Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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November 02, 2015

Learning, the Never Ending Journey

From: Hester Menier

After teaching elementary art for 20 years I have experienced a variety of situations in which I had to learn or sink. Teaching in multiple buildings requiring travel, working with non-English speaking students, working with no budget, being on a cart, large class sizes, the list goes on and on. But in many of these situations I was not in control of the change or situation. But this year, after attending a wonderful workshop on teaching TAB (teaching for artistic behaviors), one for which I was reluctant to attend and initially skeptical, I decided to make a major change in the instructional model of my classroom. This adventure has felt like being a first year teacher all over again, but this time I had one great advantage, I am much more aware of how my students and I learn, and how this understanding will make us all better in the end.

Learning can be understood through the 4 Stages of Competence, first introduced in the 1970's by Gordon Training International. This concept basically discusses how individuals go through 4 stages in their journey to learn a new concept or skill. I felt that this not only applied to my journey through this instructional change, but what my students are going through in each of the studios without the direct instruction I had used in the past.

The first stage is Unconscious Incompetence. You don't know that you don't know. And you might even deny that their is a problem or lack of understanding. This is where most of my students are right now. They absolutely love the change to a studio format and have jumped in enthusiastically. They are engaged and excited. Once they start working, the room is a buzz of on-task chatter, creative problem solving and collaboration. But the work they are creating doesn't quite reflect the the atmosphere in the room or the goals they are setting for themselves.

I asked them on the 3rd day of open studio to close their eyes and imagine their first TAB artwork and decide was it eh, something they could hang on the fridge or gallery quality. With almost every class, the majority felt that what they had made at this point was gallery quality. At this point I knew we had a blissful lack of understanding of what quality artwork looked like and was already generating a plan to help them get to the next stage and increase the quality of their work without sacrificing the enthusiasm and risk taking that was happening.



Stage 2 is Conscious Incompetence, here the learner does not understand something, but they are aware that they don't understand, and want to learn and become better at a skill. This is where I am currently feeling as a teacher. I know that I don't know everything about TAB and I am not sure how it's all going to work out, but thankfully I have a lot of tools and resources to help me learn and get better, even after 20 years. With this in mind, I began to introduce several resources to help students move forward too.

First we discussed the value of making mistakes. Mistakes happen, and are the best learning experiences, since we find out what to do and what not to do. I love the book Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, since it shows many ways to fix a mistake. Using the book to teach into this concept, I also hung up posters in every studio with lists of ways to fix a mistake. There are several different versions available on Pinterest. Like this...


Second, I started sharing other projects and student work on my Fab 5 wall. These are 5 examples of work I felt showed thought and effort, and exemplified the mini lesson fro the week. Students can get inspired by veiwing the successes of others.


Finally, I started to conference with students while they worked. I attended a workshop earlier in the summer about the Conferring Method in Readers/Writers Workshop used in the regular education classrooms. Using this method I am better able to offer tips, techniques, materials and visual resources to help students learn more about what they don't currently know, as it relates to their personal work. Hopefully, sending them to the next stage.

Stage 3 is Conscious Competence, where the learner knows how to do something, but they have to really concentrate in order to accomplish the skill.  Each child fills out a plan before they start, and part of the plan asks them to set a goal for what they would like to learn more about or get better at doing. This is where the true growth happens, so this is the stage where I would like to see many of my students working during class time. If they are at this stage I know they are working on something new, it requires a lot of mental effort, problem solving and time to work through the process. They get it and they are getting a handle on how to to it well.


The final stage is Unconscious Competence. This is when the new skill becomes "second nature" and often they can teach it to someone else. This is the moment all teachers dream about, but not every student reaches at the same time. This is why I really love the TAB format. I will have students at every stage of learning, but since they are each doing their own project and working on their own goal, I don't have to worry about leaving anyone behind or not stretching others far enough. Those who need the help at stage two can get it from someone at four. And someone at stage three may inspire or or open the eyes of a student at stage one since they are so focused on mastering the goal.

And just like me, trying something new for the first time, they will eventually go through all 4 stages. Then coming out the other end with a greater understanding, only to discover a new skill, concept or adventure awaits you and the process begins all over again.


Diane Jaquith

Hi Hester, Thank you for writing about your transition into Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB). The four stages of competence show how your students are adjusting to their new roles as decision-makers in art class. And, as you note, it is also a transition for teachers who become facilitators for students. I look forward to reading more this month!

Miriam Marcus

Nicely expressed and written. Sounds like you're having an awesome year. congrats to you and your students.

Hester Menier

The transition has been exciting and eye opening. I wish I had discovered this sooner. The most exciting part is watching the students make discoveries and teaching each other. The conversations are where I see the best examples of their authentic learning.

Doug Davis

Hi, Hester--

I am an elementary art teacher. After teaching for 30 years I've decided to try the TAB approach. One of my biggest concerns is how to assess student learning. We are obligated to collect data to show student growth. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated!

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