Supporting creative thinking – A move toward a choice-based approach to the Visual Arts

Creativity has been identified as one of the most important skills for the 21st century (Soffel, 2016).

As a Visual Arts teacher, I’ve always been interested in creativity. A couple of years ago, I decided to dig deeper into my own understanding of the creative thinking cycle so that I could apply that understanding to the teaching and learning in my classroom. Among the first things that struck me were the similarities between the creative thinking cycle, the inquiry cycle and the design thinking cycle. (See figure 1)

At the time I started digging deeper into the creative thinking cycle, my Visual Arts classroom operated in ways that were very similar to traditional Visual Arts classrooms around the world. I researched and came up with a project that focused on some important learning outcomes and that fit within a unit that I was teaching. I presented a lesson or series of lessons with the goal of having the students produce some artwork that was similar in style or theme to what we were discussing in the lesson. Often, I wanted to make some display out of the artwork.

The more I researched about creative thinking, the more I began to question how my own students were experiencing the creative thinking cycle in my classroom. If I was the person coming up with the idea for the projects, choosing the materials, scaffolding the steps to create something, helping them sort out mistakes and challenges so that we would end up with a collection of work that was worthy of a nice display in the hallway, then how much creative thinking were my students experiencing?

Just as I was having these questions and realizations, I found out about an approach to the Visual Arts that focuses on students taking responsibility for their own thinking and learning (agency), students expressing their own ideas (voice), and students making their own choices about what to make and how to make it (choice). This approach is called Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB).

TAB was first developed through the groundbreaking work of Katherine Douglas and other Visual Arts teachers in Massachusetts classrooms starting in the early 1970s. It’s an understatement to say that these teachers were ahead of their time in relation to their approaches that centered on student choice in the classroom.

Teaching for Artistic Behavior has a three-sentence curriculum (Douglas & Jaquith, 2018):

  1. What do artists do?
  2. The child is the artist.
  3. The art room is the child’s studio.

The curriculum might sound simplistic, but the ramifications in the application of it are profound. Here are just a few thoughts about how this three-sentence curriculum impacts student thinking, learning and behavior. 

What do artists do?


  • Make observations about the world around them
  • Synthesize those observations and make connections to other things they know
  • Envision how they could express their observations and connections
  • Experiment and choose materials to realize their vision
  • Create works that have personal meaning
  • Make mistakes and persist to find solutions to problems
  • Reflect on their progress by talking about it and making judgements about their own work
  • Share their work with others
  • Connect with other artists and people in the art world

The child is the artist.

The child…

  • Makes their own decisions about the work they want to make, using available materials.
  • Decides which materials to use.
  • Drives their own project (deciding when to start and when to stop).

The art room is the child’s studio.

The art room…

  • Is a shared creative space.
  • Is set up in such a way that the child can manage their own supplies, tools, workspace and cleanup.

The more I read about TAB, the more convinced I was that this approach would provide my students with the opportunities that they needed in order to fully experience the creative thinking cycle. In a future post, I’ll outline how I implemented TAB into our PYP Visual Arts classroom.

In the meantime, if you are interested to know more about Teaching for Artistic Behavior, I encourage you to take a look at the following resources:

Douglas, K. M. & Jaquith, D. B. (2018). Engaging learners through artmaking: Choice-based art education in the classroom.Second Edition. New York: Teachers College Press.


Douglas, K. M. & Jaquith, D. B. (2018). Engaging learners through artmaking: Choice-based art education in the classroom.Second Edition. New York: Teachers College Press.

Soffel, Jenny (2016 March 10). What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Retrieved from

The curriculum might sound simplistic, but the ramifications in the application of it are profound.

Creative Thinking Cycle
figure 1

Author: Ron

Ron teaches Visual Arts to students in the early years through grade five. In his practice, he uses innovative approaches to foster agency in the students through a choice-based model that encourages creative thinking routines and supports student voice. Additionally, he works closely with teachers to develop arts integration and creative thinking across the primary curriculum. Ron is passionate about supporting creative thinking in the educational environment for all subject areas. He follows current literature on the topic and attends innovative workshops and conferences. Ron has previously worked as a Visual Arts teacher, homeroom teacher and university lecturer.

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