Last year, I dabbled in TAB, providing art centers every other week or so for my students. It was a lot of work to prep 'special' materials and art centers on top of the regular lessons and projects we were working on as a class.
But I felt like most students were authentically engaged.
They were REALLY excited about their wire, yarn, craft sticks or other materials.
This year, when they have extra time, they just aren't at all interested in free draw paper, coloring sheets or the other 'free time' options that I have available to them.
I sort of miss the centers.
But then I remember my frustration.
Storage was tricky and keeping things organized and stocked was stressful. Keeping everything organized was difficult and it was also hard to 'help' everyone that needed help when they needed help.
The painting center was a waste. Students only seemed to paint splatter painting and hand prints even though the sign clearly said NO SPLATTER or HANDS. My students did not have the skills to develop good ideas for paintings.
The modeling clay center was a joke. 6th graders would grab the clay, gather around a table and talk boyfriend/girlfriend stuff for 47 minutes while they pounded on the clay and rolled it into boring coils. Art making was not happing. Engagement was not happening. It was a waste of time and it was frustrating for me as the teacher. The kids were happy, but it was play time. Should I be encouraging playtime or discouraging it?
Do students REALLY want to learn? Do they just want to play? What do they need? How do I implement it?
I wanted to know how she trained her students, how she organized her classroom and how her students responded to the freedom.
The teacher began by explaining that she is very Type A, so chaos in her K-2 classroom is absolutely not acceptable. She also explained over the course of her 17 year career, she has been discouraged by the uprising of 'Pinterest' bulletin boards displayed throughout her building. She felt like the artwork that students create in their regular classrooms had become too cookie cutter, more about following directions than authentic art making.
She explained how she does many introduction lessons before allowing students to begin the planning stage of their projects. She introduces each and every center, allows students to experiment with materials, and then mid-year, they are ready to 'choose' a center. Students can create anything they have been trained to use: clay, fibers, collage, paint, etc.
The first week that every center is open is a little hectic as she has to oversee and check in with each student in order to get them up and running on their project. But after that, it is like a well-oiled machine. Everything has its place and everyone knows their role. Everyone helps with cleanup. Everyone is excited about their project.
After seeing her centers, I realized that I tried to do too much last year. I offered too many games, not enough planning. I didn't require students to plan out their project, I just let them pick a center and go for it.
Just letting students choose a background color on a step-by-step art recipe is not authentic choice. If it isn't the students choice of materials, subject matter and design, then it isn't true choice. I'm guilty of pulling back the reigns in order to slow down my implementation of choice. I know that I want to reorganize some things and reconsider more choice for 4th quarter. I need to think about what to offer, when to offer it and how to implement it. But I think my students will respond well to more freedom.