Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Road to Choice: a self portrait in more ways than one

When I think about my journey into choice based art, I wonder why it took so long.

For many years, I had heard about TAB and I knew deep down that it sounded like the right way to go but I let fear hold me back. Fear of students making artwork that looked like junky, and I would look like a bad teacher as a result. Fear of losing control of the behavior in my classroom and looking like a bad teacher as a result.  Do you see a pattern there?

At the end of the day, my decision to transition to choice led from an understanding that it's not about me.  It's about letting my students develop their artwork from their creativity and passion in a way that is meaningful to them.  When the teacher dictates the idea, the medium, the color choice, the skills, down to the size of the paper, the teacher is the one doing the heavy cognitive lifting and the teacher owns that learning, not the student.

I am still inching towards my goal of a choice based classroom (crawling on my hands and knees some days) but I know that it is the right thing to do.  Teaching one subject in the same way for 15 years will do that to you.  Today I thought I would share the evolution of a self portrait project over the course of three years: 2014, 2015 and currently.

The 2014 portraits fit the model below created by Melissa Purtee over at Thoughts on Arting to a tee.  

Last year's group had to choose to represent an emotion, their culture or a memory and there was criteria for each.  They also could choose colored pencils, watercolor pencils or paint.  I didn't have a Drawing Center or resources to support a huge variation in media choice like I do now, so it was pretty chaotic.

This year...we are still experimenting with media (many kids are loving Art Set Pro on the iPads) but the overarching understanding is that self portraits reflect who the artist is or who they want to be.  I've given examples of 4 paths that students may choose to take, with a lot of variation. I look forward to documenting the process and watching the kids experience creating art that has intrinsic value to them.


  1. Thank you for the great post. I was wondering what your assessment looks like as you navigate between the PYP and TAB.

  2. Thanks for writing, Susan. I am a big fan of formative assessment and success criteria so that the kids have a chance to improve their work as they go. There are a lot of very general rubrics out there that cover elements/principles, creativity, skills and planning-- children can use those and edit them to suit whatever they are working on. "How will you know that you are successful?" is a good question to ask to guide their thinking. We also use the Studio Habits of Mind to frame reflections as they are working.