When was the last time that you listened to or watched The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? The tale of the inquisitive, bold, and dare I say “sneaky” apprentice who tempts fate by trying his own hand at magic is one that all of us can appreciate on some level.
After all, as educators and arts advocates, creating magic is inherent to our craft. Yet, as the apprentice discovers to his dismay, trying to replicate magic from a common book of spells without the understanding of the processes that weave the spells together only ends in disaster.
In terms of our current educational movement, I’m going to make a bold statement: it is time to transform knowledge into intentional practices. This is at the heart of the Common Core State Standards. Each of the skills that are identified are built upon embedded practices that have been woven in and through the Standards at all levels. How better to address those practices than through the arts? After all, the arts are built upon a foundation of processes that transform into innovative works and products. You cannot perform a choral piece or premiere a piece of work at an exhibition without both mastery of the skills of that art form and an understanding of the processes that provide structure to the art itself.
The Common Core Standards place value in the “and” of the teaching and learning process: students must master the skills and demonstrate understanding of the processes that support those skills. This is the magical place where knowledge is transformed into practice. Yet, it is difficult for teachers, administrators and even artists to translate that into their everyday teaching. How does this happen? Where is the link between the spells in the book and the actual magic that is produced?
The key here is the practices themselves. The Common Core Math Standards, for instance, are based upon the 16 Habits of Mind and have a group of 8 Mathematical Practices that are woven into each grade level. While the skills standards change for every grade, the eight practices are the glue that holds the skills together. This is difficult for many teachers to interpret and weave into their instruction. They have become so used to “teaching to the test” that they have forgotten the craft of teaching itself.
As artists, we become the linchpin for moving the new Common Core Standards into integrated practice. We can share with our school community the artful processes that are needed to go from mastering basic skills to the development of creating new ideas and products.
For instance, we can make very clear and distinct connections to those math practices through the 8 Habits of Mind for Studio Thinking. Within our art classes or within a math class, students can engage and persist in problem-solving and making reflective choices within a project. We can directly connect to argumentative writing standards by bringing forward opportunities for our students to critique their work and the works of others. And we can seamlessly make these elegant connections by sharing the work we do every day in our fine arts classes.
Students in arts classes thrive because they understand artistic skills and processes enough to know when to break the rules. There is an intentional practice of “knowing” in an arts-centered class that can be a model and connecting access point for many other classes in the school community.
We are in a time when it is imperative for our children to be creative thinkers who engage in collaborative efforts to push the boundaries of knowledge. We want to move them from merely putting on the Sorcerer’s hat and waving their arms with skill to actually creating the magic. Artists and arts teachers are the curators of the practices that will enable our students to achieve and our teachers to facilitate their success.
Let the magic begin.