Why I Changed to a Choice-Based Art Curriculum

2013 was filled with many professional milestones and changes for me. I attended NAEA, completed and passed my National Board Certification, was a student and instructor of graduate classes, participated in the rewriting of the middle school student learning expectations and essential standards for my district, and researched and implemented a modified choice-based curriculum in my classroom.

Each of these events required me to reflect on the effectiveness of my curriculum while questioning my teaching philosophy.

I repeatedly asked myself, what do I want my students to know? At some point, I realized I didn’t like my answer, which is what led me to choice-based art education.

It was during a conversation with a dear friend and fellow art teacher when I realized I needed to make changes. She said, “middle school is the last time many of my students will take a visual arts class, it’s the last opportunity for me to make an impact.” This statement was also true about my students. Therefore, it became my goal to make my curriculum more relevant, engaging and exciting for my students. I wanted it to be memorable and applicable to their futures.

I began researching and scouring the internet for a solution, for the perfect combination of lesson plans to help my curriculum meet my goal.

Through my research, I stumbled upon Choice-Based Art Education/Teaching for Artist Behavior (TAB.) I knew immediately this was the answer I was looking for. My students needed choices.

I started my TAB research by purchasing two books, Engaging Learners Though Artmaking by Katherine M. Douglas and Diane B. Jaquith and The Learner-Directed Classroom by Diane B. Jaquith and Nan E. Hathaway. Both of these books answered a lot of questions I had. They discussed the philosophy, rationale and implementation of choice-based art education.

Then I found and joined the TAB-ChoiceArtEd Yahoo! Group  and Facebook page. Both are excellent resources for educators to research, ask questions and find support. If you are looking for even more ideas beyond TAB to implement more choice into your art room, you might also enjoy learning in AOE’s Online Class, Choice Based Art Education.

Engaging Learners Through Artmaking Photo

The Learner-Directed Classroom

As I researched and read about TAB classrooms, I was determined to find a TAB teacher to visit. Through a Google search, I found a blog of a TAB teacher in the Minneapolis area. I contacted her and arranged a visit. She also arranged for me to visit her colleague, another TAB teacher. After discussing the positives of TAB with each of these teachers, I became convinced and motivated to implement TAB at my own school.

During my observation, I watched their students make choices, saw how their classrooms were set up and arranged, and discussed the pros and cons of TAB with them. The two observations were an important part of making my decision to implement a choice-based curriculum.

Do you give your students choices in your classroom?

What advice do you have to someone who is interested in learning more about choice-based curriculum?

What questions do you have about switching to TAB?

{image source}{image source}

Cassidy Reinken


This article was written by former AOE writer and life-long learner, Cassidy Reinken.


  • Susan Legere

    Hi Cassidy,

    I have to do the same reworking and rewriting the curriculum for my district and I am at a standstill. Do you share your work from your district or is it their website? Any information would be helpful and much appreciated. I could use some guidance in the same kind of work that you did …” rewriting of the middle school student learning expectations and essential standards for my district, and researched and implemented a modified choice-based curriculum in my classroom.” Is there any way you could share this with me? I just need some direction and a little motivation. It seems like we re-write this over and over every few years in our district. Thank you!

    I am also interested in doing more choice based art with my middle schoolers. Sometimes I feel that they do not know what to do with their “freedom” to choose. Anything you could suggest would be helpful. Looking forward to your other posts!
    My email is [email protected]

    • Hi Susan, I would love to talk about curriculum writing. I plan to discuss it in an upcoming article. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] with questions.

      • Liz72143

        Thanks Cassidy for this article :) I’ve taken 3 courses with AOE and learned and enjoyed so much. I have my own co-curricular art program and not actually connected to the school system. However, I do stay abreast with the latest info to be sure that my students are receiving the best of the best. Please include me in your emails about TAG info. Many thanks, [email protected] :)

    • Cynthia Gaub

      My middle schoolers do need a little more direction but love the extra freedom. I was re-energized by many TAB and video game related sessions at NAEA. I just started a new studio challenge with my 7th and 8th graders and they are doing great with it! I have used a modified choice based curriculum for 10 years now. Both the kids and I are happier and grow more when my assignments have more choice.

      I also just got on the art of ed mailing list at the conference and so happy to see a week on this topic!

      Cynthia Gaub

  • Lee

    How does this work for high school? I have many students who are just placed in my class and don’t want to be there at all or who haven’t had art since early elementary.

    • Hi Lee, Ian will be talking about this very topic on Thursday! Come on back for his article :)

      • Lee


  • Richard Reichenbach

    Hello Cassidy,
    I am in my second year of teaching Pre-K-8 and have been doing choice based teaching with grades 6-8. I also allow choice with the younger students within a lesson. I would love to share ideas and learn more. My e-mail is [email protected]. I have found that this form of teaching while a challenge, is a whole lot of fun!

  • Keri Pye

    I teach at a PreK-8 school and I have been slowing adding TAB methods for 3 years. I haven’t gone 100% TAB and I don’t think I will because I think there’s still a place for teacher directed lessons that include a large percent of student choice. My goal is to have a good balance but I think TAB is the way of the future.

    • I completely agree it is a process and I’m not sure I will ever be 100% TAB either. I modify TAB for my classroom.

  • Heather C.

    I read this book several years ago and also had the privilege to see Kathy Douglas at our state art conference two years ago. I am so attracted to the concept of having our rooms be studios and have my students having full choice in the art room. I am constantly referring back to this book throughout the year. I have not made a transition to a choice-based art curriculum, but would love to have to opportunity to see it in action. I can’t wait to hear about how your visit to a TAB classroom goes.

    • Hi Heather. If you click on the link in the article you can see my reflections regarding my TAB observation , it was a great learning experience!

      • Eva

        Hi Cassidy, I’m a little late to this party, but I’m enjoying reading about TAB and moving that in a modified way into my own teaching approach. The only link I see in your article takes me to your description of arranging peer observations. Those happened to be your example of observing TAB teaching, but I don’t see your observations of implementing TAB. Do you have more specifics on that?

  • Alyssa Mattheis

    I am seriously considering this in my middle school grades. I am constantly looking for more information on how to set up the classroom and present the idea, or project ideas, to the students. I teach in Minnesota, so I would love to hear about this teacher that you contacted in order to learn more about TAB.

    • Hi Alyssa. I observed Lockie Chapman at Orono Middle School.

  • Susan

    One way to try out Choice is to set up a few simple centers for students to choose when they’ve finished with your regular lessons. You’ll be amazed at their level of engagement when they are allowed to decide for themselves what to create. Also, a center doesn’t even have to be a fixed location in your room. It can simply be a tub filled with materials relating to one medium that students can use at their table.

  • Pingback: Set Up Your TAB Room in 7 Easy Steps | The Art of Ed()

  • Pingback: The Benefits of Limiting Choices in Choice-Based Art Education | The Art of Ed()

  • elaina

    When I was in high school, my art teacher gave us access to all the art supplies, textbooks and anything else in the art room. Every project was a self directed “independent study” and as good as that sounds, I wish he hadn’t taken that route. I learned absolutely nothing. Really, zero. I wish he would have taught us some basic drawing skills, or art history! I feel like I was robbed of an art education during my high school years. I had art supplies, but the teaching was not there. Because of my own personal experience, I would be very hesitant to embrace the TAB teaching method. I would do it for a single grading period, but definitely not a whole school year.

    • Angela Harris

      My art teacher was the same way. I learned nothing from him. And, he was who I thought of when I first read about TAB, and he talked about not squelching our creativity, whatever. However, from reading even more, I don’t think his philosophy was TAB, particularly. He didn’t do any demonstrations, new techniques, art history. He never asked me about why I was doing something or made any sort of suggestion. He just told me to stop talking so much, then gave me an A at the end of the grading period. That being said, I am now very interested in TAB, though I would probably have more of a modified version.

    • Mary Ellen Riley

      That does not sound like TAB. Objectives should be in place and some direct instruction involved to teach how to use the choices given.

  • Pingback: It’s Okay NOT to Have a TAB Classroom | The Art of Ed()

  • Pingback: Start the Year Off with a Classroom Mantra | The Art of Ed()

  • Pingback: Art for Kids of All Ages: Inside Meow Wolf's Chimera Space()

  • Pingback: Meaningful Connections in the Minimalist Classroom | That Minimalist Teacher()

  • Kelly Spencer

    Which of the two books you have listed would you recommend I read first? Is there one that that you feel would be more beneficial to a Middle School art teacher than the other? Thank you!