As we start a new school year, as I commit myself to finding ways to bring the arts to general classroom, I have also committed, as a music teacher, to practice what I preach by finding natural points of integration of Common Core standards into my classroom. This can sound scary to arts teachers. We have very limited time with our students, and for this reason, we tend to be very protective of our content. We don’t want our art to become subservient to another content, and I think we sometimes fear the idea of integration into our classrooms because it might compromise the validity, rigor, and authenticity of our arts programs.

The great news is that arts teachers naturally integrate other content areas into their content. We already know that many of the processes and skills that are used in teaching Common Core contents are easily and often transferred into the teaching of art, music, drama, and dance. We, as arts teachers, can advocate for our contents by explicitly outlining the Common Core connections we naturally make in the teaching of the arts, and with intentional planning, we can make manageable adjustments to our own teaching to include natural, authentic cross-curricular connections, without sacrificing time or the integrity of the explicit teaching of the arts.

In looking at ELA standards for reading, we can easily make natural connections by interpreting the word “text” to include works of art. Here are a few Common Core standards that stand out as natural places to begin intentional incorporation of CCSS in the arts classroom:

CCSS.RL.1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

When we substitute a piece of visual, musical, dance, or dramatic art for the word text, and when we open textual evidence up to include evidence based in elements of the arts, suddenly the idea of integrating Common Core into the arts classroom isn’t quite so overwhelming! This is a standard we’ve always asked students to achieve in arts classrooms. Some strategies to support this standard: guided active listening, Stepping Into the Painting, Reading the Art.

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CCSS.RL.4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Just as words and phrases can be interpreted to analyze the meaning of a text, how elements of art are utilized within a piece of visual, musical, choreographic, or dramatic art can be interpreted in the context of a piece to shape meaning. When we ask our students to analyze these elements, they are utilizing the same processes and skills that this Common Core standard addresses. Some strategies: listening logs, critiques, and artist statements. 

CCSS.RL.5: Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole. 

The form of any artistic piece of work (beginning, middle, end; ABA, rondo, theme and variation, scenes in a script) is an easy incorporation of this Common Core standard. Additionally, elements of a musical score (barlines, repeat signs, D.S., coda) require students to sequence isolated elements of music and relate them to one another in the context of the whole score.

These are just three connections that can be easily made in the context of the arts classroom without sacrificing time or the integrity of the arts curriculum. Not every standard will be a natural fit, and that’s okay. I truly believe that as an arts teacher, it is a valuable exercise to comb through the Common Core standards and find those natural connections. The reality is that we live in a world of Common Core standards, and embracing the standards and highlighting our practice of them does not diminish our content. Instead, we can use the power of the arts to reinforce Common Core skills and practices to benefit our students and our art forms.