How to Use WOW Projects to Get Quality Work in Your Choice Classroom

It’s no secret that play and exploration are at the heart of TAB classrooms. However, eventually, finished work begins to emerge amidst false starts, happy accidents, and a-ha moments. It’s exciting, messy, and beautiful. But, as students get familiar with centers and routines, they sometimes need a bit of a nudge to create meaningful, finished work; they need a way to share their new skills and knowledge. In a TAB classroom, that’s where WOW projects come into play.

WOW projects

What is a WOW project?

WOW stands for “Wonderful Original Work of Art.” Invented in a Teaching for Artistic Behavior classroom by Barbara Berry, a TAB educator in Brunwick, ME, the WOW cycle is a way to motivate students to create long-term projects. Students learn to envision a piece of art, plan it out, and execute it by a deadline.

WOW projects are generally presented when students have enough background knowledge about skills and techniques to plan their own projects. Students may decide to be inspired by artists, ideas, or techniques that have been taught throughout the grading period or school year. They may also choose to research something new.

With young students, play is most important and WOW projects tend to emerge naturally. Projects that take one or two weeks are a good fit for their abilities and attention spans. With older students, it can be a different story. The magic of play and experimentation wears off, and it’s time to get to work.

How do WOW projects work?

To count as a WOW, the piece of art must meet a set of criteria. The criteria vary from classroom to classroom, but the idea is the same. You can see one example below.

  • It must be original
  • It must be carefully crafted
  • It must take time (2-3+ weeks)
  • It must show your growth as an artist
  • It must be documented and have an artist statement

In other words, a WOW project should be a piece of artwork on which a student works hard and would be proud to share. It’s a good idea to give students a place to plan their project, so I’ve shared my WOW planning sheet with you below. Download it and use it with your students!

WOW project download

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The TAB room can be a magical place. When your students are looking for an extra challenge, it’s time to bring out a WOW project. Doing so will help motivate your students to dive even deeper into their artwork.

Will you give WOW projects a try? Do you already use open-ended final projects in your art room?

What kinds of final projects do you your students make?

Kelly Phillips

Kelly teaches elementary TAB in Hopkinton, MA . She strives to create an environment where all students can become independent, self-directed risk-takers.

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  • Dawn Norris

    What grade would you recommend introducing the concept of WOW work and using this planning sheet? I teach grades K-4. Thanks!

    • Kelly Phillips

      The TAB philosophy only recommends WOW projects for 4th grade+. Younger students need more practice in play and the process! Maybe give it a try at the very end of 3rd grade to see how students respond.

  • Shannon Gehen

    Could this be used in High School?

    • Kelly Phillips

      Of course! Try it out as is and see if your students need some additional supports or planning.

  • Anna

    Could you provide me an example of how a lesson plan and a rubric would look like using the WOW method? Thanks

    • Kelly Phillips

      Hi Anna. There’s a few articles on how to write TAB lesson plans on AOE. The WOW project is essentially a lesson plan in itself. Students are expected to generate an idea, make a plan, excecute it and receive feedback. You expect what’s on the checklist so that can be incorporated into your rubric. For instance, craftsmanship can be one section, time spent can be another, etc.

      • Anna

        I’ve tried something like this in my 7/8th grade 2d class and unfortunately it depends on the child. My observations show if the child doesn’t care about generating an idea, making a plan, executing it then reflecting then it just does’t work. It’s frustrating.

      • Anna

        I didn’t see a rubric online that follows the TAB concept. This is all new to me and I am learning and researching. The administrator at my district is looking to SEE the rubric (authentic) see the lesson plan on the choice concept. I too need to see how it would look like. Any way you can provide me with an example of a lesson and it’s rubric?

  • Julie T

    Hi Kelly. I think it is important to correctly identify and credit the person who coined the term WOW and first created the criteria for what it is/is not. Her name is Barbara Berry. She was a TAB teacher from Maine and introduced the WOW concept as early as 2010.. Because TAB teachers so freely share their ideas and many have latched onto this concept and made it their own, it is important that we give credit where credit is due.

    • Kelly Phillips

      Yes, Julie T. ! As I’ve written in my TAB and choice-based articles, the TAB community is extremely open and generous and I’m proud to be a part of a community like ours. Thank you for posting Barbara’s name here. I’m glad to know who invented the amazing W.O.W. project.

      • Julie T

        Thank you for editing the article to properly credit Barbara Berry. AS TAB continues to grow, it is more important than ever to keep the history alive and credit the wonderful teachers who have been our mentors and leaders. The heart of this community is the free sharing of ideas and driven forward by these art educators simply because they truly believe in this powerful pedagogy.

  • Zoe Kyriacou

    Hi Kelly. I’m reviewing my first year teaching TAB and thinking of introducing WOW projects. We spent the first six weeks opening each centre, then spiralled through each one again adding a little to technique, skill or artist references. At what point would you recommend introducing the students to the WOW concept? I was thinking after opening all the centres. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated. I have one class inparticular, very enthusiastic, but of mixed abilities. I’m hoping the idea of a WOW project will help them focus. I felt even some of the talented students were sometimes coasting with ‘busy’ work.

    • Kelly Phillips

      Hey Zoe! I like to two of them after December and split them up with some exploration activities and ephemeral centers.