Posted on 03/20/2017 at 10:48 AM by Blog Experts

Janine Campbell teaches middle school art in Michigan and presented at the Art of Ed winter conference. Her session was titled, “Choosing to Change, Changing to Choice.”

When she graduated, she taught a discipline-based arts curriculum. She had her students study an artist, and then had them emulate that artist. What she discovered, however, was this wasn’t giving her students the full breadth of what was out there.

Keeping her students at the center was what caused Campbell to change her curriculum to becoming more student-centered. She used to teach everyone the same thing at the same time in the same way. All students studied the same artist, and all students’ work looked very similar. It was easy to see if the students understood the concepts, and that made it easy to assess.

When she first started to teach perspective, she would use the artists of the Renaissance, and explain the principles of perspective. She had students map out their page, and use vanishing points. She started with one point perspective, but a few years ago she also taught two-point perspective and then gave her students the option to use two-point perspective in their artwork.

But she wanted to be more student-centered, and wanted to know that students had that satisfaction of being makers and creators in the classroom. She knew students weren’t satisfied with their work because all the meaning was coming from her. She was selecting the artists, the methodologies, the media, and the time frame for creating these things. Students were leaving their artwork behind because they weren’t satisfied with their work.

What happens if you don’t know exactly what products students are going to create? What happens if you let go of some of that control? Campbell came up with themes, such as spaces and places. Within that theme, she taught students how a landscape, inside-scape, and cityscape works. Students must have a sketchbook and they take notes about the artists, media, concepts that they are learning about. They use these notes to determine what they want to make. Now Campbell doesn’t just solely focus on the Renaissance artists; she also discusses contemporary artists. Campbell indicated that PBS Learning Media is a great place to find these artists. The Art Assignment is a video series that is also a great place to look for modern artists. The Art Assignment introduces innovative artists, provides assignments, and allows the exploration of art history through the lens of the present.

After taking notes and doing daily demonstrations of perspective, students are free to come up with their own work. They create five thumbnail sketches, conference with Campbell, and refer often to their notes. Campbell said the results have been amazing! Students are applying not just perspective drawing, but color theory, value, and compositional elements such as symmetry. Students decide what makes sense to apply and then apply it. It’s coming from within them. They are also free to do three-dimension work, as well. Students start to tell stories and create narratives for their work. They’ve gone from the concrete to the abstract. One student even created wearable art to demonstrate the principles of perspective.

Campbell concluded, “Now I never know what students are going to make, and that’s exciting! Every day is a new adventure. It’s no longer predictable.”

To contact Campbell for further ideas on student choice in the art classroom, you can visit her website ( or, go to her twitter page (@campbellartsoup) or email her at  

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