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Choice-Based Art / September 2015 | Arts & Activities
Aug 2015

Choice-Based Art / September 2015

Choice-Based Art / September 2015

Choice-Based Art classrooms are working studios where students learn through authentic art making. Control shifts from teacher to learner as students explore ideas and interests in art media of their choice. This concept supports multiple modes of learning to meet the diverse needs of our students. Learn more at teachingforartisticbehavior.org

by Nan E. Hathaway

Choice-Based art teachers know that the design of learner-directed practice varies from school to school and teacher to teacher. Choice-based art is practiced on a continuum, unique to each teacher, school and setting. But what are some of the “core” elements Choice-Based programs share?

1. THE CHILD IS THE ARTIST In Choice-Based classrooms, students are -re- garded as artists. This means teachers strive to support student ideas and initiatives, to provide choice in media, subject matter or both, and to accommodate a variety of working and learning styles.

Choice-Based teachers are experts at offering differentiated instruction and learning opportunities that, in many cases, are differentiated by the learner, not the teacher.

Teachers in a Choice-Based classroom are close observers of their student artists, watching for opportunities to engage students through emergent curricula—themes and ideas that originate with the interests, ideas and needs demonstrated by each unique group of students.

This means that while much of the content presented is the teacher’s choice, an equally important part originates from individual or groups of students. How does it look day-to-day or year-to year when the teacher does not always know what will be taught (or learned) by each class?

What happens is that each class takes on its own unique flavor, and individual students shine with their own light. Learning experiences in school do not have to be standardized to be fair and equal. Instead, honoring the unique nature of each child-as-artist guarantees fair and equal opportunity.

2. THE CLASSROOM IS A STUDIO Travel the country—in person or virtually through social media—and you will find tremendous variety in the physical spaces where art education is conducted. Teachers adapt to “art on a cart,” art in the cafeteria, art in the community room between other classes, art out back in a temporary trailer (with no water, by the way), art in the hall, art on the roof …

OK, maybe that last one is an exaggeration, but the point is, not everyone has a well-appointed classroom with northern exposure, big windows and plenty of storage. Choice-Based art can fit all these settings—and does! The important thing for most choice studios is to develop systems for autonomy whenever and wherever possible.

Many Choice-Based studios are arranged in media “Centers” such as Drawing Center, Collage Center, Painting Center, and so on. Each center has the tools, materials, references and resources needed to inspire, instruct and launch artistic exploration, experimentation and practice.

Students are shown how to use and care for each center in turn, until the whole studio is “open” and ready for community use. Students learn to come up with ideas for artmaking, choose the media, techniques and processes that best fit their idea (or experiment and explore in order to develop an idea), set up their work space, make art, clean up and finally reflect on and present their work.

A student visiting our studio for a day noted “I like it here, I can see and get everything I need,” and another, experiencing the studio for the first time as a sixth-grader, observed: “Everything I ever wanted to do in art is here.”

3. TEACHING AND LEARNING REFLECT AUTHENTIC ARTMAKING PRACTICES In Choice-Based art programs, students learn about art and the art world through the hands, hearts and minds of artists. Every effort is made to provide authentic art experiences—to teach for artistic behavior.

What do artists do? When designing learning experiences for and with students, this question acts as a compass. By asking and seeking to answer this question, a culture of inquiry, discovery and craftsmanship develops. “Eight Studio Thinking Habits of Mind,” described in Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Art Education, frame the work of artists, and are useful in introducing students to a consideration of all aspects of work in the studio.

Artists Envision, Develop, Craft, Stretch & Explore, Engage & Persist, Express, Reflect and seek to Understand the Art World. Using these eight habits as a lens, students and teachers can develop an understanding of how artists work and why.

Where students are recognized as artists in their own right and provided a studio in which to do their work, each unique, individual path toward creative and artistic growth is honored and supported.

No two Choice-Based art classrooms are alike, just as no two teachers or students are alike. Choice-Based art offers teachers and learners the opportunity to find their unique paths, nurture artistic dispositions, develop individual strengths and interests, and, quite simply, to do what artists do!

Nan Hathaway teaches art at the middle school level and was named 2015 Vermont Art Educator. She is a member of Teaching for Artistic Behavior Leadership Team and co-editor of “The Learner-Directed Classroom: Developing Creative Thinking Skills through Art.” Visit her blog: studio-learning.blogspot.com.


• Douglas, K. M.., Jaquith, D.B. Engaging Learners through Artmaking.
Teachers College Press, 2009.

• Hetland, L, Winner, E,. Veenema, S., and Sheriden, K. Studio Thinking 2: The
Benefits of Art Education. Teachers College Press, 2013.



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