Explaining the deep learning that comes from a TAB classroom to a teacher who hasn't tried it is hard. In fact, the first time I heard about TAB I thought it sounded impossible. My class was very teacher directed and looked like the diagram below.
Over time, my teaching style became more and more open. I kept coming back to the idea of TAB because I saw how increased levels of autonomy lit a creative fire in my students, especially the ones that were the hardest to reach. Learninging in my TAB classroom looked very different from my previous teaching.
One of the biggest differences was that the learning structure wasn't linear - it was a continuous cycle of engagement. Another was that a very organic sort of collaboration between students happened regularly. Since everyone was doing different things, kids were very interested in each other's work. Peer mentoring, working together on big ideas and conversation about artistic choices were the norm. Since I was no longer spending my time planning projects and walking kids through the steps, I spent my time differentiating support on a individual basis and talking to students about their work.
This structure changed when I moved from elementary to high school. One key difference was that students were much less confident in their ideas and needed more support in generating and developing them. The structure of my teaching changed to provide that and I developed Design Process Thinking as a scaffold for teaching creative thinking.
When comparing a TAB structure to one with less student choice there is a key difference is the application of ideas. It was missing in my pre-TAB classroom. When the teacher plans the project and teaches it in steps, the students only copy a model. This sort of replication creates little lasting learning because information doesn't have to be remembered, processed or applied in other contexts. However, when students are asked to come up with their own ideas or select from a range of options, without the crunch that the teacher model presents, we really get to see what kids can do.
The sort of teaching I was doing pre-TAB has a place in art ed - as a skill-teaching precursor to an experience where student can apply knowledge. To see what our students really know and can do we can't list the steps for them. To develop student's creativity and voice we can't plan what they are going to say - instead, we have to give them space to say it.
I'm an high school art teacher who's really interested in student choice and creating opportunities for self expression. I'm also a writer for The Art of Education and co-author of The Open Art Room.