Sunday, October 16, 2016

Balance: Choice-Based Learning and the National Arts Standards

After posting about my 'Careers in Art' series recently (click here). I received the following comment below from Kellie Determan.  
It sounds like Kellie is exactly in the same place I found myself about two years ago. Two years ago I started watching the posts from TAB teachers and loving the concept of an Art Studio versus an Art Class.  I would offer a little choice in my class and post it to the TAB groups on Facebook.  I would get comments from teachers suggesting that what I was doing was not TAB... not even close. I was trying but I was taking baby steps... such small baby steps.  I would allow my students to choose the color of paper, or between two mediums but we would still all do the same lesson. Sometimes I would let them each choose their own subject, but make sure that they were still doing the same process. I think this is great.  It's a way to give choice in your classroom at some level.

Here is the deal... it's all TAB... check out the bold comment from the TAB website

I don't consider myself to be TAB.  I might call myself Directed Choice-based.  I'm totally seeing the benefits of choice as also suggested on the website under 'what is TAB'. One of the big ones is this approach to teaching has allowed me to be available for individual and small group teaching and support (see previous post). When I'm instructing, I teach to the masses, not the student. In this choice-based learning, I 'm available to the students as a resource. 

So back to Kellie's question, how do I explain what I'm doing to others who come into my classroom and see the 'fun' happening?

There is a structure to my class.  Yoga Calm calls it Calm>Active>Calm (see more on Yoga Calm by clicking here).  This is the format I have been using in my classroom for years.  I bring students into class and have a class meeting for the goals of the day.  We usually watch a flipped video and then they are asked to go make their choice of how they meet that goal. There is great activity in the classroom, we will end with a gallery walk, clean up, and a Bit-O-Bio so kids are back to calm again.

I have an 'I Can Statement' posted on the board... but instead of calling it a "I Can..." I call it a challenge or a goal.  The kids look at my classroom as a puzzle to be solved... I love this because it allows students to understand that there are no 'right' answers... They get to solve the problem in the way they choose for the day.

My goals given to the students are developed from the National Standards. Let's just look at the Architecture Lesson I recently posted on.  I'm doing the 'Careers in Art' series with my 3rd grade.
This whole series highlights the 'Create' standards above... Generating and organizing artistic ideas using a variety of processes and materials. These first two standards are covered with this one lesson.  I will be focusing on 'Refining and completing' in an upcoming lesson that I will have every trimester where they do a little reflection on the careers learned about thus far. So no... each standard is not met with every lesson. 
Again, present is not covered as much in this one lesson. This will be a focus for a follow-up lesson when students reflect on the process of being an architect and the other careers covered in class. 
Connecting is the main reason I'm covering 'Careers in Art' with my 3rd grade.  These broad standards are so big for my brain to wrap around.  I really focused in on the personal connections, the observation of surroundings and relating ideas and work with society.  This strand of the standards is why I have developed this whole series.  

As art teachers we tell our students that Art is all around us.  But do we show them how? So by giving students Careers in Art, they can see where, how, and who are the creators of the Art that is all around us. They can also relate that back to themselves.  A student might not feel they are an artist if they are not 'good' at drawing, or painting, or whatever is being taught in your Art classroom... If the definition of what an artist is broad, they might find a place where their skill set fits best. They will walk away from your class knowing that everyone has Artistic skills and it can be developed.  

Is this the 'right' way to reach the standard of Connecting?  It's one way. Teaching is just like a TAB room... there are so many solutions to the same problem even if our administration would often want us to be uniformed.  There MUST be fluidity to teaching in the Art Studio. 
Finally, responding.  I have the students do a 'Gallery Walk' almost every class period. This is an informal way to start the conversation of responding to art. We celebrate how we each reached an answer to the problem. There will be a separate lesson where interpreting and evaluating is the focus.  These were not the goals of this lesson at all.  

By the way, if you love this format of the National Arts Standards above, click here for the previous post of where I got this and so many more amazing resources for this year.  It's from Laura Lohmann's Art Teacher Planner.  That is a solid resource for sure! 

This is how I have found balance.  I still believe that students in elementary school are developing the building blocks to creating art.  This is why I give students a focus, allowing them to build their skills.  By 5th grade, most are actively applying their knowledge and the problem solving is much more evident in their creations. 


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. How many hours of art do your students get each year?

  2. I think you are doing a good job of achieving balance based on this very thoughtful article! I consider myself to be a directed choice teacher as well so it was interesting to me to read your take on striving for more choice.. I enjoy here how you've broken down your reflection into one standard at a time. If you ever write an article in the "presenting" standard, I'd love to read it. Thanks!

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