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How to support student-led inquiry through “Teaching for Artistic Behavior”

Julia VanOudenhoven, PYP art specialist, Jefferson Lighthouse School, USA

In this article you will read about how the Teaching for Artistic Behavior framework has enabled an art teacher to authentically encourage and support student-led inquiry every minute of every day in the art room. Students worked independently and in small groups to discover how art was connected to every other aspect of their lives.

Two years ago, I was reflecting on my practices as an IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) art specialist. I was a well-oiled machine: introducing and directing art projects, and making connections to every single grade level planner. In a way, I was comforted because I knew the connection was there; I was at the very least exposing students to these connections while they improved their skills. However, I found myself mostly disappointed, because I found it difficult to get the students to care about those connections with me. I started admitting to myself that those were my connections, they only made the most sense to me, and that forcing those connections onto the students was not helping their own inquiry process.

At about the same time, I began hearing about Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) from other art teachers on social media. Like any lifelong learner, I was curious. I started asking questions, reading books and visiting TAB classrooms nearby. I learned that through this philosophy the teacher facilitates the art room as a studio space while the students drive the inquiry and the learning.

The TAB  approach consists of three essential statements:

  • What do artists do?
  • The child is the artist.
  • The art room is the child’s studio.

Practitioners of TAB employ the framework Studio Habits of Mind, designed by Project Zero of Harvard. The Studio Habits are a structure that reminds me of the scientific method as it is a natural process a growing artist lives and breathes. The habits are:

  • Develop craft
  • Engage and persist
  • Envision
  • Express
  • Observe
  • Reflect
  • Stretch and explore
  • Understanding art worlds.

The results of my inquiry encouraged me to make the biggest, most meaningful change I have ever made professionally. I flipped my art room to reflect studio practices and relinquished control of the projects.

Now when students come to class the only first five or ten minutes are mine. I may do a quick demo on a skill or technique. I may introduce an artist, movement or cultural tradition. I may set out their current projects and have students constructively critique with each other. Anything I choose to do is in reaction to observed student needs or a connection to the unit of inquiry. After that, students have the rest of class to be artists.

Brainstorming connections to the unit of inquiry

The older students write plans with art-making goals and sketches in their sketchbooks. When their plan is approved by me, they work on that project until it is complete. Once it is completed, they write an artist statement and reflect on their initial art-making goal.

Collage exploration in sketchbooks

From a sketchbook plan to creation

The younger students are in centers where they practice art making skills, expose themselves to different materials, and learn about art from other places and times. This center structure has positively impacted engagement and behavior.

Kindergarten centers

First graders drawing animals through observations, looking at other cultures and artists from the past

For each unit of inquiry in each grade, I will write a challenge on the board to help students make a connection. If kindergarten is learning “People celebrate who they are” under the transdisciplinary theme of “who we are”, I will challenge them to make an artwork celebrating their individuality or their culture. We will read books about the importance of celebrating yourself. I will introduce them to self-portraits.

Author headshot – portrait drawing by a student

If fourth grade is learning “The distribution of resources presents challenges and opportunities” under “sharing the planet”, I will challenge them to create an artwork bringing awareness to an issue. We will look at art with a voice, analyzing the artist’s choices and message. I will introduce the importance of graphic design if employing lettering within an artwork. Students are introduced to art connections but are not limited to my connections, they have the freedom to create their own.

Every day is wonderful chaos. Every class surprises me with variety, creativity and capabilities. The amount of joy, curiosity and expression coming from each student has rejuvenated my own wonder. Making this monumental shift was not at all terrifying, because I knew it was what needed to be done to provide the students an authentic art experience.

Collaborative mural by first grade class conveying what they know about communities

Display of 3D structures

If you are interested in learning more, please check out “Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom” (2018, second edition) by Katherine M. Douglas and Diane B. Jaquith and “Studio Thinking from the Start: The K–8 Art Educator’s Handbook” (2018) by Jillian HoganLois HetlandDiane B. Jaquith, and Ellen Winner.

Julia VanOudenhoven has been the PYP Art Specialist at Jefferson Lighthouse School, USA since 2007.  She enjoys helping students find joy in art, self-expression and making transdisciplinary connections. You can follow her art room on Instagram



7 Responses to How to support student-led inquiry through “Teaching for Artistic Behavior”

  1. Rachel 2 April 2019 at 4:23 pm #

    This was a great post. And I could totally co relate it with the struggle that I see with the art teacher. I will definitely share the post with her

  2. Katrina Viloria 2 April 2019 at 4:48 pm #

    I LOVE THIS. Thanks for sharing, Julia!

  3. amal abdelatif 3 April 2019 at 9:47 am #

    amazing ideas

  4. Suzy Britten 5 April 2019 at 3:21 pm #

    Very cool and inspiring. What a wonderful opportunity the students have to be able to engage in your classroom.

  5. Les Hunt 10 April 2019 at 4:20 pm #

    I have seen her instruction and Julia is an outstanding IB art teacher. She is true to her words.

  6. Colleen 5 May 2019 at 12:38 am #

    I am honored to work with this IB educator daily. She is a wonderful person and amazing teacher. I have witnessed her evolve within her profession by taking action to include more voice, choice, and ownership in her classroom. Contact her if you are looking for inspiration or ideas, I know she will reply. 🙂

  7. Noah 24 August 2019 at 4:12 pm #

    Collen, I’m fortunate enough to work alongside an artist/ teacher with a similar mindset. She has just sent me this link which provided further affirmation of the way art is seen, viewed, experienced and enjoyed at our school.

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