Head-Royce News

Teaching Lower Schoolers to Think Like Artists
Nichole LeFebvre

Maanya J. ’27 and Abigail B. ’27 make an extra hand for high-fives. 

This year, the Lower School art classes each launched with a party––not the type with pizza and presents, but rather tasks and tons of laughter. “A task party is an event where participants are invited to pick a task from a box,” explains Art Teacher Marissa Kunz. “The tasks––like this classroom––are open-ended. Each person’s interpretation is different. You can create something as elaborate or as simple as you want.” 

During the 2nd grade task party, Ekaterina S. ’30 reads her task aloud and shows off her creation. “Make a watch that has magic powers but can’t tell time,” she says, her wrist circled in popsicle sticks and decorated with a heart-shaped button. 

“What does your watch do?” asks Marissa.

“It turns me invisible,” she says, before pressing the button and jumping out of sight. These playful prompts get students stretching beyond a “right answer,” generating ideas, and exploring the range of materials stocked in the art room. 

Marissa’s favorite part of task parties are the “organic collaborations.” At the 5th grade party, she stops by a table; underneath, two boys are busy sculpting miniature puppets from clay, pipe cleaners, and tin foil. 

Zavi R. ’27 eagerly tells her, “I was supposed to work for five minutes under a table.”

“And I was supposed to get a rabbit and turtle and race them,” Jonah G. ’27 says, followed by, “Ready, set, go.” Lying under the table, they pull on strings and laugh as their tiny creatures crash into a masking-tape finish line. 

German-born artist Oliver Herring began organizing task parties in 2002, as a participatory art form. With each finished task, party-goers must write a new task for the group and draw another for themselves. The events, like the tasks, are therefore open-ended. “Herring would host ten-hour events, in museums, schools, and parks,” says Marissa, who first participated in a task party in Boston with fellow art teachers. “It was at a workshop for teachers learning the pedagogy Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB).” Marissa noticed immediately that these parties pulled people out of their typical line of thinking and “got them to behave like artists.” 

The Lower School has since adopted the TAB pedagogy. “It’s a choice-based program, in a choice-based art studio,” says Marissa, who has set up skill-based centers all around the art room. Throughout the year, students spend time learning the medium of each center––drawing, sculpture, collage, and more––in skill-builds. Most classes, however, are self-guided. 

“They work like artists,” says Marissa. “They come up with ideas and then figure out how to realize those ideas. They share with their classmates and get feedback in group critiques.”

“It’s so much better than everyone making the same project,” says Marissa. “Ten years ago, before TAB, I’d say, ‘Let’s look at Van Gogh’s "Sunflowers" and then paint our own sunflowers.” Now we look at art––say, a Jen Stark rainbow painting, and we talk about the choices that went into it, how she asked herself 'what if questions. What if a rainbow turned into another shape?” 

Marissa has noticed changes in her students, in both the day-to-day and in how one school year carries over into the next. “They come in right away with ideas,” she says. “They’re thinking about their art all the time.” One student began making comics last spring, “one page at a time,” and “came back from the summer ready with new characters.” Another student makes “these huge drawings of her dog’s fleas trying to FedEx objects; they have pullies and everything.” This school year, the student asked, “Okay, what if I draw the fleas at the beach?” 

With TAB, students learn the following eight behaviors of artists: 

  1. Observe – Look deeply and closely for details.

  2. Envision – Generate ideas through imagination.

  3. Express – Create art that conveys a feeling, idea, or personal meaning. 

  4. Develop craft – Learn techniques, art tools, and materials. 

  5. Stretch and explore – Try new things and playing with materials. 

  6. Reflect – Think and talk about your art.

  7. Engage and persist – Focus on your art and work on it over time. 

  8. Understand the art world – Learn about other artists and be part of an art community. 

Although the TAB pedagogy focuses on art, it’s easy to see how the behaviors blend into other disciplines. From critical thinking to resilience when faced with a challenge, developing an artistic mindset helps students tackle their own problems with creative solutions. 

“The goal is to build independence,” says Marissa. “Independent artist and thinkers.” 

 

William F. ‘30 wears his funny new shoes.  

Kallista K. ’27 dresses up to cast spells. 

 

 

Bird's Eye View is a story series highlighting our work towards the initiatives and goals laid out in our Strategic Plan: Bridge to 2022.

 

 

 

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