I read about Teaching for Artistic Behavior for two or even maybe three years before I actually tried it. I wish I had not delayed that long, but I had one big concern:
If junior-high students were given true choice and autonomy in my classroom, would they not just coast along and do slipshod work, or even no work at all?
I didn’t trust the true and noble impulse that we share as humans, to create! to make art! and I was wrong…junior high students are humans, just like the rest of us (lame joke, I know). They cherished the idea of choice in our classroom.
Instead of hanging back, doing little, lamely mimicking my short weekly demo, they launched into passionate, focused, quiet and productive artmaking. Indeed, sometimes I felt that they barely, politely tolerated my demo so they could get back to the work they were deeply doing.
I was stunned that they knew exactly what they wanted to do, and it wasn’t often the easy way out. Instead, they took on projects and processes that seemed to me very hard (painstakingly carving and sanding a little wooden joined action figure, for example, a project that took one of my boys almost a month!). They would go out and buy stacks of canvases, because I only have canvas board, so they could pursue a series of abstract paintings.
They would teach each other, so that small groups would often be working on similar projects together. They would troubleshoot on their own without always turning to me. They used real tools, sometimes dangerous ones–but this year, for the first time, I never lost one X-acto knife, because they innately knew that they needed to guarantee good use of the tools if they wanted to keep using them.
I had a student teacher this year, and I am grateful she had a whole semester with me in TAB Art. I hope she has the courage to keep on with it next year. I left my stations in place, so there’s a good chance.