Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Go to Selected Program Area
Massachusetts State Seal
News School/District Profiles School/District Administration Educator Services Assessment/Accountability Family & Community  
 Become an Educator  Licensure  >  Career Advancement  Teaching/Learning  Educator Preparation  

Archived Information

Arts Curriculum Framework:
The Practice Of Creating

Guiding Principles

Guiding Principle I

The arts are essential to the education of all students.

Dance, music, theatre, and visual arts are universal forms of human expression, and have been important in all societies throughout history. The arts belong to all of us, whether we are old or young, rich or poor. They enrich the lives of people of all races and ethnicities, they communicate to people who speak different languages, and they bring joy and personal growth into the lives of people of varying cognitive and physical abilities.8 If our students are to comprehend the human story, then they must have opportunities to learn about how men, women, and children all over the world and throughout the ages have expressed their ideas, feelings, and beliefs through the arts.

The students in Massachusetts classrooms today will take their place as workers and contributors in the twenty-first century. Whether or not they become involved in professional arts careers, students will be asked to provide creative solutions to the dilemmas of their working and professional lives. The Common Core of Learning affirms the creative process as the heart of arts education and provides a rationale for making the arts an indispensable element in the education of all students. The creative process unites the senses and the intellect and involves students in the task of making personal statements about the world and the human condition.

Because each individual has distinct experiences and perceives life differently, the practice of creating helps students understand and value diversity and different ways of thinking. The arts demand from learners a disciplined attitude toward the work of revising, refining, and rehearsing to attain an expressive statement.

The more deeply learners acquaint themselves with the history of the arts, the more they realize how artists have always posed eternal questions about values, emotions, and life experiences. When teachers give students an authentic introduction to the creative process, they invite students to contribute to this tradition of free discourse about the nature of the world and humanity's place within it.

Guiding Principle II

Students exercise and display multiple intelligences through the arts.

Building on the work of educational psychologist Jean Piaget, Howard Gardner and his colleagues at Project Zero of the Harvard Graduate School of Education developed the theory of multiple intelligences. In Frames of Mind and subsequent books, Gardner proposes that there are seven types of intelligences.10

Multiple Intelligences

  • Linguistic intelligence, related to words and language, and involved in imaginative writing such as poetry, fiction, and playmaking;
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence, related to deductive reasoning, an affinity for numbers, and the ability to see fundamental patterns and structures in science and philosophy;
  • Spatial intelligence, related to visualization and the capacity to create representations and structures in two- and three-dimensional space, and involved in visual art, architecture, dance, and theatre;
  • Kinesthetic intelligence, characterized by a sensitivity to physical movement and trusting one's body to do things, and involved primarily in dance and theatre;
  • Musical intelligence, related to the sensitivity to patterns of pitch and rhythm and involved primarily in music and dance;
  • Interpersonal intelligence, related to a heightened awareness of human relationships and the ability to communicate effectively, and involved in all collaborative work in the arts; and
  • Intrapersonal intelligence, characterized by an awareness of one's belief system and its effect on action, and involved in reflective processes in all the arts.

Teachers who look at students' performance through the lens of multiple intelligences theory say that they discover new ways of understanding student learning and behavior. This in turn leads them to broaden their conception of their discipline and vary activities and assessments in their classes to appeal to the strengths of all learners.11 An elementary music teacher, for example, who includes listening, composing, movement, discussion, writing, and visual art along with performance activities such as singing and playing instruments, is consciously using strategies to develop multiple intelligences in her students.

Because the arts emphasize a variety of ways to explore, learn, and communicate, the arts classroom offers many opportunities for students with special needs. The education and professional development of all arts teachers should include training in cognitive development and teaching strategies. To make the arts classroom a laboratory of planned and purposeful inclusion, administrators should ensure that arts teachers have the support and collaboration of special education staff, and that arts teachers have the opportunity to contribute their perspective to child study teams and students' individualized educational plans.

Active use of the theory of multiple intelligences supports more inclusive class-rooms by giving all students and teachers approaches to learning and presenting content. The photograph below shows Kindergartners in the midst of an interdisciplinary study of dinosaurs, interpreting their knowledge through movement. The same approach can be used in the later grades. When eighth graders collaborate on a multimedia social studies presentation, for example, students with strong musical and spatial intelligences make unique contributions to composing the aural and visual design of the presentation, while students with strong linguistic intelligence contribute research and scriptwriting. Projects such as these bring the classroom close to the world of work, where people with diverse training and intelligences collaborate to construct meaning or produce a product.12

Guiding Principle III

Understanding of human growth and development shapes effective arts curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

The young learner as explorer in the arts

The goal of arts education from preschool to grade four is to develop the natural expressiveness and uninhibited creativity that very young children often display. Arts education begins with an appropriate foundation in a child's early years. Such a foundation recognizes that exploration and understanding of the arts are accomplished through the medium of play. The essential way of interacting with media, people, and the general environment may never again be as sensory-based as it is in these years. It is crucial, therefore, that engagement in the arts for this age group be exploratory and playful.

Young children use the arts to explore sensation and recreate their memory of real and imagined events. As learners, they are trying to find out all they can about the expressive qualities inherent in different forms of communication. Through what they choose to dramatize, sing, or paint, children let others know what is important, trivial, appealing, or frightening in their lives. Because arts experiences allow children to play with ideas and concepts, students often express freely in their artwork ideas and understandings that do not emerge in other classroom work. Versatile teachers encourage many forms of expression and learn how to read, interpret, and appreciate the messages children transmit through their artworks.

Art teacher Ms. Washington has been working with Mr. Krantz's third grade to develop characters for a puppet play. Mr. Krantz has noticed that the project has led students to collaborate, and has been helpful in bringing out some of the quieter children. Seth, for instance, is an inquisitive child, but Mr. Krantz can't recall Seth saying more than ten consecutive words at a given time. As most of the class worked together writing roles for their puppet characters, Seth stayed alone, totally engaged in making his puppet, rocking back and forth. All at once, he began using a voice no one had heard before as he improvised a story for the puppet he had created. "I'm the captain of this ship, and I'll fly up to the sky if I want to!" The class was quiet as Seth continued to weave his story of a ship captain so self-confident that he could make his ship fly around the world. As he conferred with Ms. Washington later that day, Mr. Krantz exulted about the tremendous progress Seth had made, seemingly in one leap. "I've often wondered what he thinks about. He seems comfortable, but so rarely interacts with anyone else. Now I want to try getting him to work with a group in social studies by using masks and period costumes. Could you work with me on a project like that?" As they observe and document children's artistic responses, teachers become attuned to ways in which children demonstrate their intelligences. By the end of the fourth grade, teachers who have helped students assemble cumulative portfolios of selected work from each year of elementary school have a wealth of evidence about a child's profile of intelligences and emerging artistic preferences and strengths.

The late elementary and middle school years: learning to make connections through the arts

As children mature, they absorb the adult world's definitions of each of the arts as a distinct discipline containing a specialized body of knowledge. They are eager for mastery, often impatient with their own efforts. Resourceful teachers help students identify the art forms that interest them the most. Teachers and students then together can capitalize on those interests by pursuing projects that foster understanding of the essential skills and broad dimensions of a discipline.

Twelve-year-old Paul has taken instrumental lessons since he was in second grade. He began by playing the family piano, and in third grade started group violin lessons in school. A member of Mr. Read's middle school orchestra, Paul's most prized possession is his new violin, and he spends hours after school and on weekends practicing and rehearsing. Paul's parents confide to Mr. Read their concern that their son's grades will slip because he spends so much time practicing. Mr. Read knows that Paul's least favorite subject is science, but he suspects that Paul could become more interested in that subject if he could see the connection with music. He also knows that the science teacher, Mr. Borges, plays the cello. In their team planning time, the two teachers discuss the issue, and when the time comes for independent science projects, Mr. Borges suggests that Paul investigate how stringed instruments produce sound, and introduces him to a graduate student who makes new violins and restores old ones. Spurred by this personal attention, Paul researches and presents a science project that both Mr. Borges and Mr. Read consider outstanding. As part of his presentation, he plays his violin for the class; for his violin recital, he writes program notes on the history and science of the stringed instruments.

Paul is an example of a student who has, to paraphrase the words of the Common Core of Learning, acquired and applied essential skills and knowledge in music. Because Mr. Borges took the time to find out about Paul's interests, he played a powerful role in helping him integrate his knowledge of music and science, and communicate his new knowledge to others. In a school where documenting student work is the norm, excerpts from Paul's practice sessions, recital, and his science project would be preserved and documented as evidence of his learning.

The high school and adult learner in the arts: developing a sense of discipline and a sense of self

Whatever their previous training or level of expertise in the arts, adolescents search for ways to communicate personal and original ideas. Performing, creating, and responding to the arts at the high school level demands hard work, and at the same time offers students the satisfaction of sharing their ideas and talents with the school community. They are able to reflect on their progress, revise work to refine its expressive qualities and look inward to try to understand themselves better. High school students have the maturity to consider the role of the artist in society as both an innovator and a preserver of tradition and to make explicit the links between their own ideas and the ideas of generations of artists who have come before them.

"What I did here," explains Maria, a high school senior, as she points to a complex pattern on the computer screen, "is scan in a weaving that my mother brought with us when we moved here from Guatemala two years ago. The cloth is very old, and the people in our village have been weaving these patterns for centuries. Each design has a meaning. "And now," she moves the cursor across the screen, "here are photos of my relatives. Here's my mother when she was my age, and her mother, and that's me in front. I'm trying to compose a picture of all of us, three generations, with the designs in the cloth as a unifying element." "This is my second art class. Last year in the introductory class we analyzed Surrealist paintings and collages, and how those artists distorted reality. I'm combining images here, but I'm not trying to make a picture that makes you feel strange the way the Surrealists did. I'm trying to make people see that even if we live in the United States, my family's roots are in Guatemala and that culture is still important to us. What I like about using the computer is being able to play with the sizes, shapes and colors of things. For instance, I can make myself look transparent and ghostly here and my grandmother look solid and real."

The end of high school is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning. High school students bring what they have learned in, about, and through the arts to their adult lives.

Guiding Principle IV

Comprehensive and sequential arts experiences that begin in preschool and continue throughout high school provide the foundation for lifelong learning in the arts.

In order to build a knowledge base in the arts, students need repeated exposure to processes, content, concepts, and questions, and the opportunity to solve increasingly challenging problems as their skills grow. This sequential form of instruction is often referred to as a "spiraling" approach to curriculum. Comprehensive arts programs at all levels integrate the components that comprise the Strands of this Framework:

Creating and Performing,
Thinking and Responding, and
Connecting and Contributing.

Structured acquisition of knowledge, practice, and problem-solving in dance, music, theatre, or visual arts results in the ability to understand, appreciate, perform, or create in these disciplines, a combination of skills sometimes called "arts literacy."15 Sequential learning in the arts is also important as a way of reaching all learners and affording them the opportunity to communicate what they know through the arts in all disciplines.

Implementation of the Arts Framework, and the PreK to grade twelve articulation it implies, will require restructuring in many districts. Many Massachusetts arts programs are severely understaffed, particularly at the elementary level. Although most districts provide arts education through middle or junior high school, continuity after grade eight is sporadic, since arts courses are usually electives, rather than part of a required program.16 The goal of providing equitable access to sequential arts education for all students from PreK through grade twelve should guide policy-makers, parents, school council members, and school faculties as they plan schools for the twenty-first century.

Guiding Principle V

Comprehensive and sequential arts programs encourage learners to make multicultural and interdisciplinary connections.

Teacher or student, we all belong to several cultures defined in part by our ethnicity, nationality, regional background, religion, gender, age, and sexual orientation.18 We carry messages within us from our lands of origin, and bring these into classrooms across the Commonwealth, where according to a recent Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education study, as many as forty-five different languages may be spoken.19 As learners seek to know one another better, they find that the arts communicate eloquently. There are many times in the classroom when students learn more readily about an ethnic group from participating in its dances than from reading about its history.

In planning a residency involving schools and colleges in several Berkshire County communities, members of an Asian-American dance group ask residents about the history of Asian immigrants in the area. A local historical society supplies primary documents of the following incident: during a strike in North Adams shoe mills in the 1870s, Chinese workers who had built the intercontinental railroad were brought in as strikebreakers. As they explore the dramatic conflict and social dimensions of this nineteenth century interaction of cultures, the dancers and teachers have the help of local author, Judith Weber, whose children's book, Forbidden Friendship, is a fictional account of how a minister's daughter tutored a young Chinese man. The dance group uses the story as inspiration for Hidden Voices, a work which they rehearse and perform with middle school students in the college theatre. Throughout the creation and performance of the work, college dance students work with middle schoolers to refine and document the work in progress.

The historical and cultural content of arts education, then, goes beyond the study of isolated "great works" of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts history. Students need to explore how and why art forms develop in specific cultural, historical, political, and environmental contexts, and to consider the ways in which attitudes toward tradition and innovation influence the artist.

Teaching that integrates a multicultural perspective is by nature interdisciplinary. An important aspect of education reform is the search for ways to build bridges connecting the disciplines. Because the arts focus on the creative process, they offer unique possibilities for building those bridges, and for encouraging collaboration among teachers.20 Interdisciplinary teaching and learning is based upon a philosophy of education that emphasizes the exploration and discovery of analogies, relationships, and metaphors. It requires students and teachers to apply the process of inquiry and integrate specific disciplinary skills and knowledge into a broad context. Innovative interdisciplinary teaching begins with questions, unites teachers and students as learners and investigators, and often makes innovative use of community resources.

Guiding Principle VI

Authentic assessment in the arts is designed to demonstrate what students know and can do; it provides a model for assessing all complex learning.

The purpose of classroom assessment is to help students evaluate and improve their work. Informal assessment is part of artistic decision-making, and happens spontaneously dozens of times a day in arts classrooms when teachers and students discuss and critique work. Educational researchers and practitioners who value the practice of critique believe that multiple-choice tests provide a limited measure of student learning; they advocate forms of observation, documentation, and evaluation known as "authentic assessment."21

Portfolio assessments, performance assessments, and exhibitions formalize this critique process, requiring students to demonstrate their skills by working directly within a discipline, in addition to analyzing and evaluating their work orally or in writing. Arts educators who use these forms of assessment speak of developing a "portfolio culture" in the classroom. They involve students in the discussion of important dimensions of a project, and the development of criteria by which work will be evaluated. Criteria that are organized into increasing levels of achievement are known as scoring guides or rubrics.

Portfolio Assessment

Much of the early work in portfolio and performance assessment began in the mid 1980s at Project Zero, a Harvard University research group specializing in the study of cognitive development.22 A key element of the portfolio approach is the documentation of emerging ideas. Portfolios contain not just finished or "best" work, but also recordings of rehearsals, early sketches and drafts, and student journals. Periodically, students evaluate their own work as they review portfolios with their teachers. Students who keep portfolios and reflective journals discover that rehearsal and revision--the practice of creating--is central to the creative process. In her journal, Allison, a high school dance student writes:

"In dance class, I've learned to work in a group. It isn't always about individual achievement as it is in most of my academic classes. Because we work together to do one dance, other people's performance affects mine, and mine affects the class's. I've learned a lot about mental flexibility that can help me outside of school. To me, being flexible in a dance is being openminded to new styles. Flexibility also includes being patient, not becoming frustrated or angry right away. It is important to persevere and be determined in order to really learn the technique rather than having your body just memorize the movements. And, of course, this is true for anything."

Reflecting on the hours spent in the dance studio perfecting a movement or in the darkroom printing variations of a photograph teaches students to see themselves as purposeful people who are accountable for the outcome of their ideas and labors. Teachers who use portfolios as an assessment tool factor a student's persistence in pursuit of a problem into an overall grade or narrative evaluation.

Performance Assessment

In contrast to the cumulative nature of portfolios, performance assessments focus on how students go about solving specific artistic tasks. A performance assessment in instrumental music, for example, might ask students to sight-read an unfamiliar score, perform it several times, and reflect in writing about how their performance changed from the first to the last performance. Students in several schools could work on the same task simultaneously, their work providing a basis for comparison by teams of teacher/reviewers. Because performance assessments ask all students to accomplish a similar task, they are appropriate for large-scale evaluation purposes in contrasting student achievement across schools or districts.

Exhibitions of learning require students to synthesize and present knowledge from a variety of sources. In visual arts, "exhibition" commonly means a showing of work. Some teachers of visual arts at the high school level ask students who have taken several visual arts courses to create annotated retrospective exhibitions of their work as a form of assessment. In any of the arts, an exhibition of learning can also take the form of a lecture/demonstration in which students present a project involving both creative and research work, discuss its evolution, and defend their artistic choices.

Evaluating a student's ability to create, perform, and respond in the arts requires clear criteria for rating levels of performance. As the National Standards for the Arts were developed in the early 1990s, the College Board, working with a consortium of arts educators and assessment specialists, began to develop performance assessment tasks and scoring guides to be used in the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in the arts.24 This work describes the characteristics of increasing levels of performance in each arts discipline at grades four, eight, and twelve. For example, this group defined levels for creating in dance at grade four; an excerpt of this work is in the table below.25

Teachers can use broad guidelines such as these to develop more detailed scoring guides, or rubrics, with additional levels for specific performance assessment tasks. Realizing the importance of achieving consensus on the definitions of achievement levels in creative work, the professional arts education organizations and state departments of education have collaborative research and development projects in which teachers can participate in designing and piloting tasks, reviewing student work, and refining scoring criteria.

In schools, teachers and students can follow a similar process in developing performance standards collaboratively, and keeping them posted so that students are aware of what it means to perform to a high standard. It is also important for teachers at a grade level to work collaboratively in rating student work, so that they can clarify their expectations and come to agreement about what high quality work looks like. For example, several elementary schools (or districts) and a university might form a teacher/researcher study group in which arts and classroom teachers agree to pilot a specific visual arts lesson, such as a watercolor still life, then review and score student work from several classrooms together.

This kind of professional development in arts assessment provides opportunities for interaction among teachers offering them useful perspectives on improving their curricula, instructional strategies, and overall arts programs. It translates the theories of authentic assessment into practical resources that many teachers can use and apply.

Guiding Principle VII

Creating and sustaining high quality arts programs requires partnerships among all faculty and between the school and community.

In the course of developing the Arts Framework, practitioners met in study groups, seminars, and focus groups. They agreed that improving the "state of the arts" in schools requires partnerships and cannot be solely the responsibility of the public school arts educator. Together they pondered some of the hard questions about scheduling, staffing, and school organization that affect the accessibility and quality of arts education for all students.26 Below are some of the crucial issues they raised, and the solutions they devised. Appendices A, B, and C deal with the issues of getting started, organizing materials, time, and space, and defining the roles of the various partners in improving arts education.

A School Committee member:

The Arts Framework presents a fine philosophical vision, but how should my district start to implement it?

Study group members advise starting slowly and providing frequent opportunities for teachers from all levels to come together in Frameworks discussions. One study group began by making a list of how existing lessons reflected the Strands and Learning Standards, identifying areas of focus for the coming year. Another group developed an intersecting set of three-year goals and responsibilities. At the district level they identified PreK to grade twelve articulation in the arts; at the school level, reorganization of scheduling to encourage interdisciplinary teaching; at the classroom level, documentation of initial efforts at arts assessment.

A high school parent:

My daughter wants to be an architect, but the high school guidance counselor advised her not to take an art course because it wouldn't help her grade-point average and might even hurt her college admission chances.

Rigorous high school arts courses that require students to create, perform, write and speak articulately about the arts, and develop portfolios deserve to carry the same credit as any other academic course. Many high schools require arts courses for graduation, and some college admissions offices now accept portfolios as an alternative to standardized test scores.

An elementary music teacher:

I'm the one person responsible for music for 700 students in two schools! I see each class for only a half-hour each week.The classroom teachers are willing to help, but my music class is their planning time and they don't have the technical background to teach music.

Educators know that it is virtually impossible for students to develop skills consistently if their learning time in a discipline is restricted to thirty minutes per week. Schools that value arts education set as a goal daily practice in the arts. Some districts hire more certified arts teachers. Others focus on strengthening the capacity of all faculty members to teach the arts.

As elementary schools restructure, the concept of the arts educator as the "specialist" who teaches students while the grade-level teacher is freed for "planning time" is replaced by the concept of all teachers as equal collaborators. Grade-level teachers participate as co-teachers in arts classes so that they can reinforce the arts curriculum. Creating a school culture that supports such collaboration is a restructuring challenge that takes the active involvement of school administrators, district curriculum coordinators, school council members, and parents.

Last Updated: January 1, 1996
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf  
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search · Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact ESE