Teaching for Artistic Behavior: #TAB Institute 2017

“I do it/You do it. I challenge/You wrestle. You choose/I support” – John Crowe, Theory of Everything

Teaching for Artistic Behavior

In the world of Art Education today, the pedagogical practice of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) has become a movement toward affording students the opportunity for individualized creativity and away from the one-project-at-a-time-for-all-students approach. The movement is strong and has been energized through social media, with about 8500 members total in the eleven TAB groups I counted on Facebook. Early on, art educators were quick to harness the power of the professional learning network through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as many are the only art educator in a school and have actively sought out collegiality for affirmation and counsel. The TAB professional learning network is huge.

Originally developed in the mid-1990’s, established in 2001, and formally incorporated in 2007, TAB was founded by Katherine Douglas and John Crowe with Pauline Joseph and Diane Jaquith after exploring and collaborating around this constructivist approach to teaching art. The Teaching for Artistic Behavior website is a wonderful resource for everything TAB. To see a TAB art classroom in action, watch this video by Katherine Douglas of students working on a cardboard (and so much more) ship.

TAB is the foundation for Choice-Based Art Education, which is a newly created interest group of the National Art Education Association (NAEA). In fact, it was as I sat in the 2016 NAEA Delegates Assembly as one of the two Massachusetts delegates and listened to proposals for the establishment of the group that my interest in TAB was piqued. Having been interested in both the Reggio Emilia and Montessori methods when I was an elementary regular educator, the student-centered approach was familiar. Over recent years, the terms “Choice-based,” “Teaching for Artistic Behavior,” “TAB,” “TAB-Choice” and “Centers approach” for art education are often interchanged.  In regular education, current related terms include Student-Driven, Choice, and Inquiry. Current regular education Choice concepts include 20% Time (from Google), Genius Hour (from Apple), and, to an extent, Project Based Learning. Student choice and student voice are certainly popular topics in education today. As of late, through my interest in technology, I have often found myself with one foot in each of the domains of art education and regular education. It was with this in mind I enrolled in the Teaching for Artistic Behavior Graduate Course and Summer Institute held at Massachusetts College of Art and Design two weeks ago.

The Tree House residence at MassArt

This is the fourth summer of the program, and for the past couple of years I have watched it come and go, thinking “I should do that”. I signed on in the spring and was glad to return to my alma mater for a week in July, although at their “new” campus on Huntington Avenue. MassArt is where I earned my undergraduate degree in painting 30+ years ago when the campus was sprawled across Brookline Avenue, from Longwood Avenue to Overland Street. The Overland Street building held the student studios, overlooking Fenway Park. Those were the days.

Day One:

Katherine Douglas

Two weeks ago, though, we were ensconced in the new Design and Media Center at MassArt for the TAB course. We met on Sunday night for dinner and introductions and the week began at 9 am on Monday morning with choices (of course) of programming depending on one’s interests. I chose to attend the TAB 101 session with TAB founder, Katherine Douglas. The slides Katherine used as reference can be found here. The slides create a great framework for understanding TAB, but it was pure Katherine Douglas who breathed life into them for us. She is funny and her anecdotes are entertaining, yet she can’t help but exude  wisdom and insight garnered from many years teaching elementary art in a public school, riding the waves of budget shortfalls and challenging administrators, all the while forging a brave, new path for art education. Here are my SketchNotes from the first day of the course:

SketchNote One

These are a few bulleted items from Katherine’s presentation:

  • 3 Tenets of TAB:
    • What do artists do?
    • The student is the artist
    • The classroom is the studio
  • Choice: Children were rushing through planned projects to draw on the chalkboard
  • Centers: Survival strategies when insufficient supplies led to centers approach
  • Scheduling: 5 minute demos to introduce a new center to make the most of short art periods
  • Differentiation: “Teaching art was like making Thanksgiving dinner – the beans are raw while the rolls are burned”.
  • Assessment: “We know what the children know by watching them.”
  • Guiding question: “How can you make your art different from everyone else’s artwork?”
  • Mediums:There are 3D people stuck in a 2D world”
  • Reflection: Five minute museum
  • Sharing: Art show for only highest grade level
  • Pedagogy: John Crowe’s Theory of Everything –
    • I do it/You do it
    • I challenge/You wrestle
    • You choose/I support
  • Early colleagues: John Crowe, Pauline Joseph (see more in SketchNote #7)
  • Student-Directed: Students will decide –
    • How to do it
    • When to do it
    • If they’ll do it
  • Constructivist theory: Start where they are
  • TAB Feedback Loop – How TAB offers feedback between students and teachers: see this Prezi by Katherine Douglas

Ellyn Gaspardi

Spending the morning with Katherine Douglas would have been enough to keep my mind busy, yet I chose to spend the afternoon with 6th grade art educator, Ellyn Gaspardi, in a breakout group with other middle school art educators. Drawing from many years of experience in her TAB classroom, Ellyn had a lot to share with us, which she did with both passion and humor. She also challenged us to make comparisons with our current teaching practice in order to envision the TAB approach in our classrooms. Ellyn shared some components of her program and her thoughts on running a choice-based classroom:

  • Elements and Principles of Art: To be taught as part of work underway, not as separate concepts
  • Studio Habits of Mind: around the room or posted if used for assessment (rubric)
  • Assessment: “In an art classroom, grading and assessment are about square pegs and round holes.”
  • Over-arching Themes: 
    • K – 4: Exposure
    • 5 – 8: Identity
    • 9 – 12: Expression
  • Guiding Principles:
    • Ignite Intrinsic Motivation
    • Teach how to generate ideas and solutions
    • Give permission to adapt and collaborate
    • Give permission to inquire and debate

I was inspired by Ellyn and her approach to TAB and am hoping to visit her in her Massachusetts art classroom during the next school year.

Day Two:

On the second day, we broke into grade level groups to further explore the possibilities for TAB with our student demographics. As Art Department Chair for my district, I wanted to understand TAB implementation at every level, so I spent some of the day with the middle school group, and some of the day with the high school group. I had learned a lot about TAB in the elementary classroom in Katherine’s morning talk the day before. Here are my SketchNotes from Day Two:

Ian Sands

Let’s just say if you follow art education online at all, you know Ian Sands. Ian has gained notoriety over the past few years writing often provocative posts against one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter approaches to teaching art. Birch trees are his particular nemesis. (Insert Ian eye roll.)

Ian facilitated the high school art teacher group, which I waltzed in and out of, depending on what was happening in the other groups. I appreciate having that flexibility, and am especially happy to have information on TAB for all grade levels to share with my district as a result.

Ian shared common practices in his art room including examples of assessments and critiques, which are especially important at the high school level. Whereas most elementary and middle school art work can be assessed with rubrics or simple evaluations, high school grading bears more consequence because of GPAs and college acceptances. Conversely, at least for me, it is easier to conceptualize a TAB classroom at the high school level where independence and prior knowledge is greater, so less time is needed to focus on the centers and classroom configuration. In fact, although our high school is project-based, the physical space is more like a TAB room and students receive instruction in the style of the 5-minute demo and rely on peers for additional guidance.

The rubric Ian shared is in the SketchNote above and below. Students receive either an E, C, or a D, based on their level of engagement. I like it and am considering using it in my middle school classroom along with the Studio Habits of Mind already in use.

Assessment rubric by Ian Sands

Reflections and blogging are also key in Ian’s classroom and we discussed many options for blog websites. It is especially important that the platform is free and can accommodate images and video for art students. We discussed Google Docs for G Suite schools, Weebly, Seesaw for younger students, and Satori (not free). Other blog platforms (Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress) are often blocked in school districts.

Day Three

While we had focused on the “nuts and bolts” of TAB over the past two days, day three brought a departure from that close look and offered us a chance to consider all populations in our schools. The day began with a panel discussion on Cultural Competency in the Classroom, with Cecilia Mendez, Beth Balliro, Chandra Ortiz, Ekua Holmes, and Mariana Yates Cabral and moderated by Julie Toole. This was an important discussion about maintaining trust in the multicultural classroom, with the art room as a sanctuary. At one point Mariana shared that how important it was to her to have been asked her name and after saying it with a hard R in Mariana, being asked how it was said at home. It was then she realized she should insist that her name be pronounced correctly, with the rolled R of the Spanish pronunciation. She then said, “Hey, if I can learn names like ‘McConaughey’, others can learn to say my name correctly”, which elicited a big laugh from the crowd that did not diminish its poignancy.

On the third day I also participated in a session with Ian Sands about how to incorporate themes and units in the TAB classroom, which was good to see at the high school level to compare with the way I use them in my middle school classes. I also participated in two workshops with Diane Jaquith, about the Studio Habits of Mind and Curriculum.

Here is the SketchNote from the day:

Diane Jaquith

One really helpful session was in evaluating artwork with the Studio Habits of Mind. Diane Jaquith led the session using the artwork each of us had submitted for a group show. Diane had printed sticky notes with the Studio Habits on them and we went around the gallery and affixed them to the wall next to the artwork. This activity helped me realize that assessment can be done based on finished or nearly finished artwork. Normally, I use the Studio Habits to evaluate students on their process, and it was interesting to consider evaluating their finished work this way as well. This would also be a clear way for students to understand the Studio Habits of Mind, through using them as criteria for a peer critique.

My impression is that Diane is the glue of the TAB Institute. She is the one who clarifies the schedule and shares all the plans for the day. She seems to never tire with this work, and is still able to field questions and lead sessions competently and without skipping a beat.

I was also lucky to attend a session on curriculum with Diane. I had been curious about TAB and curriculum. If students are each exploring their own art at their own pace, with materials they choose over other materials, I wondered how we might define this within a curriculum map. Diane shared a few different approaches and reassured us that it is understood we all have different situations with different requirements and expectations from our leadership and community, so we must remain flexible. Fortunately, TAB affords flexibility. If we consider the main goal of Teaching for Artistic Behavior to be creating a student-centered learning environment, the focus for TAB curriculum is on the essential questions with students choosing how to explore them. In other words, rather than defining projects within the curriculum, we establish essential questions and provide media with which they can be explored. One way to facilitate the use of varied media by students is to provide a chart where students indicate the center at which they had worked at the end of class. After four classes at one center, they are required to try something else. We all know the students who would be content to draw Anime characters every class and never explore anything else, for instance, and a chart such as this encourages them to move away from this comfort zone.  I am working on curriculum mapping as a summer project, so this session with Diane was timely.

A recent quote by Diane on defining TAB: “…a teacher can offer a ‘modified choice’ program but there is no such thing as ‘modified TAB.’ Here is why: TAB is a philosophy, a way of approaching your art program in which every decision made is with the intent of developing artistic behaviors and moving in the direction of full student independence. If this is what guides your decision-making as a teacher, then you are a TAB teacher.”

Diane Jaquith has co-authored two books about TAB – Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom with Katherine Douglas, and The Learner-Directed Classroom: Developing Creative Thinking Skills Through Art with Nan Hathaway. These are the de facto bibles for the TAB approach. Throw in Creative and Mental Growth Viktor Lowenfeld and John Dewey’s Art as Experience, and you’ve got the superfecta of reference books for your choice-based art education classroom.

Field Trip

Wednesday night brought pouring rains and a field trip to the Parts and Crafts Hackerspace/MakerSpace in Somerville, MA. This was a great opportunity to see other methods and materials that might be included in a choice-based art room. Today’s artists are not limited by traditional art materials (think James Turrell) so electronics, 3D printing, and other non-traditional materials should be available in art classrooms today. Parts and Crafts was a good place to visit to see the realistic possibilities for adding these elements to an art program. I say “realistic” because too often MakerSpaces are all about the materials and less about the materials as tools for planned actions. I felt right at home among the stacked containers of materials and supplies, as I think any art teacher would. We are accustomed to having materials at the ready in order to bring to life whatever it is our student artists have envisioned. This is why I believe a school MakerSpace should be an extension of the art room. Here is my SketchNote from the field trip:

Studio Centers

Ongoing throughout the week were studio centers as provided for and set up by teachers attending the TAB institute. The studio was managed by Clyde Gaw, 30 year veteran art educator and TAB educator for the past ten years in Indianapolis, Indiana. Many participants spent their evenings in the studio with Clyde, creating both artwork and camaraderie. I had chosen to commute from my home 30 miles west of Boston, driving within the bewitching hours pre-6:15 am and post-6:30 pm in order to spend an hour in the car each way rather than two hours because of traffic. Due to this schedule, I was not able to participate in studio time, and so didn’t get to know Clyde very well, aside from some greetings and funny commentary we exchanged.

The purpose of the studio is to let participants experience first-hand the way studio centers are set up in a choice-based art classroom. Materials and instructions for their use are provided, opportunities for collaborative murals and other projects are established, challenges for experimentation are defined, yet the artists are free to explore and create independently. Examples of studio centers can be seen in the SketchNote below:

Day Four

This last day of formal programming began with a fantastic presentation by Julia Golden-Battle and Julie Toole on LGBTQ in education and the formation of gender identities within young people.  The underlying theme of the 2017 institute was Teaching All Students – the inclusion of this segment was essential and very well done. It was at this session that I learned about the Gender-Unicorn, a diagram for which you can see in the SketchNote below:

The next part of the day included an Un-Conference, where participants offered to facilitate sessions on TAB and choice-based related topics. I facilitated a session on Integrating Technology in the Art Classroom, which fell under the heading of STEAM on the un-conference schedule. Following the un-conference model meant I hadn’t prepared a formal presentation and had just a few minutes to gather some resources to share (which is half the fun of it). I went through the icon folders on my iPad and collected pertinent apps in one “TAB” folder and also went though my photos and videos on my phone and collected examples of student work I had documented previously in a shared folder I could access with my iPad during the un-conference. I have been presenting on this topic at various conferences since 2013 (since my district became a 1:1 learning environment with iPads), so I had a good idea of what I needed to illustrate methods by which teachers and students can use technology in art education. This is a potential future post of its own, and not by any means a comprehensive list, but here are just a few of the tech ideas I shared:

  • Google Classroom or other Learning Management System 
    • for centralized delivery of instruction and resources that students can access whenever they need them
    • where students can “turn in” photos of their work at all stages for your evaluation or to ask questions and share artist statements
    • for peer critique or discussion about artwork, concepts, or art history, etc
    • for timelines and check lists for project work
  • Artsonia 
    • an online public gallery of student work where student identity is protected
    • to share artwork with parents and school community
    • for students to develop a following of family and friends as cheerleaders for their artmaking
  • Document Camera and Projector
    • Breathes new life into the 5-minute demo where all students can see what you’re demonstrating from comfortable seating around the room, rather than clustering around a crowded demo space
    • Students can share their work for all to see easily from around the room
  • 3D Printing 
    • as an art medium in the student-centered studio space
    • for creating tools to be used with other mediums such as plates for printmaking or dies for ceramics
    • as a prototyping tool
  • 3D Modeling Apps
    • Morphi
    • 3Dc.io
  • Drawing and Painting Apps
    • Sketchbook Express
    • ArtRage
    • Procreate
    • Brushes
    • Paper by 53
    • Adobe Sketch
  • Apps for Sharing and Collaboration
    • Padlet
    • Popplet
    • Google docs
  • Photography Apps
    • Photoshop Express
    • Photo Wizard
  • Collage 
    • Pic Collage

We also talked about “app-smashing” which is using one app for a process, and adding in one or more additional apps and process(es) to accomplish a finished piece or product. With all of the apps and equipment mentioned above, they can be stretched and used for other than their primary intent with just a little bit of imagination.

SPARC Mobile

Later in the day, Ekua Holmes brought around the MassArt SPARC Mobile, which is a traveling art van that makes stops around the communities of Boston to bring art making opportunities to the people there. This was a fabulous addition to the day as the idea of a traveling art mobile is genuinely exciting. The van is a stock van that has been retrofitted with shelving and dividers designed by the MassArt industrial design department and it is chock full of colorful art supplies. You can read more about it here.

Day Five

Last day. Sad. If we all weren’t so exhausted, it would have been really sad. I know the people who had been staying at MassArt’s residence, the Treehouse, had been attending TAB sessions all day, exploring Boston in the evening, and finishing off with late night sessions in the studio and they were happily beat. I was overwhelmed with all I had taken in from so many inspiring and knowledgable instructors, as well as worn by the commute. (While driving to and from Boston throughout the week I had compiled a top ten list titled “All I Need to Know I Learned on the Mass Pike” – it helped.) Here are Friday’s SketchNotes:

So then, the last day was a literal and figurative “brain drain” where we took apart and packed up the studio and gallery as well as listening to a few more words of wisdom. We also worked in our grade level groups to create action plans for going forward. This is tricky for me.

Two summers ago I was thrilled to attend Project Zero Classroom at Harvard Graduate School of Education, a week-long program where I also learned so much and first heard the advice, “change only 10% of your teaching at a time”, which has stayed with me. I don’t know for sure, but I think this is based on the idea that whatever problems you currently have, there’s pretty much zero chance that everything needs to change – you must be doing something right! Making change a little at a time gives us something to reflect against, like maintaining a control group in a science experiment. I know for a fact that a lot of what is happening in our/my 5/6 art classroom is good, in fact I swear, some of it is great.

I have some juggling to do with some pretty awesome project-based learning units already in play, some classroom routines that work really well (handmade sketchbooks and creativity prompts), and a boatload of integrated technology. I expect my focus is going to be on the idea, “Students choose how to do it, when to do it, and if they’ll do it”, and on finding ways to afford more opportunity for them to make these choices.

While I know some of this summer’s course participants are making sweeping changes and “doing TAB” completely as they return to school this fall, my action plan is to first evaluate my current practice to measure how much of what we do is student-centered, and whether or not the part that isn’t is valuable, meaningful, and effective. John Crowe’s Theory of Everything (I do it/You do it. I challenge/You wrestle. You choose/I support) will be the device against which I gauge my pedagogy. John Crowe himself says every good classroom has all of these stages in play at one time or another. The experiences I create for my students sometimes include I do it/You do it as an introduction, always include I challenge/You wrestle as practice and usually include You choose/I support for the final project. My first goal will be to allow enough time for the choice phase of a project.

There are particular elements of the Teaching for Artistic Behavior course that I want to implement, no matter what. For instance:

  1. I really like Ian’s rubric on engagement.
  2. I also love the idea of studio centers and the freedom derived from having several mediums to choose from.
  3. The cardboard challenge is calling me. I once taught a summer class in a program for gifted kids and for our “Inside the Castle Walls” class, we built a castle out of cardboard that completely FILLED a classroom at a local vocational high school. My students and I already watch Caine’s Arcade every year, a cardboard challenge is due.
  4. Peer critiques using the Studio Habits of Mind
  5. Keeping a watchful eye on the culture of my classroom and trying to cultivate a community of tolerance and diversity.
  6. As department chair, share my TAB experience with my colleagues and help to facilitate classroom visits to Ellyn’s school and to an elementary school in a nearby town where there is a TAB practitioner.
  7. Continue to work on developing ideas for an effective MakerSpace where art is valued as one of the STEAM subjects with the same importance as the other subjects.
  8. Revise the art show goals to include more student curation of content.
  9. Keep in mind there are “3D people stuck in a 2D world” and provide opportunities for my “cayenne pepper kids” to exercise their strengths.
  10. Lastly (for now), post the question, “How can you make your artwork look different from everyone else’s artwork?” in the classroom. Perhaps in a thought bubble, with a bunch of question marks around it. Or maybe as crossroads with several paths as offshoots from the hub. Or maybe make a zonkey scratching his head in thought?
How to Draw a Zonkey by Ian Sands







  1. Hey Alice. I had the pleasure of attending this space last year and loved it…living vicariously through others who have gone this year. So glad you went and thanks for the visuals. M.C. from PA.

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