“To succeed today and in the future, America’s children will need to be inventive, resourceful, and imaginative. The best way to foster that creativity is through arts education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Re-Investing Through Arts Education:Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.
The nation has deemed that learning in and through the arts is critical for the success of all students. This positions arts educators to take a leadership role in implementing what the Common Core means for learning. The arts are different than other subjects; this is what fosters innovative, creative, and critical thinkers. The Common Core opens a door for leadership, an opportunity for the best arts educators to model what teaching and learning should look like across the curriculum…are we ready for the challenge?
What do the arts do, exactly? How does this align with the Common Core?
How the arts progress student learning is too complex for one blog entry. However, I would like to draw attention to a few ways that arts-based learning models the English Language Arts/Literacy instructional shifts of the new standards.
1. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction
In arts classrooms that employ reading across the curriculum, this happens quite naturally. Whether we are reading a critique of an artist’s work or reading about the cultural context of a genre of work, art history, aesthetics, and critique all are grounded in content-rich nonfiction. Content-rich nonfiction media in the arts abound for every age from preschool to adult.
2. Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
The way a careful observer draws on evidence to interpret an image or production parallels the processes employed when a strong reader makes meaning from a text. Arts teachers require students to find evidence for their interpretations by asking, “What in the work made you say that?”, part of the visual thinking strategy used by many teachers. This focus on evidence is the basis of learning how to view art or performance, as it is learning how to read a text.
3. Regular practice with complex text and its academic language
In an art museum there is no “Third Grade Gallery” or “High School Wing,” nor do we only show children theatre performances limited by reading level. To quote Steve Seidel, head of the Arts in Education Program at Harvard Graduate School of Education, “The very notion of theatre, of rehearsal, is the close examination of a text.” In the arts, students routinely confront images, lines in a script, etc., that need much more than a glance (or quick read) to understand. The arts train students to make meaning of complex works, the same ability that higher levels of text complexity demand. With the right scaffolding and time allotment, such work becomes accessible to all learners.
Learning in the arts is transferable
In the arts, to appreciate any masterpiece, to construct understanding from the complex, one must engage in deep analysis and a systematic search for meaning. This is a transferable skill; these studio habits of mind can and should be applied across disciplines. To appreciate, understand, and successfully apply mathematics, language arts, history, and the sciences, a learner must engage in the same type of analysis, study of technique, and consideration of context that is modeled so clearly in arts learning. This attentive study results in deep understanding, and occurs best when done through interdisciplinary projects.
An Opportunity to Lead
Simply stated, what the arts do so well is now what is being asked of all teachers.
The arts, in professional practice, are arguably the most disciplined of all disciplines, where devoted practice, development of ideas based on research and experimentation, criticism and revision, and a meticulous focus on detail and quality reign.
The Common Core provides a tremendous opportunity for the arts to play a central role in teaching and learning. Let us rise to the call.
For more on these ideas, as well as a great list of resources, please read my white paper on this topic.