The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) may be the best whole school initiative to happen to arts education. The English Language Arts Standards (ELA) call for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Page 43 of an appendix to the ELA standards defines a technical subject as:
A course devoted to a practical study, such as engineering, technology, design, business, or other workforce-related subject; a technical aspect of a wider field of study, such as art or music.
The Common Core State Standards website clarifies this relationship between ELA literacy and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects:
Just as students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, so too must the Standards specify the literacy skills and understandings required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines. It is important to note that literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those areas but rather to supplement them.
Finally, it seems that the arts are receiving the attention to which we are entitled as a result of being classified as a technical subject. The CCSS writers were savvy to include anchor standards for technical subjects so that other content areas would have to take note and be drivers of the English language arts (ELA) standards within the various other content areas. Mathematics provides that we address grade-level standards. And all the while, arts teachers must also take note of the significance of their state and national visual and performing arts standards while determining shifts from CCSS to arts standards. And why shouldn’t we take note? The arts are a part of the greater learning community and as arts educators we know both the cognitive and affective benefits that the arts provide our students. It seems to me that the ways students learn in the arts should transfer when learning isn’t quite as understood when presented in other content areas. Many of the strategies in the ELA standards, such as a “close reading” of a text can also be done with technical subjects, such as arts. (For more of an introduction to this concept, see Lynne Munson’s blog How Vincent van Gogh Can Help You Teach to the Common Core Standards.)
The close reading of arts texts is an engaging activity that all students can be a part. Since demonstrating close reading, I have started asking more questions than I ever did before presenting workshops on CCSS. Having recently viewed the movie Lincoln, I suddenly had a much more profound interest in the history of the time and his presidency. I asked questions and questioned what I saw throughout the movie. Our students must look for accurate evidence and question what they see and hear.
As we use the CCSS as the vehicle and the arts as the lens, we will transform our arts studios into more interesting communities of learning, engaging rich academically productive conversations. Having just presented a close reading of Dorothea Lange’s, Migrant Mother or as the Library of Congress titles it “Destitute Peapickers in California”, a visual arts teacher told me that her students would never have engage in the activity of analyzing the photograph had it not been for the questioning techniques I used.
Close reading of artworks involves the segmenting of works either in parts of a picture or time during a performance. It also involves the rereading of arts texts. By this I mean going back and determining parts of an art work that may have been overlooked upon the first investigation. By looking at these works again under various lenses, one is able to take note of the nuances of character, plot, set, time, lighting, structures and functions to name a few means by which one can investigate an art work.
States are preparing for an assessment paradigm shift. They are deciding upon a selection of nationally normed assessment instruments to be used to measure students’ performance of CCSS. In South Carolina, we have opted to be a part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The purpose being to best prepare students for entry into a career or college. Smarter Balanced is different from the typical standardized test. Methods by which students will be assessed evoke deeper understanding and meaning of the responses they give. No longer is it just a matter that students randomly choose “C” when they do not know the answer.
The arts have always used performance tasks to demonstrate students’ mastery of learning. Students’ artworks, either by self or others, have primarily been the means by which they have utilized instruction. The investigation of evidence and informational texts to support their work means that they take responsibility in order to demonstrate what they have learned. The way we assess in the arts is now the norm by which students are assessed in other content areas.
So, why bother? If you agree that we are all in the education of the whole child throughout the entire school learning community, then as arts teachers we should be about how our students are performing in all areas of the curriculum. Perhaps as students learn through the CCSS they will transfer how they learn in the arts to other areas of the curriculum including tested areas. Our students will then be able to use the skills taught in the arts in their other classes. It is my belief that students’ comfort level in their arts classes is heighten as their desire to be involved in the arts is prevalent. How is it and what are the skills students transfer from the arts to their other classes? We may turn to techniques in which students learn in and through the arts including arts integration and arts infusion methods.
As state departments of education and local school districts are preparing revised instruments for educator evaluation it is interesting for us to take note that the majority of teachers belong to non-tested areas. In South Carolina, 70% of teachers reside in the non-tested majority. Evaluation models are employing student learning objectives and school value-add. As teachers consider their place in their school’s performance and the academic growth of their students it behooves them to consider their place in the overall performance of all students throughout the school’s learning environment. This is where school value-add plays in a teacher’s evaluation. As we are team players in our students’ education, by taking part in the application of CCSS we are enabling our student to see connections to content across the curriculum. Thus my part in the total school performance raises my evaluation as a teacher.
We have now come full circle in the standards, assessment, and evaluation trifecta. The arts educators place in the school curriculum is as important and vital to the success of the school and its students as any learning community member. Understanding our role in the trifecta will assure that our students and school will perform to the best of their ability.