Thursday, March 10, 2016

TAB Institute 2016: Registration Link Here

TAB Institute held the past two summers at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design is a professional development opportunity for art educators interested in a deep, hands-on experience learning about Teaching for Artistic Behavior pedagogy and methods that optimize children's individualized learning pathways for creative and intellectual growth. TAB Co-Founders Kathy Douglas and Diane Jaquith teach this course along with Nan Hathaway, Julie Toole, Ian Sands and myself.
Register for credit or audit the course here:

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Teaching for Artistic Behavior Is Democratic Education: Part 2

Twenty wide-eyed six-year-olds rush into the art room after patiently waiting outside the hallway. While most of the children gather around the demonstration table, three energetic boys make their way to the block center. I know the boys are preoccupied with ideas so I leave them alone.

The other children gather around and seem receptive for listening. "Boys and girls, today I want to talk to you about an artist named Leonardo da Vinci! Here is one of his most famous paintings, a portrait known as the Mona Lisa!" I show the students a life-size reproduction of the famous painting. "Look at that smile! What do you think she is smiling about?" A child raises her hand, "Mr. Gaw, we want to start making art. Are you gonna talk again?" Another student chimes in, "Mr. Gaw we don't want you to take up our art time." This group is ready, "Boys and girls are you ready to go? Do you know what centers you want to work at today?" They all nod. "You have six choices. You can go to the block center, the cardboard construction center, the drawing center, the painting center, the computer center or the book center. Are you ready to begin?" The remaining seventeen students nod their heads. "Ok, the art room is open!"

Children move quickly to gather materials and set up works spaces over the next few minutes. There are two children on computers, nine more work with drawings and paintings, four work with pre-cut cardboard, glue and string while two more join the three early birds working with blocks. I move to the paint center and help students obtain water for their tempera cake paint sets. I turn around and look across the room. The art room is a hustle and bustle of activity. Twenty artists have set up individual studio spaces. After 10 minutes, noticing my huge collection of picture books have not been utilized. I make an announcement, "Boys and girls, I'm going to spend time at the book center reading books!" A concerned voice interrupts... "It's ruined! Mr. Gaw! Mr. Gaw! It's ruined!" I recognize the troubled artist, "Why don't you bring your picture over here. Let's take a look at it." Scanning the child's 24' x 18' painting filled with expressionistic marks and shapes I notice there are extra paint drips on the work.. "Why is it ruined? Let's take a look at it."

The child wearing a green painters smock has tears in her eyes, "Because! Somebody splattered on it. It's ruined right here where all the splats are. I didn't want it to be all splattered." Some of the children take notice of our discussion and walk over to look at the damaged painting. I've seen this kind of problem before, "I know it was an accident. What if you take the splats and turned them into something like pebbles or maybe grass? Maybe there was an explosion?" The young artist ponders for a moment, "Oh, I got a good idea!" She walks over to a materials table and finds a red oil pastel. She begins to add a multiplicity of lines and overlapping shapes resembling a Grace Hartigan abstraction. The graphic artist continues to draw as her astounded teacher looks on. "Oh my gosh! Look at that! She's adding more to it! What do you think about that? It's really starting to turn into something! How did you make it so special?" The six year old pauses, looks up at me and states matter of factly, "I got an idea."

The job of the teacher in democratic educational settings is to support student voice, catalyze student ideas and promote student agency. Basic to the first pillar of Teaching for Artistic Behavior philosophy, the child is the artist. We know children are not blank slates. Children arrive in this World with inborn endowments and they naturally draw upon ideas from the here and now of their lives.

When states of consciousness are left unhurried and children allowed to initiate and explore art education activities through their interests or curiosity, the TAB art room becomes an umwelt. Children connect with that space like no other place in the school. It was that way during my experience with elementary students, and it is that way now with high school students.

One of the things I observe as a high school TAB teacher are significant numbers of stressed-out students.  Pressure from homework, pressure from maintaining grades, pressure from testing and pressure from forces outside of school take a toll on students.  To assume a child's mental state of existence is uncluttered and unaffected by non-stop demands of schooling, environments and the unique biology that influence cognition and consciousness is to ignore human development and the knowledge the mind is a complex physiological organ.

I am not using rewards or punishments in order to generate artistic production. I am setting up my room to stimulate student ideation where exploration of creative processes and productive idiosyncrasies may unfold naturally. My observation is that coercing children into mass produced art activity without deference to individual needs debases the experience. After all, when children leave the artificially conceived structure of school, they are left to grapple with the freedom to learn for learning's sake. If past learning experiences cause learners to feel unsatisfied during their school years, there is a price to pay.

Let's remember, a child spends upward of fifteen to sixteen thousand hours of their formative years in educational settings oriented by a dominate psychology of instruction that is Pavlovian. What affect does Pavlovian learning experience have on a child's natural desire to learn, explore and create? What does behavior modification do to a child's natural curiosity?

T.A.B. co-founder Kathy Douglas lists learning goals for her students:
1. The student can have an art idea. 2. Student can gather materials and tools to explore the idea. 3. Student works through making the idea, including false starts, changes in course, etc. 4. Student knows when the work is complete. 5. Student can return tools and materials properly. 6. Student can share and/or reflect on what has been done. 7. Student can reflect on "what's next?"

Goal number one is critical. The T.A.B. teacher is inviting the student to share in curriculum design.

Within our TAB classroom, the practice of generating ideas, making choices and ultimately the practice of working with creative freedom, is the main part of our experience.

Being oneself, while realizing ideas in two, three or four dimensions is our bread and butter.

The student can have an idea. In democratic education, student voice is the foundation of the learning experience. Ninth grade student Kendra reveals the efficacy of democratic learning experience in her T.A.B. high school art room:

"At (name of school withheld) I wasn't allowed to express anything that I wanted to or how I wanted to. We had dull guidelines on what to do and how to do it, and most of the time the directions made everyones result look like we copied off each other. I normally don’t work efficiently in an environment where people are telling me what to do. Especially in a class where the teacher should nurture and guide you, but in the end you’re supposed to blossom on your own.

Art is about taking a materialistic object and revealing the true beauty it's capable of being transformed into. Not only is it about the beauty of the piece it’s about acknowledging your inner individuality and being able to express it in the way words and actions can’t. Some people use this form of dialogue to defy society's propaganda on how you as a person should look like, think like, act like, and overall be the most perfected people in its standards.   

The style of my art is basically go with the flow. I can't explain to you how I come up with the ideas of my pieces. I believe if you just sit down with some materials and intertwine the things going on in your life good or bad that you will come out with a piece that won't let you down. Music is a big part in my life and also is a form of art. A lot of the times my music affects the styles and themes of the pieces I have created in the past.

 I believe that I have stayed at the same level of experience the whole time I was attending B.D. I did not see any improvement in my pieces over there but the mockery of the teachers. In the short time i’ve been able to work in Mr. Gaw’s environment and his elective course I have noticed a big difference in my ability to generate art."

One of the most important things to happen during learning is the individuation of the experience into the consciousness of the student. In other words, learning should not go into one ear and out the other. If we are going to say we will do what is best for children with the knowledge that human beings are born into this World biologically hard wired to use their hands, learn through play, experimentation and self-directed activity why does the state impose rewards and punishments within narrow curriculum structures of scarcity? If the point of education is to expand a child's intellectual capacities then let's look at them as individuals with unique capabilities. The neuroscience is clear: Multi-sensory, experiential learning experience increases production of serotonin that strengthens synaptic connections and neural networks. Increased cognitive capacity is a major result of art experience. If learners achieve intrinsic satisfaction leading to a desire to continue independent art making, transformative physiological changes to the brain will result. Self-directed art making can be mind altering.

Students form working groups to collaborate on shared art ideas.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Democratic Forms of Art Education

"... information severed from thoughtful action is dead, a mind-crushing load." John Dewey, Democracy in Education
"How much of our education is real doing, real self expression? Handwork is too often the making of a pin tray under the eye of an expert." A. S. Neill, Summerhill 
Thinking about the four practices of Teaching for Artistic Behavior, "students as artists," "pedagogy," "classroom context" and "assessment," the integral role of democracy as a necessary element in the transaction of these practices cannot be overlooked. When Kathy Douglas and Diane Jaquith formulated Teaching for Artistic Behavior, a flexible blue print for democratic education within test-centric learning environs was created.
TAB learning experience is an opportunity for children to practice self-expression and adaptation on a regular basis within a dynamic environment where development of voice and self-sufficiency are critical learning components.
Intellectual identities are established in the formative years of K-12 schooling.
If I learn early on in my developmental years, my voice does not matter, why would I want to participate in a larger system that views my existence as marginal?
When test scores and test-prep-like-activities take precedence over student voice, there is a price to pay.

That price is civic engagement.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Teaching for Artistic Behavior Is Democratic Education: Part 1

The name of this blog is somewhat of a misnomer. "Transition to Choice-Based Art Education" can suggest a high degree of student autonomy with respect to learning experience. In the hands of a Teaching for Artistic Behavior practitioner, choice becomes the instrument from which learner-directed art experiences are realized where children control as many facets of the creative process as the setting will support. The student has a high degree of autonomy, may select from a variety of materials, work from selected studio centers and is the originator of the ideas expressed during the creation of the artwork.
Students begin a drawing game called "Copycat."
Consequently, a K-12 art program where a teacher claims, "I offer a choice-based art program," while offering few choices may connote something that qualifies as choice, but is not TAB. A teacher could offer students a lesson on observation drawing where the two activity choices available are drawing a paper bag or drawing a bouquet of flowers. The idea to draw the paper bag or the bouquet of flowers is the teacher's. Student's have a choice, but neither choice was theirs to begin with. This experience qualifies as choice, but it would not be a Teaching for Artistic Behavior choice-based learning experience.
Students turn their drawing structure into a clown face.
TAB teachers understand opportunities where students direct their learning within social, cultural or internal context is important in order to secure learning experience that is personally meaningful. Time sensitive ideas and the constant evolving present in the lives of children cannot be ignored when it comes to emergent curriculum. Emergent curriculum experience within the hands of a TAB art teacher can mean educational gold.
Another student in class works on a figure drawing.
The eminent art educator Dr. John A. Michael classified approaches to art education into 8 categories (Art and Adolescence, Teachers College Press, 1983, pg 182.):

Industrial arts: geometric drawing, vocational preparation for industry, skill development; imitation, copying rigidly following directions from simple to complex.
Academic art school: Skilled production of art work and appreciation of art, morality; rigidly using art elements and applying art principles following directions.
Non-directed creative art: free- expression with art media emphasizing creativity and the individuals personal development' Laissez-faire, learning by experience as an artist, correlation with other subjects.
Applied art: Aesthetic tasted in choosing objects; relating design principles to objects and environmental aspects.
Psychological: Self expression with art media emphasizing psychological adjustment, intellectual, creative emotional perceptual social, aesthetic, physical development; Guidance and facilitation stimulation, suggestions, praise, reinforcement, integration with other subjects, concern for needs of student)
Content: knowledge of art/artists/ artistry/art appreciation; exposure to art/artists/art history, reading memorization, viewing, analysis, criticism.
Aesthetic education: sensitivity, sensuousness, knowledge, aesthetic awareness; experiential activities involving the senses-seeing, hearing, touching, moving, tasting, feeling-assimilation.
Arts education: comprehending relationships underlying the arts, dance, literature, music, theater, visual arts and life; Infusion-introduction to the study of the other arts and subject matters through visual art.

From my own experiences in the classroom, aspects of all these approaches are or can be incorporated into a TAB program. TAB is a hybrid approach to art education and student experience is fundamentally democratic.
Memories of the beach from fall break.
What does democratic educational experience mean? Simply put, democratic education means the learner has an equal say in how the learning experience is going to go down. For TAB teachers newly experimenting with choice based art education, there may not be as much latitude for student autonomy as there is in other TAB classrooms. As my friend and colleague Clark Fralick says, move slow, grow as you go. 

Abstract drawing with overlapping lines and shapes.
It's not easy working within a democratic educational structure. Learning to take charge of one's pathway is difficult for many learners. Teacher interventions are necessary on a situational basis. However, democratic learning opportunities are some of the most important learning experiences a child will ever participate in. Why? Children learn their ideas matter. Their voice matters. There is a difference between regular opportunities for self-expression and self-expression once-in-a-while-on-command.

Virgin of Guadalupe is honored with a drawing.
When learning experience is generated from within a child's mental reference points, learners will remember. They own the experience. TAB teachers extend learning events with historical information, creative insight or technical information. The teacher can help the student build on initial ideas and collaborate on new ones. The student connects new learning to existing schema. This is how practitioners of emergent curriculum open doors to new learning experience for their students. One of the learning goals of TAB teachers is to help students go beyond the given information.

Students add finishing touches to their experimental mandala clown.
TAB teachers understand the importance of connecting art (educational) experience to a child's social, cultural or psychological realms. The TAB art room is a dynamic 3-dimensional lesson plan, ready to serve the needs of diverse learning groups with an abundant curriculum, affording learners opportunities to explore new forms of art and techniques, extend existing ideas or experiment with new ones.

Pen and ink are added to the figure drawing.
Within the USA, TAB art programs ran by teachers knowledgable in democratic educational experience, can provide opportunities to learn within settings where children have a major voice in the decision making process central to the learning experiences they participate in.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

On The Use Of Radical Behaviorism....

I was having a discussion with a group of students last week who, over the course of the semester, have produced some very compelling art. We were talking about how artists generate ideas and produce art. I asked the students if they would like me to facilitate their art making activities.
Teacher: "Do you want me to assign a deadline so you will have an incentive to make art?"
Student A: "Please don't! That would make this class just like all the others! This class is special."
Student B: "I don't work well getting all stressed out. Having time to think about my art is important."
Student C: "I like being able to design my own curriculum."
Rewards? Punishments? Extrinsic motivators?  Over the past decade, I have phased out behavior modification techniques as a driver of artistic experience as much as possible. I see no need to incentivize learning experience let alone art education in the general education populations I serve. Learning about art and art making is done for learning's sake and for the sake of developing creative capacity consensually. How do we manage human beings? We trust them and we provide an abundant curriculum. There are many choices, materials and opportunities for students to express time sensitive art ideas. Art making in our classroom is a consensual matter. Since students are working primarily with their ideas, giving students time and space to make art is an essential part of our program. Observing student behavior and commentary is also fascinating. Some of my observations related to a human being's natural desire to learn leads me to the question: Do American schools optimize a child's natural desire to learn?
A young man asked me how he could print his design on his t-shirt. I told him he might consider silk-screen. 
Student's research Rube Goldberg machine concepts.
Student's work with ceramic hand building techniques.
Student repairs his wood and plaster sculpture.
Observation drawing from a cell phone image.
Student pays homage to WWll Veterans.
A student generates an automatic drawing after a discussion of  DADA, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ian Sands Keynote Speaker: AEAI Indianapolis 2015 Conference

For 6 days this past Summer I hung out with Ian Sands at the TAB Institute. Ian is one of the most thoughtful, provocative and progressive art teachers I know. Ian will be speaking at the Art Education Association of Indiana Fall Conference Oct. 9th, 10th and 11th.

Information on that conference is here: .

Ian will be making two other presentations on Saturday:
I'll have a couple of presentations ready on Sunday morning. Word is a special guest VIP from Sugar Creek Elementary is stopping in so this is going to be a blast! See you on October 9th, 10th and 11th!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

TAB Institute 2015 Photos

MassArt Tree House residence is a spectacular structure in the heart of Boston.
Participants view an exhibition of their student's art including statements providing insight of the artistic activity. 
Teachers prepared and shared demonstrations of their practice. Karen Frenchall gives a talk on shadow puppets.
More demonstrations and discussion of successful practice.
Room 206, a bona-fide choice based art room provided teachers with space to create new teaching materials. 
Stefanie gives a talk.
Katherine shares her passion for teaching with other TAB high school teachers.
Ian Sands ask the question, "Why don't we give students the same opportunities to create and experiment that contemporary artists utilize for themselves?"
George Szekely provides insight into the imaginary realms of children.
TAB Institute director Diane Jaquith shares information at breakfeast each morning.
Jean Freer Barnett shares a student success story.
Julie Toole shares her pedagogical insight with teachers.
TAB Institute visits the Fenway Studios.
Director Diane Jaquith preps the TAB Institute crew for new activities. 
Kathy Douglas shares a story from her illustrious teaching career with TAB teachers. 
TAB Institute 2015.