The Top 5 Myths About Choice-Based Art Education

Though the teaching philosophy has been around for years, Choice-Based teaching has recently become a hot topic in art education circles. Whether it be TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior), Modified Choice or even the Genius Hour, the concept of adding student- directed learning into the classroom has been up for debate. When discussing any current issue, it is not uncommon for the proverbial waters of true and false to become clouded. Choice-based teaching is no exception to this rule.

Today we will look at five common misconceptions about choice-based art education and the truth behind the myths.

Top 5 Myths

Myth # 5. Choice Might Work For That Class But…


When discussing choice-based teaching with educators that are unfamiliar with the concept, it is not uncommon to hear comments such as, “That might work well in high school but not elementary.” The reverse is also common, “That makes sense for elementary, but I don’t see how it could work in high school.”

The truth is, there are teachers offering choice to students in every type of school, in every type of situation. Art teachers are offering choice-based art programs at elementary, middle and high schools around the country and around the world.

Myth # 4. My Students Can’t Handle Choice

Similar to the previous myth which divided classes by grade level, teachers dismiss choice-based options due to behavioral issues or even socioeconomic factors. A common statement might sound something like, “My school is low income. The students need structure.”

The socioeconomic structure of a school is irrelevant, as choice-based teaching has been implemented everywhere from large, inner city schools to small, rural settings. We should consider that children live up to our expectations and should not assume that any students can’t develop their own ideas.

Myth # 3. Budgets Are Tight, Kids Will Waste Materials

IMG_0662Actually, this one is true. Budgets are tight and kids will waste materials. However, the definition of the term “waste” is defined by the art teacher’s perception. Here are two hypothetical examples to consider. In a teacher-led lesson, a student might spend a week’s time on an exercise only to drop it in the recycling bin on the way out the art room door. In a choice-based program, a student might explore the process of painting only to create mud. This work also may find its way to the recycle bin. In both situations, the student has used and discarded materials. However, to define the second situation as wasteful, would be to ignore the importance of exploration, understanding and play in learning.


Myth # 2. Choice Is A Free For All, Kids Just Do What They Want

Choice-based teachers, like all good teachers, plan the time, the space, the materials and the instruction for their students. Much thought is given to the instructional strategies incorporated into the classroom, including best practices for demos, one-on-one, small group, and large group teaching. The students are presented with information about tools, materials, procedures and concepts. The only difference between a student-directed and a teacher-directed classroom is that in a choice-based class, the students have the responsibility of applying what is useful to them for their individual needs.

Myth # 1. Choice Doesn’t Teach Skills


Perhaps the most frequent debate between student and teacher-directed instruction is the misnomer that skills are absent in a choice-based classroom. Teaching skills isn’t only a DBAE or TAB commodity. Neither side of the spectrum can claim teaching skills as theirs.

Some of the confusion is generated by the method skills are taught. Instead of the skills first, project to follow method, choice-based teachers often present skills as needed. In other words, after the project has been decided. Students apply these skills independently in new situations.
Perhaps ironic considering the topic of this article, many teachers have the ability to choose the pedagogy that works best with their personal philosophy. It’s okay not to have a choice classroom. There are superb art teachers on every line of the choice spectrum. However, whether we are considering choice-based teaching or merely curious about how it works, we have a responsibility to base our opinions on facts. It is only by true understanding, potentially by reading, better by asking, certainly by doing, that we can separate the truth from the misconceptions.

What are other possible myths you have heard about choice-based teaching?

What are your questions about running a choice-based model in your own classroom? 


Ian Sands


This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Cindy P

    I did a choice-based activity in advanced art class, and students chose the same approach, but for 2 who did something they thought would be ‘easier.’ I wish I could visit a classroom where this is in operation. I try to give students as many options as possible, but usually it is only my portfolio class (independent study) that has much interest in making choices. I would appreciate any advice.

    • Stacey

      There is a yahoo TAB group. If you would like to visit a TAB classroom in action you could 1) contact the group & find some in your area and 2) ask if they have a blog or Twitter/Instagram account. Hopefully you can find someone compatible. If not, contact the moderator & she should be able to help you.

  • I had a feeling a response like this was coming. It seemed inevitable after Timothy Bogatz’s article, It’s Okay NOT to Have a TAB Classroom, and the furor it produced.

    In the final analysis, educational research is a soft science. You take a Psych 101 class and, at the end, the ponderous number of modalities used to understand and help people will make you dizzy. Education as a whole, including art education, does not always do a good job of taking that concept to heart. Pedagogy is not a hard-and-fast science. The unpredictable nature of children, the homes they come from, and the communities they live in make it all the more challenging to say we know for certain what is best for every kid everywhere.

    My take?

    1. Strive for excellence regardless of your pro-choice, anti-choice or somewhere-in-between proclivities.

    2. Monitor your language as you speak about your own camp and those ‘on the other side’. Words can create dichotomies that cause people to get their guard up and feel backed into a corner.

    3. Be open to challenge your own preconceptions about what is best for your students (and yourself!). Try something new. Take a project and flip it on it’s head: teach it as you believe ‘the other camp’ would.

    4. Share your challenges when you try something new. The Art of Education has introduced people who can probably give you insight to help you overcome that hurdle or help you know that you are not alone because something didn’t work quite right. Email opens us up to a world of help!

    Enough said. I’m off to school. :)

  • Karen

    I am not for or against TAB in the classroom and use a modified choice approach myself. My state is beginning an evaluation system called Analysis of Student Work (ASW) where teachers will send in student work before and after a lesson to prove that their students are showing growth. One of the key components is connecting the work to a single Essential Standard. The state is being so particular about making this connection that the wording in the “I Can” and “I Will” statements must be almost identical to the standard. How are TAB teachers able to connect their standards to their student work when using choice? I was reading all the comments from Timothy Bogatz’s article and picked up on the idea that there is not necessarily a common standard being taught in the TAB class. Is there anyone working in a state using this type of evaluation and successfully using TAB? It would be very helpful to those of us just starting this processes to understand how TAB teachers are making this connection.

    • Julie T

      Great question Karen. One approach some TAB teachers use is a more theme based/modified approach to their classroom. In this format, you could easily connect your essential standards to their work. TAB teachers also lead skill builders (essential skills/techniques that fit with their students’ developmental/skill levels) and those are not a choice. That is another way you could demonstrate growth with student products. I am sure there are many other TAB teachers who could chime in and give you more examples. This is a much discussed topic on the many FB TAB pages.

    • Mr. Post

      “Analysis of Student Work”? Are you kidding me? They should just call it what it is – “before and after.”

      There is this misconception in America that the teacher needs to be working harder. The truth is that it is the students who need to be working harding. If you are learning something you should always be working harder than the teacher who already knows the subject.

      I was walking into school behind one of my students and her mom. As her mom dropped her off for the day she said to her daughter, “Thy, you do good at school today – it’s your job.” Thy is involved in every after school learnng activity that she can squeeze into her schedule and is a top student in our school. Imagine if every kid got that kind of message from home – that school is their job.

      As states micromanage more and more the educational process with paperwork and initiatives like “before and after” I find myself becoming more and more disillusioned with the entire process of education through schooling. At its simplest education happens when someone who knows something helps someone who doesn’t to learn it. It seems that state legislators across America think a flurry of paperwork for teachers and testing for kids is the solution. I would posit that it is more important to generate interest and enthusiasm for learning – but that cannot be quantified as a number – and so America is creating a system of education that devalues the teacher. Teachers are not trusted to inspire their students – we are asked to quantify experiences in art with numbers and data and proof.

      My best teachers were not those who concentrated on facts – my best teachers were the ones who were passionate about their subjects, had big personalities and inspired me to want to be like them… try and measure that state legislators.

      • Karen

        I can’t disagree with anything you have said, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are required to do it. The hope among teachers is that it will eventually go away. There are many obstacles that the state has to overcome to even get it to work including technology issues and having enough volunteer experts to grade all of the work sent in by PE, AP, World Language, and arts teachers. They have had two pilots that struggled. We were supposed to start last Thursday, but that was postponed slightly because of computer issues. The computer will randomly pick students whose work we will need to send to be graded. Just keeping track of the student work is monumental. If you teach elementary school it becomes even more complicated. They teach in multiple schools and may not see the same students more than twice per month. I am really struggling on how I am going to show growth in my folk art classes since folk art tends to be childlike and undisciplined. If my expert grader doesn’t understand this aspect of folk art, I could be in real trouble.

        • Mr. Post

          …and therein lies the whole conundrum about why educators can be come disillusioned with schooling. What your state is asking you to do it “prove” you are a good teacher. So instead of preparing and implementing lessons, you will be required to spend time proving you are teaching your students. There is only so much time in a day, a year, in a lifetime – and legislators pass these bills thinking they are improving education for kids.

          My son’s former 5th grade teacher left engineering to become a teacher. Her passion was science. She got her entire class all jazzed up about the subject. She retired early from teaching a few years ago. She told my wife that “How we are teaching and assessing in schools today does not align with why I became a teacher.” – and so a brilliant science teacher, a passionate science teacher left the profession – That will be the legacy of all of these testing/assesment initiatives – many brilliant teachers will leave the profession to do other things and just the paper-pushers and minute-counters will be left.

    • Stacey

      Karen, Yes, you can – with planning. We have DDMs (District Determined Measures) which are basically I Can/I Will statements, in fact our 4/5 art teacher has to use those daily. I currently teach a modified TAB to first grade on a cart (modified for their age as most six year olds like to follow the leader). In our district we can choose our DDM – I chose Color Theory (Primary, Secondary, & Color Mixing). Earlier in the year I had to give a Pre-Assessment (Before). These past two weeks we’ve been working with water color wax resist. For each of my demos I purposefully mixed Primaries for the wet on wet effect, eliciting oohs & aahs as the colors mixed and students thought I was making magic. During their painting, I encourage them to try mixing colors of their own & share the results (I always point out Secondary results to the class). This week I will introduce w.c. crayons – again I’ll mix new colors & ask them to explore & share color mixing. After that, I’ll move on to an actual Primary Color Mixing lesson & then give a mid-assessment (During). For a few more weeks we’ll review Primary/Secondary as it comes up, but no planned teaching. At the end of Spring, I’ll give a Primary Color Challenge – challenging students to create art using only the Primaries & black/white. I’ll do the same for the Secondary Colors & review. After that, I’ll give my Final Assessment (After).

      So, yes, I’m doing it. And, like it’s meant to be, the learning spans over many months. My advice is to pick something you’re already doing – and that you like teaching, and to make the assessments short & sweet as to not waste too much teaching/learning time.

  • Julie T

    Two of the most common questions/myths about my TAB classroom are about the quality of the student work and the ability to manage the classroom with so many different projects going on at the same time. In my experience (Prek-8th), quality comes from the freedom to go deep within a medium or in the exploration of a theme, combined with the intrinsic motivation that comes when you are in charge of designing your own project. I have found that in a studio environment, most students demonstrate a high level of autonomy and independence and I am freed up to work with students one-on-one or in small groups to give them the guidance and feedback they need. The teacher is only one of the many resources available to my students. A well designed TAB classroom will have many visual resources for the students to refer to and has identified student “experts” in each center who they can go to for additional help. Thank you Ian for your thoughtful and respectful article. One of the reasons I began searching for a more student centered approach to teaching art (way before I had ever heard of TAB), was that so many students would throw away their “beautiful/high quality” work of art in the trash on the way out of my room. I had to be honest and ask myself why that was. That led me to the way I teach now. For me, it works.

    • Allison Carver Kleinsteuber

      While I am exploring this concept and beginning to implement a version of choice-based for my intermediate and advance students, I realized this is exactly how I would have preferred to learn when a student. But, many of my students do not like this process and struggle in coming up with ideas. When I teach my beginning classes, I do a great deal of introduction (formative assessment) activities, that by the time we get to the sum-
      mative assessment, they are spilling over with ideas and eager to begin.

  • Jared Hulstine

    I am presenting choice based art at my next art teachers meeting in our district, after teaching TAB in my studios the last 2 years. The articles and conversations on this site will help to present the FAQs and pros and cons. Thank you all for taking this issue so seriously and adding to the debate of how to teach young artists.

    • Allison Carver Kleinsteuber

      If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love it if you could post your PPT or include a link about your presentation. While this process if old news to many, it is still new for some.

    • Jared – We are glad the resources and conversation is helpful. You are right, this IS an important topic. Can you imagine being a new art teacher walking into the profession right now? It would be a bit overwhelming. By discussing everything (from all angles) teachers can see options and decide for themselves.

  • aanorman

    This is great. Thanks.

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  • Hope

    Choice art ed can be done poorly or well. I’ve not been a fan bc the teachers who promoted it were lazy but I know when I decided to do it I first had them research sketch work in groups or not. They’ve surpassed my imagination. Now I had students not work but now they see how much acclaim the students work is getting in our pop up gallery. It’s not for the lazy I prepped more and have engaged in high level conversations and held studio nights with disengaged low socio-economic students. Try it, what can you loose?