During the past few weeks, I set out to align ELA Common Core Standards with the new National Core Arts Standards in what can only be described as a curriculum-mapping marathon. I spent countless hours poring over the new standards for music, visual arts, theatre, dance, and media arts side by side with elementary ELA standards. It was a rigorous but rewarding process, and I have several takeaways from this experience that I would like to share.
Before I share my “ah-hah” moments, I would like to reinforce how strongly I believe in teaching the arts for the sake of the arts. The skills students develop through participation in the arts are life skills. I believe that students deserve a comprehensive arts education with fundamentals being explicitly taught, and that the arts should not be put in a position of subservience to other content areas. With that said, I also believe in teaching globally. I believe that we are responsible for the whole child and that there is power in making connections in skills and content.
At the conclusion of my curriculum mapping experience, I was empowered by my newfound understanding of another content area. I’ve looked at the ELA Common Core Standards before. I’ve sat in on PLC meetings with literacy teachers. I’ve taken courses in literacy methods. I’ve integrated literacy strategies in my own classroom on a daily basis for the past decade.
However, the process of sitting down to intentionally align these standards with all areas of the arts gave me a depth of understanding that I couldn’t have gained in any other way. This has caused me to look at my own instruction and to reflect on the responsibility we have as educators to look outside of our comfort zones to help students achieve the depth and rigor that both the Common Core and Core Arts Standards ask of our students and of us.
I was struck by how naturally so many standards align that it seems almost an invitation to integrate. As arts educators, we know we already make connections to other content areas on a daily basis while teaching our own content, but the process of intentionally aligning the new arts standards to Common Core was both reassuring and challenging.
I am reassured in knowing that teaching naturally aligning standards side by side will not compromise the integrity of those standards, and I am challenged to raise the bar for my students, as well as to advocate for an arts integrated approach to other educators. This curriculum mapping process reinforced the power that lies in integrating the arts into Common Core, and vice versa.
As I aligned standards and lesson seeds, I was energized. Energized because I knew that by aligning those standards and resources, I was creating something that could provide a high level of engagement for students and serve as a vehicle for deep understanding of content standards in ELA and the arts.
I was energized in knowing that this process built something that would give students an opportunity to put into practice their creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration skills. I was energized in thinking about how this simple act of intentional planning has the potential to elevate the arts to a place of prominence in the classroom.
Finally, I thought about what I got out of my curriculum-mapping marathon. I had to be creative. I had to think critically. I communicated and collaborated with colleagues about how to create alignments. I developed a deep understanding of not only my own content area, but also a deep understanding of ELA, visual arts, theatre, dance, and media arts.
I was forced to think about tackling my own content area with more depth and rigor. And isn’t that what we want of our students? What a joy to put into practice the very skills we are asking our students to develop, and what a reward to take down content barriers and to teach globally to benefit students.