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Alum’s New Book Promotes Power of Student Choice in Art Education

Posted September 1, 2017 in AlumniArt Education

A new book co-authored by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) alumna Melissa Purtee (’05, BFA Art Education) aims to help secondary-level art teachers understand the benefits of giving students more control over their learning experiences.

“The Open Art Room” provides both current secondary art educators and those studying art education with tools and strategies to develop choice-based lesson plans designed to stimulate students’ creative thinking skills.

Cover of The Open Art Room

After moving to North Carolina to teach art at the elementary level in 2005, Purtee became fascinated with an approach known as Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), which treats students as artists and allows them to choose how to respond to their own ideas and interests through art-making.

“Teacher-directed lesson plans don’t activate creative thinking, and that’s a huge problem because the most important thing we can do for the future is to teach our students to think creatively” says Purtee. “We have to empower our students to make creative decisions at all levels of education, and we have to teach them a framework to do that comfortably.” 

In 2013, Purtee took a position at Apex High School in Apex, N.C., where she met co-author Ian Sands. The pair began developing “The Open Art Room” while working together. Sands, the former head of the school’s art department, hired Purtee in large part because of her interest in TAB.

“Ian was very interested in my teaching methods. We started working together, sharing ideas and capturing them on a blog,” says Purtee. “Eventually, we became focused on how TAB could be implemented at the secondary level.”

“The Open Art Room” positions the art teacher as facilitator rather than an instructor, connecting existing National Core Art Standards to flexible, student-centered instructional frameworks.

“We want art teachers to empower their students to be artists, and the book lays out a number of ways teacher can do that,” says Purtee.

Purtee graduated from KCAD’s Art Education program not long after it was established. In the years since, the program has embraced a student-centered philosophy much like Purtee’s, in which student needs are met on an individual level to foster active creative engagement.

“Being in an art and design school and being surrounded by creative people helped me explore myself as an artist,” Purtee says of her time at KCAD. “I found that very impactful.”

With “The Open Art Room,” she hopes to help pave the way for others to have similar experiences.

“Creative thinking is a learned skill; it’s teachable,” she says. “We just have to provide the right opportunities.”

Learn more about “The Open Art Room.”

Learn more about KCAD’s Art Education program.