Arts Curriculum Framework:
The Practice Of Creating
Implementation of the Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework requires that each school or district go through a process of making key curricular decisions. While the Framework provides a structure, important decisions about arts instruction and assessment still must be made by teachers and administrators at the local level. Each district or school should initiate a self-study process similar to that outlined in Common Chapter Four, comparing current practice with the Guiding Principles and Learning Standards of the Framework. Among the questions teachers, administrators, and family members might ask are:
- of the arts disciplines--dance, music, theatre, and visual arts--are currently being taught in the school or district? What does the arts curriculum cover at the elementary, middle, and high school levels? Which areas need strengthening? Does the curriculum currently include projects that integrate the arts disciplines?
- does each and every student in the school or district study the arts from preschool throughout high school? Do students express their ideas through the arts? What skills do they learn? Can high school students interested in arts careers find adequate preparation in the school or district?
- Do arts instruction and assessment at the elementary, middle, and high school levels require that students demonstrate their ability to:
- Create and perform in the arts;
- Think about and respond to the arts in oral discussion and writing;
- Connect the arts to other disciplines and contribute to school and community life?
- Do arts teachers use a variety of strategies, as outlined in Chapter Two, to meet the needs of students' diverse learning styles?
- Are all educators in the school or district familiar with the concept of multiple intelligences? Do they give students the option of using their knowledge of the arts in projects and assignments?
- How do teachers use the arts to help students understand aspects of culture and history, including the multicultural nature of contemporary society in the United States?
- Is adequate time, funding, and space allocated for the arts?
- Do PreK-12 arts teachers in the district meet regularly as a unified department to discuss curriculum, instruction, and assessment issues? Have they agreed upon and written guidelines for performance and portfolio assessment? Have they shared these with students and families? Do they collaborate in planning and team-teaching with other members of the faculty?
- What is the school or district plan for helping teachers, administrators, and family members understand the Arts Framework and define their role in its implementation?
- How does the school or district document its arts curriculum and share students' accomplishments with families and the community?
Just as there is no "one right answer" to an artistic problem, so there is no "one right way" to develop or revise a district PreK-12 arts curriculum. The Arts Framework is a complex document: it unites dance, music, theatre, and visual arts and is organized around concepts, rather than disciplines. By design, it is meant to stretch the boundaries of arts programs as they currently exist in most schools and districts, and challenge creative teachers to redefine what arts education can be. The suggestions below are but one way to go about reexamining "the practice of creating" through the perspective of the Framework. They are based on the philosophy that district curriculum and assessment is strongest when it evolves from continuing discourse and the contributions of teachers at all levels.
- Make a list of effective lessons, units, and projects already in your arts curriculum. How do they fit with what you see in the Framework's three Strands?
- Choose one Strand that parallels your current teaching emphasis. Create a teaching portfolio that documents lessons, assessments, and student work reflecting that Strand. The Arts Framework Guiding Principles and the Chapter Two of the Common Chapters will help provide a broad educational context for the Strand you have chosen.
- Share your portfolio with other teachers in your school or arts department members. Start to build a school or departmental portfolio that reflects the Framework.
For example, a middle school general music teacher focuses on the Creating and Performing Strand and assembles a portfolio of lessons and recordings of student rehearsals and performances to share with other middle school music teachers.
- Choose a Strand or Learning Standard that challenges you. Work with colleagues to develop lessons, try them with students, and document your progress to add to your portfolio.
- Investigate how other teachers present material for this Strand or Learning Standard, and think about the influence of school schedules and teaching assignments on your ability to help students meet this standard. Visit classes in your own or another district, look for conferences or courses which will help you learn more about this area, use the Resource Section of the Arts Framework. Consult Chapter Three of the Common Chapters for ideas on creative use of time, space, and school resources.
- Develop a presentation on some aspect of the Framework to share with colleagues in your school or district.
For example, an elementary school visual art teacher concentrates on Learning Standard 7, "Lifelong learners use technology in order to create, perform, and conduct research in the arts" and collaborates with classroom and educational technology teachers to incorporate the use of graphics software into his fourth grade curriculum.
- With the Framework and the portfolios of lessons and student work developed by arts teachers in the district, collaborate on a comprehensive PreK-12 arts curriculum guide for the district.
- Use the Arts and other Frameworks to develop interdisciplinary curriculum units. Look for common themes and approaches among the arts, or ideas that are important in at least two disciplines. Work with a colleague to plan and teach material which challenges you and your students as learners; document the work to add to your portfolio.
- Share your curriculum with families, and your experiences as a team of curriculum developers with teachers in other districts.
For example, dance, music, theatre, and visual arts teachers from elementary and secondary schools in a district meet regularly to write a curriculum guide to inform families about arts education, and share their work at a professional conference.
Strong arts programs develop when educators define what they need to teach the arts comprehensively and safely. To meet the standards in this Framework, schools must provide students with adequate materials, equipment, facilities, and time. Programs grounded in creating and performing require consumable art materials, musical instruments, scripts, and scores. These programs also require generic equipment such as projectors, tape recorders, televisions, and VCRs, computers and CD-ROM players, and, depending on the program and level, specialized equipment such as synthesizers, scanners, lighting equipment, printing presses, darkroom equipment, potter's wheels, and kilns.
Responsible educators pay attention to the issue of safety in the arts. In visual arts studios, as well as in set design and construction, this means choosing non-toxic art materials, and supervising students when they use tools. Visual arts rooms need adequate wiring, ventilation, and plumbing, and dance studios and theatres need flooring that will support dancers' and actors' movements without causing injury. Theatres need adequate wiring and supports for lighting, and music rooms need acoustical treatment to absorb sound and prevent hearing loss.
All arts educators need a resource library in order to introduce students to works of art from the past and other cultures. While some arts educators use textbooks, many teachers find that it is more useful to build an individualized collection of audio and video recordings, software, artifacts, books, prints, or slides that can be used flexibly. Software companies offer many compilations of visual and performing arts, and the number of available collections can only be expected to grow in the future. Public broadcasting and the Massachusetts Center for Educational Telecommunications (MCET) provide excellent arts programming, and the Internet offers the opportunity to connect with artist bulletin boards and international sources for the arts. For locating both traditional and electronic sources of information, the arts teachers' most valuable allies are school library/media specialists, technology specialists, and children's, young adult, and reference librarians in public libraries.
Among the most precious and elusive resources for the arts educator are sufficient time for teaching and planning, and sufficient space for student activities and storage of student work. Administrators and arts educators should work together to define space and time needs. They will find it useful to consult the guidelines of the Music Educators National Conference and the National Art Education Association regarding class and room size, and scheduling recommendations at each grade span.
- Teach the essential skills of creating, performing, thinking and responding, connecting and contributing in the arts
- Inspire students to enjoy and grow through the arts
- Collaborate with other teachers, educators in cultural institutions, and families to enhance students' experiences of the arts
- Document and disseminate successful projects
- Provide direction and resources to arts educators, and assure that the district arts curriculum provides an artistic and cultural legacy to each and every student
- Work with all teachers and administrators to ensure PreK-12 curriculum coordination in the arts
- Integrate the arts and the concept of multiple intelligences into their teaching
- Plan and conduct interdisciplinary projects with arts teachers
- Provide leadership to develop a philosophy and school climate in which the creative process is valued
- Make decisions about staffing, budgets, schedules, and programs to support the arts
- Advocate for comprehensive and sequential arts programs such as that outlined in the Framework
- Contribute their arts heritage, skills, and expertise in the classroom
- Encourage students' arts explorations outside of school
- Collaborate with arts teachers and other faculty to present new perspectives on the arts to students
- Perform and create works with students and teachers
- Provide professional development for teachers
- Collaborate with arts teachers and other faculty to teach students about the wealth of resources available in local museums, and dance, music, and theatre organizations
- Offer opportunities to students for community service learning
- Serve elementary and secondary school educators by fostering informal ongoing networks of teacher/researchers
- Provide professional development and pre-service training
- Conduct and publish research on the role of the arts in learning, teaching, and assessment, and in creating effective schools
- Provide a meeting ground for all arts education advocates--from parent to university professor--by sponsoring conferences and publications.
- Provide financial support for arts education programs and cultural institutions
- Offer internship opportunities that help students apply arts learning in the workplace
- Encourage study groups, institutes, school alliances, and networks to disseminate ideas about implementing the Arts Framework
- Offer programs to support innovative arts teaching and connections between schools, artists, and cultural institutions
- Provide links to national initiatives in arts education
- Offer technical assistance to school districts in designing arts programs