TAB, It’s Not Just a Soda from the 70’s.

I’m doing it.  I’m finally doing it.  Next year, my classroom is going TAB.  Well, at least for my older grades. Fingers crossed. 

One of the biggest dilemmas I have as an art educator is coming up with a balance between process and product.  For the past few years, I have taught children techniques and skills and we complete art projects.  At the end of the year we pick out their best work, and this work gets displayed at the art show.  Though each work is unique, you can tell what lessons were taught.  I’m feeling an overwhelming desire to change it up and go to the next step: TAB.

Teaching artistic behavior, or TAB, is a choice-based art education approach.  The basic philosophy is that students will have more pride and ownership over work they chose to create. This makes sense to me.  I would hate to take a class that only involves drawing a certain way, or using limited art mediums.  I’ve dabbled in TAB a bit, but haven’t been able to fully commit.  I’m hoping that by writing this down, I’m taking that last step to make the final leap.

This is what I’ve done so far:

  • Joined a few groups on Facebook that focuses on TAB.
  • Bought the book, Engaging Learners Through Artmaking, by Katherine Douglas and Diane Jaquith. It has gone back and forth from school to home to school. Haven’t read it.
  • Joined a Pinterest group about TAB.
  • Looked at a few articles on Art of Ed about choice-based learning.

In my classroom, I’ve done a few TAB things.  The main thing is a “passion” project or “free” choice project.  I get a little nervous doing these things too much simply because of the art show.  The art show is a big deal.  Some schools don’t have a lot of turn-out for these shows, but in my camp, this may be the only exposure to art some of us get, so a lot of camp residents come.  I need to make sure the work is quality, complete, and varied, to ensure a successful show. I don’t feel a lot of freedom on this except for when the show is over. Then I can let the kids loose.

This year was no different. Once the show was over, I gave my third grade students a questionnaire asking questions, and asking them to support their answers with reasons:

  1. What was your favorite project?
  2. Least favorite project?
  3. Favorite medium?
  4. Least favorite medium?
  5. If you could learn anything in more depth, what would it be?
  6. What would you want to see up on your wall at the end of your learning?

I was overall happy with the responses.  Most students have strong opinions on their least favorite medium and what they want to focus on.  The tricky thing is how they go about learning more.  On their own. Some of these students don’t like this idea. Heck, some adults don’t like this idea.  Hand it to me!  Tell me what to do!  Sorry……

This reflection also gave me a starting point.  I started downloading worksheets and references like crazy.  I made some folders for independent study and put them with my “How to Draw” books.  This gives me a starting point to work from for next year.

I then took a risk.  I showed them my own learning process for a sketchbook drawing I wanted to do. I told them I wanted to learn how to draw skulls better.  When I showed them my process I tried to stress that we practice first (thumbnail sketches), take notes, and try to change things.  I told them that you could practice realistic drawing, cartoon drawing, change course, whatever, as long as you were practicing.  The only thing you couldn’t do is change your topic.  For example, go from Star Wars characters for a few classes then cars.

These are my thumbnail sketches and then a fun cartoon skull I found for teeth practice, cracks, and broken edges.  I love cartoon drawings, it takes the pressure off, and it gives you help with basics.


My final drawing and the photo reference.  I changed some things because I didn’t like all the flowers.  I’ve really got to work on my roses.  I showed students how I solved some problems, and how you don’t have to draw things exactly like your photo reference. We are all learning.


Ta Da.  I love him.

I showed them all this because students need to know the amount of work involved in art.  It’s a lot of study, a lot of playing with the materials, a lot of problem-solving, and we don’t give up.

Then I gave out their sketchbooks, wrote our names and plan on the covers, and got to work. One thing that amazed me is the variety of things students want to focus on. Though the majority want to work on drawing, I have students who love chalk, origami, and paint.  Here are some pictures of learning journeys:


This student wanted to focus on landscape drawing. She ended up experimenting with different pencils from 2H to 6B, and different kinds of papers for textures.


This student wanted to learn how to draw cats in different positions. She ended up focusing on shadows and fur.


This student wanted to focus on drawing different kinds of ships.  The one sitting next to him wanted to learn more origami.


This student wanted to learn more about how to draw houses and buildings in 3D.  He borrowed my laptop and worked on a tutorial he found on YouTube.  He now uses vocabulary like one-point and two-point perspective like he’s always known these terms.


This student wanted to learn how to draw a lion better.  I love how she included notes on her first sketch.


Exhibiting good problem solving, placing the feet below the grass at the bottom of the page eliminates the pressure of drawing the feet, which she continued to struggle with.



Now the same student is in the process of learning coloring pencil blending techniques.

Now, for all the successes, I do have some students who seem lost or directionless.  They seem a little bored.  But, they also look at the students who are hard at work with a little bit of awe, like there is a secret they are not getting and want in.  No worries, kids, we’ll get there.

Alas, we are not going to finish these projects. School ends next week and most students haven’t started their final projects.  They are too involved in what they are practicing. But, I am happy overall because this is showing me what I need to do to start this off right next year.

For right now I will focus on developing my stations, which involves a lot of labeling, pictures, and self-tutorial sheets. I’m getting closer to making TAB happen in my art room. Stay tuned for updates starting next year.  For now, have a fantastic summer.

Author: Sonia Chapman

I am an art teacher, living in the Middle East, following my passion for art, teaching little children about the finer things in life, and loving every bit of it.

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