This school year, teachers are delving deeper into the Common Core standards and some are learning to blend them with revised national arts standards unveiled this summer.
Last week, twenty teachers from around the state paired up with professional artists in workshops held in Baltimore in efforts to develop lesson plans that tie the Common Core and new national arts standards together.
Vanessa Lopez, an arts instructor with the Teaching Artist Institute, TAI, which ran the workshops, said the connection between the Common Core and the arts standards, last revised in 1994, comes down to text. “A lot of Common Core is about reading and text, so what the new national core arts standards have done is defined arts as a form of text,” Lopez explained. “For example, if I put up an example of an art work in the new standards, I'll teach children how to read that art work as if it were text, and then writing about the painting, telling the story of the painting just like they would with any other informational text.”
More than forty artists applied to participate in the TAI program. The twenty artists selected previously attended sessions on the rigorous Common Core standards, which calls for students to write more, explain and defend their answers and present evidence for their work. Although vocalist and percussionist Steve Cyphers admits he's still figuring out both standards, he has a project in mind that he wants to develop with his assigned teacher. “I'm working on a piece for a kindergarten class, of telling a story and using percussion instruments to express and define and identify characters and actions in a story,” he said.
Those are elements required in both the common core and arts standards.
Peggy Dombrauskas, an Anne Arundel English teacher, plans a similar exercise for her students when they study Elie Wiesel's book “Night,” an autobiography of his experiences in Nazi death camps. Dombrauskas said her artist partner, a flamenco dancer and choreographer, is creating different dances that set the pace for the book and show the various moods the characters go through. “The students will have to come up with their own flamenco interpretations of moods throughout the novel,” she said. “They will have to justify what they did in their performance through writing and explaining how the mood and tone developed, which goes into deeper thinking that Common Core has.”
Dombrauskas said she felt overwhelmed with the Common Core standards last year, but now thinks the arts integration will make it easier for her to adjust to the new curriculum. “This is a marriage for me that is going to work and I feel comfortable jumping in with both feet. A text is not just a book anymore. A text can be a picture, a photo or a football field, a dance,” she said.
But Pat Cruz, education director for TAI partner Young Audiences cautions teachers and artists to not get so caught up in the performances that they forget the goals of their projects and the standards. “It's not just about that ballet, but the critical thinking, the communication that's happening through that dance,” Cruz said. “We have to speak the same language. Students are getting life learning skills, whether through reading, dance or music classes.”
Morag Bradford, a Baltimore city visual arts teacher, who is working with a hip-hop artist in the program, said changes in the curriculum because of the Common Core make the arts even more important to use in instruction. “I think the arts…really give all our students an opportunity to be successful and demonstrate their understanding of content,” she said. “They can show learning through any art form. A dance can show the movement of the planets and solar system or a collage shows you understand the life cycle of a butterfly.”
According to Stacie Evans, Young Audience’s Arts for Learning director, the organization plans to continue training professional artists in various disciplines on education standards as they evolve. “We believe if we build the capacity of artists to understand the standards, we can better help schools and teachers to transition to the standards and the arts will remain viable and alive in schools,” Evans said. “Artists help us look at the world differently and can help us look at classes and the standards in a different way for the benefit of students.”
Over the next few weeks, the artists who attended the workshops will observe their partners' classes and meet regularly to collaborate in finalizing their projects. The week-long lessons go live in classrooms mid-December.