Monday, September 05, 2016

What Is An Ethical Pedagogy?

The problem with administering standardized learning activities without accounting for differences of diverse cognitive capacities, desire and strengths in heterogeneous student populations is that individual flights of learning are blunted.

The scientific method is innate in human beings. The desire to be curious, explore, create, reflect and learn is a human trait that has served our species well.

When I think of Teaching for Artistic Behavior classrooms and art programs, I think of learning environments that support, nurture and expand mental growth through those innate capacities.

A TAB classroom is in many ways an umwelt, an environment where learners connect at a deep psycho/emotional/physiological level.

Within the environment of the TAB classroom, inspiration, time, support, opportunity and feedback are available to learners.

When I first began TAB practice, I began to witness unbelievable feats of creativity from my elementary students.

Natural pathways to creative experience are profound! Meaning making, memory formation is optimized during these profound experiences.

At the heart of natural pathways to creative growth experience? Emergence.
Baseline example of student art created in September, '14 and example from December '14 reveal changes in composition complexity of radial symmetry design ideas.

Kathy Douglas and Diane Jaquith's dynamic approach to art education that accounts for individual differences falls within the parameters of systems theory set forth by Aristotle, who writes in "Metaphysics,"...the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts."

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Question....Why Does Teaching for Artistic Behavior, As A Curriculum Structure, Optimize Student Learning?

After observing Dale Zalmstra's classes in 2014, the universal appeal of TAB curriculum structure became quite clear. Dale's students were absolutely thrilled to be in her art room, working together or apart, sharing, conversing, collaborating, creating and dialoging with one another. Dale had organized seven or eight learning centers and her students were all self-directed, autonomous and so excited to be in the classroom working on their art activities. But I had observed this special learning environment with similar student self-governing behaviors in Clark Fralick's room also. Just what is it about TAB that optimizes learning experience? What is so special and unique about Kathy Douglas and Diane Jaquith's unique curriculum structure that optimizes student experience wherever it is carefully implemented? There are a couple of things to point out.

First, learning experience in TAB classrooms is to varying degrees, democratized. In a democratic classroom, learners are genuinely empowered. Experience is generated consensually from the learning environment, inborn endowment or teacher collaboration. TAB teachers understand children are conscious beings and use their awareness, interests and desire to organize individual learning pathways. In TAB classrooms, learners own the experience because they consent to be apart of the activities by participating in the formation and design of the activity. Because self-reflection is consciously or unconsciously a natural part of TAB experience, a feedback loop is established. Students in TAB classrooms ultimately become self-governing and self-sustaining individuals.

I looked at the idea of self-sustaining curricula in earlier posts. Self-sustaining curricula, one that provides for unique learner interests and extends outside school settings where emotional drive is activated and stimulated was described with the Deluzian term rhizomatic curriculum. But I'm going to use another term because I think it also works within the TAB learning paradigm. What Kathy Douglas and Diane Jaquith developed while exploring art education curriculum structures and the optimization of individual's creative learning opportunities, is a self-sustaining curriculum structure based on general systems theory for K-12 public education.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Teaching for Artistic Behavior Is Democratic Education: Part Three

There are two recurring observations made on this blog.

The first observation is this: art making of children is influenced by biology. The second is that children who are grouped by schools and the state in homogeneous cohorts for the purpose of obtaining standardized testing data are cognitively diverse. Both of these observations point to the influence of genetics.

Since 2004, when we began offering children grouped homogeneously choices for self-directed art making purposes, we began to witness an explosion of personal artistic expression.  If you are working with children, and offering an abundance of materials in a learning environment that supports play, autonomous and collaborative learning experience, then spontaneous art ideas are going to happen. The question I asked myself back in 2004 is this: To what extent is children's art-making governed by biological factors? What did I find out? Biology has an immense influence on creativity and the capacity for art making.

Ellen Dissanayake's pioneering research would support this claim. Art makes life qualitatively better and the innate capacity to "make special" has been passed down genetically from our pre-historic ancestors for millennia and culturally from our family and community situations. Early forms of prehistoric art communicate information about the world and personal vision of the artist. Art-making is rooted in ancient human pre-history. 

Gardner's theory of mind supports the observation as does Lowenfeld's theory on creativity types that children's intellectual capacities are anything but homogenous. For teachers receptive to the knowledge that creativity and differences of mind have biological foundations, implementing an abundant curricula in order to optimize a child's developmental pathway is a legitimate consideration. These same considerations were a major motivation for Kathy Douglas, Diane Jaquith, John Crowe and Pauline Joseph when they pioneered Teaching for Artistic Behavior pedagogy in Massachusetts classrooms over three decades ago. TAB is an approach to learning that intersects instruction and biology. 

Seven year old boy draws a human figure from memory from the mural center at the New Palestine Elementary art room in 2004.
Conversely, the argument could be offered that young children do not necessarily have the innate capacity to intentionally produce art objects but merely engage in a physical activity producing art-like-forms that are purely accidental. I refute this position. In my view, children are not blank slates. There is a biological reason young children make art-like forms with materials in their early stages of development. Children's natural inclination to explore mark making or object manipulation as consciousness unfolds, signals a communication process in which a child, just like early artists seeking to express their vision, reveal knowledge of their World.  This process does not just happen inside a vacuum. The process is also dependent upon a child's relationship with parents, caring adults or others whom the child wishes to communicate with.  In this sense, social relationships are critical in the child's desire to communicate through visual means and art-play. Art-making for young children is an innate form of language in which expressing the inexpressible becomes the goal of the activity. 
2nd grade boys self-organize a drawing club and work out their improvised ideas on the blackboard.
TAB learning environments provide a space where children's pre-existing knowledge may be safely utilized in the development and exploration of art-ideas. TAB teachers respond to children's needs. If there is a time sensitive, emotionally driven need to connect home experience to art making, that opportunity is available in the TAB classroom. You cannot separate a child's cognitive realm from the affective and physiological realms. They are all connected. When a child's biological endowments drive learning experience, TAB teachers are able to use instruction or environmental design to enhance such experiences. Because achieving higher states of creative consciousness should be the main goal of any art education program, the fact that children have a say in the design of their activity, that their vision and the vision of the teacher are combined to create a new vision, democratic learning experience inside of TAB classrooms is inevitable. 

As children participate in art-making activities in TAB classrooms, they witness for themselves the diversity of ideas, unique creative processes, learning styles and wide range of capabilities their fellow classmates possess. Children become more aware not only of their own creative capacities, but those of their fellow classmates. They see they have power to direct their learning and they see others using their power to do the same for themselves. In TAB classrooms, children share power with the teacher. Children learn to practice the utilization of freedom. In democratic classrooms, students have a say in the learning activities they participate in. 

An eleventh grader collaborates on a multi-media work as cardboard sculptors work in the background.
Because TAB classrooms are focused on the optimization of unique developmental pathways and creative self-expression, democratic educational experience is inevitable.

Democratic education should be based in democratic experience. Children should live and breath democracy in order to fully integrate democratic principles into their experience. Democratic education should do more than teach about the facts of democracy. In TAB classrooms, outcomes are not dictated to students but are mutually agreed upon by student(s) with the teacher. Democratic practice in TAB art programs occurs naturally. Children recognize their voice and the unique voices of others matter. They observe the paradox that artificial value constructs like grades and standardized test scores are inadequate representations of who they are.

Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Dewey would be thrilled to see a TAB classroom in action.

Looking at the bigger picture, how do schools educate children for participation in the social arrangement we call democracy? Is it through democratic classroom experience that considers the unique physiological circumstances of the individual or is the experience entirely something else? Are teachers mediating the anti-democratic tendencies of test centric curricula mandates or are they acting as blunt instruments of authoritarian control?

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.