The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) has embraced the Common Core Standards with a fervor that demonstrates a comprehensive commitment to this work. All of our 1,700-plus schools have been engaged in this initiative.
The Common Core is one of the key levers for accomplishing NYCDOE’s goal to graduate all students college- and career-ready. In New York City, the Common Core has impacted work in all disciplines and at every level from the central offices, through our school support structure, and in every school.
Pragmatically, teachers of the arts should be at the table and part of the conversation as the Common Core is implemented at the school level. In the face of the monumental shift caused by the Common Core, it’s important that we find clear and specific ways to articulate how arts education can reinforce the holistic and comprehensive approach that is at the center of the Common Core.
This is not to suggest that teachers of the arts should teach literacy or math by limiting opportunities for students to create art. In New York City, we remain committed to providing students at all levels with the skills, content, and understandings of the arts, according to the local standards outlined in The Blueprints for Teaching and Learning in the Arts. There are, however, exciting and appropriate ways to align arts teaching and learning with the Common Core that will ultimately benefit our kids.
Let’s look at the Common Core’s English Language Arts non-fiction or informational text requirement. To dig into this a bit deeper, I have four sample questions that we as arts educators can ask ourselves. These questions are by no means comprehensive in tapping into the array of ways that informational text can be used in an arts instructional setting.
1) In what ways is the deep examination of a work of visual arts for elements of composition comparable, but not identical to, the process of deconstructing informational text?
2) Can a musical score in a rehearsal setting, with its own system of symbols and vocabulary, be seen and used as informational text?
3) How might a dance teacher assist students in using informational text (e.g., research and performance reviews) to inform and support making original dances?
4) How can reading, analyzing, and reflecting upon playwright and directorial statements support an actor’s understandings of the script as he brings the text to life on stage?
I hope that your answers to these questions highlight opportunities for teachers of the arts to use informational text to support and enhance student art making.
I want to reiterate that without art making we have sacrificed the essential, distinct, and most important component of our work with students. However, there are critical, analytical, and reflective practices in the arts that parallel good practice in other content areas and that are firmly Common Core-aligned.
More importantly, the use of informational text might just make more thoughtful, insightful, and creative young artists. By making the connection from transferable processes within the arts to other content and life skills, teachers of the arts can play a significant role in ensuring students are college- and career-ready.