Dip Your Toes Into Choice-Based Learning

Art teachers run their classrooms on a spectrum from total control to almost hands-off. Most of us find ourselves somewhere in between, but when choice-based learning is discussed we all have a definite stance. As a teacher who leans toward to the control end, letting students make the most of the choices in their learning makes me get all sweaty and nervous. I know the value of letting students direct their own learning, but the logistics can be a nightmare! Here a a few things to get you started without sending you to the nut house…

Start With a Theme
Give your students a starting point. Dragons, Impressionism, portraiture…whatever! Just give them a jumping off point so they can explore the topic or movement or genre in a way that challenges and engages them. Think about what kind of amazing show or display you can create with the resulting pieces!

Make a Menu
Choice-based doesn’t have to mean carte blanche. Rather than giving your students one medium to express themselves, start with offering three. I know what you are thinking, “I can’t possibly teach three techniques in one lesson, I don’t have that kind of time!” Try a workshop day where you have three stations where kids can explore the different mediums. If you have access to technology, set up a YouTube video showing how to use the materials. Bring older students or parent volunteers in to teach at the stations. Students will experience the materials and then make the right choice for themselves.

Set Common Expectations
Articulate common expectations around your over-arching objective. No matter their material choices, students should have to meet the same standardized objective.

Choice-based art learning and teaching can be scary for some of us! However, it can be just the thing to kickstart some of our most reluctant learners and a great way to differentiate instruction.

Where do you fall on the control to freedom spectrum?

Are you comfortable letting students take direction or would you prefer to set the parameters? 




Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Sarah Dougherty

Sarah Dougherty, a visual arts curriculum coordinator, is a former AOEU Writer and elementary school art educator. She loves working with diverse populations to bring art into students’ homes, communities, and everyday lives.

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