Kids decide and the art flows

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

In art classes at Irving Elementary School in Oak Park, choice is the rule.

Because, since January, in Emily Tague's art room, working away at designated art stations have been students choosing to do everything from drawing, painting and collage, to weaving and creating paper sculptures.

Tague calls this art making "Choice-based art," and its a new student directed approach she testing in her 2nd through 5th grade art classes. It's all about her teaching them the ins and outs of using art tools and materials, then encouraging the youngsters to go at it, with or without input from her.

Also called TAB (Teaching Artistic Behaviors), Tague says she first observed it in action in art classrooms at District 97's two middle schools. In addition, last summer, while on maternity leave, she took a workshop where the possibility of implementing it at Irving started making sense.

"It is really cool, because it is their own idea, rather than me telling them what to do, and they can be creative, and decide to make what they want to make, andwhat they are interested in," Tague says. "So, I have found that the kids are much more excited to come to art because they are sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, and problem solving together…making things that are so much more important to them."

One of her students, fourth grader Josiah Jennison, has set his sights on constructing a 3-D city, inspired by the paper sculpted roller coaster his tablemates James McConnell and Henry Skalla are creating.

"It's freestyle, technically," says Jennison. "I am doing a 3-D paper city, and right now I am working on a car. It has a paper arch, but it is not suppose to be St. Louis. I made a park over here, a pond, a climbing wall, a tube you can crawl through, which is a slide," he says.

Nearby Teagan Drumm is assembling a textural collage, using her first name as the starting point, whereas Dwight Williams, a soccer player and goalie himself, is lost in the art of soccer. His project is similar to a pop-up art book, he says.

"I have an announcer sitting right here, talking into a microphone. I have people playing soccer, and the goalie is right there," Williams says.

Irving principal John Hodge says he is thrilled with the "Choice-based art" approach, as the student artwork covering the school's hallways and classroom walls at Irving has always had a big impact on the building's climate and atmosphere.

"A lot of kids are inspired by what another kid is doing, and that is the point," Tague says. "It has been really fun for me to see how they work together, talk to each other, and give each other ideas."

Meanwhile, Skalla says they are wrapping up the roller coaster project, which features a dragon's head with a flame coming out of its mouth, a volcano and a giant ghost head.

"I wanted to do a giant ghost tunnel, but Henry decided we didn't have enough space," McConnell says with a shrug.

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