Start with Routine
PSA: This one is long, but discusses a new strategy that I am really loving!
Let me tell you something about myself. I LOVE new ideas. But I don't always love planning them out all the way. I get so excited about trying something new that I just want to jump right in and get started (it's amazing that I get along so well with elementary students, right?).
But when it comes to choice-art, routine is everything. When you are allowing students to have this amount of freedom and responsibility, you are opening up all sorts of opportunities for chaos if they don't know what's what. Every part of your class needs to be a routine. From entering the classroom, to working on projects, to cleaning up at the end of class.
Setting up this level of organization can be daunting and, in my opinion, boring. But trust me when I say it is NECESSARY. My first year trying TAB, in typical me-fashion, I decided to jump right in without giving much thought to procedures or expectations. Everything worked itself out in the end, but it was definitely a bumpy road getting there. So my second year I set out to lay a stronger foundation for the year ahead.
We started this year by going over our schedule (see below). Our class runs the exact same way every week (with a few exceptions). The students enter the room and look at the bulletin board by the door to see where they need to sit. There are three options: sitting on the floor by the smartboard, sitting at the tables ready to work, or standing by the demo table for a teacher demonstration. I will sometimes let them know out in the hallway if they need to grab any extra materials on their way in, but typically all they need to start is their sketchbook and a pencil.
I try to keep mini-lesson time to 10-15 minutes max. This way I don't take up too much of their work time. I usually ask my kiddos to take a couple of notes during their lesson time and I'll let them know when there is something that's really important that they might see on an assessment later on *hint hint*.
**A Little Tip: If you have trouble getting kids to take notes, let them know that they can use their sketchbooks during an open-sketchbook quiz. I usually give one of these a quarter to see if they have been listening during mini-lesson time. As soon as they learn that they can use their sketchbooks, most of them will write down as much information as possible! Win win!
After mini-lesson time is over, we move to sketchbook time. Our first year of TAB I would put a five minute timer up on the smartboard and I asked the students to work silently in their sketchbooks for that time. The idea was that silent work time would get their minds focused and ready to work. I still like the idea of a couple minutes of individual work time, but of course, it didn't work out like that. During this time I typically had 4 different types of student:
Student 1- Doodling with no real purpose, just scribbling to pass the time.
Student 2- Not drawing at all, playing with pencil or whispering to neighbors.
Student 3- Actually sketching, but not actually planning a project to make.
Student 4- The few students who were actually planning a project in their sketchbook.
So this year, we changed it up. I told my students they could spend as much or as little time in their sketchbooks as they wanted. BUT there was a catch! Before they were allowed to move on to studio time, they had to go through me (*insert maniacal laughter here).
Here's how this works....I release the students to go work in their sketchbooks and they know they need their sketchbook and a pencil. When they have finished planning a project they come to me and we have a very quick conference about their plans. They give me a quick description of what they would like to make and how they are going to make it. I usually look for a couple key features in their plans:
1. A sketch of their project
2. What studio(s) they will need to go to
3. A list of what materials they will need
When I see that they have all of these items, I initial their plans at the bottom of the page. This way, when they go back to work on that project the next week, I can see that I have already approved their plans.
These strategies, although tiresome at first, have really improved the functionality of our classroom! The students are actually taking the time to come up with fully thought-through projects and I get a chance to see the plans before the projects are made. Win win!