Co-Editor’s Letter: Choice

By Clyde Gaw, posted on Feb 9, 2023

I want to welcome the readership of SchoolArts to this special edition focused on choice-based art education and Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB). I was delighted when Nancy Walkup suggested we select authors whose specialty is child-directed art experience. Nancy and I have assembled a diverse group of choice-based and TAB educators whose expertise is well-known among their peers. We hope this issue will provide you with support and inspiration!

Choice-Based Art Education and Teaching for Artistic Behavior
Clyde adjusts the shoulder section of a mastodon sculpture at the Indiana State Museum’s 2019 Cardboard Engineering exhibit. Photo by Clark Fralick.

The Need for Choice
My sincerest thanks go to Clark Fralick, with whom I’ve been collaborating since 1996. In our early days before we introduced choice-based activities to students, Clark and I were team-teaching a group of fourth- and fifth-graders while conducting action research with rubric and portfolio assessments. Students were always happy to visit our art room.

However, we sensed a problem with students’ motivation to complete the tasks we assigned. Many students were doing just enough work to complete an assignment. Some of the students who entered our classroom each day would ask, “What are we doing today?” It was as if the students did not have the capabilities to form an idea of their own or take initiative. This observation did not sit well with us.

Around 2001, Clark wrote a grant that enabled us to purchase a Dell computer that we nicknamed Vincent. We noticed that when students used Vincent to write artist statements about their projects, their statements were often short and uninspired. When we offered students an opportunity to write about their home-based art or art they chose to create, we observed syntactic vitality in their artist statements. We had stumbled upon the critical importance of choice-making in the curricula. We realized that opportunities for activity choices had a direct correlation with meaning-making.

The TAB Philosophy
In 2003, while researching art education practices on the internet, Clark made another important discovery. There were art teachers in Massachusetts who were already using choice as a feature of their curriculum. It was from Clark’s early correspondence with Katherine Douglas and Diane Jaquith that we would learn more about the educational philosophy and practice of TAB.

Since 1974, Katherine and Diane, and their colleagues John Crowe and Pauline Joseph, were engaged in conversations that centered on the premise that children are fully capable of generating their own art ideas. Katherine had begun offering choice activities to her classes in 1972.

Katherine’s observation that the psychogenic realm is a rich source for creative inspiration would have far-reaching ramifications. From a cognitive perspective, art education based on the individual’s subjective realm could unify the fragmentation of the curricula, but more importantly, the experience of being a principle decision-maker of curriculum activity is, in and of itself, empowering and therapeutic.

Today there is much interest in child-directed art education practice, choice-based art education, and TAB. We hope this issue will provide you with support and inspiration!

Clyde Gaw has been a board member of Teaching for Artistic Behavior, Inc. since 2007.

View this article in the digital edition.