Defining Outcomes in Arts Education

Posted by Bruce Whitacre On December - 16 - 2013
Bruce Whitacre

Bruce Whitacre

What is the purpose of theatre education at the K-12 level? What underlying objectives are shared by diverse programs in diverse communities? How do we reconcile a theatre’s objectives in engaging future audiences with the educational objectives of schools and parents? The practical reality is that a climate of education budget cuts, standardized testing and stiff competition for budget dollars makes providing young people, especially in underserved communities, with meaningful arts education opportunities a challenging question.

This surfaced recently when I was sitting in a donor’s office laying out our plans for Impact Creativity, an ambitious undertaking to raise $5 million over three years to bridge the budget gaps of our 19 member theaters and their education programs. American creativity is at stake, and so is our sense of equal opportunity — 40 percent of underserved youth risk losing their access to arts education.

“But what are you setting out to do, actually?” the donor asked. “Raise $5 million,” I answered. She paused. “And then…?”

Ah ha. We needed to connect the dots, in other words define theater education and its impact in more tangible ways, so that we can have a national conversation about something that currently differs from state to state, school to school, and theatre to theatre.

The network of 19 National Corporate Theatre Fund (NCTF) member theaters then set out to define clear objectives for the national Impact Creativity program while communicating how the individual theatre education programs address the larger questions facing our education systems: equity, resource scarcity and increasing demand for a high-functioning workforce. Read the rest of this entry »

A Nation at Risk: 30 Years Later

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On May - 1 - 2013
Kristen Engebretsen

Kristen Engebretsen

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves…We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” ~ from A Nation at Risk

Last Friday I attended an event at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looking at the impact of the report released back in 1983, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform. According to the Fordham Institute’s website:

“Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results.”

The report language itself called for many sensible reforms, including more instructional time, higher standards for courses and content, stringent high school graduation requirements, and demanding college entrance requirements.

But the sound bite that came out of the report was that we have a “desperate need for increased support for the teaching of mathematics and science.” And, “We are raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate.” Read the rest of this entry »

Use Arts Integration to Enhance Common Core

Posted by Susan Riley On December - 20 - 2012

Susan Riley

These days, integration in any area, be it STEM or the arts, seems to be the buzzword to curriculum designers everywhere. There are so many resources floating around out there with the claim of integrating content areas. Yet, true integration is often difficult to find. Indeed, integration is a rare yet seemingly “magical” approach that has the capacity to turn learning into meaningful practice.

Which of course, as any teacher will tell you, is anything but magic.

Integration requires collaboration, research, intentional alignment, and practical application on behalf of the teachers who take on this challenge. From the students, integration demands creativity, problem-solving, perseverance, collaboration, and the ability to work through the rigorous demands of multiple ideas and concepts woven together to create a final product.

Integration is not simply combining two or more contents together. It is an approach to teaching which includes intentional identification of naturally aligned standards, taught authentically alongside meaningful assessments which take both content areas to a whole new level. Put together, these components set the foundation for how we will be able to facilitate the Common Core State Standards. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Core Architect Adds to Blog Salon Discussion

Posted by David Coleman On September - 17 - 2012

David Coleman

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Core and Arts Education: The End of Our Blog Salon

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On September - 14 - 2012

As we wrap up our Blog Salon for this week, I wanted to provide three types of summaries:

First, here are two resources where you can find out more information about the Common Core:

  1. A list of Common Core resources from our website
  2. A list of Common Core resources on the Arts Education Partnership website

Second, here is a Wordle of the most commonly used in our Blog Salon posts:

The largest words are used the most common, but I love some of the smaller words, such as collaborate, opportunities, processes, and creativity. With this image, the finer details make all of the difference. (If you click on the image, you’ll be able to zoom in on the version that opens in a new window.)

As Common Core begins implementation, I’m sure that similarly, the devil will be in the details, in terms of how successful each district and school are in utilizing this opportunity to its full potential.

And third, I hope that you watch the following seven minute video in its entirety, because I think this quote from David Coleman, one of the authors of the Common Core, summarizes how I feel about the possibility of Common Core to “return elementary teachers to their rightful role as guides to the world.” Read the rest of this entry »

Common Core Standards: Let Arts Educators Lead the Way

Posted by Jeanne Hoel On September - 14 - 2012

Jeanne Hoel

Though I’m typically standards-adverse (yet dutiful), I’m looking forward to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), specifically to their potential to de-isolate subject areas, including art.

I feel the CCSS reflect the work progressive educators have been doing for years and frame that work elegantly. I believe art educators can be important change agents and looked to as experts in this time of transition to CCSS, but it will require specialized pedagogical and leadership training. In a time of constricting budgets, especially for professional development, I am doubtful if this can happen.

Arts and Standards

In my tenure as a program manager at MOCA, I’ve witnessed several phases of what I’ll call Standards Service. About ten years ago, the pendulum swung hard for museums to make their programs more standards-based or at the very least standards-conversant.

It was important to do so in order to help teachers advocate for art education by showing how their work met Visual and Performing Art Standards (VAPA), as well as those of English, Social Studies, and Science. But often I felt I was paying lip service to a bureaucratic requirement rather than furthering valid educational objectives. Because we were working with wonderfully transgressive contemporary art at MOCA, we were inherently doing big, thinking-based, cross-disciplinary work—something the current standards don’t easily accommodate.

I feel differently about the CCSS. At their core lie thinking skills and habits of mind that transcend subject area boundaries and ideally equip students to negotiate growing waves of data and complex decision-making requirements they will face as citizens of global cultures and economies.

Possibilities for Arts and Common Core

Looking specifically at the English Language Arts (ELA) of CCSS, there are elegant and immediate connections to be made. As a means of navigating the new ELA standards, I’ve found it useful to focus first on the Anchor Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and Language, which are consistent across all grade levels. Read the rest of this entry »

Steal This Blog: 5 Ramblings on Arts and the Common Core Standards

Posted by Richard Kessler On September - 14 - 2012

Richard Kessler

1. For those looking for the obligatory introductory substantiations for the arts in education, search Google and insert your own here: ___________. At the same time, you might want to search on research by Ellen Winner.

2. For those who need to read that the arts are a core subject, you just did.

3. For those frustrated about the state of the arts in K–12, persevere.

Here are my five ramblings. Don’t be confused by the three above. Congratulations, you’ve just passed your first math test for today!

1. Don’t bet too much on the promise of Common Core-aligned new arts standards.

A lot of people I know are amped up about the prospect of new arts standards inspired by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts (ELA) and math. The idea is that the new arts standards, if positioned to reinforce CCSS, will benefit from the monumental machine behind CCSS. Unfortunately, the volume on this amp does not go to eleven.

Yes, we do need new arts standards desperately, particularly considering how stale most of the state arts standards have become. New standards done right will go a long way to align standards with current practice, recognizing the changed world of the arts, rather than establishing standards based upon a wish, like certified arts teachers in every classroom (or school). The arts have changed in so very many ways since the bulk of the arts standards were last written, so let’s make sure the new standards reflect the 21st century. (Hint: think hybrids.)

That being said, the Common Core State Standards are in ELA and math, while veering into some other domains (history/social studies) like shoots from a tree. The CCSS in ELA and math have been cemented into a newly poured foundation of the educational industrial complex and are wired through the White House, state departments of education, the philanthropic sector, school districts, higher education, corporations, and teacher and administrator unions, while being on the tip of the tongues of millions of educators around the nation. Read the rest of this entry »

How Vincent van Gogh Can Help You Teach to the Common Core Standards

Posted by Lynne Munson On September - 13 - 2012

Lynne Munson

Henri Matisse in Kindergarten? Leonardo da Vinci in fifth grade? These names don’t often come to mind while thinking about instruction in English Language Arts (ELA). But they should.

In an age when literacy dominates public discourse on education, we must begin to think more broadly about what students read. Sure—the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) emphasize close reading of high-quality, rigorous informational and literary texts, but they also support the “reading” and scrutiny of other forms of high-quality text. Works of art can, indeed should, be “read” in a very similar way to a poem by Shakespeare or a speech by Winston Churchill.

The CCSS present an exciting opportunity for elementary school teachers (who teach all subjects), grades 6-12 ELA teachers, and arts teachers to utilize the arts to teach the literacy skills outlined by the new standards. This should be done in addition to (not instead of) teaching the arts for their own sake. David Coleman, a lead writer of the CCSS in ELA has argued:

“There is no such thing as doing the nuts and bolts of reading in Kindergarten through 5th grade without coherently developing knowledge in science, and history, and the arts…it is the deep foundation in rich knowledge and vocabulary depth that allows you to access more complex text.”

Because it is not always obvious how to use a painting, film, play, or dance to meet the speaking, listening, and writing standards, Common Core has illustrated this in our Common Core Curriculum Maps in ELA.  Below are examples of how a teacher might design two arts-centered ELA activities using works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and an unknown Chinese artist. These activities are written for second graders:

“Mulberry Tree” by Vincent van Gogh

Art, Speaking and Listening

Artists often convey a sense of season in their depictions of flowers or trees. Ask students to study the Tiffany image, van Gogh’s Mulberry Tree, and the work titled Snow-Laden Plum Branches. Note that these works were created on three different continents at around the same time period. Ask students to discuss similarities and differences in these artists’ techniques for depicting the seasons. (SL.2.2) Read the rest of this entry »

Unleashing Creativity in the Classroom via Common Core Standards

Posted by Natasha Hoehn On September - 13 - 2012

When I think of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I think of Martha Graham. I think of John Keats.

My imagination runs wild with images of fun, inspired, powerful learning experiences for kids. There is no doubt in my mind that this transition opens the door for new energy and greater opportunity to elevate the joyful practice and rigorous study of the arts in our classrooms across the nation.

It says something powerful to me that the authors of the Math and English Language Arts (ELA) standards often begin their explanations of the CCSS through art. Last month, for example, I savored several lovely minutes gazing at a sketch of a Grecian vase in a hotel ballroom packed with K–12 district academic administrators. This wasn’t a time-filler. It was the keynote speaker himself, Phil Daro, describing the major transitions in the Math Standards by invoking Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn.”

Keats’ image and accompanying poem, the pinnacle of art meeting craft, he explained, conveys the major instructional shifts of the new Math Standards. As as he spoke, I couldn’t help but think of the ways in which Keats’ ekphrastic approach, the poetic representation of a painting or sculpture in words, mirrors the function of math in human endeavors, as the beautifully-crafted ten-line stanzas, quatrain and sestet, the lines explore the relationship between art and humanity.

Keats’ topic and craft also invoke CCSS-Math’s call for increased focus, coherence, and rigor in conceptual understanding, procedural skill, and application, academic skills. Indeed, many of these academic math skills, as arts educators well know, can also be taught and reinforced well through music, visual arts, and dance. Rhythm as fractions. Choreography as geometry. Math as art.

Similarly, I’ve enjoyed experiencing David Coleman launch into his wonderfully compelling elucidations of the new English Language Arts standards by asking educators in the room read aloud a short first-person narrative, often from some of the world’s greatest artists. I’ve heard him guide a room full of the wonkiest of wonks through Martha Graham’s “This I Believe” testimony from NPR. Read the rest of this entry »

Niel DePont

Isn’t the ultimate goal of all education developing intelligence and the capacity for creative problem solving and communication, rather than the recitation of disconnected facts that so often passes as proof of an education, or worse yet, of intelligence?

Do we learn arithmetic for the sole purpose of being able to repeat certain algorithms on command? No. We learn it to be able to use it as a tool to serve some purpose. If we are to be an intelligent society then we must accept what educator Howard Gardner once said:

“Intelligence is the flexible use of knowledge for the purpose of creating an effective response to a problem or a challenge that will benefit society.”

Therefore the question arises, should developing language and mathematical expertise be the primary focus of our public education system? And does the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) lead to the type of intelligence that Gardner alludes to in the quote above?  Is it the only, or even the best, way to get there?

I believe that the point of all education is to teach for the flexible and creative use of knowledge through real world inquiry and project based education. I believe wholeheartedly in the idea of making new work (i.e. creating a product in any discipline) to train the mind.

In creative problem solving specifically, I support:

•    using strategic, disciplined thinking to perceive and analyze the elements of the task at hand;
•    exploring and forming connections between these elements;
•    experimenting with potential solutions—skillfully using the tools of your profession to transform or vary the ideas of others (learned through collaboration) or to create something completely original; and ultimately,
•    composing an outcome through one’s creative efforts that is viable, effective, useful and, hopefully, inspirational to the receiver of that outcome. Read the rest of this entry »

A Recipe for Success in the New World of the Common Core

Posted by Mark Slavkin On September - 12 - 2012

Mark Slavkin

The latest wave of national school reform—the Common Core State Standards—provides a new set of opportunities and challenges for arts education. Having experienced several prior waves of school reform, I must admit to a certain degree of cynicism.

If history is any guide, we will over-promise on the impact of these standards and under-invest in providing teachers the tools and support they will need to be effective. Still, there are important opportunities to consider.

Advocates behind the Common Core suggest this new approach will emphasize critical thinking and analysis, and move us behind the fragmented curriculum standards where content is a mile wide and only an inch deep. This would be a positive change. Further, the Common Core initiative aspires to a new system of testing that would replace the multiple choice format with more authentic assessments using online technologies. This too could be a step forward.

It is tempting for providers of arts education programs to simply stamp the phrase “aligned with Common Core” over our existing curricular resources. This would be a mistake and a lost opportunity. Instead, I would suggest we look for ways to join the many planning processes underway in our respective states and local school districts. We should be at those tables along with other educators as we all grapple with the challenges of “implementing” the Common Core. Such collaborations can lead to a stronger place for arts and arts integration as the Common Core rolls out.

Once we join the planning tables as advocates for arts education, I would suggest a degree of humility is in order. Common Core is new for all of us. We have much to learn and consider before we claim “arts programs already support this!” Here are some questions we might ask ourselves:

How much reading do students do in my arts program? How much do I know about texts they are reading in other courses? What are the most appropriate texts I would want students to read to deepen their understanding of art history, art criticism, or aesthetic considerations? Read the rest of this entry »

How to Reduce the Damages of the Common Core

Posted by Yong Zhao On September - 12 - 2012

Yong Zhao

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Specifically, the Common Core claims to cure the ills that have long plagued America’s education: inequality and inefficiency. “Common standards will help ensure that students are receiving a high-quality education consistently, from school to school and state to state. Common standards will provide a greater opportunity to share experiences and best practices within and across states that will improve our ability to best serve the needs of students.”

While the Common Core may help address some of the challenges we face in education, but must not forget that the side effects that come with it.

There is no free lunch…

All medicine has side effects. When it cures, it can harm the body as well. Put it another way, there is no free lunch. Everything comes at a cost. Education cannot escape this simple common sense law of nature for a number of reasons.

First, time is a constant. When one spends it on one thing, it cannot be spent on others. Thus when all time is spent on studying and preparing for exams, it cannot be spent on visiting museums. By the same token, when time is spent on activities not necessarily related to academic subjects, less time is available for studying the school subjects and preparing for exams.

Second, certain human qualities may be antithetical to each other. When one is taught to conform, it will be difficult for him to be creative. When one is punished for making mistakes, it will be hard for her to take risks. When one is told to be wrong or inadequate all the time, it will be difficult for her to maintain confidence. In contrast, when the students are allowed freedom to explore, they may question what they are asked to learn, and may decide not to comply.

Finally, resources are a finite as well. When a school or society devotes all resources to certain things, they don’t have them for others. For example, when all resources are devoted to teaching math and language, schools will have to cut out other programs. When more money is spent on testing students, less will be available for actually helping them grow. Read the rest of this entry »

Niel DePont

In my personal assessment of the Common Core State Standards document (CCSS) it occurs to me that, for all its merits, the CCSS presumes that somewhere along the way, creative processes and critical thinking skills will be learned as a result of following the CCSS. I’m not sure that is true, but I am sure that those skills are practiced and illuminated by thinking like an artist thinks when making art.

We are soon to leave the Knowledge Age and enter the Innovation Age, if we haven’t already. In the 21st century creativity and innovation will be the skills most highly valued in students graduating from our colleges and universities. It is undeniable that there will be an increasing demand for skills in science, technology, engineering and math, the “STEM” skills. And, if you believe the CCSS, the English language arts (ELA) and mathematics skills it promotes at the K-12 level will be essential for college preparation and career readiness.

But I believe that students who excel in the skills of creativity and innovation, and evidence a talent for synthesizing disparate kinds of data and concepts into new and unique outcomes, will be the most prized workers of all, whether they enter the workforce after high school, college, or graduate school.

This is why we must integrate the arts into the current movement of promoting various alphabet-soup-titled approaches to education reform. Whether you believe that the CCSS is the way to create a better educated and “career ready” populace, or that a STEM-based education should be our national mandate, I personally believe that changing STEM into STEAM by adding the A for ARTS is the best acronym of all.

Having said that, I also believe we must reframe arts education in a new and vital way.

In the Innovation Age we must shift our arts education syllabus from one that is only performance focused to one that is also creativity focused. Students need to experience the creation of new work through the arts because the arts train the mind in sensory awareness and the ability to think flexibly and creatively, as both a problem finder and a problem solver. Read the rest of this entry »

Join Our Common Core Twitter Chat

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On September - 12 - 2012

Kristen Engebretsen

Based on a survey Americans for the Arts completed last year, 46% of respondents said that they would be interested in arts education programming that related to broader education reform issues, such Common Core State Standards, No Child Left Behind, the achievement gap, student engagement, and state or federal policy.

This week, we have 15-20 arts and education leaders from across the country discussing the intersection of the arts and common core here on ARTSblog.

To accompany our blog salon, we will also be hosting a Twitter chat today (Wednesday, September 12) from 6:00– 7:00 p.m. ET. All you need to participate is a Twitter account (or simply follow along without one). Don’t have one? Sign up for free! If you’ve never participated in a chat on Twitter before, here are some tips on how to participate:

Twitter Basics

Here are some of the basic Twitter functions to get you started, adapted from Allison Boyer’s article on Blog World:

  • @ Reply: If you see an @ symbol followed by someone’s screen name (or their “handle”), it’s a way to hold a public conversation with that person.
  • DM: DM stands for direct message. It’s a way to hold a private conversation with another Twitter user, but you can only DM people who are already following you.
  • RT: RT stands for retweet. If you like what someone says on twitter, you can retweet it to spread the message to your followers as well.
  • MT: MT stand for modified tweet. It’s just like an RT, but you might have had to change a piece of it in order to RT something and still fit it in under 140 characters
  • Hashtag (#): If you see the pound symbol (#) before a word or phrase, it is essentially a keyword tag for the tweet so that others can find it more easily. On Twitter, this is called a hashtag, and they can help people search for your tweet. Basically, it’s a way to follow the stream of everyone talking about a specific subject.
  • Twitter Chat: A Twitter chat happens when several people get on Twitter at once to share ideas with one another. They do this by using a specific hashtag. Read the rest of this entry »

Susan Riley

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. Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.