Common Core Collaboration Key for Fine Arts and Classroom Teachers

Posted by Amy Johnson, Sep 11, 2012 0 comments

Amy Johnson

My school district is unpacking Common Core State Standards (CCSS) this year and I have endured many meetings and trainings on CCSS. There has been a consistent show of how Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, and Science teachers will utilize CCSS. Yet, there has not been one devoted meeting for non-core subject teachers about CCSS.

When I make inquiries about how I, an Art teacher, can meet the demands of CCSS, there is a typical comment about “modifying the standards to suit [my] classroom.” I find this inconsistency worrisome; the indifference means my subject is not viewed as important or relevant. Ultimately, that could lead to less funding and/or the eradication of my subject; I’m not about to let that happen.

I will let you in on a secret: CCSS presents a teaching philosophy closely aligned with most fine arts classrooms. The methods of CCSS rely on teachers working as facilitators as opposed to lecturers, stress the value of modeling over telling, and emphasizes valuable learning occurs when subjects are interrelated and meaningful connections are made. Art is not created in a vacuum, and we already know the methods CCSS highlights are valued when it comes to teaching; we have been teaching this way for years.

My classroom.

This leads me to believe arts educators have a lot to offer CCSS. The only obstacle between fine arts educators and quality CCSS integration is finding a way to bridge the gap between our subjects and core subjects. To put it another way, we have to find a way to get core-subject teachers to collaborate with us in a meaningful manner.

Collaboration between core subject and fine arts teachers is easier said than done. I often request for teachers to collaborate with me in hopes of creating cross-curricular performance-based tasks. Usually, when I make a request of this sort, I get responses wherein the core subject teacher has some vaguely art-related craft project s/he would like me to make during Art class. I’ve come to learn such requests aren’t meant to demean my subject.

Core subject teachers view the Arts as a place wherein students craft something whether it is visual or auditory; core subject teachers don’t perceive the emotional, literary, allegorical, and historical references and foundations of fine arts. It falls to fine arts teachers to cultivate a framework wherein we can collaborate with core subject teachers in a manner relevant to everyone.

Below is a copy of the framework (you can download an editable copy here) I designed and use when collaborating with core subject teachers. In this instance, I was collaborating with a seventh grade Math teacher about a unit on tessellations:

Instead of demanding core subject teachers to make connections to the arts, we should ask them to share their units and work together to make meaningful connections. In this manner, both teachers are able to rely on their strengths.

The teachers in my district collaborated and devised one large theme for each grade level. For example, in seventh grade students learn about Algebra, Biology, Earth Science, writing structures, Asia, and Africa. Each subject requires students to learn about entities that rely on one another in some capacity. The overall theme we devised for seventh grade is “Lean on Me.” All teachers will use the theme as they design units, and this gives core subject and fine arts teachers a starting place when collaborating.

As fine arts educators we already understand the inherent value of interrelated learning. It is how we learned as artists, and it is how we teach as educators. We must recognize the Arts remain somewhat mysterious to most everyone else in education, and at the same time build bridges of meaning between fine arts and the rest of education in order to protect our subjects. The CCSS provides us with a familiar and excellent structure within which we can collaborate and build positive relationships between the fine arts and core subjects; it is an opportunity not to be missed.

How do you work to collaborate with core subject teachers?

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