It’s Okay NOT to Have a TAB Classroom

Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) seems to have become a groundswell in the world of art education, and it is beginning to feel like a tidal wave about to crash down on everyone involved. I love any teaching style that offers the agency, autonomy, and process that involves our students in the decision-making. TAB does some wonderful things, and I have respect for the concept, but at the high school level–in my classroom, specifically–I have made the decision that it’s not going to work for me. And I’m here to tell you that it’s okay for you to make that decision as well.


It’s okay NOT to have a TAB classroom.

No TAB Classroom

I have seen SO MANY teachers this year post on social media something to the effect of, “I’m going full TAB, but I have no idea what I’m doing, please help!” Or more commonly, when people ask for help with various problems, others reply:  “Switching to TAB will really help with this!” “Have you tried TAB?” “Students would do this better in a TAB environment!” If you’re spending time with other art teachers on social media, I wouldn’t blame you for having the impression that you are missing out on something really important if you don’t jump on board immediately.

Have we stopped to think that maybe the loudest voices in the room aren’t necessarily the wisest? There seems to be this strawman that exists about a community of evil teachers where every lesson has every kid’s work looking exactly the same. In all honesty, in all my years of teaching, I haven’t seen more than a handful of art teachers with this methodology. Yet we seem to be fighting it like it’s an epidemic. Can we just slow down? Can we maybe take into consideration the fact that there isn’t one end-all, be-all way to teach?


Can we just slow down? Can we maybe take into consideration the fact that there isn’t one end-all, be-all way to teach?

Or, can we take into account that there are different options where we can implement TAB or have modified choice, but it’s also okay if we continue to have a teacher-directed classroom? Here at AOE, we offer an entire class on choice-based options, because we realize that the level of choice in a classroom has to fit the teacher and his or her students. In fact, we even created a choice spectrum to help teachers figure out exactly where they fall. (If you’re interested in learning more, the next class runs in March.) Student autonomy is valuable, but so is teacher autonomy. You have to do what works best for you, your personality, and your teaching style.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the idea of choice-based teaching, I have read just about every possible resource on choice-based art, and I offer a significant amount of choice in my classroom. I run what I would describe as a Montessori-influenced classroom, based on mutual respect and freedom within a structured environment (and, as a quick aside: please, everyone, realize that TAB is not “new”–it has been around for decades, and Maria Montessori developed ideas about student choice over 100 years ago). I cannot accomplish what I want to accomplish in my classroom, however, with full student choice.


These are the limitations I see with a classroom run in this way.


Lack of Expectations

3--Brown Collection

I will be honest here: I’m not sure what the expectations are when the classroom is set up for choice-based art. I understand the idea of themes, and concepts, and mini-lessons, but with that being said, everything still seems so vague, and open-ended, and I’m not even sure about the kind of standards to which students are held. If kids are developing skill sets of their choosing, how do we keep them from avoiding that which challenges them? What incentive do they really have to step outside of their comfort zones? That’s when real learning occurs, and I don’t see a situation when a kid gets challenged if they don’t take it upon themselves. Not everyone is intrinsically motivated.

Yes, we want students to think creatively, use higher order thinking skills, reflect on their work, and solve problems, but they can do each of these things in ANY classroom. I’ve heard some argue that choice-based artmaking does these things “better” than a traditional classroom; if there’s anything other than anecdotal evidence supporting this idea, please share.


Lack of Interaction with the Teacher (and with Other Students)


For all of the studies and attention given to building relationships, classroom environments, and classroom communities, why is there such a rush to get kids working on their own things as quickly as possible every class period? There’s something to be said for someone with experience, someone with expertise, someone who knows a thing or two about pedagogy and anticipatory sets and engaging his or her students. Again, if we look at things pragmatically, why would we look to eliminate these skills in order to chase an ideal that prescribes 5-minute mini-lessons and individual work time? Classroom discussions, classroom critiques, and seminars are all worthwhile, and it seems counterintuitive to dismiss these out of hand because they may not be what an individual student chooses to do.

In addition, kids miss out on a certain type of interaction when they are working on 25 different projects. A good traditional lesson, even when teacher-directed, has multiple solutions and brings about a great amount of creative thinking. Along those same lines, kids can commiserate about those really difficult projects–the ones that take 50 or 60 hours of work to be successful. That shared experience creates shared moments, and those moments make being in the art room special. The knowing look that comes from a senior, the one that tells a sophomore “I’ve been there.” The compliments that mean so much more from someone who has done a similar project before. The shared joy that comes with doing that work and achieving that success. Together. Those moments are just not the same when your class is in 25 different places at once.


Overreliance on Online Resources


“Okay, kids, get to your Pinterest boards! Pull up your YouTube tutorials for the day! Go get on Instagram!” Is that really how we want to teach? Is that really teaching at all? Yes, we want students to be able to find source material, but are semi-guided Internet searches and cliche social media posts really the best solutions? Talk to your students face-to-face! Help them develop their skills and help them develop their ideas! The passion you have for artmaking and artistic influences cannot be passed on to your kids if they’re busy staring at a screen.

Why are we having kids go elsewhere for their instruction? Why are we outsourcing our inspiration to the Internet? What happened to creating that inspiration on your own? Kids can develop ideas from their memory. Kids can work from observation. Kids can create with their imaginations. Students should not take ideas and images from the Internet, make superficial changes, and call them their own. Their ideas, and their art, will be better when they are able to come up with creative thoughts and inspiration themselves.

The reason I want my students to be able to develop their own concepts and ideas is because copying images, in my world, is never okay. Feel free to throw Picasso quotes and Austin Kleon TED talks at me, but I’m not buying the argument. Copying an image from an online source, changing nothing but the medium? Now it’s “transformed”? Any gallery, college admissions officer, portfolio reviewer, or art show judge would dismiss that work immediately, so I’m not sure why we want our students working in that way. If we truly want our students to develop as artists, this methodology is doing no one any favors.


Kids Make Terrible Decisions

2--Portrait of Myself

Whether in life or art, our kids have some work to do when it comes to making good decisions. Their brains just aren’t ready for it yet. When students have a great deal of freedom in their decisions regarding artmaking, it’s far too easy for them to revert to cliches with subject matter and stereotypical drawing solutions and far too easy for them to slip back into drawing stages which we know they are beyond. Yet, if we push them to change subject matter or change their drawing style, the argument surfaces that their artwork has lost its “authenticity”. I’m too pragmatic for that line of thinking; I don’t want my students’ work to be less than it could be because I’m chasing an ideal.


Quality of Work


Speaking of student work, let’s be honest–much of the work coming out of TAB classrooms just isn’t that strong. Choice-based teachers might argue that we should not sacrifice process in order to focus on the product. I would argue that we should not do the opposite, either. When my kids are putting together portfolios for art school, competing for scholarships, etc., It’s tough to justify a process-based classroom when it would basically eliminate my students’ chances to reach these goals. And when I am held accountable by a university for my students’ work because of dual enrollment grading, process sketches and pictures of us playing with clay aren’t going to get me very far. In short: my students NEED to create quality work because of the demands of my class, and I know better than they do what constitutes quality work. This is where guidance and direction from a teacher plays a vitally important role.


Yes, I care about process. But I care about product as well. I refuse to sacrifice one for the other, and I think my classroom is better because of it.

Yes, I care about process. But I care about product as well. I refuse to sacrifice one for the other, and I think my classroom is better because of it. My students’ work is better because of it. Is it conceited for me to say that the work my students produce is better than anything I have seen coming from a choice-based classroom? Probably. But it’s not wrong.

My kids talk, my kids think, my kids make great art. My kids are artists, and successful ones at that. I scaffold, I differentiate, I challenge, and I support autonomy, all within the ‘confines’ of a teacher-directed classroom. The students in my room form both a community and an art program, and as it evolves from year to year, my kids know that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

What I do–what we all do–can be called a lot of different things. I would simply call it what good teachers do. And I see no reason to change.

Let us know, how do you feel about Choice-Based Art Education?

Where do you fall on the spectrum? What works for you in your classroom?

For an alternate perspective, be sure to check out The Top 5 Myths About Choice-Based Art Education.

Timothy Bogatz

Learning Team

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.


  • Brian

    Finally, someone has said it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I get so overwhelmed with this march toward TAB classrooms from every direction and it is wonderful to hear from someone who still appreciates structure and teaching expertise!

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go finish planning for tomorrow. A teacher directed lesson, in fact, where my kids are going to learn from me and STILL have an artistic voice.

    And the work will actually look good :)

    • Hannah hofstetter


  • Sarah Parnell

    So many brilliant quotes in here, but the part about shared experiences and communities really hit home with me. That was always the best part of art class for me, and i think we are losing something if kids don’t have those experiences. Well said.

    • kd

      I agree that shared experiences and communities make for a vibrant community of artists. TAB teachers consider that an essential. The hum of work in my grade three classes reminded me of the rabbit warren of tiny studios in a Mass Art graduate course I took. Many different journeys, but lots and lots of collaboration, comment and feedback, student to student. In my classes, as students found their passions, there were organic micro communities formed–fanatical painters (who, because there were not 32 of them, could paint as large or as small as they pleased), puppeteers, who collaborated on puppet making, play writing and even making little stages, the comic artists, who were deep into collaboration, including jointly written comics, the writing of which continued over weeks and sometimes outside of class. The fiber artists also became fanatics, schlepping their box looms back to class, out to the playground, and home and back. The 3D people were frequent collaborators, especially when they wanted to construct something large. (Google Clyde Gaw’s work on engineering and physics with very small children in his TAB studio) Now, my room was very small, so none of this was out of the sight of everybody. We frequently would stop class a minute when someone made an “amazing discovery” and all would see. Children who had been reluctant to attempt something I had demonstrated, were often convinced to try by a friend. Students who had gone deep were always available as coaches for newcomers to a process. Students often prefer to learn from one another as opposed from an adult. And the teaching student has the learning deepened.

      I would like to be very clear here, that I do not disagree in the least with Bogatz’ title–OF COURSE it is okay to teach in a way that is not a TAB studio. I do feel the need to correct misconceptions when I find them. I do not know which HS TAB studios the author has visited in order to form his very firm opinions so I cannot comment on that.

      I know many excellent teachers who do not employ TAB pedagogy. For a person who gets a kick out of students and loves making stuff, art teaching is the best job in the world!

  • Jen

    Thank you I love hearing this side of TAB we here so much about how wonderful it is and I feel guilty not doing TAB.

    • kd

      Jen, when a teacher and her/his students have a good thing going on, there is NO reason to feel guilty about what you are doing! Art has so many ways of knowing and doing. TAB is another way.

  • Mr. Post

    Clark Terry – a jazz musician sums up learning to play jazz in three words – imitate, assimilate, innovate.

    Notice that the first step in the process is to imitate – in other words, learn your craft by copying and learning to play songs that others have written before you.

    Musicians learn scales, chords, timing and how to read written music – they PRACTICE their craft daily. After they acquire SKILLS they go on to make the music they have learned to play their own – they assimilate the music of others.

    Lastly they improvise and innovate creating new music – but this is all done after a thorough learning of the craft.

    Think of this in terms of the arts – kids shouldn’t be asked to jump right to the innovation stage of creation – especially when they don’t have any skills and have not assimilated many ideas from the past.

    I love the rich history associated with making pots. 15,000 years of pot making and there are still new things to say in clay. One of the reasons I enjoy making pots is that there are skills involved in the process and there is a sense of time and connection to the past. Almost all potters learn from mentors and teachers who pass the craft down generation by generation.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Very well said, John. It’s a great way to look at the way (and reasons) we teach like we do. The point about passing down from mentor to mentee is especially apt, as I’m afraid that can get lost in a choice-based pedagogy.

  • Patty Behr

    I have taught the every level class from Middle School to High School. I have taught basic classes to AP. Currently in my Middle School classes I would never implement TAB. First my classes are too big with the average being 27 kids. And I have about 39 minutes of teaching time. And I lack an ipad for each kid. So implementing TAB would be totally impractical. And there is their maturity level. At that age they need to be guided through. But I did have a TAB classroom for my most advanced HS kids. I had three courses in one classroom with 75 minutes across two separate periods. The total kids in the class with all 3 sections was about 23 kids. It worked well for my seniors in AP and portfolio prep but my juniors in advanced drawing and painting benefited more from the lessons where ther was a structure for them to work within. I found that they still needed skill development. As a teacher I felt like I never had adequate time to work with each student. I agree with Tim–you need to really consider all factors before abndoning to TAB.

  • Cheryl

    This is a wonderful article. It is wise to think about the trends in art education and what the goals of your community’s art program are. Many children enjoy a balance of teacher led instruction and personal choices when creating their artwork. This is what I have chosen for the needs of my young artists. Timothy Bogatz, you have articulated the thoughts of MANY art teachers in a magnificent way. Thanks very much!

  • Scott

    Amen! So glad its been said! I became an art teacher to teach, not sit back and watch. At an elementary level I simply can’t let myself consider TAB. Yes all my lessons allow for the student to bring their own ideas and we encourage the ability to come up with ways to interpret… But I completely agree with all 5 points!

    • kd

      A quick reply to you, Scott. I totally support teachers in finding their own best way to teach. But if a teacher is “sit back and watch” only, they are not a TAB teacher. I reply to your comment first because most of my experience is in lower grades. I offered choice with high level instruction for 40 years to K-4 (varied some years) one Art 1 HS class, and an undergraduate methods course for 8 years. My young students were able to experience a very wide range of materials/tools/techniques, and then given the opportunity to “go deep” in areas of their choice. Most of them would come in to the studio with ideas they had been incubating over the week. Even young students were problem finders–setting their own tasks that sometimes would be far above what “grade level” would expect of them. Instruction permeated each class: brief whole group, small group, one on one, peer instruction, group collaboration. I was constantly making notes about individual students as well as trends in various classes so that I could better meet their diverse needs. My largest population was 960 kids per week in thirty 40 minute classes per week.

  • Beth E in GA

    Whatever gave you the impression that kids in a TAB classroom don’t have shared experiences? Because in my experience that just isn’t true. I also would question your statement that the quality of art coming out of a TAB classroom is lower than that coming out of a completely teacher-directed class. And whatever gave you the impression that a teacher in a TAB classroom ceases to interact with her students? I have been running a choice-based classroom for 7 years now, and I think I know my students better than I did prior to changing to this approach. I know I am a much happier teacher. I also know I work a lot harder, because yes, it IS challenging to manage many different types of projects and studio materials at once. I teach at the opposite end of the K-12 spectrum, being in a primary school: process is relatively more central to the primary experience. But even here, I don’t let my kids just slide with what’s comfortable. And my hand is everywhere evident in my classroom. Who, after all, designs the learning spaces, determines what materials are visible and available, and structures the mini-lessons to scaffold information and develop skills? And what other than our state and/or national standards do you suppose those mini-lessons are structured around? Transitioning to TAB was truly a paradigm shift for me. I had to re-think what my primary role was in my classroom: the generator of ideas or the facilitator of ideas. Do I still do projects with students? Yes, I do, because there are students who are not ready for complete independence. Independent thinking is one of those skills that must be scaffolded. But rather than teach projects, I now teach skills, and help children to discover ways to use their skills to express their ideas more effectively. TAB after all stands for Teaching Artistic BEHAVIOR, and, as I tell my young students: to be an artist means you get IDEAS and then you work to make them come true. I know that using this approach in my teaching has helped me keep sight of that important goal.

  • Jessica Blumer

    I agree. I think it needs to be about balance. There are so many “trendy” things in education, but they come and go. Choice is my classroom, some days more than the others. I place a lot of value on their “Choice Days” but personally, I see it used most effectively in a balanced program.

    I am guilty of letting them search on the internet for ideas. They can’t copy something exactly, but it’s meant to serve as inspiration. I don’t monitor what inspires them. I just want them inspired.

    If I was to place more time in purely TAB in one grade level, it would be kindergarten.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Jessica, I like what you have to say, but I do need to point out one thing–TAB is definitely not a trend. Katherine Douglas is incredibly well-respected in the art teaching world and started doing TAB 40+ years ago.

      • Jessica Blumer

        Good point, I didn’t mean to say TAB was trend, I just meant that seems to be true in education in general. Poorly worded. That is why I like finding a balance.

  • Jared Hulstine

    I have been teaching with the TAB based curriculum for two years. I chose this form of art ed based on the research that I was interested in and the possibility of transforming my teaching into more meaningful practice. I thought this would be a great way to get students thinking about creating from their own influences and imagination and see how this grows, rather than one skill, technique, or project for everyone at a similar pace. If you are a teacher who is more interested in the product your students turn out rather than the process of creative thinking, then this is a harder decision to make. Giving up some of this control can be unsettling and uncomfortable. This isn’t for every teacher. Some students will catch on immediately, while others will struggle with the concept of personal choice. Artwork will not always be polished and professional looking. The studio can look out of control, but this is what learning looks like. It does require students to be more thoughtful and imaginative. It allows for many forms of learning/instruction that can benefit a broader spectrum of learners. I agree that choice-based isn’t for everyone. It works well with me, and I hear from students every week how much they enjoy using the art studio in this way rather than a more traditional art education. There isn’t one perfect way of teaching art. I would like to recommend for those thinking about the possibility of mixing up their instruction methods to read about the spectrum of choice and do some research. This would include talking to other teachers, parents, administrators, but especially your students.
    I’m so glad that I did choose TAB-Choice, as it reinvigorated my passion for teaching.

  • Lo

    I’m glad that someone wrote this article because I teach at 3 pretty rural elementary schools and this January I’m starting up a modified TAB with my oldest kids at each school (1 school only 5th, 2nd school: 3rd-5th grades, and my 3rd school only 4th and 5th) and I’ve felt pressured to use it will all my classes. I’ve decided that the modified choice may give my students the chance to explore more art medias than what I can offer over the year…but only for the older students. Most of my students will never take art again so I feel like by offering things I have not in the past, and allowing students to choose which projects they work on that maybe they will pursue art in secondary schools (or at least gain more art knowledge to apply to their career). I have mostly small class sizes that I’m doing this with, so it works well (so far) but my 4th grade classes that I’m not doing it with are jam packed into my art room (I barely have table space for each student) and TAB in my opinion could not work in this classroom with so many students (did I mention that I also share each of my 3 classrooms with the music teacher? And we allll our materials in the room…plus each of our desks…and a piano…). I’ve put my centers on shelves or boxes so I can pull them out and so far it works well, but we’ll see when I get to the more materials/messy centers.
    I’m trying to figure out what’s best for me, but I do feel pressured by other art teachers to complete change to TAB.

  • Guest

    I agree that TAB isn’t for everyone, or every subject within the arts. Currently, I am teaching Digital Arts to Middle School students, and I would dream of going full TAB. But I did run a High School level TAB class last year. I object to the authors premise about quality. The art that came out of the TAB class that I taught last year was the most mature, and highest quality work I have ever seen from high school students. And high quality work came from every student. I’ll admit that some students didn’t hit the ball out of the park for every assignment, but I’m sure we could acknowledge that about any class… and the lack of interaction argument couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, there is more teacher-student interaction taking place in a TAB classroom — from my experience… But, I will admit that TAB classes can be more of a challenge for teachers.

  • Mrs.C

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!! For speaking up for all of the art educators out there who believe exactly as you stated in this wonderful and very well said blog post, that TAB is just not for everyone’s art room and we should not be criticized for believing in having lessons that involve structure and guided direction! :) I smiled from ear to ear while reading your last paragraph, ” My students talk, my students think, my students make great art…..I scaffold, I differentiate, I challenge and support autonomy in my teacher directed classroom…” :) I think i may have to make that into a poster to keep by my desk! ( with a credit to you of course!) If TAB works for your art room then by all means, go ahead and continue to do it, but please don’t criticize me for not following the same… Thank you again for the best read i have had in a long while! :)

  • Mr. Post

    Here’s how to have a TAB classroom without really trying.
    Today my 4th graders were creating alligators in clay.
    A kid comes up and asks “Do I have to make an alligator?”
    To which I replied jokingly “Nah, you can make a crocodile or a caiman”
    At the end of art he brings up this little guy he made.
    I asked, “What’s that?”
    He replied, “You said if I didn’t want to make an alligator that I could make a caveman.”
    It’s on the tray to be fired…

    • Tim Bogatz

      Haha! I love it!

      • kd

        but of course, you know, that is in no way TAB. but clever comment!

        • Elliot

          Oh. My. God. Yes, we are aware that is not TAB. It was a joke, and we all realize it was tongue in cheek. No need to correct every comment on here.

          • kd

            Elliot–I hesitated to reply to your comment–and of course most are aware of the humor, which I mentioned. But you have no idea what I have encountered over the 40 years of doing and explaining what I did to critics and department colleagues, one of whom claimed to be a choice teacher because her students could choose between painting a large fish or a small one on her totally teacher designed project. So because this blog has a very wide audience, I like to be very clear. Discus, the commenting platform here has me as kd; I am Katherine Douglas, art ed troublemaker ;-) Happy to meet so many others here who care deeply for their teaching practice and so comment on both sides. Education needs more teachers who are passionate and reflective about what they do!

    • MissArtyNutMeg

      This would happen to me.

  • iansands

    You mention that you love autonomy and student decision-making. You state you understand the idea of themes, and concepts, and mini-lessons. You mention you appreciate the idea of choice-based teaching and you offer a significant amount of choice in your classroom. Then, you spend the rest of your article disparaging all the things you just wrote that you agree with and incorporate into your class. This is a little like saying, “I like all 31 ice cream flavors, I just don’t like Baskin Robbins.

    The title is correct, TAB isn’t for everyone. Everything after the title is erroneous.

    Saying there aren’t standards is wrong.

    Stating that students in a TAB classroom miss certain types of interaction is false. In fact, there are more conversations because students are interested in what other students are doing.

    Claiming TAB teachers only use technology and/or rely too heavily on it is a myth. Some teachers are 1:1 while others are lucky they have a computer. This has nothing to do with teaching philosophy TAB, DBAE or other.

    Claiming that TAB teachers need to speak to their students is deceitful. Any teacher, TAB, DBAE or other that doesn’t speak to their students should be fired.

    Claiming the work coming out of TAB classrooms isn’t that strong is just plain silly. I know of two choice based art teachers that were spotlighted by you on your personal blog that would be highly insulted to find out you think this way of their student’s work. The truth is, there is good and poor work in every class, regardless of how we teach.

    You wrote that you have read just about every possible resource on choice-based art and made the decision that it’s not for you. I respect that. However if your reasoning is based on the inaccurate conclusions you’ve written here, you might want to take a second look.

    • Tim Bogatz


      You’re either not understanding what I’m saying, or you’re putting words in my mouth; neither are great ways to refute my points.

      A few thoughts . . .

      I can appreciate and understand something without agreeing with or using it–and I’m not disparaging anything. Montessori choice (which influences me) is significantly different than TAB, and it allows me to offer the autonomy my students need in a way that fits my teaching style.

      I never said there are no standards–I said the standards TAB teachers use are unclear to me. If you could direct me somewhere to see specific standards a TAB teacher is using, I would appreciate it.

      Students DO miss a certain type of interaction–a shared experience with a difficult lesson that is done by each student as they come through a program. Maybe re-read that paragraph.

      I’m not saying all TAB teachers ignore their students or use rely solely on technology; far from it. My problem is the outsourcing a lot of teaching to the internet, which a lot of teachers (TAB and otherwise) continue to do. I admire and respect the Apex Portal, so don’t take this personally, but that just isn’t the way I want to teach.

      Lastly, I will stand by my point that the work isn’t that strong, and continue to stand by it until I see consistently strong work coming from high school TAB classrooms. In fact, I remember a Facebook comment by you, in regard to starting TAB, that said something to the effect of “The work sucks, and that’s okay.” Which is fine, and was probably made in jest, but I think it’s a little disingenuous to say that there and argue otherwise here.

      All that being said, I respect everything about you, your writing, and your teaching. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, and I’d love to chat more about it sometime. Thanks.

  • erica

    I agree, Surprisingly:) It’s just way too complicated teaching 20-30 kids every hour all day. Seriously how on earth would that work just the storage alone. . . of 600 projects. To be completely, I’m overwhelmed and have been teaching 8 years and it just gets harder each year (scheduling mostly.) I feel so exhausted just keeping up with the pace of barely any time for setup, no time between classes, gheez rant over. I do have a free choice area but only because it benefits me. When we are thrown for a loop, “mrs. s. can you spend half of your class going to this with the kids.” I can’t do a full lesson and we pull out the centers. It is soooo much easier, but difficult to get them to venture out of their comfort zone. It’s more about practicing and the art of play when we do centers.

  • HipWaldorf

    What a fabulously provocative post. Bravo for taking this subject on Tim and AOE.

  • Julie Toole

    I find this article condescending, passive-aggressive and worst of all, inaccurate on many levels. TAB is not for everyone. Agreed. It is OK not to be a TAB teacher. Agreed. There are many wonderful non-TAB teachers out there. Agreed. What I do not agree with is the way you are stereotyping a choice based teacher and classroom. Each of us has to ultimately choose a pedagogy that fits where we are, who we are teaching, and our own personal philosophy on creativity and art education. TAB teachers are amongst the most generous, thoughtful and reflective teachers I have ever met. We are connected by our core values on how students learn and the value of autonomy, intrinsic motivation, and the creative process. We support each other, we visit each other’s classrooms in action (I highly doubt you have actually seen a TAB classroom in action), we share ideas, we problem solve and we continually grow and modify our program to meet the diverse needs of our students and administrations. We do not assume that all non-TAB teachers are doing Van Gogh sunflowers and hand turkeys, but we honestly don’t care if they are. We do not have the time or energy to go around putting other art teachers down. We care about what we do and sharing our enthusiasm, successes and challenges with other like-minded educators.

    • Katie Morris


  • Jean

    I would like to address the community feelings between students and student-teacher relationship. In my 8 years teaching, never has the community between my students been so high as it has been with TAB. I have kids that prior to my classes would never have talked to each other sharing ideas and giving each other lessons on what they did with their artwork. My students know more about what each other is creating now than before. They only knew what others were making because they were making the same (and most likely not connected to it).

    I have never known my students as well as I do now. I work harder now as a TAB teacher than I did prior to TAB. I push my students to improve and tell them when their work is faltering. There is much conversation going on between myself and my students and student to student. It is amazing.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Jean, I’m glad TAB has worked so well for you. I have loved reading your blog about your journey (if I’m thinking about the right one, anyway–your man/machine theme was excellent). More importantly, I’m glad it has worked well for your students and that community building is a result of that success. I think it’s vital for a successful art program.

  • Katie Morris

    This is what I think about choice-based art education:

    • Tim Bogatz

      Katie, that is an excellent, well-written article (and what a quick turnaround!). I may tweet it out tomorrow, if that’s okay? I think it adds significantly to the discussion. Thank you.

      • Katie Morris

        Fine by me. I kept retyping a comment and finally decided to change directions on a blog post I was writing to address it.

  • jbrocka

    It sounds to me like a lot of TAB teachers feel that this article is incorrect. I have never really looked into TAB, it isn’t something that interests me as a teacher. I enjoy my classroom the way it is and it works best for my students. This discussion board really reminds me of listen to different parents when I was expecting my son. I am not a crunchy mom and I never will be… that doesn’t make me wrong. I am able to raise my child the way that I want to, so no cloth diapers and supplementing with formula. My child is still alive and healthy!

    As far as my classroom goes, I have found that the more choices I give my students the less quality I get because they just put as little effort as they can in, but when I set the bar high they never let me down or themselves! I learned from this article is that TAB isn’t ALWAYS the answer and that TAB should be considered even tried. I don’t feel that he was trying to put anyone down on them being a TAB teacher. We as teachers are ALL different which is a good thing. If TAB works for you, wonderful, if TAB doesn’t work for you, that is okay as well. Also I think this articles examples of a TAB classroom or lesson is from personal experiences in which the author has had. All of us have different standards of quality, what makes a lesson successful, and how to grade that level of success.

    I found this article interesting, it hasn’t made me want to jump on the TAB bandwagon or boycott TAB either.

    • Tim Bogatz

      I think you understood my points exactly. Thank you for reading critically, with an open mind, and leaving a very thoughtful comment. I appreciate you taking the time to chime in.

  • Elliot

    Dear TAB proponents commenting on this article:

    Mr. Bogatz is only offering his opinions—he is not attacking

    Mr. Bogatz is, again, only offering his opinions—they cannot
    be inaccurate or incorrect.

    Mr. Bogatz is not criticizing you, your classroom, or your

    Mr. Bogatz is telling about his experiences—not invalidating

    Mr. Bogatz is discussing a specific type of shared
    experience—not a general shared experience, which all of our students obviously

    No one cares how hard you work. We all work hard. It’s part
    of the job.

    Relax. Do a better job reading. Don’t be hypersensitive and

    Go teach tomorrow and go do you. Which was one of the points
    Mr. Bogatz made in the article.

    • “Do a better job reading. Don’t be hypersensitive…” Sounds like you are de-legitimizing the responses of TAB teachers who take umbrage with Mr. Bogatz’s disparagement of their decision to offer holistic learning experience to their students.

  • HenriMati

    I am so glad that someone has put into words what I have been struggling with as a middle school art teacher for years….Some of the elementary teachers in my district think that TAB is the be-all-end-all art education of the future. But my argument has always been, at some point in a child/young adults art education they need to be taught techniques and certain processes. My students may all use the same materials for a project but their artwork never looks the same. I would like to hear from some college professors who have seen only “TAB” generated artwork in their admissions portfolios. Do these kids possess the skills needed to be admitted into a fine arts program. Many of my students struggle with having to create art at all. When I try to give them free reign on an assignment they shut down all together. Most of the kids who are ready, push themselves beyond their limit on their own. The rest, I am lucky if I get the bare minimum from them.

    • MissArtyNutMeg

      It’s funny you say that, because I’ve always thought TAB would work better with older students. Maybe it’s just the way our curriculum is structured

  • Markell

    Hello. I’m a social studies teacher looking for ways to bring choice in my room, and I found my way here somehow :) Kudos to the author for a well-written article. What I really found interesting though are the comments. I appreciate the passion on both sides of the fence, but i have a couple of questions. First, why is there so much relief from people who agree with this article? The “finally!” quotes caught my attention. Also, why are the TAB teachers so reactionary? I will look in to TAB more, because I like the concept, but it seems strange to me that a sinple critique brings out such histrionics from its defenders. It seems almost xenophobic, and I guess I have concerns about your pedagogy if you can’t defend what you’re doing in a professional and respectful manner. I don’t know. Just two cents worth from an outside observer.

    Thanks for letting me be a part of the conversation.

    • HipWaldorf

      No worries Markell. There are many differeing philosophies on how to manage an art classroom and sometimes art teachers enjoy a good glitter debate.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Markell, I’m glad you could join us, even if maybe you didn’t mean to :) I don’t want to speak for anyone else, so maybe someone from each side of the argument could answer your questions. Or better yet, maybe someone who sees both sides.

      If you are looking for resources about TAB, most people look at Katherine Douglas’s work, either Choice Without Chaos or Engaging Learners Through Artmaking. Or for a quicker primer, the link to the Teaching For Artistic Behavior website in the article.

  • Nic Hahn

    I needed to hear this. Thanks!

  • Tina

    I think you have allowed a lot of art education to be defined as successful, not just one style and I, for one, appreciate it. I think a balance of process and product is the most intelligent choice and I think, with very few exceptions, all art educators are constantly striving to assist in widening the creative license students need assistance cultivating. Thank you for a wonderful positive message to all who care about art education in the 21st century.

  • Ellyn in MA

    Hi Tim, I appreciate your article. I have been teaching in a TAB classroom for 10 years and struggled quite a bit in the beginning with the same issues that you have brought up. I think it is important to note those teachers that feel relief upon reading this article for pressure to teach in a specific style is not what TAB or any teaching should be about. In fact we are so lucky as Art Educators not to have to be on the same page in the same book as many of my academic peers must do in their classrooms. TAB began as a grassroots movement and did not start in the college classroom backed by years of data so in a way it is still in its infancy even though student centered learning is far from new. I believe any teacher “worth their salt” has to adapt and adjust almost yearly in response to what is going on in the world and provide the best environment for their students. I personally came to TAB after feeling like a fraud. The Art room is where I was told “creativity” happened. How could this be true when I was deciding on the project, the materials to be used and held up an example of how it should look at the end? This was not my students brain practicing creativity, this was following the directions. I also realized as a public school teacher not many of my students would become famous artists and so what was important to teach? When the book Studio Thinking came out it gave me a focus as I rethought my art program where some of my classes have 32 students all with diverse learning styles. I am glad you wrote the article. I think the more we talk and share together the more we can understand the powerhouse the arts are for learning both in school and out.

    • Lisa

      Hi Ellyn,
      Very well said. I also think that it is great that Tim put his thoughts out there. I don’t think he meant it condescending but created a place where more thoughtful art educators can think before they practice their art of teaching in the way that works for them and their learners/artists. Thank you for your calm tone. :)

  • kd

    hey all–what a conversation! I hope (and you likely do also!) that this is my parting shot. My last point of curiosity is the number of people commenting here and on Facebook that they feel, or are, “pressured” to embrace choice pedagogy. This astonishes me, frankly, and I would love to know where these choice-pressure districts are. I have been sharing this work outside my own district since 1992 and until very recently we were often met with metaphorical ripe tomatoes thrown at us! :-) Which was okay, we just kept doing our thing and sharing what we actually did in our little studio classrooms. When a few people found our work resonated with what they wanted to do in their own practice, then they communicated with us via email and so on. Now a lot of people are resonating with each other and trying parts or all of this–but most of them report that they have to do extensive preparation with their administrators in order to do this without getting fired! I have not read or taught in courses any one who has ever started under any sort of pressure. So I do not get it! We write about what we do. If some of it connects to your needs, take it and run with it. If not, give us a smile and move on. Peace. Katherine Douglas, Massachusetts

    • d

      Not sure if anyone else noticed, but for past ~30-40 years TAB has been trying to convince the world that it’s a meaningful, valid, and serious art education pedagogy… trying to convince the world that the status quo wasn’t beyond critique.

      Does it seem interesting (or ironic) to anyone else that today (as the tides have turned) that it’s TAB increasingly being considered the ‘obvious’ choice, and that other approaches feel like they have to defend themselves against the new ‘status quo.’

      Seems to me the TAB people should be thankful for all of the press and coverage they’re getting and carry themselves with as much grace and tact as possible. As you grow, you can’t micro-manage everything people write about you. As you get more and more press, you can’t dictate the coverage, and you certainly can’t attack those writing the coverage. I think these discussions are a good thing, and a demonstration of TAB’s lasting strength.

      Great article!

      • Tim Bogatz

        Very well said. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  • Sarah Winter

    This article misrepresents the TAB philosophy.

    “Here at AOE, we offer an entire class on choice-based options, because we realize that the level of choice in a classroom has to fit the teacher and his or her students. In fact, we even created a choice spectrum to help teachers figure out exactly where they fall. (If you’re interested in learning more, the next class runs in March.)” I recall first encountering the idea of levels of choice and seeing a diagram of of a “choice spectrum” presented on the TAB website years ago.

    “Classroom discussions,classroom critiques, and seminars are all worthwhile, and it seems counterintuitive to dismiss these out of hand because they may not be what an individual student chooses to do.” Is the idea here that these things are not a part of the TAB philosophy? If so, the author is VERY misinformed about this philosophy. My TAB-influenced classroom definitely has far more natural, more engaged, more frequent, and more robust structured whole-group and informal small group art discussions and critiques than my classroom did when the focus was on getting everyone finished with projects that only half of the students found interesting.

    Pinterest boards (and internet resources)? These are something TAB teachers are relying on but not teacher-directed teachers? Um. Not in my experience. “Whether in life or art, our kids have some work to do when it comes to making good decisions. Their brains just aren’t ready for it yet.” So, better to spend 13 years teaching kids that their artistic ideas are not invalid, and only the choices of their art teachers are acceptable? And then once they turn 18, we should expect them to be bursting with fantastic ideas? It has been my experience that when you teach children that their ideas are not “real art,” they internalize that message. I think it better to teach students how artists generate ideas, while maintaining a concept of what is developmentally appropriate for young artists at different ages.

    I better stop. I could definitely go on…

  • Guest

    I’m reading a lot of comments like “that is TAB” or ” that is not TAB”. What is it that people think TAB is? How do you define it?

  • Katie in cO

    Oh Golly, this job is hard enough with out this kind of criticism, especially from someone who has never been in my classroom. You do what you do best and share that with your students, I will do the same. If you want to be directive and that works for all involved, then go right ahead. I will do what works in my situation.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Not sure if you saw this sentence . . . it’s at the end of the fourth paragraph:

      “You have to do what works best for you, your personality, and your teaching style.”

      • Katie in Co

        Yes, that sentence is there, but it came after the paragraphs suggesting that because I teach this way I don’t know my students, and that their artwork is no good. You also say that my students aren’t capable of making good decisions… which strikes me as very disrespectful of students and the learning process in general.

        That sentence might be there in print but it is not the tone of your article at all.

        I am really grateful that there are many TAB teachers who look at their practice critically and ask questions about what is best for their students learning, and share what they find. There is a vibrant network of teachers that discuss how to make their classrooms serve the needs of the students that they teach. I don’t think that you have an accurate understanding of the many different things that can happen in a TAB room, and honestly I don’t think the way that you have brought up the questions that you have has been done in a kind or open manner.

  • Lisa Bird

    This article felt like it was attacking TAB teachers. I believe there all kinds of successful art teachers….and yes you have to find what fits for you. But whenever someone takes time to list the reasons why a certain philosophy of teaching doesn’t work…they are forgetting to take a look at their own teaching philosophy and reflect how it isn’t perfect either. I personally felt this article was mean and judgmental. I question the reason for posting such an opinionated article on a site that is meant to be a resource for art teachers. Maybe a better approach would have been to discuss what is working in teacher directed classrooms and why it is effective.

  • Ann

    Hi Tim,

    As a teacher who jumped into full TAB last year, I appreciate your article, and feel like backing up towards the teaching approach I started with. You may have mentioned this in a comment below already (and point me in that direction if you have). I am curious if you could elaborate on your “Montessori influenced classroom”. I ask this because I am in a Montessori school and very much appreciate the Montessori approach, but have been working and working to get it figured out in the art classroom. I am looking for a healthy amount of choice within a structure. It sounds like you are busy, but any thoughts would be appreciated.


    • Tim Bogatz

      Ann, I would LOVE to talk Montessori with you! Find my e-mail on the “About” page and send me a note, we can definitely throw some ideas back and forth.

  • Bonogirl1015

    I was thinking about trying TAB so I joined a chat group to learn more. I found many negative comments about “non-TAB” art teachers that were pretty rotten. One even made nasty comments about an art teacher who taught students how to use a ruler. That’s when I got very turned off & decided I didn’t want to be included in a group that puts down art teachers.

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  • Teresa Euken

    Thank you Tim! Great article! I don’t feel quite so uncomfortable now with doing what I am doing. It’s working great without TAB and I appreciate your input. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it comes down to what you feel the most comfortable with in your classroom. If we are not comfortable teaching in a certain style or structure, we are not going to be the best possible teacher any of us could be. Thanks!

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  • MissArtyNutMeg

    I’d like to know if anyone has had any success trying TAB in a high-poverty school in a high crime area. I tried doing a lot of choice-based work with my art club, which is the “good kids” that don’t have behavior issues and are very interested in learning art. It just didn’t go well at all. If that’s what happens with the “good ones”, I hate to think what would happen if I did it in all my classes. The need for structure is so great with my population. A lot of them come from home environments that are very insecure and chaotic. It gets where sometimes a broken crayon can cause a meltdown.

    So if anyone can tell me how to make TAB work in that situation, I’d like to hear it.

    • Karen Brinker

      I tried TAB at my previous school which was high poverty. I’m no expert as I just tried it for a year, but I have a couple of notes from my experience.

      High poverty classrooms require a TON more time spent on classroom management, so it is hard to find the time to balance it all. And by classroom management, I don’t mean you yelling at kids all the time. I mean spending time on lessons on being kind to each other, following directions, celebrating successes, etc. I found that I had to do a lesson where we all did something together on being kind (puzzle pieces, artist trading cards etc.) or some other similar social-emotional goal. And a lesson that requires collaboration students need a lot of warning that their artworks are to be shared, but should still be high quality. After we established this new classroom culture or rule together, with a related structured project, then I let students make a choice project about kindness (so I guess this is modified choice because you are requiring something – and I usually set up 3 centers of materials students have used before). This second project/choice project also needs a lot of prep work, in that students sketch out ideas, we talk about problems that may come up, set goals, etc. In an ideal situation you would have 15 students or less so you could talk to each one, but that isn’t realistic, so you have to try to solve as many problems as you can before hand! And because so much time has to be spent on management, you sacrifice time spent on artists, techniques, elements and principles, etc. It was hard for me to give that stuff up, but it was just too much to cram into 40 minutes once a week! And think of it this way – at high poverty schools students need SEL the most. They don’t need to know who Monet was or a watercolor technique. That can come later once trust is established.

      I guess in summary, less is more, and it takes a long time to get it all worked out, so patience helps. I hope this makes sense! Happy to talk you more!

  • Alison Bergman

    Never in my years of teaching TAB and meeting with other TAB teachers have I ever come across an agenda by TAB teachers that claims that all art teachers should be practicing TAB. In fact, one of the most helpful charts I found when I started TAB was a diagram that explained that choice happens on a continuum in various ways across various classrooms. Because TAB teachers are enthusiastic about the benefits of their practice, does not mean that TAB is discounting the legitimate work of non-TAB teachers. I teach with a hybrid approach at the high school level and my students much prefer the TAB approach to learning. They are more deeply engaged. They ask better questions–questions that they really want to know the answer to. They learn how to answer their own questions and they become very independent and learn how to learn–or more aptly they learn to think like artists.

  • Michelle Mathias

    This article makes me feel so wonderful!! I see benefits for TAB– but sheesh- I feel pressure to do it too! It’s good for someone to say “you don’t have to- its just one of the many art teaching philosophies out there”.

    Thank you.

  • Dina

    I’m glad to have stumbled across this while researching the TAB classroom. I’ve been toying with switching my classes over, but am stuck on how to do it with merely 35 mins of class time per week per class. Was glad to be let off the hook a little by another opinion….I do feel like I’m behind the times when I come across TAB articles everywhere I look. I am planning on offering a bit more choices in my classes, but am landing on the fact that I am not cut out to teach in a complete TAB realm, and that’s OK for both me and my students.

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    Well said! Perhaps a variety of teaching styles results in a variety of learning styles being addressed. It certainly makes education more interesting for the student.
    I started this semester with a medium/technique focus. The last 6 weeks, however, my Art I students are creating a theme-based 3 Works in a Series. I have enjoyed being their guide on the side, watching them as they use knowledge gained throughout this semester to create some pretty amazing and unique pieces.