Many ask how to set up a TAB Choice classroom. I often direct middle
school teachers to Cynthia Gaub's site. Here is a post she made to TAB
Choice list. I asked her for permission to share it with you. This is
a long post - well worth the read. I also feel that middle school kids
do best with modified choice. Hopefully, an article will be coming
soon from Cynthia in one of the art ed magazines.
Enjoy the read,
From Cynthia Gaub:
Currently, there are not that many Middle school teacher/students on
the list doing TAB... AND most middle school kids need more
structure. So I do not have a 'total' choice room, mine is more
So a little history for those that don't know me…
I am an artist and went back to school to become a teacher after
years in the retail business. I completed my undergrad at The
Evergreen State College, which is kind of a college of choice. My
years there consisted of making learning contracts, getting a faculty
to sponsor my contract and then reflecting, presenting and receiving
a written evaluation in place of a grade. This allowed for a lot of
self-direction and freedom with my own education… so the fact that I
would gravitate to TAB is no surprise. I have been teaching now for 7
years. My first 4 were middle school drama and English with an
occasional section of intro to art.
I finally got a "full-time" art position at the school down the block
from my house. My principal loves me and really stays out of my
business, other than to praise me when I get yet another grant, award
or district recognition for something. This has allowed me to do
pretty much what I want in my classroom. Our school is very diverse
with 60% free-reduced lunch, a large ELL (English language learners=
speak little to no English) and we have a special ED department that
runs the gamut of behavioral to severe mental retardation. We also
have a talented and gifted program. We have just over 600 kids and
three grades 6-8. I really love the diversity of our school, but as
you can imagine with this mix of kids in every class… teaching
standard lessons is a challenge.
When I found out also that the classes were mixed grades and
therefore in the coming years I would have new kids mixed with kids
that had already taken my class, I knew I would have some problems. I
would have to have a 3 year rotating curriculum or something even
more creative. I have my classes for about 50 minutes 5 days a week for
12 weeks. The kids do NOT get to chose art... they either have band
or an "unified arts strand" where they get 3 out of 6 different
possibilities depending on their schedule. (Shop, cooking, art,
computers, general music, drama or new next year digital/video art.)
Our district art curriculum just has some foundational ideas, but no
specifics. My classroom did come with a set of textbooks that are no
longer out there for sale, but I do like them. They are easy to read
and have fun projects.
So after discovering IAD and Judy....I was directed to TAB. I loved
the idea and started working towards modified versions of choice.
So one of the first questions I seem to get is "how is your classroom
In this picture you can see that, I have 4-6 long low tables, with
regular chairs. I use only 4 of them most of the time, depending on
my class size. They can fit 6 kids easily and up to 8 or 9 a bit more
cramped. I have counters and cupboards on 3 of my 4 walls. This is
where I locate the 'centers' there are more pictures in my photo
gallery and I will put more up this fall when I get set up again.
The next question I get is what centers do I have and when do I use
I set up a couple of centers right away and we spend the first week
making a sketchbook portfolio notebook/folder thing... that they will
collect and keep work in through out the trimester.
The basic supply center, drawing center, computer center and
collage center are all set up and 'toured' the first week or so, I
give them an explanation of what the centers are for and how to use
each of these centers. In the beginning, my intent with the centers
was for fast finishers... if you're done with a project, go use a
center type of thing. So we start this way.
(this is what the collage center looked like a couple years
ago... it changes a bit each year)
A couple of years ago, I started the "Elements book" and I do some
variation of this most trimesters. I usually do this with the 6th
graders or classes that have mostly new students. First, I do a mini
lesson where, I teach the element via discussion, video clips and
some use of our textbook. Then I show several examples of work done
in many different mediums that demonstrates that element. The kids
have to make one artwork to include in their book that is a good
example of each element, but they get to pick their medium and style
to demonstrate that element. This allows the kids that have had the
class before to explore something new while still demonstrating the
element. Next year I plan to move on to the principles. The goal with
them being able to identify the Ps and Es in art work.
Last year I had some good groups and told them they could do
anything, as long as they wrote up a plan of action. So this was kind
of the contract idea. This worked very well for some kids, but others
had to be pushed a little more to come up with ways to use their time
constructively. Last year I got a grant to do animation so many kids
did that, and the previous year I had a grant to do fairy tale books
so again small groups worked on that project.
The new thing that I did with my 8th graders this year (because they
had already done the elements book in previous years) was the
Challenges. I was inspired by Project Runway.. Where they get a
challenge and have to meet the challenge creatively. So I had
a "Chair" Challenge. I put together a power point (which I have
shared somewhere on my site I think) that had great examples of
chairs in all mediums. Functional ones, sculptural ones, paintings,
quilts, photos, and even videos. Then they have to make a plan, pick
a medium, do some sketches and make the challenge. I gave them 2-3
weeks from start to finish. (depending on the school schedule and
other assemblies and such) the next challenge was the artist
challenge... research of an artist and then make a puppet/doll in
their likeness and a power point of the research. a lot of this is on
my blog too http://thevirtualclassroom.blogspot.com/
The next trimester (new group of kids) I had the challenge thing more
worked out so we did a self-portrait one, another different artist-
one...where after research they did a art in the style of type thing.
One based on careers and a digital challenge (anything on the
computers...so photography and stick figure animations were the
popular ones... I still need to get that gallery up.) But then we
also did a lot of teacher directed work, because each time I offered
choices, they lost their freedom due to bad behavior. ((They would
just throw and destroy or steal any supplies left out in the open.
This was a rough group that I have had all 3 years and they have more
and more disruptive and disrespectful with each year.)
So far, each year and each trimester have gone a little differently,
trying to include more freedom… running into problems and successes
and giving the kids more structure in the form of challenges and
So NEXT year... I will have 3 periods out of my 6 total.. That will
actually have me all year. (The way our enrollment has gone down we
can not have many different arts teachers, so I am the only teacher
for those periods in the day.) But for the sake of the kids and the
request of our scheduling I need to teach 3 different classes. So I
will have a trimester of 'art' a trimester of 'digital art' and a
trimester of 'computers'. These will all be 8th graders that have had
me for both art and computers for the previous 2 years. But it can
not be an 'advanced art' per say because many kids will be new to our
school or to the unified arts strand. 2 more of the periods I will
have the same kids twice. SO they will have art and computers.
Finally one period a day I will have a different group of kids each
trimester for art. These will mostly be the new 6th graders.
SO next year I will be doing everything different once again.
Tweaking the choice options and including more computer/digital/video
SO in the 'arts' class they will have centers week one as described
above... then week two or three I will open a painting, printmaking
and clay center. Later I hope to also open the sewing/fiber/weaving
Each day will be a quick demo or lesson on one of the centers or a
technique and rules about the centers.
Then week 4 or 5 I will introduce a challenge. Most likely the self-
portrait one again. This will be new to the majority of these kids.
But the good thing with the challenge is that even if they did it
last year... this year a) they will have grown and changed anyways so
the challenge will be different in that respect and b) they can be
encouraged to do it in a different medium from what they did last
Throughout the entire year I always take pictures of all the work as
I grade it. These are then used by the kids to do an end of the
trimester power point portfolio. as the kids have more than one year
with me they come up with a decent digital portfolio of work that
they may have otherwise lost or thrown away.
The next couple challenges I plan to do will be a food challenge and
a shoe challenge and definitely some kid of artist research challenge
The second trimester I will be doing the digital class where we will
focus on animation, videos and podcasts. This will have less choice
at the beginning as I teach them different techniques and we do some
practice work with techniques. But I hope to have the second half of
the trimester about digital choice. Where kids can do more of which
ever digital medium they enjoyed most. Again with some challenges.
One will probably be music oriented, another will be something to do
with words, and a "how to" project will be in there too. they could
meet these challenges with video, photography, slide shows, podcasts,
animations, video games, or even a webpage/blog. Meanwhile, I will
still have 3 periods of regular art, so the centers will be open too.
Besides digital art uses many of these mediums too... they will need
to paint backgrounds, build characters and props etc.... At this
point that art class will also have the option to do animation too,
as we will have a permanent center set up for that.
The final trimester I will be teaching several computer tech classes…
so this will be less art. We hold this in the computer lab and have
to cover things like excel, power point, cyber safety. I am part of
the district committee that devises the curriculum for this. Although
it is a totally different course, I try to include some artsy things.
Another question that comes up is the grading. So far what I have
done is I grade the sketchbook a couple of times a trimester and vary
what I want in there. Usually I am looking for sketches, plans for
bigger projects, and experiments in the centers. I based the grade on
effort and craftsmanship, as well as having a few required items.
This has changed dramatically each time, usually based on what the
class can handle. Then I have the main challenges or projects that
they get a grade on, usually 3-4 per trimester. They must also
reflect on their work, this is how they get their final grade for any
large project. The rest of the grade is mostly based on
participation… a combination of using time wisely and using supplies
appropriately. I still am working out the best way to do grades… and
it changes. When I did a form of contract, where they could make up
everything… I asked them to tell me a timeline and assign how many
points they thought they should earn. I told them to think about 10
points per day they might work on the project. So a 2 week project if
done very well could be worth up to 100 points. But then I couldn't
really decide how many `points' I wanted them to earn for the whole
trimester. So that's where the challenge idea came in. I could set
the basic timeline (many kids finished earlier and some need more
time…but this was fine, my deadlines were always flexible for those
continuing to work seriously on a project) and points for the
project, so that made grading easier.
This year I had a nice variety of projects to send to the district
art show and we swept the awards because the person judging was
looking for kids that worked outside of the box.
So that is a lot of info… and by no means do I claim to be the
expert. But there are fewer secondary people doing this, so I wanted
to share my progress so far. If I every feel like I have it nailed
down… I plan to write a few articles for the art ed mags. But at this
point, I don't feel like I have a solid working plan to share yet.
Feel free to check out my website
(and tell me what things you really want me to update. because It is
very out of date, but I have yet to figure out where to start) or
email me with more questions.
North Middle School art and technology