My journey with professional learning this summer stemmed from a discussion at the Midwest Area TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) Retreat.  The retreat, now affectionately known as “TABStock 2016”, gave art teachers from around the midwest time to meet, reflect on practices and stretch a little further in our understanding of the concept that enables students to experience the work of the artist through authentic learning opportunities and responsive teaching.

One break-out session at the retreat, focused on exploring the TAB pedagogy in other content areas.  As both the art and English teacher at St. Phil, my interest was immediately piqued.  Our discussion focused on the four pillars of TAB Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 8.02.27 AMand we investigated how other content areas could use this structure for learning. Clark Fralick and Clyde Gaw suggested I look at the work of Peter Elbow (Writing Without Teachers) and (Pure Genius).  I did and my journey began, continuing with Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate and culminating with George Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset. Each of the texts that I read addressed one of the four pillars in some manner and have helped me shape goals for the upcoming school year.

1. Personal Context

I have witnessed firsthand how choice in the art classroom gives students a voice and a motivation to share their message.  They are empowered as learners and meet the visual arts standards through their own exploration and focus on the artistic process.  The environment described in Wettrick’s Pure Genius mirrors that in the TAB classroom.  I will work to strike a balance between “expected” reading and student choice in the opening months, moving along the choice spectrum to more student-directed learning when possible.

2.  Pedagogical Context

One of the greatest take-aways from Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset is that not everything we try as educators will work with every learner.  As educators we must be willing to take risks, to support multiple modes of teaching and learning to ensure we are meeting the needs of each student.  To encourage growth in my innovative mindset this year, I must draw on the successes of last year while “maintaining a willingness to try something new” (Couros 51).  For me this means letting go of teacher directed curriculum in the English room and giving students room to explore, create and reflect on their learning with a focus on the process, not the product.

3.  Classroom Context

The pirate in me is already alive in the art classroom at St. Phil.  Students in grades 9-12 work simultaneously at all different levels using varied media.  It is easy to encouage them because I am passionate about what is happening in the art room.  My comfort in the English room and my teaching situation began with the adoption of another teacher’s syllabus mid-year and this established a different tone in my English classrooms last year.

I am so excited to share my passion for literature with the same fervor that I do in the art room.  This means helping students find their interest and guide them through the process of developing their interests as readers and writers.

4.  Assessment

Elbow’s text challenged the teacher-directed feedback I had given students last year in my first English classrooms at the high school level.  Reflecting back, I see that while trying to give students “meaningful feedback” as a means to grow and improve, I was losing the forest through the trees.  I noticed where student writing fit my model for good writing and focused criticism on the portions that did not (Elbow 120).

My first goal for the upcoming school year will be to have students write more – on a daily basis – about the topics that interest them.  and use response to writing in a formative way, giving each student an opportunity to grow as they discover what readers are getting from their language.

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