Tab Studio – Shady Oak Primary School

Tab Studio

What Is "Tab" And How Does It Work?

The acronym “TAB” stands for “Teaching for Artistic Behavior,” an art education approach to art instruction established in 2001. The program is a “grassroots educational movement entirely developed and maintained by art teachers. This concept comes directly from choice-based art education and action research in visual art classrooms around the United States”. The program compiles over thirty-five years of classroom experience and was developed under the supervision of Katherine Douglas.

In a TAB classroom, the student is the artist. As artists, the students work on their own projects at their own pace in their selected media of choice. They practice, explore, play, fail, stretch, innovate, experiment, and discover. Students care for materials and space and learn to work alongside other artists in their classroom community. They also reflect and communicate with one another through collaborative art efforts and by regularly examining their own and other artist’s work.

The TAB art experience is learner driven, not teacher led. It allows children to sample and combine different media types or dive deep into a single area, all while respecting the child’s natural imagination and creativity. True learning does not happen in a vacuum; true learning requires making connections between information and experiences which augment or disrupt a child’s view of the existing world. Students (as well as adults!) learn best when they are able to explore and their own interests and develop on their own existing talents and intelligence. Art in a TAB classroom allows children this opportunity.

A TAB classroom fosters “21st Century Skills” – creativity, communication, collaborate, critical thinking–and pure “scientific” inquiry that is in some ways superior to that of traditional STEM environments. In a typical math or science classroom, there is an achievable and expected outcome expected from the students. In art, there is no wrong answer, and as such, children can safely explore what happens when their “experiment” goes in an unexpected (read “wrong”) direction. With no expectation of measurable results, “success” in art can be defined by the student. It can be as simple as remembering that blue and yellow make green or as complex in creating a curated body of work surrounding one’s feelings and experiences of the treatment of US immigrants or on the importance of music on a student’s soul.

Work done in a TAB classroom is both relevant complex. Instead of teaching students to do art, TAB classrooms teach them how to be artists. Emphasis is placed on creating mindsets, dispositions, and habits more than on skills and technique–which is absolutely emphasized, but only as part of the bigger picture. Many TAB facilitators base their instruction from a structure named Studio Habits of the Mind, which is based on three learning structures and eight “habits” or “dispositions” (ways of seeing and thinking): stretch and explore, envision, observe, express, reflect, engage and persist, develop craft, and understanding art worlds. Workflow observed in TAB classrooms also loosely follows Project Based Learning and Design Thinking models: students come up with their own “Driving Questions,” think of how to answer these questions (alone or in groups), and create work that showcases these thoughts and musings. They use both divergent and convergent thinking processes; they imagine, create, and innovate; they go through the process of critical thinking–ideating, prototyping, testing, and refining.

In the end, TAB classrooms allow students another venue in which to practice learning to be functional human beings that contribute to society as a whole–the true goal of any well-constructed educational experience.


What Is Tab?

In a TAB-Choice studio students are regarded as artists.

Students are expected to do the work of artists, directing their own learning. They practice coming up with their own art problems to solve, asking questions and seeing possibilities in the world around them. Students learn to persevere through difficulties as well as to trust themselves and their own judgment while simultaneously learning to be self-directed, organized, and to manage their time.

Teaching with choice creates a nurturing community of artists.

When everyone is working on different things, there is less of a tendency to compare oneself to others. Students not only feel safe to find their own ways of expressing ideas and investigating art problems but also celebrate each other’s achievements.  Students coach each other, discuss artwork, share materials, and often choose to work with friends and classmates on particular projects.

In a TAB-Choice studio there are practice pieces and WOW pieces.

Not every piece can or should be a masterpiece.  In the same way that musicians and athletes practice, artists experiment, learning from their work.  When there are art shows or due dates students, like real artists, gather what they have learned to create WOW pieces for display.

In a TAB-Choice studio students learn to reflect on their work.

Students learn to evaluate their work to decide if it is finished.  They learn how to speak about their work in share times and to write about their work for artist statements that accompany their display pieces.

21st Century Skills

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills highlights the following cognitive skills for learning that meet the needs of today’s world. Choice-based teaching and learning provide opportunities for students to develop and expand these skills during art class.



CRITICAL THINKING / PROBLEM SOLVING:  Learners find and solve problems through inquiry, divergent thinking, play, reflection and evaluation. Students who bring ideas to class plan ahead for their work; others discover ideas by experimenting with media at studio centers.

CREATIVITY / INNOVATION:  Students who are intrinsically motivated will respond to problems in original and innovative ways. The predictability of choice-based studio centers allows children to pursue and refine their ideas over weeks, months and even years if they are inclined to do so. This allows learners to “go deep” with their work.

COMMUNICATION / COLLABORATION: Students learn to communicate their ideas and needs clearly because they are motivated to succeed at their self-directed work. Groups of self-selected learners form their own collaborative teams based on common interests and goals. Peer coaches assist with classmates’ challenges.


FLEXIBILITY / ADAPTABILITY:  Every class brings unexpected discoveries. Students interact with available resources in studio centers; teachers respond to incoming student ideas and artistic processes.

INITIATIVE / SELF-DIRECTION:  Learners are intrinsically motivated to engage in meaningful work from personal context. After a brief demo lesson, students begin their work without teacher assistance, setting up materials, pacing themselves and putting materials away at the end of class.

SOCIAL / CROSS-CULTURAL SKILLS:  Students work with friends and classmates at will, sometimes collaborating, sometimes working side-by-side. Negotiations arise over shared materials and space. Peer coaching and discussions about ongoing work are prevalent in the studio centers. Students learn to recognize their own working style and preferences, and to appreciate the same of others. Personal work brings diverse perspectives in to the classroom.

PRODUCTIVITY / ACCOUNTABILITY:  Students are expected to come to class with ideas or a willingness to explore materials and techniques. Learners show what they know and can do when they work independently and are held accountable for their progress. The teacher intervenes and modifies content as needed.

LEADERSHIP / RESPONSIBILITY:  Teachers design the learning environment and students are expected to maintain it, by keeping studio centers tidy and organized. Learners take responsibility for their own learning and behavior. Opportunities for student leadership in the choice-based classroom are plentiful; those who show readiness are encouraged to peer coach, curate exhibits, design new studio centers and help maintain electronic portfolios.

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