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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Monday 02.19.18

Some thoughts about the essence of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB)

From: Katherine Douglas

What do artists do?
The child is the artist.
The classroom is the child’s studio.

A beautiful TAB studio atmosphere doesn't happen by magic. It is built by laying a structural foundation carefully, by starting small, observing carefully, tweaking what isn't going well, and expanding what is going well. Some teachers have success jumping in and opening many choices at once but I couldn't have done that myself. More complex techniques and materials can be added when the studio is running smoothly. Instruction is ongoing with whole group, small group, one on one, peer to peer and individual research. Whole group demos are generally about materials, techniques and concepts that will have a permanent home in the studio.

It is important to consider that we teachers may be mistaken when we believe that “everybody” loves to do x, y, or z. Once students are offered authentic choices about how, when, or IF they will apply teacher demos to their personal work, we find out what they really care about.

My colleague Diane Jaquith offers the best explanation of the difference between choice and Teaching for Artistic Behavior:

"The difference between a choice-based art program and TAB is in the teacher's intentions for students. If ALL of your planning, decision-making, considerations, and advocacy are with the intent of supporting students to become independent learners and thinkers during art class, then you are teaching for artistic behavior. If you occasionally have skill-builders or whole-class assignments it may still be a TAB program if the purpose of those activities is to expose students to media they might otherwise not try or to provide basic skills so students can continue to work independently. However, if most of the decision-making is done by you, the teacher, or is focused on product, not process, you may be offering choices within your art program. That's OK too - just probably not TAB."

I remind myself that no matter how we teach, students do not necessarily learn what has been offered. Students who have been assigned and directed through a curricular agenda that has been laid down far from the world they know and want to know more about--may gain little.

Lone sculptor

An effective TAB teacher is, among other things, running a laboratory! Observe carefully--when a material/tool/technique seems to support growth in thinking/independence/creativity then keep it. If not, either teach better about it, change it somehow, or get rid of it! And the solutions will be different for every TAB teacher. In the amazing feedback loop that is TAB practice, 1. Set up what you think are good circumstances (of time, space, materials, information) 2. Present your very best "opening" 3. Observe very carefully and take notes, trying to be specific on the good, the bad and the ugly. 4. Revisit, revise, reteach or eliminate, as necessary, based on your observations and data. In traditional art teaching it can be the students who have "failed". TAB practice turns this upside down, with the teacher modifying, modifying, modifying! It is actually a radical concept isn't it!

Lone sculptor
In conversations with students concerning the quality of their work: 1. Assume the best until you know better. 2. Start where the student is, judgement free, and notice. 3. Play off of what you see: “I notice that you are tracing this image. Isn’t it interesting how that feels different from drawing freehand. Can you imagine how this could fit with your desire to draw better and figure things out? What would you think of a multi approach—freehand, stenciled and traced images layered in to one piece?” 4. Always support students’ metacognition so that not only you, but more importantly, they, are aware of the intent of a particular action.

When students are offered control of their work and their learning, when teachers assume that they are capable of this, and that they can teach us as much as we teach them, the results are impressive. Likewise, when teachers take control of the way they offer these opportunities, customize their practice to meet the needs of the students in front of them and collaborate with other like-minded professionals, a career of teaching in a community of learners both face to face and at a distance proves satisfying and invigorating.   

I love being an art teacherI love being an art teacher! 



Monday 02.12.18

A closer look at Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB)

From: Katherine Douglas

When art teachers hear about student-directed learning and art making many questions may come to mind: 

Can students do anything they want all the time?

This varies from studio to studio and across K-12 grade levels, of course. Some teachers have a brief sketchbook topic for everyone to provide focus at the beginning of class. Many teachers have students chart their center use, to support both going deep in a particular medium, as well as growing and interacting with multiple media over time. The media/technique choices available to students have been introduced by the teacher previously and those choices are thoughtfully offered.

How can the teacher help multiple students at once? 

This was less of a problem than I expected! Media, tools and techniques available had been introduced in brief structured whole group demos. Students who chose to explore the new offering were invited to be coaches for newcomers to the subject. Peer teaching and support was a strong component in my studio. Children also benefited indirectly—watching a friend try a new material made more sense to them than what I might have showed! During studio time I could circulate, make noticing comments, pull a small group together for more information, work one on one with a struggling student, grab a paint brush and work along with students while engaging in informal conversation, and actually sit to observe and take notes. Because students were using their own ideas instead of mine, there was little need to consult me about “Is this good? Is this what I am supposed to do?” TAB studios are well organized and students are coached to set up and put away their tools independently, freeing the teacher for conversations and modeling.

How can there be enough materials for all students to do as they wish?

The TAB teacher is, like any teacher, in charge of the materials in centers at any one time. Because students are not all using the same media, the teacher does not have to provide wood looms, for instance, to a class or 30 students. The artist search (Szekely, G. (1988) Encouraging creativity in art lessons. New York: Teachers College Press.) is an essential part of artistic behavior, so students are tasked to be alert to potential media (cardboard, fibers, found objects) to spark their ideas and to provision the TAB studio.


If everyone is working on something different how does the teacher grade?

Teacher grading methods are as unique as each setting, but many TAB teachers use student self-evaluation with teacher input. This is often based on the Studio Habits.

Evaluation of behaviors and a focus on the seven goals (Monthly Mentor post, 2.6.18) open up more possibility for growth and understanding than a grade on a particular project.

How can you let students use centers or work independently if you have not taught skills?

This leads to the question of “which skills” and how much time they might take in all-too-brief studio experience. Some teachers offer skill builder exercises, but many classics, such as shading with a pencil, become small group work for students committed to drawing. Other skill teaching arises from a student needs; an upper grade teacher could offer a soldering demo for wire building that might then appeal to other students. Skill offerings and timing are viewed through the lens of work students wish to do! Skill develops when even beginning students start making work and persisting in it. Third graders begin silk screen experiences with puzzlement and wonder; those who wish to go deeper gain both independence, understanding and quality over time.

Third color sscr

The trust between teacher and students allows for responsibility, decision making, commitment to work, and metacognition, as children find and process their own best art making practices.


Tuesday 02. 6.18

Making Progress and Meeting Collaborators

From: Katherine Douglas

As I continued to refine the studio offerings and improved in managing the time, the space and the stuff of the class, I gradually created goals for my students:

1. To have an idea
2. To gather tools, materials and resources to explore the idea
3. To explore the idea, with possible course changes, mistakes, and new directions
4. To know when they were finished
5. To put away tools and materials properly
6. To reflect and/or share what had taken place
7. To decide what’s next

I found that my young students incorporated these goals into their weekly studio time and grew in their ability throughout the three years they were in my class. Looking back, it has occurred to me that these seven art making steps are often in the hands of the teacher, not the students, in some art classes.

Paint partners

Working with other like-minded colleagues who were also supporting independent student work enlarged my understanding of authentic art practices “The job of the artist is to have an art idea and find the best material to express it, or to use a material that leads to an idea. This is the real work of the artist.” (Pauline Joseph, 2003)

Pauline and I and John Crowe and Diane Jaquith began writing about our experiences and sharing them at state and regional conferences, and at NAEA in 1996. The more we connected with each other, the better our teaching became—when you explain your work to someone, you learn more about it too!  As we began to write more, the Internet also grew easier to use, and other thoughtful teachers were drawn to reach out to learn more and, importantly, to share what they had created on their own. Over time, with the expansion of blogs, Facebook groups and Twitter feeds, art educators came out of isolation and found that they had a lot to offer higher education, corporate publishers and suppliers, and of course, their professional organizations. At this point, our group named ourselves (and a graduate course at Massachusetts College of Art and Design) Teaching for Artistic Behavior or TAB.


Thursday 02. 1.18

The Bumpy Beginning of a Young Teacher

From: Katherine Douglas

I would like to write about how I began, how my practice evolved, how it works today and the connections between teacher and student leadership.

Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB)

When I began art teaching in 1969 I was aware that much of the curricular material and discourse about the purposes of art education came from three areas: the many universities and art schools whose research and writings were shared nationwide, information from corporations offering projects, books and curricular suggestions for using the materials they created, and from professional groups like NAEA, which offered print materials and conferences at the state and national level. It never occurred to me that my voice had any importance in this conversation. My situation, as a new teacher, was in a tiny district with little encouragement to attend conferences and meetings. This isolation, along with difficult working conditions made it necessary to alter how I had been taught to teach! With 960 students per week, 35 minute classes, few supplies, a meager budget, no written curriculum, and an introduction by the principal to the staff as “the new babysitter” every class felt like a game of “whack-a-mole”. I frequently had to offer a second option because I didn’t have enough materials for an entire class. My students never finished my projects all at once, so books and crayon drawings and the chalk board (remember them?)


attracted the dread “early finishers”. The next year a colleague and I planned a mixed-age summer art camp with multiple media available in a studio setting. After this positive experience, I decided to offer something similar during the school year, which would also help address my working conditions. So, what began as a green teacher’s survival tactics began to look like a good idea. Noticing that my students showed much more investment in their own ideas, I began to offer very brief media introductions which left more time to use for them to use expanded choices such as watercolors, simple fibers, collage and 3D.


I was still stumbling along, doing some things well, most things badly, and trying to observe, respond and improve. Fortunately, my young students were enthusiastic and forgiving of my missteps.