The Benefits of Limiting Choices in Choice-Based Art Education

Since implementation of the Choice-Based Art curriculum known as TAB, student achievement, engagement and learning have drastically increased in my classroom. Students have more ownership in their art projects, and therefore, they are more on task and engaged as they create.

Initially, however, when I implemented TAB, I gave students a lot of choice, too much choice. I allowed them to pick their subjects or themes and their materials without limitations. I envisioned students creating elaborate, creative, in-depth projects. In reality, students were spending most of their time exploring materials, which was great, but were failing to create actual completed art projects. I found most students were paralyzed by the open assignments and begged for some sort of restrictions. While I believed some day my students would be able to handle the openness of a Choice-Based art curriculum, what they needed first were a few limitations.

At the same time that I noticed these problems arising, I was asked to supply student-created, circus-themed artwork to be used as decoration for the state art conference. This was the perfect opportunity to give my students some limitations, while having them practice making more choices with their artwork.

I introduced the history of the circus by showing visuals and a video. We discussed the importance of art within the circus by talking about costumes and advertisements. I went over what I would be grading in the form of learning expectations. Finally, working within the theme of “the circus,” students chose their own materials and created their pieces.

Here are some examples of the finished products.

circus image white

Even though I picked the theme of circus for these projects, my students felt more ownership and proudly displayed their finished pieces. It was a nice way to ease into the idea of giving my students more autonomy.

I’d love to know how you make choice work in your room.

Have you made the switch to TAB? How did your students respond?

Did you have to let go of control gradually or did the students take the freedom and run with it? 

What sorts of limitations do you set for your students?

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.


Cassidy Reinken

Cassidy Reinken, an art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She enjoys helping students solve problems and reach their potential.

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