Lower School
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Lower School Artists Finding Own Paths to Creativity

In the new Lower School art studio, a group of three fourth-graders is working on a large-scale animal sculpture while another student is working on a self-portrait painting. In another corner of the room, two students are working collaboratively on a ceramics project while three other students are working independently on individual drawings.

The students aren’t all working on one variation of the same thing. Instead, they have the choice and creative freedom to follow their own paths in the art studio.

“Student engagement rises in huge amounts when students are able to work on something they’re invested and they’re interested in,” Lower School art teacher Jane Chesson said. “Instead of trying to get 15 students all engaged creatively in the same way at the same time, I’m allowing students to find something they’re interested in and follow that path to a place of creative success.”

Utilizing the methodology of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), the new Choice-Based Classroom regards students as artists and offers them real choices for responding to their own ideas and interests, which supports multiple modes of learning and teaching for the diverse needs of students.

“There’s been a lot of research looking at the benefit of students having choice in classrooms, particularly in a room that’s emphasizing creativity,” Chesson said. “When students are given the opportunity to take risks, make mistakes and work collaboratively, their ability to think critically and overcome problems and overcome obstacles grows exponentially.”

The new art studio functions under a philosophy of choice without chaos. Each class operates the exact same way, starting with a two-minute independent warm up activity followed by a five-minute mini lesson where students learn about a specific technique, material or master artist.

After the mini lesson, students can create something of their choice using the new skills they’ve learned.

“Keeping as many things structured as possible and then allowing time for open choice allows students to really feel comfortable and supported making those choices,” Chesson said.

The choice-based art studio is set up in centers that function as mini art studios, complete with instructional information, resources, materials and tools. In a typical class, students move independently through the painting, drawing, ceramics, architecture and fiber arts centers, utilizing materials, tools and resources as needed in the art-making process.

Each center opens up one at a time, so students learn to use each center individually, gaining access to that space, Chesson said, equating the art studio with a video game. When students first start out, they have very limited choices, abilities and “powers,” and as they work up levels, they gain more freedom, more choice and more powers.

“Student engagement rises in huge amounts when students are able to work on something they’re invested and they’re interested in,” Chesson said, adding that the choice-based classroom allows her to have more individual time with students, either one-on-one or in small groups. “Students have a much more organic learning process when they’re allowed to have the freedom to discover things on their own.”