Category Archives: Exploration

Restoration of a Practice

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As we enter the third week of the new semester, I thought I would update on my “restoration” of the school year. (Confused? See this post for some clarity.) I know it has been a short time, but I am starting to really feel like I am getting a hold of the school year. Maybe I should say it’s been a long time. I mean, it is January, and we’ve been in school for about 4 months already.

img_20200123_183235_2816965594421370195777.jpg       img_20200122_110002_4556652781830567087963.jpgI came into this semester in a different frame of mind. I realized in December that I needed to change what was happening in my art studio, what was happening with my students. I felt they weren’t getting the best out of our TAB studio. And, I knew it wasn’t really them, but it was me. I was doing what felt right last school year…what worked for last year’s students. I was doing what I thought I should be doing. I wasn’t really seeing what my kids were missing.

So, over winter break I sat down with notebooks and made lots of notes. I figured out what my students were needing, and got to planning.

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We started off with an exploration of the human face. It was very teacher-led, but it was a good way to start off the new semester. It got them engaged because teens love drawing eyes and lips. It helped to build their skills, and it was a nice ease back into art after 2+ weeks of sitting around.

But, it was what I decided to do after that I think is really making the difference. In art 1, we had been working through “The 9”, packets designed by Ian Sands that offer a lot of choice, but on a more basic, general subject matter (landscape, nature, architecture, etc.) These have been helpful, but I felt my art 1 students

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needed more. At one point in my TAB journey, we worked with themes. I felt it was time to incorporate themes again. What I ultimately decided was that students would have a choice of a new packet (this time portraits due to the exploration we did), any previous packet we have visited this year, and a theme. And, so far, so good. Students are much more engaged with the larger choice, and because everyone isn’t doing the same packet, there is much more delving into the ATP (Artistic Thinking Process). Also, the required student-teacher meeting between development and creation has really helped them as well.

I20200116_1003544689872620955959336.jpg am finally fully engaged this school year, and all it took was some deep reflection and a few tweaks to restore my passion for TAB and teaching.

“Lucky” Number 13?

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This year marks my 13th year as a high school art teacher.  I have spent all 13 years in the same district, at the same school.  I have had 3 principals, 3 superintendents, countless colleagues, and over 1000 students.  Lots of things have changed over the years–some sad, some bad, but mostly good.  I have been lucky to have found a teaching philosophy, TAB, that really resonated with me and kept me from giving up on teaching all together.

Through the years I have seen amazing growth and creativity.  I have watched students eyes get wide as they discovered clay or when they were told they could choose whatever material they wanted.  I couldn’t have asked for a better journey.

As anyone who has gone on a journey knows, it’s not all puppies and rainbows.  And, this year has really demonstrated that for me.  I am having one of the hardest years I have had since my first year teaching.  I’ve had one of the hardest groups of students to come through my program.  I’ve written more referrals in 3 months than I did in 10 years of teaching; and if you know me at all, I’m pretty lax when it comes to discipline.  I just don’t write referrals.  Cell phones drive me up the walls, and kids doing homework in my class instead of arting gives me agita.

But, what really gives me pause this year, is the level of thought being put into the work.  And it’s mostly in my Art 1 classes.  Unfortunately, it isn’t a very deep level of thought.  It’s like they feel thinking is the hardest thing they have ever been asked to do. (Perhaps it is, who knows?) Now, I have always met students where they are in their artistic journey, but this is so different that what I am used to. We’ve normally had to work more on skill and less on concept.  This year it is a lot of column A and a lot a column B.  It has made me question how I am facilitating my TAB studio.  I feel like what I am doing isn’t enough to help them grow during their time in my class.

I have been taking notes and reflecting on years past to see what I can introduce to help them snap out of this lazy thing they call high school.  I know it is in there somewhere.  I know I can find a way to challenge them.  I think it’s a combination of the packets, themes, and explorations.  I’m not 100%, and I have more planning to do.

Year 12: A Review

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I have completed my 12th year in eduction, and coincidentally, my 12th year as a

HS Art Teacher at the same school. It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. Many changes began and will continue in our district over the foreseeable future. Some good, some meh, and some make me say blerg.

Anyway, for the most part, things went really well in my TAB studio this year. This was my 6th year as a TAB teacher–I think. Maybe 5th. Who knows, and it isn’t really important how long I’ve taught under the philosophy…just that I believe whole-heartedly in it.

So, without further ado, here is my countdown (as usual) of my favorite moments of the 2018-19 school year.
7. CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS WITH ART: Not one, but two students (that I know of) changed their relationship with art. Both were freshmen this year and both took their required fine art credit this year to get it over with. About a month or so into the year, I over heard one girl telling her friends that she hated art, but because of they way I ran the classroom, she no longer felt that way. She liked the freedom and the faith I put in her. She liked making what she wanted to make. A while later, perhaps after the midterm ( the Tantamounter–old link, but you get the jist), another boy who was only there for the credit and I had over heard several times say he hated art, saw that he wasn’t limited to 2D work, and he came alive. Anytime he could figure out what to build to satisfy the packet umbrella, he would. He couldn’t wait to get started, and would go into the supply room and just dig and create. I am glad to say both signed up to stay with me in ceramics next year.


6. RAKU: Last year I was awarded a grant to purchase a raku kiln for my program. We finally were able to use it this year. It was so much fun. It was a great experience in building the community of my intermediate/advanced ceramics students, and it was such a learning experience for me…I learned a lot about propane. POST

5. ANOTHER GRANT AWARD: This year I applied for another grant, and after much delay, I was finally awarded at $5100 grant to purchase a pugmill for my ceramics program. We have so much dried up clay, and I just can’t wedge it fast enough. (And, due to our schedule and time limits and space, it is not that easy to have the students do it.) My order has been placed; now I am just waiting for it to arrive.


4. T.O.Y. NOMINATION: I was nominated for our Teacher of the Year award. While I didn’t win, I was happy that at least 2 people (you have to be nominated several times to make the final list) thought enough about my teaching and my presence at school to nominate me.
3. PACKETS: This year was the first year I based both my art 1 and beginning ceramics around “The 9“. The packets were developed by Ian Sands, and he let me use them in my classes. I used “The 9” in my art 1 classes and I developed “The 10” for my ceramic classes. I am really happy with how they worked in the classes.

With my art 1 students, we learned some basics about the topic, then the students went through the ATP (Artistic Thinking Process) when interpreting and creating their work. I found they gave the students a place to start with a broad overarching type of artwork, but helped to guide them in how and what they would make. I have some things to tweak for next year in the consideration questions and my input/talking with the students at that stage. But, overall, using them was a major success. I also thing that it will be a smooth transition to art 2 when we dive more into content of their art.

My beginning ceramic students have their own packets. We started with “The 10” before the end of the first semester, and got through 4 or 5. It was a good place to stop and a good place to pick up in intermediate next year. I think it has been helpful in developing style and interests in ceramic art. I think it is harder for many high school students to communicate in 3D than in 2D, so having the different genres of ceramic arts to guide them is important in the journey. I also think it helps to teach the ins and outs of working with clay. We shared and compiled information in different ways as I tried to figure it all out. But, I made lots of notes on how to proceed with The 10 next year in my large group of incoming beginner ceramicists. I am excited for the next group to come in to the studio.
2. SKETCHBOOKS: Every year I change how we are going to do sketchbooks. For the past two years I bought sketchbooks and then had the students buy them from me. This year, I wanted something more. I wanted their sketchbooks to mean something, since I was going to have the kids use them for everything (except drawing tests and artist Mondays). So, instead of purchasing books–either me or them–I decided to have them make coptic stitch sketchbooks. It was a great decision. We did them the first week of school–you know that time when schedules are finalized and kids are coming and going. It was a lot of prep work, but worth it in the end. Most kids took ownership of their books. It was a mostly relaxing way to start off the year, talk about what was needed to be talked about, and to chat with the kids. Most kids took their sketchbooks home at the end of the year.


1. AP STUDIO ART: This year, for whatever reason, my principal had me teach a section of AP Studio Art. We have only had 2D portfolios in the past, and my partner has taught the class(es) since I had started. I was both excited and scared. I found out before the 2017-18 year ended, so I convinced a ceramic student to do the 3D portfolio. She agreed and they created the class for her. My 2D students ended up not doing the portfolio. I knew they wouldn’t. AP was the only 2D class they could sign up for senior year. But, my ceramics girl…she kept going. She worked so hard, and created some of the most developed ceramic pieces that have gone through my program. She completed and submitted her portfolio with a week to spare. I don’t care what scores she gets because the process of doing the portfolio itself changed her and taught her so much. That’s what is really important. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

That about wraps it up. Not everything was good or easy, I did have a student pass away from congestive heart failure. That was hard. And, I had some rocky friendships with colleagues develop this year. But, I can’t dwell on that. I was lucky to have an amazing group of students this year–kids that made me want to be there for them and be a better teacher for them. Overall, it was a good year in the #DuckArt Studio. I wonder what lucky #13 will bring in August.

The Power of One Challenge

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I had hit a slump.  There were 2 packets of “The 9” left to complete for the year, but I wasn’t feeling either one of them.  I considered doing a watercolor exploration, but then decided my art 1 students really didn’t need anymore media explorations at this point in the year.  So, I did what any TAB teacher would do, I asked my TAB colleagues for suggestions.  It was there that I decided I would create a challenge based on Phil Hansen’s Ted Talk, “Embrace the Shake“.  Thus, the Power of One Challenge was born.

We started the challenge by watching the Ted Talk.  We had already watched it earlier in the year, but I told them we were going to watch it again as it was very important to what they were about to be asked to do.  Next, I gave them the run-down of the challenge.

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I didn’t give much other information.  I told them to think back to the video and the work that Phil Hansen made and HOW he made it.  I gave time for questions, and time for research.  They had a day and a half to look up info needed and to print it out before losing computers.  I limited computers because I have a love/hate relationship with out 1:1 school.  I really wanted them to concentrate on art making without the distraction of games and movies and whatever else it is they do on their laptops.

Some kids got the concept of the challenge right away.  Others took the whole day and half to grasp what was being asked of them.  Once they started, I just sat back and watched them learn, answering questions when asked.  They problem solved.  They were creative.  They all weren’t so original, but that often happens in an art class–one student sees another doing something they feel as cool, so they want to do it too.

I really enjoyed this 2 week challenge.  It gave me time to recoup as a teacher, but was super beneficial to my students.  When I go to do this challenge again, I will change how we present when all is finished.  And, I might change when we do it, and have it be their final exam.

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Watch through the slideshow to see what each artists “1 thing” was.  I am so proud of these kids.

A Week of Clay Exploration

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I’ve been a TAB teacher now for more than half my teaching career, and even I still struggle sometimes with creating exploration camps for my students that are open enough to give kids a taste of “new” mediums. One of these that I struggle with is clay. I know, I know, I teach ceramics, how could I struggle with this one? Giving students a week and a half to explore a medium that takes practice to understand is hard. I wanted to give them as much freedom as I could, but still limit some things due to practical aspects such as the amount of clay I have and the many students I have.

I had planned just on letting 2 of my 4 classes explore, but then decided I was too lazy to have 2 different explorations going on at the same time. And, I’m glad that I had all of them explore. Out of my almost 100 students, I had 95% engagement all week. I had about 3 kids decide they never want to touch clay again and I had several kids say they are signing up for ceramics next year–kids that I thought would stick with our 2D path. So, bonus for me and my program.

How did I run the exploration camp? I showed 2 quick demos on Monday, pinchpot and coil, with lots of finished examples of pieces created using those methods. Then on Tuesday I showed slab building. We talked about the term vessel, a hollow container, and how I was very open to how they could interpret that term. Then I let them go. They were to build a vessel of their choosing with any hand-building technique or combination of them they wanted.

If you have a lot of kids working at once, I would advise creating some damp boxes to help store as the kids work all week. See this post on how to create a damp box. It was a game changer on storage and keeping 90+ pieces workable all week. And, over a weekend for the handful that needed/wanted more studio time. I had been wanting to make some for my ceramic students, but never had time. This week forced me to make them. So glad I did.

I don’t have many pictures to share this time as we were having so much fun, I got caught up and forgot to pill out my phone.

What A Raku Firing Taught Me

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In 2017, I applied for a grant with our local educational enrichment foundation, TEEF, to get a Bracker Raku Kiln and all the needed pieces that go with it. I was one of the lucky few whose grants were funded or partially funded. It was an amazing feeling. I have been waiting since May 2018 to introduce the fun of Raku to my upper ceramics students.

I have a small group this year, which was great for our inaugural firing. The students all made at least one piece out of the special Raku clay. We had a local Potter come and talk to us about Raku firing. Several of the students had witnessed Raku firings at the Texas Clay Festival. We picked a date, set up a rain date, and informed all the people who needed to be there. The students watched video several times and made diagrams. We were ready. It was the perfect time before we were taking g a week off for Thanksgiving.

One thing we did not expect in Texas at this time of year was that it was going to be 32° this morning. Thanks Obama. We decided to press on. We worked in the cold, checking, listening, comparing. It was cold, and windy. But we pushed on. We were able to pull one firing off. It didn’t go perfectly, and we have much to discuss tomorrow in class when we do our group reflection on the process. The second firing didn’t get up to temp. Did I mention the wind? I finally called it during 5th period and we shut it down. The kids understood.

Looking back on today, we learned so much as a group…about the bracket kiln, about how to fire (I haven’t run a Raku firing in over 12 years), about combustibles, and about all the technical things that go with Raku.

But, the most important thing that I learned today came from my students. I was disappointed. I wanted their first Raku to be amazing. And it wasn’t, at least in my eyes. But for them it was a great day. They taught me it was all a learning experience. They weren’t bummed by the wind and the fact that we messed up timing. Or that we called the second firing. They knew we could do another firing; we could finish firing our pieces tomorrow. We have more clay. There’s a whole other semester. They had so much fun today. They came together as a group. I forgot what all this was about. I forgot what I have been preaching in my tab studio for years–that it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to make mistakes and that’s how we learn. And they reminded me of that. And I am thankful for that, and for them.

TAB, Modified TAB, and Other TABby things

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TAB is a huge buzzword these days. I see it thrown around in many Facebook groups. But what is TAB exactly? TAB is an acronym for Teaching for Artistic Behavior. It is a philosophy that has three core values. It asks “What do Artists do?” It believes the child is the artist. And, it believes the art room is her/his studio. It is these three ideas that drive a TAB teacher’s curriculum…how they run their studio.

That brings me to my next topic, Modified TAB. This isn’t really a thing. A teacher either believes in the philosophy or doesn’t. They don’t really pick and choose which of the values they want to believe. What confuses people is the misunderstanding that being a TAB teacher means you are balls to the wall full choice, all day long. Like I said…this is a misconception of the philosophy. When running a TAB studio, no matter the level, there is a spectrum of choice. The amount of choice a teacher will allow has several variables.

  • Campus/district expectations
    • Some teachers are expected to do x, y, and z. And most of us do like to be in compliance.
  • How “on board” a principal is with the change in the art program.
  • Bootcamp vs studio time
    • bootcamps are short amounts of time where the full class will explore a specific topic such as acrylic paints and color theory or copyright. Bootcamps should last a few days to a week tops. Studio time is where the students create their artwork.
  • Needs of the child
    • Each child is different in their learning styles and how comfortable they are with freedom. TAB is differentiation at its best.
  • Have to’s
    • There are certain things that teachers believe every student needs to know. This could be doing an attachment test to be able to use the sculpture center or biweekly drawing tests that have kids focus on the eye/brain/hand connection.
  • Teacher comfortability with giving up control.

Basically, a TAB teacher utilitizes varying degrees of choice throughout the year, for various reasons. But, they don’t utilize varying degrees of the philosophy.

Teaching in a “TAB-like” way isn’t a thing, but using varying levels of choice is. You can offer choice without being TAB, but you can’t be TAB without offering choice. You are a TAB teacher or you are not. There is not a formula as to how to run a TAB studio. There are as many ways to run the studio as there are TAB teachers. That’s the beauty of it. Believe the philosophy and do what works for you, your population, and your admin…as long as you have student Artistic autonomy as a goal for your students.

For more information about Teaching for Artistic Behavior, visit teachingforartisticbehavior.org

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A High School TAB studio with multiple mediums being worked on at the same time.

Exploring 21st century principles

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This was a very challenging unit for my art 2 students.  And, while it was a miss in some respects, there were others aspects that were major hits.  Not only did my students learn a lot about Olivia Gude’s Post-Modern Principles, I did as well.

My first experience with Olivia Gude was in New York City when she was part of a panel for a Super Session at NAEA 17.  There she spoke of what she had called the Post-Modern Principles.  I was intrigued about what she was talking about, and I began to wonder how I could bring them into my classroom.  Now, they aren’t the easiest concepts to grasp–especially for a bunch of 10th and 11th graders.  I was hesitant, but man did I underestimate them.

I set up the unit in a the different way than normal.  I didn’t want to lecture to the students.  I knew if I did, the information would go in one ear and out the other.  Also, I didn’t want to do all the work.  I checked with our instructional coach and together we decided that I wasn’t asking too much of the kids.  (What?!  Sometimes I wonder, but then I shake me head and say that maybe I am asking not enough.)

I briefly showed my students a slide show with Olivia’s definitions for each principle.  I didn’t go into detail.  At the end of slideshow was their assignment (to research each principle, understand what they means, be able to share out their findings, and find images that exhibit each principle.)  I wanted to show an example of what I was looking for, so I picked the easiest of the bunch.  I explained everything I did to research–the sites I went to, the articles I read, the videos I watched, things from previous knowledge I had.  Then I set them free.

After the research part, we came back together as a group and went over what they had learned.  We went through each principle, with each student sharing what they had learned.  Many things were repeated, but I think that helped validate each student’s research.

The final part of the research was the image find.  Students didn’t share these out to the class, which in hindsight I wish I had them do. They did share with me though, through google classroom.  This was the amazing part to me.  This solidified to me that they understood the concepts and could find artwork that appropriately showed the principle.  And, they knew some images utilized more than one principle, so the students chose to highlight the one that was most prominent.

After the research, students did create artwork.  I think this was the hardest part of the unit for them.  Great artworks, that were full of creativity and thought, with powerful messages, were made.  But the implementation of the newly discovered principles into their work was weak.  But I was, and still am, okay with that.  Not every unit we do in class has to be about artwork.  There is more to art.  Being able to know how to research art concepts is important.  Being able to read artwork is also an important skill.  I like to think that these students will look at contemporary art in a completely different way, not just walk by without a second glance, and really see what the artist is trying to convey.

Exploring a Medium and Multiple Pieces

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One aspect of a TAB classroom that gets criticized is when we allow our students to explore the same medium over and over and over.  Critics often think this is wrong that we TAB teachers don’t expose our students to a variety of media by making them do different projects based on different materials.  Unfortunately, this is not how artists work.  Yes, some artists work in several mediums…Picasso and Degas come to mind. Both painted and sculpted.  But, they came to other mediums because they wanted to explore, not because someone else told them to.  I am sure they were aware of other mediums, but they preferred what they preferred.  We do the same for our students.  They are aware of other mediums, but ultimately, they should work in the medium they prefer or what they feel is best to convey their idea.

On Mondays, I introduce my students to contemporary artists.  I want them to know what is being made in today’s art world.  While deciding on artists to have them meet, I found 2 artists that reinforce this idea exploring the same medium over and over.  First is El Anatsui.  Second is Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor.  I have included clips from both these artists.  If you click on their names, you can find the entire video.  Neither of these clips are about the art they make, but rather the message they are sending.

When we let our students continue to explore the same medium, they will begin to understand what it can offer.  They can push the boundaries of the medium.  They will understand what it means to research in an artistic sense.  They will behave like artists.

Artists Abstract/Don’t Represent

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Normally I teach both abstract and non-objective art in a full-on unit.  This year I decided to revise that.  While I think the information included is important, it was information that could be learned in a shorter amount of time…with the right activities and check-ins.  I am lucky as our school is 1:1 and has a set of TVs at the front of the school that we can hook in to.

Day 1: Each class broke into 5 equal groups.  They brought one computer with them and we headed to the front of the school.  Each group hooked into a tv, and they were asked to first define both abstract and non-representational/non-objective.  After that, each group went thru a slideshow and determined if an image was abstract or non-objective, based on what they had discovered in their definition search. At the end of class, we went thru the slideshow as a whole class.

Day 2: We briefly went over the definitions of each style of art.  The students then were to watch 2 videos through playposit.  One video was on Joan Jonas and the other was Soo Sunny Park.  They students had to determine which artist would be considered abstract and which was non-objective.  They also had to say why.  This was really to stress the difference between the two genres and to let them see 2 artists at work.

Day 3:  At the start of class, we had a check for understanding where kids defined each term, said what they had in common and what made them different.  Then it was time for was our image find day.  Each student had to create a document that contained 10 images.  Five of the images had to be abstract.  Five had to be non-objective.  They also had to say why they chose those images–what drew them to those pieces.  I like having them do this because it causes them not to choose the first 5 they find and to really search through a ton of images.  Furthermore, it gives me some behind the scenes info into art they find intriguing.

Days 4-6: These were studio day.  Students chose which type of art they wanted to create, then had 3 days to create that art.  It was awesome.  The first day about 60% of students were working, but by the second day, 95% were working and not rushing thru.  I was very pleased with the conversations and the engagement by my students.

Day 7:  Our final day of the bootcamp was reflection day.  I asked students to fill out a google form.  I asked them again to tell me the differences and similarities between abstract and non-objective.  I asked them what genre their artwork fell into.  Then I asked some opinion questions about the bootcamp and abstract/non-objective work.  With the extra time left that period, kids could finish up anything they hadn’t gotten to over the past 3 studio days.

This was a huge success.  It wasn’t so long that they eventually lost interest. And, it was focused and narrow enough for 95% to understand the two concepts.