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 09, 2015

Teaching Artistic Behavior (TAB)

From: Hester Menier

One of the biggest personal battles I have faced in beginning TAB in my classroom, was my comfort level with true kid art. For years, my students produced beautifully crafted boards of artwork that made everyone ooh and ahh, after direct instruction.


But when students direct their learning, by choosing the media, subject and technique the product is quite different. I don’t think that this is just a TAB issue, all art teachers struggle to find the balance between students copying and creating.
When I read Choice Without Chaos by Anne Bedrick, this really stuck with me…
“One of the biggest questions people ask is what about skills? My question is, “Why are you so sure that they were learning them when you were directing them?”
This was my initial hesitation with the TAB, which led to many questions.           

* How do I know my students are learning?

* When I was using direct instruction to have students produce amazing artwork, were they going through the motions or did they truly learn?

* In a TAB room when the art looks poorly made does it still have value?

The answers to these questions have all become very clear to me as the first few weeks of open studios are wrapping up and students are thinking they have finished work.
How do I know students are learning?
I hear it, even if I can’t see it. While students are working, I frequently, just listen to the conversations they are having. This is something I did when I had a direct instruction classroom, but now the conversations are different. Before I heard about video games, vacations and birthday plans, but very little about art. Now I still here a few discussion of video game strategy and other pressing social issues, but they end quickly when an art problem needs to be addressed. I have overheard students comparing 2 different types of glue for making a collage, noticing that the rubber cement didn’t work as a seal like the Modge Podge did. Students have asked others for help on holding a sculpture in place while they added more bracing, with the 2 discussing options. And eight 3rd graders taught each other to make brown and compared what they learned to placement on the color wheel. When you talk with them about the choices they are making, they can tell you about the work very descriptively using selective art vocabulary. So the answer is YES, they are learning. They are learning what they need to at the time to solve the artistic problem they have designed. Some will learn more and others less, but that is where you as the teacher need to know your students and push them to reach their best potential and beyond.


When I was using direct instruction to have students produce amazing artwork, were they going through the motions or did they truly learn?
I think there was some of both happening. Unfortunately, I am finding that much of what I had taught them in the past seems to have floated away with the wind. The bits that have stuck were often lessons where they had to make discoveries themselves, or were allowed to experiment with materials. For example, those 3rd graders learning to make brown, we do this in kindergarten and 1st grade. Back then I told them how, they did it and used the brown to paint a cat or something else. It was just another fact to remember with no lasting impression or personal meaning. As 3rd graders they couldn’t remember what we had done, and I told them to experiment and figure it out. So they started randomly mixing colors until someone got brown. Which led to the greater conversation about how the colors were arranged on the color wheel, and how they could use that information to make brown. Watching their excitement as they found multiple ways to achieve the same means made me proud. That is an learning they will remember, because the learning was deeper and more meaningful to them.


In a TAB room when the art looks poorly made does it still have value?           
I have decided that the answer here is YES, and this goes back to Lowenfeld’s Stages of Artistic Development. We all think of the scribble stage being only for drawing and toddlers, but every media and skill in the art room has it’s own scribble stage. Even adult learners may need time to scribble when they approach a new medium. If we don’t let each child experience the scribble stage with those media and skills they can’t move on to produce artwork at high levels, because they don’t have a basic understanding to build on. Many students who can make lovely drawings may not have the same instant success with paint, because they haven’t had the opportunity the “scribble” or experiment with it before. They need to smash the brush and splatter, mix every color to make a page of mud and add too much paint creating a hole in the paper. This type of artwork, doesn’t look as polished as those well crafted direct instruction pieces, but they may have significantly more educational value. Without the scribble stage students have less tools or tricks to handle mistakes with the media or skill, which can lead to frustration and ultimately dislike for the media or skill. This is the person who says, “I can’t draw”. The key as the teacher is to understand your students, knowing when they need to scribble and when they are ready to move forward.


So my comfort level with kid art is getting stronger, because I have changed my view of the purpose of art instruction in my classroom. Art class should be more focused on the process of creating art, the product will come when each student artist is ready.



Thank you for posting. I made the move to "Choice Art" last school year, strongly influenced by what I read about T.A.B. I enjoyed reading Anne Bedrick's"Choice without Chaos" over the summer- as well as "Engaging Learners through Artmaking". I am still working hard at developing the right systems for each center in the room. In the meantime, I find my youngest Choice Art students (grade 2-- I still give K&1 assignments) have fully embraced their artistic freedom. Yesterday a 2nd grade boy couldn't wait to bring his "house" sculpture home. It was a couple sheets of ripped cardboard slung together with gobs of masking tape. I suggested he keep it for another class and "fine tune it a bit". He was set on bringing it home because he was so excited and proud of it- and so pleased with his work.... I am trying to bring focus to Craftsmanship as an ongoing theme. We're not there yet, haha- but should we be? What excites me about this is that I truly believe that the artistic freedom I am giving my students is cultivating artistic confidence, which will give them strong footing and instill in them a lifelong love of art. My 2nd grader may in time, DECIDE to slow down and focus on his work.
I saw such a decision this year when a 3rd grader, who rushed through everything last year (oh, what a MESS!), took an incredible turn this year when he discovered he could weave. It seems his focus on craftsmanship in weaving has carried over to his work in other centers in our room as well.

audrie trammell

This is a new area for me as I explore teaching profoundly ID kids. I am learning to let go of the controls a bit and after introducing my students to the concepts I allow them freedom to explore on their own. The results are so much more rewarding when they produce artworks that genuinely reflect their choices.

Hester Menier

Audrie, I work with a group of severe ED students that really respond to this method. They find a lot of success in the flexibility and lack of a directed end product. I think you will find the same with your ID students. You will probably also find a niche for each kid, where they find great success. Sculpture seems to be the one my lower achieving students find the most success.

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