I think I might just leave right now and just let that title question hang in the air.
It is the question that everyone wants to know and no one wants to ask. When we talk about Arts Integration, classroom teachers tend to talk around this. And so it hangs in the air and there are feelings of frustration, fear, resentment and disagreement flowing through the room. If you are someone who is looking to start an Arts Integration initiative, or if you are in the thick of this initiative already, my advice to you is to just come out and ask the question and see what happens next.
This is actually a central question that we all need to address if we are to move forward with authentically embedding the arts within instruction to make a positive impact on student achievement. And there is a clear answer that is never popular, but which most accurately represents the brass tacks of the matter: because you taught the content.
Assessing The Arts
As a music teacher, if I teach an element of 6+1 writing traits and give my students an assignment to create a composition using those traits, you would think it unconscionable of me to ask you to grade that assignment because it happens to be your area of expertise. After all, you didn’t teach it, so why would you grade it? The same is true of any art that you integrate into your classroom instruction. You may be more comfortable assessing your content area, but the fact is, if you taught the lesson through the art, you are responsible for assessing what you taught.It’s kind of like hitting a beehive and then waiting around to get stung, right?
It’s also important to understand a few other things in what I just spoke to above.
First and foremost is that assessment is different than grading. Remember, by integrating the arts, you are teaching the content through them. You are not necessarily teaching the artistic skill itself. You are simply using the skills that students should be learning in their arts classes to teach the content of your choice. The artistic skills themselves are graded (judged) by the arts teachers in their classrooms. The artistic processes and how well they used those skills are assessed (progress measured) by you. It’s important to understand that distinction when addressing this question.
The other piece to understand is that the Arts are a content area just like anything else. They have standards by which they measure their content. By not assessing the standards with which you aligned the content, you are not being authentic to the arts themselves. For many students, the way that they express their understanding of a subject is through an artform. By not assessing that, you are in essence dismissing their work as “not worthy”. And that is a judgment call that neither you nor anyone else is qualified to make.
You don’t have to hold specific qualifications to assess the arts standards you have aligned to your content!
Instead, ask your arts teachers how they would assess a project using the standards you have aligned. Many times, these are through rubrics because the arts are a process-driven content. Once teachers understand that they can use these same rubrics with some modifications for their own subjects, and they know that they can go to the arts specialists for help, many teachers will at least try, if not embrace, assessing the aligned arts standards within their own content. It’s a difficult conversation, but a key one in the process of developing a high-functioning arts integration initiative in your school.
Susan Riley is the founder and President of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.