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Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom

reviewed by Margaret Anne Walker - December 06, 2018

coverTitle: Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom
Author(s): Katherine M. Douglas & Diane B. Jaquith
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807758914, Pages: 192, Year: 2018
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Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom (2nd Ed.) is a very useful and well-organized guide for all art teachers, whether or not they currently teach for artistic behaviors, are curious about the possibilities of Teaching for Artistic Behavior or TAB in their classrooms, or are interested in introducing some aspects of choice into their students’ learning. Even those teachers who follow scripted curricula from their districts, run multi-age after school art programs, or teach media-specific courses at the high school level will benefit from this text. Douglas and Jaquith have presented a very clear explanation for why choice-based art education is beneficial to children and teens, and created a thorough guide to implementing a TAB program or continuing to build on an existing program. Every teacher will find ideas and insights for their own classroom in this clear and concise text.


The text is divided into two parts, starting with theory and leading into practice. Part One, “Teaching for Artistic Behavior Practices,” is divided into nine chapters which introduce the reader to the basics of running a TAB classroom, including curriculum, structuring the class, the learning environment, assessment, etc. Part Two, “Studio Centers,” describes in six short chapters how centers of different media are designed, discussing materials, activities, storage, and how to encourage deeper exploration of the medium. The final chapter lists local resources for teachers, including in groups, workshops, and events to further their TAB teaching.


Beginning with the premise that “the child is the artist” (p. 2), the first chapters of Part One focus on explaining the choice-based curriculum, including planning for different grades, allowing for curriculum to emerge through student experiences and interests, setting up a classroom, and understanding how a class session might run. This section introduces the three sentence curriculum that TAB teachers use (what do artists do; the child is the artist; the art room is the child’s studio), and demonstrates how each of these ideas is fulfilled in the classroom. This section, as well as the rest of the book, is full of examples of planning from TAB teachers and tables with sample year-long curriculum mapping. This is most helpful in understanding the TAB classroom, as planning is an essential part of teaching, and TAB planning looks very different from traditional project-based art classes. These real-life examples help the reader to visualize how they might adapt to some of the aspects of TAB teaching, even if teaching in a non-TAB classroom.


The next few chapters cover setting up the classroom centers and structuring the class session to include demos and cleanup procedures, as well as structuring the learning environment for ideation, exploration, risk-taking, and experimentation. They cover teaching with TAB in non-traditional classrooms, such as on a cart, in a hallway, in a home studio or art center, etc., which allows each teacher to consider how this methodology might work in their situation. The authors connect the TAB method with other popular teaching theories such as working through essential questions, utilizing studio habits of mind, arts integration, and the responsive classroom design. The text touches briefly on introducing students to artists from many cultures, but I would be interested in knowing if TAB encourages students to explore social justice topics in their work, as well as how the work of contemporary artists is introduced. The authors give compelling examples of how teachers in TAB classrooms are encouraged to lead students to research artists whose work is similar in style to their own, but I would like to read more about how the students are challenged and stretched to consider social topics that do not arise naturally in their work but are important to understanding the work of others. This is particularly important in more homogeneous environments, where the students might not be as concerned about topics they don’t feel relate to them, such as immigration or discrimination. These are often the populations that can have transformational experiences while considering these ideas through art-making.


The last chapters in Part One cover the all-important topics of assessment, advocacy, and quality of work. TAB students learn how to self-assess through teacher and peer feedback, considering how they engage in studio habits, and through self-reflection. Teachers use formative assessments throughout the class period to encourage growth in the students as they work. This leads smoothly into the question of work quality, which the authors caution may look very different, particularly in the early years, than in art classes that focus on one project at a time. These chapters describe ways in which a teacher might talk with families and administrators about this difference, particularly when transitioning to a TAB classroom from a more traditional one. They also describe how to create art exhibitions and school displays that celebrate the learning that is happening when students learn as artists. As in earlier chapters, these chapters are filled with charts, teacher experiences, student reflections, and other useful sidebars that make this text valuable to practicing teachers, both in TAB and in more traditional classrooms.   


Part Two is a practical guide for any art teacher. Each chapter focuses on specific materials and processes that would be introduced in any complete art curriculum, and suggests games, exercises, concepts, and creative approaches to engage the students. The authors focus on the importance of the drawing center at every age level, and how the materials and focus change for different grade levels. They then move into describing the centers for painting, printmaking, sculptural work, ceramics, and digital art-making, as well as other less conventional materials such as fiber work and architecture. There are centers the authors titled “ephemeral” that might appear once a year, for materials such as papier mâché and origami. This section describes how the teacher designs and organizes the centers, extends students’ knowledge through workshops or demos, and deepens experiences as the students’ knowledge grows.


Finally, the appendix answers many of the questions that might arise while trying to imagine this methodology working in a classroom. With sample lessons, assessments, and substitute plans, the day-by-day practice becomes more clear. There is so much information in this text that it may seem overwhelming to a novice teacher or to someone who has not experienced a TAB classroom in person. Having visited TAB classrooms in my role as university supervisor for student interns, I would recommend visiting a TAB classroom or, if that is not practical, looking for other resources such as convention presentations, online blogs, or the workshops listed in the last chapter in order to truly understand how a TAB classroom works.


I am left with a few questions after my careful reading, mostly about meeting district-mandated standards, SLOs, and the like, as well as practical questions about adaptations for mainstreamed students with disabilities. I would also be curious about a longitudinal look at how TAB has influenced the students’ mindsets as they move into high school and beyond. Overall, I highly recommend this text as a valuable resource for anyone interested in the idea of student choice in the art classroom, and as a great companion to the first-hand experience of seeing a TAB classroom in action.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 06, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22595, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 9:03:45 PM

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About the Author
  • Margaret Anne Walker
    University of Maryland
    E-mail Author
    MARGARET ANNE WALKER is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Maryland College of Education. Her interests include the influence of art-making on critical and creative thinking skills; maintaining relevancy in art curriculum with contemporary artists; connecting traditional handwork processes to contemporary art making; and community-based art education
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