Thoughts on Art & Education

Why TAB?

As I am in the midst of my third week of school, I have experienced ups and downs bringing the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) approach to the Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools.  One of the biggest hurdles I am working to overcome lies in the question:  How can you provide for students who will come to class needing structure or ideas?  I am finding many of my students need a more differentiated approach to TAB, than I have experienced in my past years as a TAB teacher.  I will continue to adjust my teaching approach and move these students, in a more gradual progression, towards an authentic art learning experience, where choice is at the core.

Along with these hurdles, came a great reminder of why I am a TAB teacher.  A seventh grade student was working through a pencil drawing of her horse in the barn.  She approached me and asked how to capture the image of sunshine pouring through the window.  I asked her what it felt like and looked like to see that in the barn.  She said it was warm and the space where the light came in turned the walls a different color.  I then questioned if she was planning to color the image and what media she was considering.  One of her classmates jumped right in and said, “You should use chalk pastels.  You can layer the colors like we did in class the other day, until you get the perfect color.  I just did this in a drawing of my sister to make her skin tone.”

This was the perfect opportunity to let this student be an “expert” and show her what he had done with layering.

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THIS is one reason why I am a TAB teacher.  Think about the art understanding, display of confidence and learning that took place in this one transaction between students. Because in a TAB classroom:

“Students provide much of the instruction. Student “experts” who work in one medium over time serve as coaches and peer tutors, enjoying further learning in the process. Student discoveries are shared with classmates and teachers. Students form cooperative groups in an organic manner. In this way, a great deal of information is transmitted student to student.”*

I only need to imagine more of this to keep me motivated to make the G-A Art Studio an amazing place to work each day!

* “Teaching for Artistic Behavior: Choice−Based Art”. BrownUniversity. 31 October 2008. _tab_entire.pdf. Accessed 26 September 2017.

I Am Ready!

I spent the past week learning – learning about new staff, a new school culture and two new teaching spaces!  The Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools have spent the past months renovating, reconstructing and renewing all three campuses.  Thank you for the support, G-A Community!

This what the middle school campus looked like when new staff toured the space on August 28.  I can thankfully say that when I was in the building working today, we are ready for students!  My art space will be shared with Carl Getty, 8th grade math.  We are being respectful of one another and I have my art area ready for students!  The high school art studio is nearly ready as well.

I am so excited to bring an authentic art experience to the students at G-A!  I know that it will be a new approach to art for many students but know that together, we will:


I am so excited to be a part of this great community and cannot wait for our first day on Sept. 5!

The Next Chapter

It looks like God is calling me in another direction.  Earlier in the summer, I was made aware of an art teaching position with the Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools (G-A). The position is full time and has great potential.  When I met with a team of G-A people in early July, I learned that the district has aspirations of building a strong art program. However, I was not selected as the candidate at the time of the interview.
Last week, the principal from G-A high school contacted me and informed me that they had found a way to bring me on board, if I was still interested in the position.  After much discussion with my family, I decided to accept the position.  This career move will give me the opportunity to share my love for the arts and to build a strong program, which focuses on student choice and arts advocacy.
Yesterday I met with the new superintendent, Wendy Somers and I am officially a G-A Ram!Galesburg logo Transparent4
So, here we go –
Time to transform this space from a high school classroom to a TAB Studio.  IMG_7624
Then, on to the middle school!

Day 1 (in just 24 more days)

Each year the First Day of School is just like the very first during my initial year teaching art more than ten years ago.  Why? Because between each of the “firsts”, I have grown as an educator and yes, my growth looks like this:


So, what will that first day look like?  I want to set the tone for the year, growing on successes from last year and extending even more the concept of student empowerment. I’ve spent the entire summer reading, researching and reflecting on how to continue to grow as an educator for the good of my students.  However, the biggest thing I’ve focused on this summer is that the learning that takes place in my classrooms at St. Phil is not about me.  The student’s input in their own experience is equal to what I deem important.

What will Day One look like?
The best way to let my students know that their voice matters is by giving them an opportunity to be heard.  Even though I have very few new students this year, we are going to start with student reflection on questions about them so I can get to know my students even better. Then, we are going to rewind to Innovation Time 2016-17. Homework for Day 1 will include playing video games and getting into the Flow.  I cannot wait to get started!

2016-17 Digital Scrapbook

I want to begin my year in review focusing on myself, which will lead into what really matters – my students.  This year, I set the following teaching goals to empower students:

1. Personal Context
I have witnessed first-hand 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 my 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 as the year progresses.

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. The reflection process will incorporate technology, as all of my art and Honors English students create digital portfolios with blog reflections on learning.

3. Classroom Context
The pirate in me is already alive in the art classroom at St. Philip Catholic Central (STP). Students in grades 9-12 work simultaneously at all different levels using varied media. It is easy to encourage them because I am passionate about what is happening in the art room.  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.


In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he writes about the three elements that motivate people to do extraordinary things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy is freedom to determine your own actions or behaviors; mastery is the action or process of mastering a subject or accomplishment; and purpose refers to the reason that something is done (having a purpose).

Innovation Time provides students with all of these elements. Students choose their projects and come to class with their own plan for how to use their class time. They work
at the project until they reach an end goal There is no “due date,” just the continuous striving for the goal.  And finally, students have a purpose for their work. There is an end goal: to create something to share with the world.

Read student blog reflections on their efforts to reach their goal.


This year, students in my English classes at STP selected their own texts for a portion of the course.  Here are their responses regarding the Lit Circle approach to reading, discussion and motivation:

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Student Comments:

  • I liked the Lit Circle books better. They allowed us to read books that we were interested in.
  • I like that we got to choose books that seemed interesting to us and not just a book you are forced to read that you aren’t interested in.
  • I was more motivated to read my Lit Circle books because I liked them more.
  • My motivation level for Lit Circle Books was much higher because they were book I wanted to read
  • The anchor texts seemed like a drag and a mandatory assignment while the Lit Circle assignment was fun to get into the book.
  • I felt more need to read my Lit circle book and enjoyed the continent I was reading
  • I had more motivation to read as I felt more of an importance to the discussion and was reliable to read to that point.
  • I think I had more motivation because I got to choose the book and make my own choice.
  • I was more motivated to read a book that I had chosen because it captured my interest more.
  • It was interesting for me to get opinions from different people
  • I really liked reading books with a group of people that were equally as interested in the book as I was
  • I WANTED to read my chosen book, but the anchor one were super not my style.
  • I have motivation because I am partially responsible for the rest of my Lit Circle team.
  • The lit circle books had a lot more choice to them, so I personally was more motivated to read them. The anchor text books could seem boring at times, and not all of them felt worth reading.
  • I liked picking my own books.
  • It was more fun to discuss and read a book with my fiends because it helped me understand the text more.
  • It motivated me more since it’s a smaller group so if none of us read, we can’t talk. Also, speaking in smaller groups is much more comfortable.
  • There is no motivation. Give up while you are ahead. Unless it’s lit circles. Then you are saved.
  • I liked it when we had freedom to chose a book and to choose a type of essay to write
  • Anchor texts gave me less motivation because i wasn’t interested in the story but the lit circle book was something i thought would interest me, which it did so i had more motivation to finish


– I became a part of a PLN on Twitter.  I used tweetchat and networked with professionals, on educational topics (#tlap, #innovation, # LearnLAP…..).

– Setting the tone – Teach Like a Pirate Day
– Innovation Time Introduction
Excellence in Teaching Conference! Topics focused on Differentiated Instruction, Digital Learning and Developing Interest-Based Assignments.

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– In preparation for Christmas, we critically analyzed each week’s Gospel reading using the SOAPSTone model (Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, Tone)

Matt Miller hosted #DitchSummit online = nine great presenters sharing a wealth of information! Sign up here for the one in 2017!
– Began Lit Circles in all English courses.  Students set reading schedules and monitored their own discussions.
– I conferred with all students in small lit circle groups.
– I continued work on the school improvement team.
– March Madness Lit Style!  Students crafted a cohesive argument to convince their audience that their book should be read over a competitor’s text.  And the winner was….
– Innovation Conference in Wisconsin! Woah! The opening keynote Dr James Rickabaugh-ISN-Keynote-2017offered an optimistic but urgent vision for the future of learning, schools and education. keynote here!
– An amazing session on AEA ISN Conference Design Thinking 04.14.17 final – ready to push things to the next level!

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– BCACS brought Christine Schneider to the school.  Grades K-12 explored the Michigan eLibrary.

-Design Thinking!

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Marshmallow Challenge
5 Chair Challenge

– I issued a course evaluation to students
– Students finished TED Talks for Innovation Time.  What an amazing experience, where students focus on the learning process, not the product.  They also shared how much learning happens with a “failure”.

Summer 2017 – The Learning and Professional Growth Continues
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Beyond Innovation

After a long first semester of struggling with a plethora of reluctant readers, I decided that I needed to further adjust my approach to teaching and extend the student-directed pedagogy that I have found success with in both the art classroom and innovation class to literature.  But, how in the world could I continue to meet English learning standards with students all reading something different at their own pace?

I began researching what other high school English teachers were doing with literature circles and culled the information to increase student motivation and the actual reading of literature.  We are just finishing the first lit circle unit.  For the first unit, I had students select a text from one of the books that I would teach to the whole group.  This helped me introduce the process of reading, reflecting and discussing.  Since I have read all of the books they have been reading, it also let me help guide the discussion when there were gaps.  I think students have a better understanding of the process, as evidenced by comments in their post-discussion reflections:

I learned that blame should not always fall on one person, but sometimes you must take responsibility for your own actions and accept the blame. After Kiowa’s death, they decided that the blame was not to fall upon one person, but on all people. However, after the author killed a man on his own, and he had to accept the blame and responsibility for that. Next time, to create a better discussion, I could come in with more questions that appeal to the group rather than personal questions. We need to improve more on talking and on discussing rather than just talking at each other. I have not been here for the past two weeks for discussion, so I have not been able to tell what we should improve on. Now that I am here, I see that I am in the “quiet group” and should really work to help everyone discuss as a whole.

There have been struggles with implementation and this was expected, change is always difficult!  But overall, I have been amazed by the quality of discussion, the ownership over learning and more importantly the return of a small bit of joy to student discussions about reading!

The discussion was happy and funny. We need to stay on topic. But we have fun in discussion.

I learned that we still don’t like the book. We realized that Kenny is actually crazy. We pretty much just talked about Kenny. We all had input and we pretty much agreed on everything. I like my group very much. It’s gonna be sad to leave. I think I can ask better questions next time though.

Throughout the unit, we have been discussing the elements of effective persuasive writing.  Now, St. Philip Catholic Central is hosting its first Lit Circle Championship!  Each round includes argument videos from the lit circle groups, all advocating for why their books should be read.

Throughout the week, STP students have voted on which video shows a better argument for why the book should move forward in the tournament.  Final four games are tomorrow and the winning book will be announced on Friday and featured in my classroom library.  STP students are welcome to come to room 103 and check out a copy of any of the books featured in the tourney.  This activity has helped students develop evidence-based argument sand should serve them well as they begin essays on their lit circle books.

Next week, we will begin Lit Circle Unit 2.  For this unit, students are requesting any text, which will be approved if it is appropriate for school and at a recommended reading level for their grade.  Furthermore, the American Lit students are selecting U.S. authors and the World Lit students are selecting authors outside of the U.S.  I don’t expect to make huge changes to the process but want to hear from my students.  I plan to survey them on their experience with the first unit so that I can make adjustments and continue to work for increased student engagement and comprehension!

“The Suck” and My Innovation Class

In some cases, student motivation is becoming an issue in my Innovation Class.  But before I point the finger at the students, I must first look internally to see what is happening during innovation time.  To be frank, I expected this to happen.  I have already seen it happen in my art classroom.  Students begin the year/semester all excited about the choices for responding to their own ideas and interests through the making of art. The first art pieces the students produce are both meaningful and beautiful; they experience issues in the creative process but complete a piece that communicates new ideas and enthusiasm for the making of art.  Then they lose steam and before I know it, they turn to Pinterest for ideas.  This is when I intervene.  I find that a quick conference will refocus their energy, when they “don’t know what to do”.  I simply ask what media they would like to try or what idea they wish they could communicate visually and working together, we create a plan.

Here is where I give a big “thank you” to my PLN!  As I read through blogs of my colleagues, I discovered that what is happening in my classroom actually has a name. “The Suck”, coined by Jon Corippo, is the dead zone that students find themselves in between when the project is assigned and their excitement level is high, and when the project is actually due, and their excitement level is low.  Some of my students are abandoning their original ideas or are simply complacent during Innovation Class.  I know what to do–I have been already doing this in the art room.  I just haven’t been doing it in my Innovation Class.  It is time to intervene.

Karl Lindgren-Streicher says that “#ObiWanCorippo has a couple solutions to The Suck. First, you’ve got to label it. Kids need to know what The Suck is. The need to be able to recognize when they get stuck in The Suck.”  Early next week, I will present the concept to my students with elements from Corippo’s presentation.

Then, I have to take what I already know how to do and move it to my Innovation Class. Taking time to conference with each student, I will set goals with students individually.  For some students, this will be easy since they will be working through some structured, short-term steps in the process:  create your 3 in 3 presentation, review and update your timeline, etc.  For others, this will be a time to critically look at the project they are involved in and remind them that this emotional journey is worth it.  They can bring their amazing ideas to fruition.

Image:  Saddington, J. (2016)