Friday, May 6, 2016

A Theoretical Renegade... Musings on Art Education and education theories and jargon

I've been asked, "Are you a TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior, or Choice teacher; or are you a DBAE (Discipline-Based Art Education) teacher?"  I wonder: why do I need to be one or the other?  (especially since I've been trained in neither!)
The short answer is "I'm neither one, or a little of both, perhaps".   I'll admit that I've listened to and been confused by the many discussions on the topic, particularly in the Facebook Art Teacher group, and I'm not going to go into much detail about the specific meaning of TAB or DBAE here, because there's a wealth of info available out there on the interwebs, if you don't already know what they are all about.  The fact is, neither TAB nor DBAE even existed as an art education theory when I began teaching, so obviously learning about and using them was not part of my teacher training program or my "repertoire".
Let me backtrack - I've been around a long time....  I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in Art Education in 1974, and began teaching in fall of 1976.  Years later, an art teacher friend, who graduated from college with me, talked about his disappointment with the college for lack of preparation.  I was shocked, because I didn't know what I didn't know, and had functioned just fine all those years without knowing it!  (Does that even make sense? Are you still reading?)  The truth is, a lot of the education and specifically art education theories that we know about these days, simply did not exist during my college years.  I can't blame my college or the professors for that, and neither should my friend.  If you have some faith and trust in me and what I present on this blog, I suppose this information may make you wonder why I have any authority at all.  But I hope you'll wade through this post anyhow, and read through the the end before you make up your mind about me.  Because, simply knowing lots of jargon and all the latest popular theoretical practices do not necessarily make someone a good teacher.  So perhaps I don't need to be ashamed of being a "theoretical renegade". 
In NY state in the 70's, in order to make my teaching certification permanent, the requirement was simple: 30 graduate hours within 5 years after obtaining my temporary certificate (upon graduation).  And those credits didn't necessarily have to all be in education, or even in art.  There was no certification test, no required masters degree, no thesis to write, and no annual professional development requirements once you achieved permanent certification.  My 36 grad hours (I earned 6 hours beyond the basic requirement) were achieved in a combo of studio art, art history, education, sociology, and environmental geology, but I have no advanced degrees.  This was not the "lazy way out"; I was an excellent student, not a slacker.  Advanced degrees and tests were simply not required or expected, and of course were an additional expense.  So, no masters degree.

Common educational terms used these days simply did not exist or were not used yet in the ways we know them today.  When I began teaching, for example, I had never heard of or been exposed to these terms: rubrics (hey, we called them charts), curriculum mappingportfolio assessment (at that time, the term "portfolio" meant a folder filled with artwork, and instead of the word "assessment", we usually used the word "test"), authentic assessment, vertical alignment, benchmarking, and many,many more.  And many disorders didn't exist, or, I should say, hadn't been identified yet, at least as an acknowledged "thing", when I started teaching: Asberger's Syndrome, spectrum disorders, attention-deficit disorder, and so on.  As a matter of fact, we did see a film on autism in a required undergraduate Intro Psychology class, but it basically showed institutionalized  non-verbal children banging their heads against walls. Things have changed, a lot.
 
I had been teaching 10 years before I ever encountered a child labeled as ADD or ADHD.  I had been teaching probably 20 years before I first encountered a child labeled as having autism, and actually, his initial label was not autism, but instead was Sensory Integration Disorder.  By the time I retired, it had become quite common to have students labeled as having ADHD, or autism spectrum disorder, or even Oppositional Defiant Disorder, integrated into regular classes at all grade levels.  Were all these disorders there all along, but the kids were simply unlabeled, with unusual behavior?  Maybe a few, but honestly, I do not believe that kids with these disorders existed in the huge numbers that they do today.  I would have noticed.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, perhaps you've encountered some of my other discussions on similar topics.  You can find these posts in the following links: from March 2011 there's "They don't tell you this in your college art ed program"; from April 2012, there's "Ruminations - my hippie education and retirement plans"; from June 2015 there's "Jargon-du-Jour or Jurassic Jargon?"
But anyhow, back to what I was talking about at the beginning of this post -  Does the fact that I am neither TAB nor DBAE mean that I am bad teacher?  I do not think so.  Over my years teaching elementary, I developed, using my knowledge and experience, a program to be proud of.  I made a commitment to develop and present lessons that had students exploring a wide variety of materials.  I exposed them to a variety of famous artists and art styles and movements, as well as cultures from around the world.  I encouraged my students to think, explore, discover, make decisions, work both independently and in collaboration, and laugh.  I encouraged creative decision-making within the framework of the work I assigned.  I discouraged whining or complaining (actually that was my #1 classroom rule), and encouraged kindness and acceptance.  I made sure that each year, all students at all levels worked in both 2 and 3 dimensions, were exposed to and became comfortable with art vocabulary, and that they drew and painted from observation, as well as worked from their imaginations. I taught the Elements of Art and Principles of Design by incorporating them into everything we did.  My students learned to take care of their materials and become independent thinkers and positive members of the class.

If all my talk of independence and decision-making this sounds like TAB, you'd be wrong.  My classroom did not have centers, for example, like most TAB classrooms.  All students worked on the same projects or assignments at the same time, using the same materials, but had the ability to make choices within those parameters.  I believe I'm not meeting my responsibility as an educator if I just let students explore whatever they want, without specific direction and limitation.  I don't think someone can become an artist simply by being given the "stuff" of art and told to use whatever they want. I know in TAB, the focus is on making students artists.  But I don't think we can become an artist unless we can become confident and skilled at and knowledgeable in the "stuff" of art, any more than a student can automatically become a musician without learning how to make the instrument respond properly and how to read music, and so on.  The learning needs to come first.   A doctor isn't a doctor just because they want to be one.  They need to learn anatomy and chemistry and biology and all of it, and also need the education and hands on practice to properly uses the tools of medicine.  Am I making sense?

I'll admit I don't know everything there is to know about TAB, since I've never been trained in it, so perhaps you may think that I'm speaking from ignorance.  And I suppose you might be right.  A little aside here: I attended a workshop on TAB at my state conference a few years ago.  The presenter had us push aside the chairs and sit in a circle on the floor.  I was turned off immediately.  My not-young body is not happy sitting on a floor and even more unhappy at the prospect of figuring out how to get up.  And nothing she said during my 50 minutes on the floor convinced me that teaching by letting students make all their own choices was the right way for me to teach, or that it would even be allowed in my school, or that it would in any way protect my job and my program.  So I am sorry for all the wonderful TAB presenters and teachers out there, that they were represented in this way.  
Anyhow, back to what I was saying a paragraph ago....  If I had been taught art by being allowed to make all my own choices, I would never have been exposed to so much of the art world.  I am thankful for the requirements that forced me out of my comfort zone, and for a college program that directed me to not only have a concentration in one art media, but also to explore the others.  The result was that, in my college years, I took courses in many different mediums; some, like painting and photography, were "in my wheelhouse", but others, like ceramics, and printmaking, and sculpture, and gold and silversmithing, were not.   It made sense that if I was going to be teaching art, I'd better have as broad a knowledge base as possible, because I knew I'd have to teach it all.

I think structure and limitations can be a challenge and also a bonus.  Figuring how to to create within the framework of some limitations will encourage creativity, not discourage it.  I relate it to my book club. We currently have 10 members, and different person picks the book we will read each month.  We don't just read whatever we choose.  In this way, I've been exposed to authors and genres I would never have chosen on my own, often opening my eyes to something really exciting.

Does this mean my projects, before I retired, were cookie cutter?  Hell, no!!!  As I said before, my students made many independent choices within the framework of the assignments I gave.   I think that is the key.

Does my lack of training in DBAE and TAB, my lack of a master's degree, and the fact that I've taken no fancy certification tests mean that I've been a less effective teacher than those trained today?  I think if you ask the administrations I worked under, my students, and their parents, the answer would be NO.  Some of the most beloved and effective teachers I know were those whose educational backgrounds were similar to mine, in the era before jargon and acryonyms and labels and over-testing became so popular.  All the fancy terminology in the world won't make you a good teacher unless you can take your knowledge base and put it to use effectively with your students.   But this doesn't mean that I haven 't been open to learning.  Please don't presume that I'm cocky and think that I know better than anyone else.  I don't.  I'm talking about my own personal experience and what has worked for me.  Your situation could be totally different.

Was I perfect? No.  Sometimes I was disorganized, even after extensive planning.  Sometimes I was frustrated by a behavior I didn't understand.  Sometimes I lost track of time, and sometimes I came up with ideas that didn't work as planned.  (Actually, that happened again today; but that story is for another blog post.)  But my students were joyful and productive learners, and created art that they were proud to display for others to see.
Did we do a lot of writing in our art classes?  That's a big topic that I will save for a different blog post, sometime in the coming months. 

By the way, also more recent than my college education and my earlier teaching years are The 8 Studio Habits of Mind, Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and The Madeline Hunter Model of Mastery Learning, to name a few of many teaching models, programs, and theories I've encountered in past years.  Have I ever been officially trained in all of them?  No.  Oh wait!  I've left out Bloom's Taxonomy!  That's because, that's one thing that has actually been around long enough to have been learned during my college years.  Though I admit,  I still like calling it Bloom's Taxidermy.... 

Then there's concepts and techniques like Big Ideas, Bell-Ringers, exit tickets, graphic organizers (including Venn diagrams), think/pair/share, and so on.  These all come and go with new names every few years.  But you know, this constant flux isn't only in art.  When I first switched from teaching high school to elementary school, the elementary reading teachers were all gaga over Whole Language.  A few years later, they had moved from a literature based program back to phonetics and grammar, and then a few years later another change....  And the math methods have changed tons of times too.

My point here is that new ideas and concepts and methods don't necessarily mean the previous ideas and concepts and methods were all wrong, and don't mean that the students that were taught using them didn't get a good education.  I could include a discussion of technology here, too.  All of us who were educated in the age before the internet and fancy technology may have learned differently, but that doesn't mean it was inferior.  I believe that I got a good education.  I believe that my son, now 27+ years old, got a good education, enough to make him a confident intelligent well-rounded professional, socially conscious young adult.  And I hope that we do whatever we can to make sure our students today get a good education too.  And occasionally, that might mean you become a theoretical renegade like me!!!
By the way, thanks to my four goofy DragonWing Arts students for providing me with some photo breaks for this blog post!

22 comments:

  1. Yes! This! Thank you for articulating so well the BALANCE that so many of us have been using in our programs for years - long before all the jargon.

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    1. Balance! A perfect word! Thanks for your comment.

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  2. Yes! This! Thank you for articulating so well the BALANCE that so many of us have been using in our programs for years - long before all the jargon.

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  3. Thank you for this comment, I believe that the most important thing is to develop our own practice. Balance between old and new practices and balance between theory and practice are all part of our development as teachers. I like your view that art is not just an activity to make something for the sake of making. Art offers students qualities that other subjects can not offer, experimentation, problem solving, imagination, discovery, observation, meditation
    are some of the experiences found in the practice of art. It seems to me that many people are not offering students the opportunity to engage in these aspects of Art and I don't blame them because as you mention, we don't learn sufficiently at college, we learn a lot more by practising .

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  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You know I already love you and all that you share, but thank you again.

    Renée Collns at: http://myadventuresinpositivespace.blogspot.com/

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  5. Yes!!!! Based on this I guess I, too, am a theoretical renegade!!!

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  6. Bravo, Phyl!I agree with everything you said. Maybe it's because we started teaching during the same era. Unlike you, I don't feel like my college prepared me for the classroom. I learned to teach from the other art teachers in my first building. I had spent most of the last two years of college in the pottery lab, happily throwing pots and creating glaze formulations. Anyway, that paragraph where you talked about being proud of the program you created, I know exactly what you mean. I had to teach myself so much once I was actually in the classroom. I adopted the DBAE philosophy of teaching art and really enjoyed it. Technology opened up a brand new world for me where I could travel the world to find resources with which to teach. My greatest experiences were in workshops and seminars with other art teachers. I can't recommend these types of gathering too much for all of the newbies out there, just beginning their careers. Find like minded art teachers and SHARE! I am rambling here, but I gave my students everything I had to give without ever using all of those acronyms you mentioned. It's like trying to push a square peg into a round hole. Art is just not meant to be taught like math or language arts. Our contact time with our students (once a week) is fraught with stress. I am amazed at the great work my kiddos create with so little time with me. I wouldn't know a SLO if it slapped me in the face, but ask me about Van Gogh, or chiaroscuro or how to create a slab pot. I'm retiring in June and it is bittersweet. I hope the young art teachers I leave behind in my school district don't get shoved into that round hole. I hope they can continue to teach art the way that works best for them and their students. Thanks again, Phyl, for putting it much more eloquently than I ever could.

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    1. Pat, you were wise to comment here rather than on the link in Facebook, where it has gone rather viral! Thanks for the comment. Just because you are retiring, doesn't mean you should stop caring. Come to NYC next March for NAEA! I'd love to spend some time with you, my friend!!

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  7. agreed!!! How I teach too. . . can I add science and technology? I love integrating them as well:)

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    1. And social studies. And literature. And music.... It's really all connected, isn't it?

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  8. Could not have said it better myself. I went to college in the 80's...no idea about DBAE and never heard of TAB (except as a diet drink my Mother loved) before I joined the FB art teachers group. Giving kids some choice within the parameters of my lesson, curriculum and my supplies fits in with what my role is as a teacher...although many may disagree. I do not have the luxury of not giving grades to elem aged kids. I am required to give SMART goal(slo) tests to first graders...I have a district mandated pacing guide and curriculum I try to follow. Even if I had none of these things, I still do not think just handing kids stuff after a brief introduction is teaching them...I think it is allowing them to explore which is fine occasionally within an otherwise structured art program. I think the best comparison is with that of music...would you,every class period over the course of a school year, after a demo on an instrument...say, a guitar, just let a student play around and call that teaching music? There are notes and chords and all kinds of basic things a music student must be shown and taught first...sure..playing around on a piano can be fun...but don't we all feel impressed and proud of ourselves when we could pick out the simplest of tunes after learning the notes and proper keys to play? There is a discipline to this, there are rules that artists can choose to break or follow...but shouldn't it be their choice to break them AFTER they know what they are? I have read two of the TAB books by a frequent FB poster and attended a conference presentation...still not seeing how this approach still gives students a solid foundation to build on as future artists or art audiences. And I thought your sitting on the floor reference hilarious...yep..after 50, gettin' down means I might not be gettin' back up anytime soon!

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    1. Thanks for a great comment! Love that you referenced my floor comment. It was a memorable workshop, to say the least!

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  9. Could not have said it better myself. I went to college in the 80's...no idea about DBAE and never heard of TAB (except as a diet drink my Mother loved) before I joined the FB art teachers group. Giving kids some choice within the parameters of my lesson, curriculum and my supplies fits in with what my role is as a teacher...although many may disagree. I do not have the luxury of not giving grades to elem aged kids. I am required to give SMART goal(slo) tests to first graders...I have a district mandated pacing guide and curriculum I try to follow. Even if I had none of these things, I still do not think just handing kids stuff after a brief introduction is teaching them...I think it is allowing them to explore which is fine occasionally within an otherwise structured art program. I think the best comparison is with that of music...would you,every class period over the course of a school year, after a demo on an instrument...say, a guitar, just let a student play around and call that teaching music? There are notes and chords and all kinds of basic things a music student must be shown and taught first...sure..playing around on a piano can be fun...but don't we all feel impressed and proud of ourselves when we could pick out the simplest of tunes after learning the notes and proper keys to play? There is a discipline to this, there are rules that artists can choose to break or follow...but shouldn't it be their choice to break them AFTER they know what they are? I have read two of the TAB books by a frequent FB poster and attended a conference presentation...still not seeing how this approach still gives students a solid foundation to build on as future artists or art audiences. And I thought your sitting on the floor reference hilarious...yep..after 50, gettin' down means I might not be gettin' back up anytime soon!

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  10. Amen! Sister! I agree with everything you said! I am also of your vintage and I feel like your words came out of my head! It will be interesting to see where this TAB movement goes--and what comes next. I have too many former students, now grown, who are constant reminders that the way I have been teaching and continue to teach, must have "worked", as they often come back to tell me when they have travelled and visited many of the great artworks that we talked about back in grade school! Or, that they decided to pursue either teaching art or making art in college and beyond. Or simply that they can visit a museum and carry on an intelligent conversation with someone about "art"! The proof is in the pudding, I say!

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    1. It seems like there are a lot of us. Sometimes I think the people who are 100% TAB just have louder, more aggressive voices.

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  11. I reentered the class room later in life although I graduated in 1977. I was required to take the test and obtain a master's degree to recertify. I can so related to so many things you have said here and feel aligned with your description of how you teach. Every time I read about TAB I wonder how "teaching" is actually taking place, especially so on an elementary level where we should really be looking at exposure to skills and materials. Thanks so much for your bravery in writing this post!

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    1. Thank you! I don't feel brave; just honest!

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    1. What a sweet blog entry...you had me laughing, saying "Right On Girl", yep, I understand...you put into words my roller coaster ride of teaching art the past 25 yrs. What is constant for me is the making of art, the talking about art and the relating of art to the world around us...this is what I know. I have had my fill of "best practices in education" & I'm souring over all the changes in education. When I am off in the world of art with my students I feel that my children are learning how to play, encounter the world, problem solve and get along with each other! Oh I will continue to complete my SLOs, data driven content and teacher eval requirements...I have too as the primary $ maker in the family...but I will secretly know there are joys to teaching art! Those moments of satisfaction with children discovering their world through art! Oh, those sweet moments:)

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    2. Thanks for your wonderful comment. Nothing makes me happier than knowing I've made someone laugh and want to cheer! I'm very flattered!

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