Common Core has brought about a number of shifts in our thinking about teaching and learning. As you probably know, one of the most significant shifts is the focus on writing. This is a good thing. Research has shown that a concentration on writing has a positive effect on student achievement. The results of a major study that looked at the success of the 90-90-90 school (schools with ninety percent of students from poverty, ninety percent of students from ethnic minorities and ninety percent of students who met or achieved high academic standards), for example, found that a key characteristic of these high performing schools was an emphasis on non-fiction writing. In Writing to Read, a meta-analysis report made a decade later, researchers showed evidence of the strong relationship between non-fiction writing and reading comprehension. The report recommended three things in regard to writing: student writing should be mostly connected to what they are reading (reactions, interpretations, summaries, notes and answering text dependent questions), students should be instructed in the writing process and they should write often (Graham & Herbert, p. 13). This and other similar research clearly had an impact on Common Core writers and practitioners. Preparing students for the increased writing required on new Common Core assessments has become a hot topic. I agree with blogger Dave Stuart (teachingthecore.com) who says “one of the biggest bang-for-your-buck Common Core standards is W.CCR.10, which basically says, write frequently for many reasons.” As long as it happens often, even short writing, is beneficial.
This is where the arts come in! We must expand our concept of text to include non-print text: a great painting, a compelling photograph, a captivating musical piece, or perhaps a dance performance. For reluctant writers and struggling students, the first hurdle is getting them interested in what they need to write about. We want to model and practice writing with a text that will engage them. Students jump at the chance to respond to art and music—it’s interesting and it’s non-threatening: art is a kind of neutral territory for kids. Students don’t worry about making mistakes because there are no incorrect answers. With this in mind, let’s start with having students “read” a piece of art and answer text dependent questions (I suggest Artful Thinking routines) such as what’s going on in this artwork and what do you see that makes you say that?, or what do you see/hear, what do you think about that, and what does it make you wonder? When we do this we are asking students to respond to text and support their answers with evidence from the text. They apply the same critical thinking and analysis skills to reading the visual image or performance as they would with print. Then we ask them to write about it. Very Common Core!
I’ve been sharing some of my favorite poetry writing activities inspired by examining art such as haibun, cooperative poetry, and list poems in recent blogs. My goal this school year is to find or design many more arts integrated writing focused activities that have Common Core components to them. Now I am turning my focus toward opinion, analytical and informative writing strategies inspired by and connected to the arts. Check in next week to see what I’ve come up with!
Graham, Steve and Herbert, Michael. Writing to Read: Evidence of How Writing Can Improve Reading, Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2010.
Reeves, Douglas R. High Performance in High Poverty Schools, Center for Performance Assessment, 2003.