Return to Headlines

Choice-Based Art Gets Bedford Village Students’ Creativity Flowing

a student wraps felt around his arm during art class

During a recent art class, Bedford Village Elementary School (BVES) fourth graders were deep into exploring their creativity. In a back corner, one group of students was busy creating merchandise apparel for their band. In another corner, two students were on the floor creating a map of a town made out of donuts. Sprinkled throughout the rest of the room, students were drawing, painting, collaging and more. 

As with all of the BCSD’s elementary art classes, BVES works with the Teaching Artistic Behaviors (TAB) model, which gives students freedom and choice in their artistic endeavors.

“TAB offers young artists the experience of thinking and working like real-world artists do,” said art teacher Madalyn Grano. “They design their own art projects, manage their time and learn how to be creative, self-sustaining thinkers who know how to organize themselves and plan things out.

Students have a choice in everything they work on in class, from the materials they use to the method they utilize to portray an idea.

“Giving students the freedom to choose what they want to make gives them so much joy!” Grano said. “The kids are always engaged and working when they come to art class because they have complete ownership over what they are creating — it is meaningful to them and they care about it. They are learning to become independent thinkers, problem-solvers, scientists, and explorers, and the discoveries they make along the way are that much more valuable to them.”

Grano also noted that students often like to work together in pairs and small groups, which allows them to work on interpersonal skills as they talk through their collaboration.

“It is fascinating to watch this unfold when it happens!” Grano said.  

It played out with fourth graders in all areas of the classroom that day. The boys working on the band merchandise were trying to come to an agreement on their color scheme and band name.

“Where’s the prototype?” one asked as another stapled pieces of felt around himself to make sure they got the shape of a sweatshirt right.

In another area, girls were working independently on collages, but they each knew what the other girls were doing. One would ask for scraps of a particular paper pattern if her peer had leftovers. Another student saw her friend make a sunset and was inspired to create her own with colorful pom poms.

“The focus is on the process behind the students’ creativity and not the product,” Grano said. “I am more concerned with the skills they are gaining, the discoveries they are making, and the ideas they are expressing. The pieces may not be as polished looking as they would be if I were teaching them ‘recipe style’ art lessons, but that’s the point: they are young artists, and their artwork should reflect that.”

Students in Grano’s class truly seem to take great joy in the creative process.

“I really like animals, so I decided to make a collage of them because I also really like collages,” said Mia Merrill-Verma. “It’s two of my favorite things together.”

“Painting is my favorite part of class,” Calleigh Kennedy said. “You can make whatever you want with paint. You can make a collage with it or drawings — anything you like!”

For Stephanie Naar, who was working on a collage, the scrap bin is the best part. “There is so much you can use! It brings more joy into my art.”

Responses like these are part of the reason Grano loves teaching a choice-based art class.

“One of my favorite things is hearing a student’s explanation about the idea behind a piece of work when they are sharing it with the class,” she said. “Sometimes the piece they are holding up might appear to just be a hot mess, but the clear and purposeful plan that went into the execution of the work makes complete sense once they are finished describing each individual part and the reasoning behind its inclusion.”

Grano went on to say how amazing it is to see the diversity of ideas and the creativity that seems to spill out of students when they have the freedom of choice. Students love that too.

“My favorite part about art class is that you can be creative,” Stephanie said.

BVES student paints stripes on white paperBVES student holds up paper sculpture peace sign