There are numerous ways to approach creating a thoughtful and dynamic curriculum with the arts. A good place to start when planning and executing lessons or a unit is with the state or National Standards for Arts Education. Thoughtfully crafted learning goals and standards connected to assignments and assessments keep your class focused. Create time for collaborative teaching and planning to work across disciplines. Develop action research questions for yourself and then an inquiry question for students, so that all members of the learning community are participating in research over the course of the unit. Limit your inquiry questions to two or three. These questions should be openended and contentious, allowing students to truly wrestle with a topic.
The art-making process mirrors the inquiry process. Each time students enter into an art-making process they develop questions, research, make meaning, and develop and share responses. When designing lessons that involve art appreciation, research specific art resources to support your teaching. High-quality reproductions of artworks (e.g., posters, slides, jpegs, and transparencies) are available in museum education centers and gift shops and should be used alongside your lessons in the classroom. Make clear connections between content and art when researching your topic. Does the piece of art you selected speak well to the content area and the historical context of your subject matter? Use reliable sources such as museum and history websites that have the domain suffix of .edu or .org to research background information on the artist, the artwork, and the time period in which the art was created. Consider using a piece of art as a primary source document for a lesson rather than only as a visual aid.
Kitty Conde explains the components of the planning form and the importance of each section. She articulates the significance of the relationship between the art form and the content area in planning a successful arts integrated unit.
date - "Timing is crucial in planning a unit. We look at the calendar and discuss when the teacher would normally cover geometry in a year. We also check to see when ISAT will be administered."
subject/content - "Before planning activities and assessments, we determine which standards to cover. The Everyday Math textbook the class uses adheres very closely to the Illinois Learning Standards. Using the Everyday Math website and the textbook table of contents, we find the state standards aligned with each chapter. We look at the arts standards and fi nd that we want to address all three of them as we progress through the unit."
standards - "Layering an arts-integrated unit must manifest itself in the planning form. Because subjects do not operate separately, they must be next to each other throughout the planning. A topic helps extract the general ideas of what will be covered each day. This gives us just enough information to go into the standards and begin to plan more deeply."
vocabulary - "Vocabulary comes from the state standards and their descriptors as well as the textbook. Content area and the art form vocabulary is the concrete part of planning. It helps us focus the planning of activities and design assessment. It also becomes part of our descriptors in the rubrics."
PRE-ASSESSMENT - "Before we begin the unit, we need to know what our students know and do not know. This drives our instruction. Pre-assessments help determine some differentiated instructional methods. Most importantly, it gives a marker of where we are starting with each child. So, whether pre-assessment is at the beginning of the unit or before each lesson, it informs our instruction."
ACTIVITIES - "Activity-driven instruction may go very deep, but if it is not connected to any structure, then it becomes just an activity. When planning a unit, activities not only have to connect to one another, but also to each subject involved in the integration in a structural way. The standards help to keep you focused when planning activities."
post-assessment - "Post-assessments must refl ect preassessments. This does not mean they are the same, but they
should address the same standards. Pre- and post-assessments have to match instruction. We cannot try to assess something we have not taught unless we are doing formative assessment that is informing our instruction. Post-assessments are like pit stops along the road where we stop to check in on student learning."
documentation - "Although documentation may be the last thing on our mind when planning, it becomes a very important part
of the learning and assessing within a unit. Using photographs to have students self-assess is a very good way to get detailed responses from our students in their writing. Documenting artifacts is also very valuable in helping our students recall and reflect on their learning. Documentation informs the community about arts-integration and the profound learning happening in the classroom."
Identify content and art vocabulary connected to your area of study and post these words around the classroom. In an arts-integrated unit, assessing both the content and art knowledge is important before further instruction occurs. This preliminary step avoids being redundant with instruction and gives you an accurate reading of where you need to go with your instruction. Connect your pre-assessment to your post-assessment. You may use a different instrument to measure student progress, but continue to measure the same area of knowledge and skill connected to the standards.
You are well into your planning process now and ready to develop your activities. It is natural to want to plan out your art-making activities first, but be careful not to let them dictate where the unit is going. Get started by planning days one through three. Plan the subsequent days as the unit progresses, after you have reflected on student learning. The pre-planning around vocabulary and standards is your guide. Avoid the trap of creating the giant spectacle, sucking all the energy out of the learning and keeping you from accomplishing the unit goals. Process is just as important as product. A product will come out of the art-making experience. In addition to the celebration of student work through exhibitions and showcases, the journey of developing awareness around thinking processes in art-making leads to a richer learning experience. To make this process-based learning cycle complete, connect student voice to the final showcase so others can understand how students think when they are creating art.
Time plays a key role in an arts-integrated or art-making experience. Give yourself sufficient time for set-up, clean-up, warm-up, cool-down, exploration of materials, collaboration and sharing, reflection and analysis. Time is a common area of struggle for teachers beginning this process. How can you accomplish required instruction and bring the arts into the classroom? Block scheduling offers optimal time for art-making. Balancing the needs of your school district and your students with the desire to make learning engaging and meaningful requires some juggling. Not every unit should be arts-integrated. Not all art forms work with every content area. Assess your learning objectives. Know your students and what they can handle. Know your own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Don't be afraid to use an art-making experience to reach children who are struggling as well as those who are succeeding in the classroom. Artmaking always leaves a memorable experience with a student.
Kitty Conde recognizes that we all come from different perspectives. You may say you are not the visual arts "expert" or the dance "expert," but you have some creative outlet at which you excel. It could be cooking, sewing, scrapbooking, appreciating the arts or writing poetry. The idea is that you have a comfort level in some creative area. Just as you request from your students, draw inspiration from your own experience(s). Consider how you design a space as an important step in preparing for an arts experience.