If your school isn’t developing their roll in the Common Core, chances are – and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re behind and will have plenty of work to catch up on. It doesn’t matter if you’re just an art teacher – it will eventually hit you. And if your state hasn’t adopted the Common Core yet, it is probably only a matter of time or else you just missed that bus (I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit envious of you). If you’re like Iowa, not only have you adopted the Common Core State Standards but you also have the Iowa Core to look out for.
Our district sets aside professional hours and teacher quality hours to account for some of that extra time during Spring Break and Winter Break…during these hours we have a specific list of what we can do with the hours – like working on technology integration, common core, next generation assessments, grading policies, formative and summative assessments…etc, etc. This year, the focus has been strong on Common Core (CCSS). And as anyone might be able to find out, CCSS focuses a lot on reading, writing and math.
Most art teachers would begin pulling their hair out right about now. Because once again, we’re being asked to take a break from teaching what we went to college for – the arts – or are we? We can still have the hands-on, fully creative and engaging atmosphere we sought out by becoming art educators. And it’s not like I don’t find myself loathing some of the changes seen in my curriculum due to the CCSS but I have to embrace the changes because they are not going away. In fact, I’ll be honest, after some serious work restructuring one of my more extensive units, I have to say that including CCSS wasn’t as hard as expected – and in the eyes of any leader or administrator, my program is once again stronger than those that are still in “craft” mode because I do include those necessary components that help students become well-rounded learners in all aspects of academics. Their use of CCSS in my classroom on reaffirms what they are learning not only in my class but the foundations for other classes as well (reading, writing…math).
Take my most recent 7th grade unit, printmaking, for example. I just spent two days reading through, assessing, and giving feedback on papers my students wrote. Papers…in art. Most art teachers I know would loath this…and I thought I might, let’s just be frank. But I was pleasantly surprised. First, students didn’t enjoy hearing they’d write a paper but as they went through the process of taking notes and creating an outline, it became easier and they started to get into it. (Update: I’ve had 7 students choose to redo their paper for an improved score.) Maybe I’m lucky but it was definitely refreshing to see that writing can still stay positive for students.
As they wrote their paper, enjoying the technology (iPads), they started to show a comprehension approach that was different…the writing portion took care of a lot! Not that my units don’t contain a goal completion of comprehension, but that the writing just…was a new approach – it’s as simple as that. By the time I finished reading their papers (which were no more than 2 pages), I caught myself thinking, “Okay, they get it but will it really stick? Or will this just make the whole entire process less meaningful.”
And by George (wha?), I was thrilled with the class work. Students not only got it but they were using most of the terms from the reading. I had two students miss class when we started printing but they needed no help getting caught up or use for a demonstration because they recalled the reading/paper and were able to use those instructions to get them started.
Now, by no means am I saying that Common Core is the best decision our government has every made – because it’s not. There are a lot of flaws within it and things that will inevitably need to be addressed (and will with a new and improved Dept. of Ed initiative) but sacrifice is not something that teachers are unfamiliar with. So often, we are asked to do things within our curriculum that we either don’t like or know full-well, don’t actually help students. I can name dozens of initiatives that, while carry the good intention of wanting our students to be the best, hold unrealistic hoops out for students to jump through. No Child Left Behind is a great example of good ideas gone…well, that’s for another day.
But, all that said and all my frustration aside – I’ve learned that when an administrator comes to you and say “this is what I need to see in your classroom“…that they’ve also been told by their boss the same thing, “this is what I need to see you implement in your schools.” Rather than whine and take the fun out of teaching – I simply dissect what the terms of agreement are and try to figure out how I can apply the requirements while still engaging my students. Engagement is key to any classroom. No matter the task – students need to be engaged so that they can be successful. If they aren’t engaged – no matter what the grade says, they won’t hold what they’ve just ‘learned’ close by – and they’ll lose it and all your hard work with go *poof*.
Thankfully – art classrooms (and other exploratories) have the upper hand – our classes are naturally engaging because of the hands on, immediate action we give our students. We spend time talking, writing and reading – sure but it’s only a fraction of our classroom. In fact – looking at the CCSS I implemented into this 7th grade unit – out of a 10 day unit, it only took 2 days to write the paper. Of course, that’s because I had to allow time in class for students to write the paper – if I had the ability to send technology with them, it would simply be homework. The unit is not longer overall, either – I just adjusted my instruction and made sure to adapt some of the already planned areas…like the “quiz” they take before they carve and print became the paper – the classroom discussion became a “working outline” discussion.
So…when it comes to the core [I] keep an open mind, a flexible heart, an adaptable attitude, and never stop concentrating on engaging your kids for success. We [I] may not always enjoy these initiatives completely but they are there…and so am I. And neither one of us is budging so I guess it’s time to work together.