Choice-Based Art Education

A Guided Tour Through Choice-Based Research

First of all, take a moment to examine the map of our tour to better understand our destination.

Ok, now that the map is fresh in your mind, let’s take a journey through the Choice-Based Research process following two students who joined forces to create an epic tribute to pastries.

Stage 1: Dissect – Inventory for Inspiration   

Students are rapidly collecting information on a daily basis. The art room can be an environment to sift through this information to classify its importance. Thus, when beginning the artistic process, creating personal inventory lists of skills, traits, interests, and curiosities can help students determine a direction for potential artwork. The first stage of the Choice-Based Research (CBR) model is to examine through dissection. For example, students generate multiple lists regarding various themes surrounding everyday life like family, physical activities, pop culture, ceremony, fears, and dreams. Discetting personal interests leads to better self-awareness, thus unveiling inspiration.  

Stage 2: Forge – Discovering Possibilities

For the second stage, students use their list(s) to examine artwork using various search combinations. For example, in 7th grade I focus on the elements of art and use terminology (line, color, shape, etc.) in combination with words from students’ personal inventory lists. The purpose of this activity is to forge for inspiration, ideas, and possibilities. I believe that exploring artwork, high or lowbrow, in depth expands one’s perspective surrounding contemporary and historical art. Furthermore, it is also a great way to assess vocabulary. Depending on technology availability in your building, this stage might be optional. I use Google Sites to make documents available with the ability to collaborate through the “share” option.

Stage 3: Brainstorming – Mapping Thoughts

Mind mapping is the perfect way to determine the direction of an artistic journey. In stage three, students create a brainstorming web (I call this a BLUEPRINT) that outlines their final idea for their project. After the web, students create a question that will act as a theme. Ultimately, the question should be cross-curricular. I stress to the class to eliminate art verbiage like “drawing”, “artwork”, or “painting”.

At this point, both students brainstormed together and created a question that could be based on their common interest in running a bakery. Both students inserted some art verage into their question, however this will evolve later. 

Stage 4: Sketch – Actualizing Thoughts

“Our first idea is not always our best idea” is a common mantra I share with my students when it comes to sketching. In stage four, students sketch an idea of their project in very crude terms that focus on perspective and composition. Students recompose their ideas into two different arrangements before finalizing a direction. After a quick teacher conference and a stamp of approval, students are ready to proceed.

Stage 5: Experiment – Seek Information

Before starting a final project, I think it’s important for students to further their research to support their artwork. There is a litany of activities students can complete in order to feel more comfortable and confident. For example, worksheets, tutorial videos, notes, and tracing are all applicable ways to demonstrate experimentation.

Helpful research for these students were to view tutorials via YouTube, take notes on the video, and then experiment in creating a variety of pastry forms using polymer clay I had available in class.  

Stage 6: Final Project – Execute and Adapt  

I believe preparation is key to success in strenuous endeavors. Honest Abe said it best, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The time spent brainstorming, planning, and researching will directly impact the final result. As an art teacher, frontloading can be a strenuous task because of the amount of preparation before an actual art project. But I truly believe the amount time gaining confidence and experimenting shows in the final product.

Each one of the pastries is about the size of quarter. Students figured out that if they froze the clay, they could wrap different colored clay together. Afterwards, they could cut the pieces to expose the color inside. I really appreciated how the students chose to display all the pastries together.  

Stage 7: Reflection – Grow

The last stage concludes with self-reflection and insight. Each student writes a thorough self-assessment or artist statement by focusing on the underlying meaning, the impact of research, the process, and future approaches. 

I was amazed to see how their question evolved from discussing a bakery to focusing on their appetite as inspiration.  

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