Clean Up!

students from my previous school show off their artists' hands
This past May, I left behind my middle school classroom of 13 years at a large public school to be the art teacher at my son's very small private Christian school. I am closer to home, I get to teach all grade levels K4-12th grade, and I am only a few doors and one flight of steps away from my son! It is my dream job, but there have been a few surprises! I have a whole new respect for elementary classroom teachers, as well as elementary art teachers. 

Being an elementary "specials" teacher has opened my eyes to some unique challenges! I was used to seeing my students every day, but now I don't have much time with them. If there are any behavior issues, it takes much longer to iron out the creases. There is just a completely different dynamic to the elementary art classroom, especially when you are the new teacher!  

One of the biggest changes in dynamic has been the clean up routine. At my previous school, I didn't allow anyone to leave until the room was restored to order, dismissing the first ones to clean up thoroughly after I did my "inspection." The kids were highly motivated to go see their friends between classes, so they desperately wanted to be dismissed... sometimes I would hold kids after the bell if they didn't do a good job. Middle school kids also didn't want to be marked tardy to their next class so this was a pretty effective motivator. 

Elementary kids? Now that's a different story! They want to STAY in Art class as long as possible, and will pretend they don't hear the teacher at all when clean up time is announced. Getting little kids to put away art materials is a challenge, to say the least. They are enjoying art, happily gluing or drawing or coloring. They are loving it so much that it has been necessary to figure out a variety of ways to motivate them to stop! Attention getters are great ("Classity class class!" ... "If you can hear my voice, clap one time," etc.), but kids need a reason to actually put down the materials. External motivators, here we come! 

Since it is a small school, the classes are manageable. I know about whole class reward systems (star charts, clip charts, etc.), but I really wanted to focus more on individual or small group behaviors at the beginning of the year. So, I relentlessly documented behaviors for each student, carrying around a clip board and making a list of kids who were doing the right thing so their classroom teacher could award them a Dojo point for "Great Art Classroom Behavior," and talking to individual students about their behavior. I did this for every class, from day one. However, I didn't want the classroom teacher to be the one responsible for what happened in Art! I am more of a partner with the classroom teacher than I was at the middle school, but I take full responsibility for managing the class while they are in my room! The kids need to learn to respect the art teacher's authority just as much as they respect their classroom teacher's. 

A third grade group cuts up a patterned square after viewing The Perfect Square, a children's book by Michael Hall (on Youtube). The assignment was to use all the pieces to make something new, just like the square did in the video. The square of paper was patterned with the frottage technique one day, and then made into something new the next class period. I called this project, "Frottage Collage!"

One of the first strategies I tried was having the cleanest table group line up first - being first in line is a coveted privilege, right? For some groups it was effective, especially K4, K5, and 3rd grade. For everyone else, this plan bombed. They ignored me completely when I announced, "I am looking for the table group who is cleaning up the fastest!" Then, when we finally got in line to wait for their classroom teacher, the kids argued about lining up in number order, or who was supposed to be line leader, or door holder, etc. Every classroom teacher has their own method for lining up the kids; any other arrangement is met with protest! 

The second strategy I tried was using my "teacher voice" to call out individual students who were not following instructions to clean up. This strategy was pretty effective, but one second grader piped up, "We got in trouble just because we didn't clean up?!" In my mind, I was thinking, "Really?" But I leaned down and calmly told him in a low voice, "You need to do what the teacher tells you to do; not following instructions is disobeying." (Things that make you go, "Hmmmmm...")

Next, at the beginning of class everyone practiced the clean up routine a couple of times until we got it right. I dumped out a box of supplies at each table, coached them to work together as a team to put them back, and we practiced lining up calmly and quietly, sometimes repeatedly. You would think that the kids would do a better job at cleaning up after that, right? They did, but only for that day. The next time we met for class the routine spiraled down into chaos, again. I see all my elementary classes twice each week except for 5th and 6th grade who only meet once. They should have remembered what to do! Positive motivation and repetition can only go so far, sometimes a firm consequence is in order.

Finally, I printed out some tickets on colored paper. The green tickets have a picture of a bear with his paw raised up in a "High Five," and a caption that says, "I did grrreat in Art class today!" (I got this idea from Kim Brodie Metro - thank you, Kim!) The red tickets are smaller and printed with captions such as, "I need to practice following instructions at clean up time," or, "I need to practice obeying the first time," etc. (idea from Maggie Moschell - thank you, Maggie!) I told the kids (1st grade - 4th) that they would go home with either a red ticket or a green ticket that day, that the choice was theirs. Finally, they began taking things a little more seriously. 

3rd grade student's new creation after cutting up his "perfect square;" work in progress
The music teacher saw the tickets on my desk and thought they were a good idea - she asked if I handed them to the kids or to their teacher. I give the red notes directly to the teacher, who staples the note inside the child's planner. (For more severe behavior issues, I call or email parents directly. I don't want to rely on a written note that could just be covertly thrown away by the child.)

The next strategy I will pull out of my toolbox will be a whole class reward system where the group can earn points toward a Free Art Day. Finally, if there are any kids who continue to act up, I will pull out my discipline assignments. I think by the fourth week of school and four, five, or six art classes there has been plenty of opportunity for the kids to learn the ropes! 

I know it will take time for me to establish the structure I want; it's only been three weeks after all! It has been really interesting to see how well my new elementary students do at the beginning of class and during the lesson. The issues seem to always arise during clean up! As the new teacher, I know that I need to be patient - kids are testing me to see exactly where the art classroom boundaries are. Rome wasn't built in a day! It will take consistent discipline on my part, a balance of positive motivators as well as consequences for misbehavior, and developing good relationships with my students. 

Classroom management is extremely important, and worth all the extra effort it takes to provide a safe and structured learning environment. The structure just has to be built one little bit at a time. 

"Note Home:" document was printed out on green paper (idea from Kim Metro)

"Note Home:" document was printed on red paper (idea from Maggie Moschell)

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols



Here is a compilation of some of the best ideas I have found on the Internet for ways to keep kids of all ages engaged even on the last day of school! (Scroll to the bottom of this post if you are looking for award ideas and resources to write positive and effective report card comments.)


This year, after the art supplies were put away and the kids helped me clean the room, I showed them the below video and they went to town! All my middle school kids loved it, even the ones who said they "didn't want to do a friendship bracelet" wound up making one:

How To Make a Friendship Bracelet With a Cardboard Loom, Youtube

40 End of the Year Cleanup Jobs For Your Students, by Jennifer Borel, theartofed.com

How a Student Survey Can Improve Your Classroom, by Suzanne Capek Tingley, wgu.edu

Mascot Mural For School: Grids, by Eric Gibbons, artedguru.com ... this is a low-mess collaborative drawing that could be adapted to upper elementary, middle, or high school

4 Engaging End of the Year Projects To Keep You Sane,  by Tracy Hare, theartofed.com, middle or high school

Feeling a Bit Like An Artist Magician, by Peter Sansom ... upper elementary, middle, or high school (this blog post is about repeated drawings in a pattern...)

5 Legitimate Reasons To Take Your Students Outside, by Lindsey Moss, theartofed.com ... upper elementary, middle, or high school

6 Innovative Ways To Use Up Leftover Paint, by Abby Schukei, theartofed.com ... upper elementary, middle, or high school

How To End the School Year In Peace and Harmony (Or How To Keep Them Engaged Until the End!), by Amy Zschaber, artfulartsyamy.com ... middle or high school

5 Super Fun End of the Year Projects, by Michelle East, createartwithme.com ... middle or elementary school

End of the Year Activities, Cassie Stephens, Youtube ... elementary school

Floating On to _____ Grade!! End of Year Project!, by elementaryartfun.blogspot.com ... elementary school

Scrap Paper Art, by Sheryl Depp, primarilyartwithmrsdepp.blogspot.com ... elementary school

6 Activities To Make Your Art Room Even More Fun, by Alicia Eggers Kaczmarek, theartofed.com ... elementary or middle school

Pre-K - K End of Year Art Projects, by Audra Wallace, scholastic.com 

Save The Best For Last, by Jessica Balsley, theartofed.com ... elementary school

Other ideas for engaging, low mess projects for the last few days of school: 

  • Stations: Have a variety set up for kids to choose activities such as drawing books, puzzles, games, Legos, etc. 
  • Origami
  • Flextangles
  • Weaving
  • Photography - alphabet scavenger hunt outside
  • Texture rubbing contest outside - all you need is paper and crayons; who can find the most textures?
  • Paper Airplane contest; students can throw them at the teacher on the last day of school!
  • Pop Up Cards or Books (link takes you to the Pop-Up channel on Youtube)
  • Flip Books
  • Art Games - link takes you to a listing of a variety of art games
  • Drawing Games (Exquisite Corpse, etc.)
  • Sculpture Games (Sculptionary with modeling clay, marshmallow challenge, etc.)
  • Paper Dolls or Characters: directions on craftsy.com or directions on jampaper.com (use patterned paper, wrapping paper, wallpaper samples, etc. for clothing and for younger children cut out templates to trace for shirts, pants, etc.)
  • Youtube playlists; here is mine on sculpture
  • Roll a _____ Games: (Below is a design by art teacher Hannah Smith - more designs can be found on Pinterest)
  • Scrambled Art Grid Puzzles: more examples can be found on Pinterest


Handmade awards; gold spray-painted palettes, paintbrushes, mannequins, wooden candle sticks, and wooden plaques by Francisco and Janell Matas (for high school outstanding student in photography, ceramics, sculpture, drawing, painting, digital art, AP studio, adapted art artist, adapted art, jewelry/metal, and outstanding senior)

Certificate Designs by Leanne Godbee:

Abby found these plastic party favors in the party supply section of Hobby Lobby. She painted them gold and added the jewels.

Click on this link, Art Award Template, to download a DIY paper template to make this nifty art trophy! The design is from Leslie Gould at heythatsmyartteacher.blogspot.com 


    101 Report Card Comments To Use Now, by Genia Connell, scholastic.com

    100 Report Card Comments, educationworld.com

    Comment Ideas For Report Cards, by Chantal Latour, teachnet.com

    "Wait... That's All?" Why That End-Of-Year Art Portfolio Isn't Thicker, by Mrs. Joanna Elliott, mrselliottart.blogspot.com

    article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


    TAB CHOICE LEARNING, PART II, by Shelly Bailey

    photo from Shelly's video, TABS Choice Learning
    So here was the challenge: how can I create a studio environment that is effective for middle school? 

    I told the kids I was going to stop teaching (teacher pause)….loud student cheering…. like I have been teaching. I will now only teach about 10 minutes each day. 

    "Huh? What was that? What do you mean?" they said. 

    "You will now get to choose what kind of art YOU want to create! Anything you want... BUT it has to get approval from me. This will be difficult to do, but I think you are smart and up for that challenge!"

    I realized it was all in the buy-in. Did they buy in to this way of creating art? I was determined to make them think it was the most amazing thing in the world. 

    I structured everything into the "Eight Studio Habits of Mind." The book, Studio Thinking 2, by Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, and Kimberly M. Sheridan, illustrates this way of thought best. The Studio Habits are as follows: 

    photo credit; Pinterest.com
    1. Understanding Art Worlds:
    Domain: Learning about art history and current practice. Communities: Learning to interact as an artist with other artists (i.e., in classrooms, in local arts organizations, and across the art field) and within broader society.

    2. Stretch and Explore: 
    Learning to reach beyond one’s capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes and accidents. 

    3. Reflect: 
    Question and Explain: Learning to think and talk with others about an aspect of one’s work or working process. 
    Evaluate: Learning to judge one’s own work and working process, and the work of others in relation to standards of the field. 

    4. Observe: Learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary “looking” requires, and thereby to see things that otherwise might not be seen.

    5. Develop Craft: 
    Technique: Learning to use tools (e.g., viewfinders, brushes), materials (e.g., charcoal, paint); learning artistic conventions (e.g., perspective, color mixing) Studio Practice: Learning to care for tools, materials and space. 

    6. Engage and Persist: Learning to embrace problems of relevance within the art world and/or of personal importance, to develop focus and other mental states conducive to working and persevering at art tasks. 

    7. Envision: Learning to picture mentally what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a piece. 

    8. Express: Learning to create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or a personal meaning. 

    photo from Shelly's video, TABS Choice Learning
    In the book, the authors present the Habits of Mind in an oval because they believe they are non-hierarchical, so none logically come first or last. The belief is that these should not be taught in a set sequence. Any habit can begin a project and should create a dynamic generative energy. 

    So, the first step was designing my space - I needed flow! I didn’t need students constantly bumping into each other and I made sure to put my "Painting," "Sculpture and Mask Making," and "Clay" stations closest to my sinks. My "Digital Media" needed to be as far away from anything liquid as possible. I also was selective about how many students I would allow at each station. I needed to get in my head a maximum number of kids I wanted to work at "Sculpture." 

    You are still only one person. This type of teaching makes you feel like an octopus, mind you! I decided I would only allow one student at a time at "Clay." This is a personal preference. I only let three in "Sculpture," four in "Drawing," and so forth. This is something you will have to determine yourself on what you can manage and the number of students in your class as well as how many different type of stations you set up. I also close some stations down. I may not have had the opportunity to demonstrate that area yet. So, until I get to a lesson that teaches students how to use it, RED light on that area.

    Now comes the teaching part. The key is 5-10 minute popcorn lessons. There is a time and a place for long lessons. This is an exploratory type of learning. Again, you are there to guide and push THEIR creativity. 

    photo credit: Shelly Bailey
    Demonstrate different media. Show them how to create a printing foam plate, ink a plate, describe the tools and their proper names. Make lots of posters to hang over each section. Label the parts of a brush and so forth. When you speak to the kids, reference their tools by the proper names. Remind them to read the binders at each table for information. I provide tablets and Chromebooks for students to use as reference tools as well as tons of lesson books, text books, and a variety of picture examples. 

    I try very hard to not answer their questions. Yes, I have become that teacher who answers a question with a question! This way of teaching is VERY exciting for students BUT very hard. It will frustrate them a great deal because they don’t want to sit and listen to you but they also don’t want to explore the answers themselves. They want you to tell them how or do it for them. Resist the urge to do this. It is not about you, but about them and how well they are absorbing the process. 

    TAB or Choice Based Learning is all in the process! 

    TAB stands for TEACHING for ARTISTIC BEHAVIOR. TAB recognizes the student as an artist. That word is important to use. This will build self confidence and self esteem. They are to design their own work. This helps a student to understand what they are doing to become more vested in the end result. I can’t tell you how many times students get ten minutes into a project and come to me and ask if they can move to another station. My answer is always emphatically, "No." 

    I will NEVER let a student give up. 

    photo credit: Shelly Bailey
    It is always super important to help direct their thoughts without doing the work for them. Reference them to samples, send them to teacher approved Youtube channels, demonstrate personally. Ask them open ended questions. None of those "Yes/No" answers! The beauty of this way of teaching is that students can work at their own pace. I had to throw mass production and tons of completed work "out the window!" Some students spend 5 weeks on one project. I have no problem with this if they are engaged and always working. 

    The idea is about quality and understanding, not about quantity. The reality is that you are always going to get someone who decides they are just going to sit and do nothing and drag it out. Let me remind you that you are not giving "G’s" for "Good" in middle school. You are giving grades. So, how do you grade if you have a student who only makes two projects for a semester and another who produces five? The answer is simple: daily class participation grades. Yes, that is very elementary! However, you have to be aware of what is going on in your room. You can not sit at your desk and answer emails and get wrapped up in writing a lesson plan. You have to pay attention at all times to what is happening in your room; more specifically, what your students have done to stay on task. I will redirect a few times but then I remind my students that if I see them not working, it is a zero for the day. 

    photo credit; Shelly Bailey
    I am an all or nothing kind of gal, too. Coloring one section of your piece that is the size of a quarter does not equate 100% participation for the day. I will give a zero for that. They always panic when they see they don’t have a 100 in art. You will hear, “Will I move to the next grade if I fail your class?” The answer is not one you want to advertise as being a "yes." This is something they need to get used to. As I am also the teacher at the high school and I am trying to prepare them for a more intense grading system when they join me over there. I spend the majority of my day teaching 9th-12th graders. I travel at the very end of the day to teach one course at the middle school. I would love to see them have a full time art teacher at both schools. However, right now that is not in the cards. So I do the best I can to prepare the students I do have at the middle school for high school life and try to "unbaby" them. 

    So, how does a day look? I start with a popcorn lesson. It may be a demonstration about different drawing tools and how to use them. The parts of a brush, how to use watercolor paint and different techniques, one point perspective, using paper mache, or how to create a pinch pot. You get the idea! 

    I go full on elementary level with them. It works! I sit in a chair and make my students sit around me on the floor. This guarantees I have their full attention. If I need to demonstrate, I will set up a small table in front of them or an easel. 

    Students are also required to create a plan before they can create. The first time we began, I wrote each child’s name on a piece of paper and drew their name from a bowl. They got to choose where they wanted to go. This was a lottery system of sorts to get them started. As students begin to finish projects they come to me and ask which station is open and where could they go work. 

    photos from Shelly's video, TABS Choice Learning

    I have paper plans for the kids to fill out and they are required to create a sketch of what they want to make. I have to initial this plan before they can begin work. I make them save ALL plans and sketches. I have folders for each class. This is a great way to assess their progress. This is what I love about TAB teaching. You can really see student growth and development. 

    I am going to be honest. My kids really get frustrated because my standards are very high. They want to draw a person and bring me a cartoon. I make them start again and go read books on proper proportions and watch videos. Then I will sit with the student and help them step by step periodically. When students finish their final piece they always have to fill out an artist statement form. It is important they still understand the elements of art and principles of design. They have to have a title for their art and be able to explain their inspiration. It’s one thing to make art, but they also have to be able to talk about it. Since I adopted TAB teaching, I have noticed the students get very excited when they finish a piece! They revert back to that first grade child who splits their face in half with a smile when I hug them and tell them what a wonderful job they did and how much they learned in the process. I always point out their struggles and how they overcame. 

    photo from Shelly's video, TABS Choice Learning

    I have far fewer discipline issues. Students are doing what they want to do so they are engaged. You will still always have something that happens in class. It is almost impossible to develop a perfect group of 20+ hormonal preteens/teens. However, they are old enough to understand sarcasm. I will say my own teenagers taught me many things over the years. When they show out, I shut them down. I have no problem teasing a child into submission. It is all in how you do it though. They have to know you love them. You can’t make fun of a kid and it come across as mean. They have to see your heart behind your eyes. For example, my kids are very smart. BUT, they still want to do as little as humanly possible and look for the easiest solution to creating something. They will bring me a sketch and I will ask them if they are 5 or 12? They always grin and drop their head. They know. Meaning….they know I am on to them. They have gotten to where they come to me and I just say no to a drawing and point to the resource center. 

    I have heard so many times from my other students, “You know that is not complicated enough for her! You have to go put more stuff in your drawing.” OR “That doesn’t look real enough.” They have started helping each other. That is the most amazing thing to witness because they are peer helping. They are critiquing each other’s work. Which is something you want to happen. The beauty is, it naturally happens if you stick to high standards. 

    I push them like high school students. They are very capable. They go through some sort of process in art with me now. They don’t like me at first. Who is this woman who is always telling me I need to do more? This is soooooo hard! But half way though they all get a break through. By the end they don’t want to leave and see me in the halls now and tell me how much they miss art. 

    They miss ART, ya’ll!! Deep breath, sigh.


    After all, aren’t we all teaching art because we love it and are trying to teach others to appreciate the arts? Now back to the reality. Do I have students I struggle with? Who I wish I could pinch? Sure. I still have to write students up. This didn’t cure all misbehavior. Everyone has experienced that one student no matter how hard you try, has a chip on their shoulder and works super hard to be bad. I just have to tell myself they are children, no matter how large they are. 

    photo credit: Shelly Bailey
    Lastly, their work is very impressive. I love the surprise I experience regularly about different talents my kids possess. It doesn’t take long for the kids to find out they thrive in painting but don’t like weaving. Or, that they love the thrill of having messy hands with starch as they build an amazing creation or dislike the tedious nature of hand stitching. Or, it could be just the opposite. They hate being messy but love the detail work of hand stitching or weaving. They really are exploring a lot of different media! If they have an idea and it doesn’t fit the mold somewhere, I am always open to listening and trying to help them work out a plan to complete it. 

    The key here is to try and expose them to as much as possible and allow them to explore. Not all classrooms will work this way. I have too much to teach at the high school to operate a classroom like this at that level. However it works beautifully at the middle school. I suppose I do a version of choice at my advanced Art 3 and Art 4 levels at the high school. Elementary school might choose to do TAB days. You don’t have to set up an entire room to TAB teaching to still use this method. You can have just a few centers set up. Make up a "Fun Friday" on the elementary level. Create a sticker chart where a class has to earn a certain number of stickers for good behavior. Once they have achieved the right number, give them a Fun Friday and do a version of TAB centers. Get creative on how you explore this method. I personally love it and will not go back to my old way at the middle school level. It just works way too well and my students are so much more pleasant and producing amazing pieces of art. TAB is a new way of life for me and one I love so very much!

    If you have any questions or would like me to share any lessons or documents with you I am happy to email you what I have. 

    Many Blessings and Happy Creating!

    Shelly Bailey

    Below is a video Shelly created about the process of transforming a middle school art classroom into a TAB studio environment: "Shelly Bailey TABS Choice Learning"

    helpful links:

    article by Mrs. Shelly Bailey


    TAB CHOICE LEARNING, PART I; by Shelly Bailey

    here is Shelly next to one of her original paintings
    An award winning veteran teacher, Mrs. Shelly Bailey recently switched from teaching elementary art to teaching middle and high school art in a new school district. Teaching a single middle school class every afternoon (after teaching at the neighboring high school most of the day), she was at her wits' end trying to figure out how to deal with multiple issues. There were behavior problems as well as a culture shift in the school with new administration. She was also the "new teacher" trying to teach art to kids who had never even had an art class. Here is the first part of her story about how the TAB philosophy (Teaching For Artistic Behavior) helped her create a passion for art in her students (and keep her sanity!) 

    Dear Art Friends, 

    Before I began doing TAB teaching, I began to research. I was not dying to start something new, mind you. 

    However, I was struggling. 

    "Hmmmm," you say? Yes, hard to imagine a middle school art teacher with any struggles, right? I say this tongue in cheek. Discipline is an issue in any visual art production oriented class. We just have a lot going on. If you don’t have seriously strong and understood rules, an art class can get very out of hand. But, combine that with hormones, being a part time teacher who only teaches one class a day, and lack of discipline support from administration... let’s be real here; I was miserable. 

    This blog is to help real life teachers like yourself. I don’t want to sugarcoat this. I had large issues that I didn’t know how to fix with my standard way of teaching. I have been in art education for 22 years. I should be able to say, "I have done and seen it all and I am an expert." Right? 


    Times continue to change, as do students, attitudes, technology, and parents. Not all in a bad way, either. I mean wow... Pinterest has changed my life. :) We do, however, see an evolution in the classroom. Students are so technologically plugged in. That is such an amazing thing. I am from the generation of pay-phones and libraries. If you were late coming home from your designated time you were grounded. My phone conversations consisted of stretching the phone cord as far as I could get it into the kitchen pantry; sitting in the dark while I gossiped with my friends on the phone until my mom or dad opened the door and blinded me with the lights and told me to get off. 

    When I was feeling rebellious I’d go down to the basement, but dad would keep picking up the phone as my “cue” to get off. If I ignored it, he systematically beat on the flooring overhead with his foot. However, if it escaped my teenage mind I would get the dreaded pick up, with him screaming my name on the line to hang up and that he needed to use the phone... mortal embarrassment! Kids are a little more oblivious of embarrassment these days. They can cut you down quicker than you can think of a snappy comeback. Fear doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary. 

    I say, "fear," because I had a healthy dose of that growing up. It was bred out of respect for my elders. I did not want to experience the wrath that could and would ensue.

    Hence my dilemma. 

    We had a turnover of all administration in the entire front office. Things were in chaos. Rules were unclear or constantly changing. Not only did the kids seem to be running things, faculty members were always angry and put out. 

    So, in the midst of this craziness and misery I decided that I was a smart woman! If you allow negativity to feed into your spirit it can overcome you. Open the door a crack and it can quickly become a gaping cavern. Misery loves company! 

    I had to break the pattern. I visually saw myself in a pit and I found the ladder to climb out. 

    photo from Shelly's video, "Tabs Choice Learning"

    I had heard about TAB teaching before. But, like most of us who think of student-driven art, my brain went to, “Oh, heck no!! I mean, I need to teach them things, right?" I pride myself on organized chaos. A TAB classroom just sounded like a room full of puppies; super cute and adorable for about 5 minutes, then you can’t keep them in one spot or stop them from barking or biting each other. Anyone else out there experience puppy behavior? 

    photo from Shelly's video, Tabs Choice Learning
    So, after deep thought and contemplation, this is what I came up with. My kids didn’t understand art. Most of them had never even had art in elementary school. They just got a part time art teacher in my district two years ago so the program there is in the baby stages of development. What my kids knew about art was what they had taught themselves or seen on t.v. They literally wanted to draw rainbows, write their initials, and fill up a piece of paper with hearts or cartoons. Sigh... this is every art teacher’s worst nightmare. 
    To add insult to injury, I was their last class of the day. 

    They were spent. They wanted to go outside and play. “Isn’t art supposed to be about playing?" they’d say. "Why do we have to sit here and listen to you talk to us? Why do we have to follow you step by step?" 

    I would reply, "Because I said so." Sheesh... that sounded like my parents talking. I heard so much, “I don’t want to do this” and “I don’t like art” more than I ever had in my life!

    "Wow!" I said to myself, "Is it me? Do I need to stop teaching? Have I lost my touch?"

    Then it hit me. They don’t know HOW to create! 

    photo from Shelly's video, Tabs Choice Learning

    What is creativity? Ask them to think outside of the box and they ask me, "What box? Huh? What do you mean?"

    But, more importantly, I finally understood what these particular students needed. Are you ready for the magic word? The word that changed my life? 


    Oh gracious, I had lost my ever loving mind. Giving middle school kids control is crazy. 

    I thought, "They will surely fire me over this one!"

    But then I went back to the awesomeness of me. Yes, I say awesomeness! Because I forgot momentarily that I am awesome. So are you!

    I am educated. I have two degrees. I show my art professionally. I am 42 years old (doesn’t that mean by default I have some life experience brilliance?). I have raised 4 children. Wait stop….what? I have raised children!!!! Ding Ding Ding…..It was so simple I felt stupid. 

    How many times had I convinced my children to do things I knew they didn’t want to do? I made it always sound like it was their idea! Brilliant! So I presented TAB to my students this way. 
    "Boys and girls, I am about to change our room around. Don’t mind the mess for the next week. We are about to start a new kind of art. The kind you will get to control!"
    Okay...right then their interest was caught. Students replied, “What did you say Mrs. Bailey?!"  
    "Yes you heard me right. But right now, I can’t talk about it. When I get the room ready then I will tell you in detail."

    I organized my room into pods. Drawing, Printmaking, Architecture, Clay, Sculpture and Mask Making, Digital Media and Photography, Art History, Resource Center, Painting, Collage, and Fiber Arts. I pushed desks together and put supplies in close proximity to these areas. I created binders with "How To’s" and explanations. They also included sample completed lessons. I spent hours and days compiling information. 

    photo from Shelly's video, "Tabs Choice Learning"

    I pulled up everything I could find on TAB teaching. I borrowed and revamped other teacher plans and documents. I must have made 8,000 labels and collected as many containers as I could find to put various supplies in. I basically turned my supply closet inside out. 

    My kids were mesmerized and couldn’t wait to find out what I was doing and what they were about to do. 

    So the play began... at least that is what my students thought was about to occur!

    To be continued in Part II...