial and error. While the students were happy with how things ran, it could be better. I haven’t figured this out yet, but I will…even if every year we change some things to make it better.
- Themes were tricky. Ones that I thought would be killer…dropped dead. I like working with the themes and I think, especially for my art 1 kiddos, they worked well. Feedback said the students liked to have a starting point for their artwork. Things I have been considering for next year…giving the entire list of themes and having them pick as they please…but then how would our padlet brainstorming work with that method. Having the students suggest themes and then having a vote. Something else?
- Feedback and critique needs to change…big time. I give personal feedback as I walk around, but I feel I miss students or I hit them too late in the process and they have yet to fully understand things can still be changed and you can go back to an earlier stage. I want to do critiques more…especially mid-project. (And definitely mid-project in ceramics.) I am hoping that this topic will be brought up at the TAB Institute this summer so someone can help me to suss this out.
I have more questions, but this has gone on long enough. I feel that I will always have questions and that is a good thing. I can’t become stagnant and complacent in my art studio. No one will benefit from that. All in all, it was a fabulous year. I mean, there wasn’t one day this year where I woke up and said I didn’t want to go to work. That says something…don’t you think? And I know that things will just get better and better if I keep putting my students first by helping them to think like artists and behave like artists and create like artists.
Big changes are on the horizon at my school. Our entire admin staff is changing. We are getting a new principal and moving from 4 assistant principals to an assistant, an associate, and a dean of curriculum. And, they will all be new people. I’ve had a chance to sit and chat with our new principal. He is very easy to talk to. I told him about all the changes that I’ve done this past year. I talked about TAB and choice and the pedagogy. He thought it was wonderful and that it aligned with something that was talked about at some principals/superintendents conference. That made me happy and feel that I was doing the right thing. And, surprisingly, when I said my final good-bye to our current principal, he said something I never thought he would. We didn’t always see eye to eye, and sometimes I thought he just didn’t notice and didn’t understand. But, he told me to keep doing what I was doing. To keep my expectations high and keep pushing the students. He said that that is what they will remember and what they will appreciate.
And to that, I say, they do. And I will.