David Coleman, an architect of the Common Core State Standards and incoming president of The College Board, sent the following to Kristen Engebretsen in reaction to last week’s arts education blog salon on the common core:
I am so glad that the arts community has gotten the message that the arts have a central and essential role in achieving the finest aspects of the common core. So many of the blog posts are so thoughtful and imaginative about the possibilities. They were a delight to read.
Let me review a few critical points that many have already grasped:
1. Knowledge. Building knowledge through reading, writing, listening, and speaking is essential to literacy. As has been noted, the standards say explicitly that knowledge includes coherent knowledge about science, history, and the arts. So I hope the arts community is investing in finding remarkable high quality source material to learn about the arts. Remember that source texts should meet the text complexity requirements of the standards at each grade level and the selection of texts should be designed to build coherent knowledge within grades and across grades. There should be an influx of wonderful source materials to explore the arts. And now they can be shared across states and classrooms.
2. Observation. The arts have a great advantage in that they place a priority on the careful observation that reading requires. No one looks at a great work of art once; likewise, any great piece of writing deserves careful consideration and reconsideration. The arts can train students to look and look again; to listen and listen until one really hears. CS Lewis, himself a gifted author and reader of literature, writes this about looking at a painting or reading a book carefully: “We must look, and go on looking, until we have seen exactly what is there…the first demand any work of art makes on us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.” Henry James says the finest writer and reader is one “on whom nothing is lost.”
3. Evidence and Choices. A key idea of the standards is to base analysis of works of art and of writing in evidence. The standards require that analysis includes the ability to cite that evidence as the basis of understanding. Of course, we draw on sources of evidence outside of a text and a work of art, but the standards insist that students come to grips with evidence from the specific work of art or text they encounter.Part of what this kind of close attention includes is noticing and analyzing the choices artists make—choices such as what is the object of a painting, to how it is treated, to color, to light to all the choices that accumulate to make a work of art. Good readers examine the choices writers make—their choice of specific words and broader choices—of how to order events and develop characters—of what to say—all these choices are examined by a careful reader.
Of course, one wonderful part of paying attention to an artist or writer’s choices is it makes you think about your own choices as an artist or writer. That is, when students write, they must gain the confidence and command to select their words, to craft their writing. And as students practice their art, whether in music, painting, or dance, they make choices. Enacting a drama requires choices everywhere. That is, deciding how to deliver each line of Shakespeare or any play opens up choices, opportunities to examine the text closely and look for clues, and to consider how the resulting interpretation squares with evidence in the text.
The great news is that the standards call on so many things the arts do well. The tradition of careful observation, attention to evidence and artists’ choices, the love of taking an artist’s work seriously lies at the heart of these standards.
At the same time, arts materials need to shift to embrace these core shifts in the standards. The next generation of arts materials should likely examine fewer works of art more closely, so that there are opportunities for careful consideration of specific works. We should look for and share the most magnificent things written about the arts at higher levels of text complexity, to provide wonderful things to read at each grade level.
There should be a special attention to the choices artists make when students are observing or making art. And materials should keep in mind that it shows great respect to an artist or writer to pay close, loving attention to exactly what they have done, to draw evidence from the work to inform understanding. Finally, careful analysis of specific scenes in drama provides a particularly promising opportunity to explore at once textual evidence and visual interpretation.
The arts community has the opportunity to take the lead. To lead teachers and students in the pleasure and rigor of analyzing and making art. To ravish teachers and students alike with the transforming power of examining and making well-wrought things. To make us more creative observers and observers, all at once.
Thanks again for all the great work!