TAB in the Synergy Art Studio


Over the years I found myself wanting to give my students a more authentic and meaningful art experience, one that would not only build student creativity and confidence, but also help them build critical thinking skills. I’ve dreamed of a classroom where my students walk in and are independently driven to create their own art, much like I experienced when I was in art school.

A year ago I discovered TAB in a presentation at the California Art Educators Conference. “Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) is a style of choice-based art education that focuses on the students, their interests, and their ideas. Students are viewed as authentic artists, and groups of materials are made available and introduced to the students one by one.” (Douglas and Jaquith, “Engaging Learners Through Artmaking”, 2009.) I started reading on the pedagogy and experimented with implementing aspects of TAB in some of my classes. Over the summer Synergy School sent me to Boston for a week of TAB training at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The authors of the TAB books as well as other experienced educators taught the classes. I came home filled with inspiration and ideas, immersed in a network of TAB teachers on-line and ready to implement what I learned at Synergy School.

As a TAB art teacher, my job is to guide students as they explore their artistic thoughts and abilities. They will work and grow at their own pace. I will introduce the students to art materials and techniques, as well as other artists in history and living today. With TAB I will encourage them to look inward to give their artwork personal meaning and purpose. Students will work independently and challenge themselves by trying new things, and facing “mistakes” as learning opportunities. I will help them develop skills and abilities for the future.

TAB is a nationally recognized, choice-based (studio/learning) centers approach to teaching art. Choice-based teaching and learning delivers in-depth curriculum in the context of student-centered work. This art teaching concept allows curriculum to be presented in-depth within the context of work chosen by student artists. Given broad responsibilities and high standards, children are able to organize their reality into authentic images.

The stages of artistic development follow the same sequence for every student, yet they do not happen at the same age for everyone. TAB naturally differentiates learning because students can learn and explore at their own pace.

Art at Synergy

Kindergarten through grade three have art twice a week, and fourth through eighth grade is once a week.

Students create their own projects. For those who are stuck, I remind them that artists create art from what they see, what they remember, what they feel, and what they imagine. I have also created a list of “Big Ideas” for the artists who are really blocked, i.e., power, passage of time, dreams, social issues, and heroism. The children are encouraged to create several W.O.W. pieces throughout the year. W.O.W. stands for Wonderful, Original, Work of Art. These are art works that took more than one class to complete, have been refined and improved, and are worthy of display (in the student’s opinion).

Potential art centers include: drawing, painting, collage, recycled materials sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, fiber arts, puppet making, book making, architecture, jewelry making, digital art, mask making, and more…

Being that this is my first year introducing TAB, I don’t expect to open all the centers above. As students become more comfortable with the process and show success in taking out and returning materials in a neat and timely manner, more materials will become available. I am told it takes a couple years to achieve the ideal flow, engagement, and production of art. Knowing the Synergy students, they will probably be a little faster than average (in my humble opinion)!

Talking With Your Child About Their Art

Children’s art is not adult art; therefore the aesthetic value that is placed upon children’s art should be focused on the learning that takes place. The authenticity is in the creative problem solving and intrinsic motivation that takes place within a choice-based model.

The artwork coming home is going to look different this year. For the younger students, it may be scribbles for a while! Many students are first experimenting with different art making materials. The depth of the work will increase over time. As they discover new techniques, students will no longer be afraid to take risks. Student creativity will evolve as they go through the learning process.

What can you do?        

Be open to student art that looks different than what you are used to. Ask the artist questions like:

  1. What is this artwork about?
  2. Where did you get this idea?
  3. What inspired you?
  4. How did you make this?
  5. Why is this important to you?
  6. What was your favorite part of making this?
  7. What are you going to make next?

Understand that Art is much more than “making pretty things”. It plays a major role in preparing our students to succeed in the real world. I am thrilled to be using the TAB philosophy. The children are inspired, I am inspired and fabulous artwork is already being made. I look forward to exploring the path ahead and blazing new art trails as we journey together this year! Happy art making!

“Creative people invent, imagine, problem-solve, create, and communicate in fresh, new ways. Every business requires creative thinkers in the form of scientists, engineers, medical researchers, technology innovators, business entrepreneurs, artists, performers, writers and illustrators, designers, inventors, educators and parents. Those with the ability to “think outside the box” will lead the future and make special things happen.” (Crayola 2017)

– By Pam Heyda, Synergy Visual Arts Specialist

More articles about Synergy art are available on the Synergy Art Blog.

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