Sunday, June 2, 2013

6th Grade Choice

 I've written before about my desire to transition to TAB/Choice. I decided to let my 6th graders design their own projects for their "capstone" experience in elementary art. In a full-blown TAB classroom, there would be centers introduced through the year so that the students would be totally in charge of their projects. Since time travel is not a possibility, I modified it by giving the students an "Independent Project Proposal" form (IPP). The paper explained that they would be designing their own projects, that those projects needed to take thought and effort, and that they could use pretty much any material except for clay (I can only order enough for one clay project per student a year). I asked the students to sketch or describe their idea and get their project approved by me- mainly so I could make sure we had the necessary supplies and have a chance to conference with the students before they started.
I approved almost every idea, asking questions to get a few students to think more about their ideas when I felt they were just trying to pick something easy.
One of the questions I got right away was if the students could work with a partner. I was torn on this at first. I know that collaboration is important but I worried about how my 6th graders would handle it at this point in the school year when lots of attitudes were getting extra "fun". I told them that if it was a project that required a two-person amount of work, something that two people could actually work on at the same time, and as long as the two partners were a good choice- someone they could work productively with and hadn't been in trouble with- it was ok. Two girls made eye contact with each other in a silent agreement to work together. I was hoping they would get the hint when I threw in that I wouldn't approve partners who had been in trouble together but they made me tell them no. These were two students who had been in trouble in multiple classes, separated in their classroom, and even kicked out of an after school club for being so disrespectful. Thankfully after they pouted for a couple minutes they got to work on their own ideas and ended up doing a great job.
Though I was a little unsure of how the freedom and responsibility would go over with the 6th graders' attitudes, and though several people told me I was brave or crazy for trying it, I think it was actually a perfect time. The level of engagement and motivation was at the highest point all year. I found that the couple of students who had their minds made up to not enjoy and not try all year were the same even with the choice to make whatever they wanted, but I figure one or two students out of more than 130 was a pretty darn good ratio.
Most of the issues with this process were due to classroom organization. I didn't have a ton of storage for 3D projects so a couple disappeared- I think they weren't very far along and others thought they were scrap pieces up for grabs. Another issue was some students not taking care of the excess supplies- partly a normal experience in art class, and partly that I didn't have a good process worked out for storing some of the new supplies we were using. Finding a hot glue stick or other unused supplies in the trash can is just from someone being lazy or getting in a hurry, but cardboard scraps left in a big pile on the floor is from not having a good procedure in place.
 Besides students working together on the same project, there was a ton of peer tutoring and collaboration happening in other forms. When students were trying to find solutions to problems, other students around would throw out ideas for them to try. Could you tape it? Could you make a handle? I was really proud of them helping each other and coming up with interesting solutions.
The variety of projects, if put into one post, would take you hours to read. So, I've tried to split up my photos so that I can share everything I want to in more manageable chunks. For the rest of this post, I'll focus on students working with partners.
The two girls working on this project started off with a rough idea- they wanted to make something about being best friends. As they worked and thought more, they decided to make a picture of BFF necklaces. They wanted to splatter paint but I suggested a slightly less messy version- spraying diluted tempera paint onto paper instead of flicking it. They painted the hearts, cut out magazine letters to spell their names, and used buttons to form the chain. If you click on the picture to make it bigger, you'll notice that it looks a bit fuzzy and this is because they covered it with tulle. The project left the art room in one piece, but I think they were going to cut it in half to share.

 Drawings are a bit harder for students to work on together. The 6th grade idea of this is to take turns drawing so one person ends up sitting and watching half the time. I wasn't ok with that, so after the basic line drawing was completed, I asked them to find a way for both to work on it at the same time. I wish I would have taken a picture of the drawing that the students thought was finished so I could show them later. The drawing above was the final product, which admittedly could have been pushed further had they not run out of time. The main things I asked the students to keep working on was blending colors and adding value. The toxic waste can was one thing they improved with shading. The photo is not great, I need to remember to check my white balance when I move between buildings!
I told you that I approved project ideas before students started working... well, I should have signed their paper or something for proof because there were a few ideas that I do NOT remember approving. For example, two students that wanted to work together on the same 4x6 inch foam print. When I caught up with them again, I suggested that they make their prints go together but they each have their own physical print to work on. They ended up with the duo below, a decent solution, I think.
In upcoming posts, I'll share some other big categories of the choice artwork- construction, sports, 2D, 3D, and yarn.


  1. I really like how your are starting to introduce choice/TAB. It is amazing how much motivation kids have when it is something they are invested in. I hope for the same results when I switch to TAB this summer. I think that all the issues you mentioned are normal when your classroom is completely set up for TAB. One of the things I really want to focus on is making everything accessible. It is really important that students have the ability to gather their materials without driving you nuts asking where everything is. I hope that you make the move to TAB because I'd love to read how it goes.

    1. I spent some time before the end if the school year brainstorming how to set up supplies out in the classroom instead of the supply closet. I know it will take some experimenting... Unfortunately I won't be able to work in my classroom much until school starts. I live 40 minutes from school and have a toddler and hopefully very very soon a newborn! Plus, I'll be moving into a new room at my primary school so that will take most of my attention at first. I still need to run TAB by my principal but I don't see a problem, especially since I think it very much lines up with the proposed new visual arts standards.

  2. TAB is an AMAZING addition to my classroom! I actually do an adapted version to meet my district requirements but making sure supplies are clearly labeled and available to students is KEY to the start of a TAB classroom! If you have any questions, please let me know or visit a fellow art teachers blog (

    Keep up the GREAT work Katie Morris! I get so many wonderful ideas from your blog!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! I may have to go with a modified version once we get our district standards but I won't know until then.