Planning for student choice in the Visual Arts Classroom – Is it possible to integrate TAB and PYP?

In a previous post, I explained how I made the decision to move to a choice-based approach to learning in my Visual Arts classroom, using the three-sentence curriculum of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB). (Douglas & Jaquith, 2018):

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

After reading Choice without Chaos (Bedrick, 2012) and Engaging Learners Through Artmaking – Choice-based Art Education in the Classroom (Douglas & Jaquith, 2009), I attended the TAB Summer Institute in Boston in July 2017 at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design where I met dozens of Visual Arts educators who were interested in using a choice-based approach to teaching and learning.

Teaching for Artistic Behavior emphasizes the importance of students having studio time to do what artists do (to explore their ideas and use different media). A typical 60 minute TAB session might be structured like this:

Mini Lesson / Mini Museum / Skill Building Activity

5 mins

Studio Time

45 mins

Clean up / Reflection

10 mins

Mini lessons, mini museums and skill builders are planned to satisfy the needs of the students, spark interests, develop craft, deepen artistic knowledge and discuss expectations.

Studio time is student driven with children exploring a range of ideas and materials as the teacher checks in with them individually to discuss their work. Students can work individually or collaboratively. Some students choose to follow up on something from the mini lesson, mini museum or skill builder, but it’s not required. Students have access to a range of materials and are capable of getting their own supplies, setting up their workspace and cleaning up. Even kindergarteners can pour their own paint! (For Pre-K students I set up different centers on the tables.)

Reflections have a very important role in the classroom, as students have a chance to discuss their work, artistic intentions and next steps. Reflections can be done as a group activity, with partners, by writing artist statements, gallery walk or by posting to Seesaw.

One of the most striking benefits of using a choice-based approach to art is that the students are passionate about their work and eager to share it with their peers. Many students request that there will be time for sharing at the end!

Integrating TAB into the PYP Visual Arts Classroom

After doing my research and attending the TAB Summer Institute in Boston, I developed a plan to integrate the approach into my PYP Visual Arts classroom. This year, with the help of our Curriculum Coordinator, I planned four stand-alone units. The units emphasize key elements of both TAB and the PYP Scope and Sequence. These are my four stand-alone units:

Transdisciplinary Theme:

How we organize ourselves

Central Idea:

To enhance creativity and innovative thinking, artists organize in a variety of ways.

Lines of Inquiry:

A common vocabulary for the Elements of Art

How the environment supports creativity

Creativity and innovative thinking

Transdisciplinary Theme:

Where we are in place and time

Central Idea:

Artists develop ideas in many ways, including building on ideas from the past.

Lines of Inquiry:

How artists get ideas

Art changes over time

Artists approach their work from different perspectives

Transdisciplinary Theme:

Who we are

Central Idea:

To express identity and culture, artists tell stories through the Visual Arts.

Lines of Inquiry:

Personal storytelling through Visual Art

What identity is

Culture and the Arts

Transdisciplinary Theme:

How we express ourselves

Central Idea:

To reach artistic goals, artists combine ideas and skills.

Lines of Inquiry:

Ways to generate ideas

Thinking skills and artistic skills

Artistic goals

Like any PYP stand-alone unit, I have key concepts, related concepts, learner profiles, attitudes, skills and teacher questions. To keep things as simple as possible, I use the same stand-alone units with all grade levels, differentiating by development, skills, etc.

At our school, the specialist teachers collaborate with homeroom teachers on one Unit of Inquiry per school year. This year, during those collaborative units, we temporarily stopped/changed our stand-alone units and worked on collaborative pieces or pieces that related to the homeroom UOI summative assessments.

Overall, I believe that our choice-based approach to the Visual Arts this year has been a huge success. Most students come to class with a project or idea already in mind and they are eager to explore it. Mistakes or challenges are usually seen as something to figure out. Collaboration and peer teaching occurs naturally. Most importantly, students are experiencing the entire creative thinking cycle and are able to articulate the benefits. As one second grade student put it, “Mr. Ron, now that we design our own projects, we make more mistakes and that’s good!”


Bedrick, Anne (2012). Choice Without Chaos. (n.p.): Author.

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. (2009). Engaging learners through artmaking: Choice-based art Education in the Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.








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.

2 thoughts on “Planning for student choice in the Visual Arts Classroom – Is it possible to integrate TAB and PYP?”

  1. Ron, thank you so much for sharing your standalone units in detail. I am intrigued by the fact that all grades can follow the same units, differentiated by development, etc. I would like to ask what it looks like when you teach each unit. Does each grade interpret a particular unit driven by grade-appropriate “prompts” or “themes”? Do students create 4 works of art that meets the requirements/objectives of your 4 standalone units?


    1. Hi Karin, thank you for your comment and questions. I appreciate that you took time to read the blog and respond. I do differentiate by grade level when appropriate. For example, if I’m doing a mini presentation about how a particular artist tells stories through her artwork, I will prompt the older students with deeper questions or look at a different artist. One artist we discussed last year had dealt with racism in her career. With the older students we discussed this. Last year I did not require any particular works with each unit, as I wanted the focus to be more process oriented and choice-based. I let the students decide if/when they were interested to pursue something from the mini presentation. Since many students come to class with a passionate idea that they want to express through art, I did not want to discourage that expression. I’ll post an article soon that will discuss more about being process oriented. Hopefully that will explain more. Thanks again for your thoughtful response to the blog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: