It is not every year that I’ve turned my teaching career on its head and changed my teaching strategy (thank goodness!) but that is what I did last year.
I’ve been teaching for 30-ish years, and because of connections I’ve made with other teachers online, I changed my elementary art classroom from a teacher-directed space to choice-based and student centered. How did this happen? I learned from other teachers who challenged my ideas and made me reflect on my teaching, student responsibility and my entire teaching philosophy.
How on earth did this happen? I have been teaching a long time… I should be set in my ways, right?
I’m a lifelong learner. Gimme a challenge and I’m up for it. I know how students feel learning something new because I do it all the time.
And where do I learn new things? On Twitter. Really! There are lots of people who use Twitter, *ahem* for GOOD things, like healthy discussions and learning. Proper discourse where you LISTEN (well, read – you know what I mean!) so that you can see the other side of issues, teaching strategies, about many different topics. I have created my own fabulous PLN (Professional Learning Network) of educators around the world.
So, one day on Twitter I noticed some of my art teacher Tweeps (Twitter Peeps) were having a discussion, AKA “chat” with the #TABchat hashtag. I thought, “What’s this all about?” So I read as they Tweeted about their experiences with Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB).
Imagine my surprise when these art teachers, who I discussed lots of art room issues with over a few years, were discussing how their students CHOSE what to create in the art room. Choice? Student CHOICE in the art room? You mean all the students were NOT creating the same THING???
It literally blew my mind.
“What the heck are they THINKING?” I thought. “How could that actually WORK in an elementary art room?” Honestly, I was part horrified and but part curious.
So, I followed that chat and learned about TAB and choice based classrooms. I spent the next three years or so giving my students more choice. I mulled over and reflected on my teaching… a lot. Changing my teaching strategy and my entire teaching philosophy is definitely not something to jump into without a lot of thought.
When I took art workshops and classes, I thought, “I wouldn’t want to create something step-by-step with the teacher – I’d want to create my own thing!” (Yeah, no paint and sip classes for me! To each her own.) I began to realize that I would not want to be a student in my classroom. What a revelation. I was part horrified and part curious- again. Moving towards choice for my elementary students was the right thing to do.
I set up different centers for students, such as drawing, painting, collage and clay. When I opened a center, the mini-lesson informed students what was in the center, how to use it, and how to put it away. Once a few centers were open, mini-lessons became an opportunity for students to learn about an artist, a new way to use materials, supplies or tools.
Student engagement went through the roof. I was able to have meaningful conversations with students about their work and their choices about their work. I witnessed students owning their learning. Students learned from their peers, now there wasn’t one expert in the room, there were many!
Think about it: are you set in your ways? Are you still learning? Reflection and self-assessment are important for all learners: children and adults.
What can your students teach you? Will you change anything in your teaching strategy this year?
Let me know in the comments below!
Amy Traggianese is an elementary visual arts educator and has been an art essentialist at a Connecticut Higher Order Thinking (HOT) School since 2001. A former kindergarten and first grade teacher, she has 30 years of arts integration experience. Amy specializes in integrating language arts, math, science and technology into the art curriculum. She presents at local and national conferences. Amy is an active educator voice on Facebook and Twitter, loves a good Twitter chat, and connects with other educators through social media.