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.