A State Perspective on Classroom Instruction
This document has been designed to provide administrators, arts coordinators, teachers and the public with a clear description of what quality arts education programs should be in practice and to address what kind of instruction should be taking place in arts education classrooms. There are many excellent arts education teachers providing outstanding arts instruction throughout the state. However, there is little consistency among arts education programs within schools and school systems and even less among schools across the state. These existing inconsistencies have lead to a number of misconceptions about what arts education programs and instruction should be. Programs which in many cases are not yet mature and which do not have all the attributes of a quality arts education program have become the norm. In some instances, programs have become accepted, been promoted and/or received awards as model programs when, in reality, they have not yet achieved this status in all four areas K- 12. People often advocate for new or better programs or discuss current ones without a clear understanding of what a quality program should be and how it should operate.
This monograph will clarify some of the misunderstandings about arts education programs and instruction. In addition, it will further clarify the philosophy, significance, practices and benefits described in the introduction that appears in the official North Carolina Arts Education Standard Course of Study Frameworks which form the legal basis for arts education programs in this state. It should be noted that the emphasis on process versus product is an overriding premise of Arts Education: A State Perspective on Classroom Instruction since this concept should be a principal factor in the planning and execution of any quality arts education program. This document outlines the essential components that should be present when administrators and teachers evaluate current programs or design new ones.
Arts Education is an administrative term used collectively to encompass the work of four separate and distinct subject areas: dance, music, theatre arts and visual arts. It is not a subject in itself and there are no programs to train teachers in "arts education" apart from these four areas. Arts Education is distinguished from the performing arts, cultural arts, and fine arts through both its content and its emphasis on developing in students the creative process and the relevance of arts study to life. The performing arts, as the title suggests, focus primarily on performance, while cultural arts may include other areas, such as homemaking, and the like. Similarly, the fine arts often include creative writing and architecture. Although performance/production may be a significant aspect of arts education, it is not intended to be its primary focus.
Arts Education, as described in the North Carolina Arts Education Standard Course of Study Frameworks and Teacher Handbook Arts Education K-12, is discipline-based. This means simply that dance, music, theatre arts and visual arts are considered to be disciplines, on a par with other areas of the curriculum, containing information that is vital to students. It is not enough to pursue these disciplines as a series of activities, but rather they are studied in terms of their historical background and implications, literature, analysis, performance/production, and the development of aesthetic perceptions. For this reason, work, in these areas should be comprehensive, taught by a competent individual trained in the specific area of instruction, and carried out over a period of years for students to develop understandings and applications. Because the arts do not exist in a vacuum, it is vital that this study be integrated with knowledge from many other subject areas and be made relevant to the student's needs and level of development. Relevancy does not imply that the program focuses only on the areas of the student's current interest, but that connections are made to assure that the work becomes relevant to the student and thus has meaning. As affirmed in the Basic Education Program for North Carolina's Public Schools, a complete arts education program includes each of the four disciplines K-12 and is required of all students K-5 and available to students in grades 6-12 with students being required to elect one or more of the disciplines in grades 6-8.
Arts education has been mistaken for many things in the past. The public perception of what arts education is and how it happens has often been skewed not only by a broad lack of knowledge and understanding, but by observing products or performances that many arts educators showed and portrayed to the public as the only outcome of an arts education program. In many cases, arts educators have unknowingly perpetuated myths about what arts education should be through the use of teaching approaches that no longer produce effective learning in the current education reform climate.
Primarily Entertainment Or Enjoyment
Some arts educators see themselves more as artists than teachers and feel a need to produce art through students rather than provide instruction through arts education. These two approaches have significant potential to negatively or positively impact what and how students learn in arts education classes. In addition, administrators have sometimes unknowingly placed on-going pressure on teachers to produce performances or exhibits that, in the long run, were counterproductive to instruction and placed arts education and arts educators primarily in the entertainment or enjoyment status and, thus, on the fringe of the academic arena.
Just Activities Or Rehearsals
Arts education is not just activities or rehearsals. Too often, parents and school administrators only see this aspect of arts education. While there is much to do when creating an artwork or rehearsing a performance, this in no way should be the predominant focus of studying in the arts. Activities and rehearsals should be where students are given the opportunity to practice much of what they have learned through arts instruction. However, instruction that is comprised of one activity after another or is one long laborious rehearsal seldom leaves time for quality instruction. Not all learning takes place during an activity or rehearsal. Students need time to read, research, write, contemplate, reflect, analyze, etc. if they are to truly comprehend all that is prescribed in the curriculum and master all the suggested skills.
Knowing Only About Making Product Or Performance
The focus of arts education should not just be knowing only about the making of a product or performance. It is quite possible to produce a product or performance without really thoroughly understanding what has happened or learning much about what happened or why it happened. In many situations, students produce something but are unable to explain, rationalize, interpret, expand upon or even simply discuss how they arrived at the final product. In some cases, they have only followed instructions but not really engaged in the learning process. Therefore, their learning experience has been superficial, with limited meaning, and thus, will have little lasting impact or usefulness. Learning that is accomplished through process and appropriate instruction almost always produces a more innovative product or performance. This fact clearly suggests that instruction and process learning should always take precedent over merely making a product or performance. While students can learn many valuable things through the process of creating a product or performance, production should not override instruction or dominate the learning experience.
Contests Or Festivals
The idea that contests or festivals should be the major objective for student learning in arts education is also not beneficial. Students and teachers often get caught up in rehearsing and spend untold time trying to perfect the product rather than learn through the process. It is also not uncommon for anxiety and stress to be overwhelming and this too is counterproductive to the learning process if not kept in perspective. In the midst of the flurry of activity demanded by preparation for festivals or contests, time for learning is frequently insufficient and is often used to master performance rather than learning in depth. In this circumstance, the principal thing a student learns is how to replicate a work of art at a given level with little regard for the broad knowledge and skills that can be learned through study of arts education.
Taught As Being Separate From Other Curricula
Arts education classes that are taught as being separate from other curricula and not integrated with other subjects are much less effective than those where the information learned is made relevant and integrated. (See North Carolina Department of Public Instruction document Arts Education K-12: Integrating with Reading, Writing, Math and Other Areas of the Curriculum, Monograph No. 1 1997 Arts Education Series.) There is little in the study of the four areas of arts education that does not link to some other subject area or have some connection with life skills or lifelong learning. Only when knowledge in the arts is linked with learning in the rest of the school curriculum, does arts study become relevant, useful outside of the subject area itself, have ramifications for all learning and act as a support and catalyst for learning across the curriculum.
Instruction in the arts should not be product/performance driven. Teaching to the performance rather than teaching through performance is not as effective for ensuring that students learn and understand the entire curriculum. Sometimes students and teachers become so consumed by the making and/or doing of art that they lose track of why they are doing it at all. This is particularly true when learning is sacrificed in order to get ready for a performance. When students become automatons and teachers become directors with the sole goal to produce a performance, inevitably learning is moved to the low end of the priority list and the aspects of learning which truly make it valuable are not practiced. In this circumstance, learning is not varied, little attention is paid to learning styles and various methods and styles of instruction are seldom used. The teacher often feels pressed to get on with the event and uses whatever short cuts necessary to arrive at the final product or performance. This approach to teaching wears on everyone, can be frustrating and anxiety ridden, and often reduces learning to a high-pressure task where the ends do not justify the means.
Artists Or Artists-In-Residence
Arts education is not artists or artists-in-residence. While both of these may support a good arts education program and serve to give students insights and experiences they might not otherwise have, they do not take the place of a strong sequential disciplined-based instructional program taught by appropriately trained arts educators. Artists and artists-in-residence serve as enrichment to programs that are already in place but do not take the place of legitimate arts education programs. For the most part, artists and artists-in-residence are not trained as teachers in the school setting and will not have the time or resources to facilitate long-term learning in any of the arts areas.
Taught In Other Subject Area Classes Or Through Immersion In Other Subject Areas
Arts education that is taught in other subject area classes or through immersion in other subjects rarely qualifies as true arts education instruction. This teaching usually focuses on other subject areas and only uses the arts as a teaching tool to learn some other area of the curriculum. The history, literature, knowledge, processes and skills studied in arts education are not taught to any extent. Frequently the doing or making of arts products or performances is used to reinforce learning or as activities to help make learning fun in other subject areas. Indeed, in these classes, the arts are usually not taught by a trained arts educator or as arts education.
Many arts education offerings place an inordinate degree of significance on performance and/or production and contest participation. Frequently the "show" concept dominates instruction in these situations, and even though importance is placed on quality in production/ performance, this does not provide for development of the breadth of understandings that are spelled out in the North Carolina arts education curriculum. Repetition is often a characteristic of these offerings based on the need to develop performance/production skills at a high level, but this is frequently achieved at the expense of learnings in history and literature, criticism and aesthetics. In these circumstances, connections with reading, writing, mathematics and other areas of the curriculum are often either ignored or receive little emphasis.
Because programs in the arts education disciplines are not always conceptualized in terms of broad curriculum offerings, they may focus primarily on activities which students find attractive and, especially at the elementary level, may function essentially to give the classroom teacher a break. In these instances, they may be considered to be primarily "fun time," and not intended to provide a strong foundation for future growth in the arts. An additional result of the failure to conceive of these programs as serious study is the provision of limited facilities, resources, materials, equipment and appropriate technology for their conduct. Because of this circumstance, teachers often have to purchase many of their materials and supplies with their own money or resort to laborious fund-raising activities.
Many factors contribute to creating the optimum learning experience. The time when teachers and students come into contact with one another is significant. What happens between them when teachers are instructing and students are trying to learn may have powerful impact not only on the immediate learning experience but also on the rest of the students' lives. The following are some factors that ensure effective teaching in arts education. While many of them are generic to good teaching in general, some of these are inherent to the way arts education should be taught in order to be maximally effective and valued as part of the total academic school curriculum.
The Entire Curriculum Should Be Taught
The entire curriculum should be taught. There should be balance among the literature, history, theory, and practice in all arts areas. Students perform better when they understand and have a background for what they are doing. Without a comprehensive understanding of the entire curriculum, students often replicate art products and performances or learn primarily how to follow directions. Only when students have a thorough understanding of what they are doing, why they are doing it, when it has happened and how it has happened are they truly prepared to practice their art and apply arts learning in other areas of study.
Teachers Should Have Time To Plan And Teach
Teachers should have time to plan and teach. Since the expectation for instruction is and should not be any less than that for other teachers, arts educators should have the same amount of time to plan and teach as other teachers.
A Variety Of Teaching Techniques Should Be Used
A variety of teaching techniques should be used to allow for different learning styles and increase the possible ways students can learn. These techniques may include but are not limited to:
[Items in parenthesis are only examples provided to clarify the definitions.]
Thematic lessons - study planned around a central theme (seasons of the year or metamorphosis)
Discovery lessons - study that sets up a situation where students must work through research, learning activities or other experiences in order to arrive at knowledge or understanding (discovering what form is by comparing and contrasting a variety of different structures)
Activity-based lessons - study that comes through students actively engaged in doing something or experiencing something first hand (learning about shapes by creating and/or using them)
Socratic lessons - study based on a question or series of questions that promote research or study and/or doing or making something as part of learning (What is art? Where does art come from? How does art happen?)
Authentic or real-world learning lessons - where students learn through being involved in situations in the classroom that simulate real-world experiences or where students actually go beyond the school walls to learn from experience (where students perform the role of director, choreographer or arts critic in the classroom or work with professional artists in their environment)
Immersion lessons - study that goes on for a prolonged period of time and revolves around a central idea, theme, or topic (a three-week study of all aspects of a particular period such as the Renaissance or a particular artist's work)
Performance or production lessons - a lesson where a student must actually perform, function in a leadership role for a production, or make a work of art along with studying, learning, planning, applying knowledge and skills, reflecting on, and evaluating their performance or role in the production process (being the costume designer or choreographer for a show, being an actor, dancer or musician in a musical, or creating and making a work of art for a public space)
Cooperative learning lessons - where students assist each other in the learning process (a group of students are given a project, tasks, research, etc. related to a specific artist or arts process to be completed using their own knowledge, skills and abilities)
Peer instruction lessons - study that involves one or more students using knowledge and/or skills already acquired or mastered to instruct one or more other students (a student teaches another how to use a certain technique)
Lessons taught in-role or in-character - the teacher pretends to be in another role other than teacher or behaves as some other recognizable character other than him or herself while teaching a lesson or part of a lesson (a teacher teaches as if he or she is a casting agent or arts critic, or provides instruction on an artist's work as if he or she is the artist)
Lessons taught through coaching or side-coaching - study that engages students in a teacher assignment that is intended to be a student-perpetuated activity - where the teacher assists only when necessary by giving suggestions, comments or directions (students take the lead in creating an improvisation while the dance, theatre arts or music teacher coaches from the side in order to keep the improvisation evolving or a student creates a work of art from found objects with the teacher giving suggestions as the student works)
Lessons taught as a facilitator - study that engages students in a teacher assignment that is intended to be a student-perpetuated activity - where the teacher only helps the learning process take place by providing materials, answering questions, or suggesting next steps while students are working (a teacher suggests alternate approaches as a better way of working or to improve the result of work)
Lessons taught through example- study where the teacher performs, illustrates, demonstrates or in some way shows what the teacher wants the student to be able to know or do (a dance, theatre arts or music teacher performs briefly or a visual arts teacher draws or paints something to demonstrate specific techniques)
The use of widely accepted diverse approaches to teaching, such as The 4MAT System, Dimensions of Learning and others, will also allow for different learning styles and increase the possible ways students can learn. All of these methods have merit and when used in combination, make classes more interesting and learning more dynamic.
Best Practices Should Be Employed
Along with diverse teaching techniques, best practices should be employed to ensure students are both motivated and feel teachers are accessible throughout the learning experience. When asked what makes good teachers and learning easier, students of all ages from kindergarten to the twelfth grade have a tendency to point out many of the same attributes. First and foremost good teachers project an obvious genuine, personal and individual interest in their students. This is often characterized by a strong level of caring and nurturing which enables students to feel they are valued, to have a sense of well being and security, and to be inspired to learn. Many students point out that good teachers demonstrate a belief that, without question, all students can learn and exhibit a commitment to work with students to that end. These teachers view school and learning as an evolving and ongoing process. They view students as workers involved in processes rather than receivers of knowledge or merely "replicators" of performances or products. Good teachers allow students to fail and try again, offer students many different ways to learn, are always fair and equitable in their dealings with students, and are consistently accessible both during and beyond the school day. Good teachers often create learning situations where students have choices, options, and control over how they learn and the process and/or means they need to use to learn. In keeping with this, they offer students various types of alternative assessments that give them the opportunity to demonstrate that they know and are able to do something in a way that works best for them. Good teachers always provide positive reinforcement and promote pride in accomplishment for each student. Students overwhelmingly say that good teachers have a passion for what they teach to such an extent that it becomes contagious among students.
Teachers Should Model, Project And Maintain High Performance Standards And Expectations
Effective arts teachers model, project and maintain high performance standards and expectations which reinforce the image of a professional, competent educator who is to be respected. They establish safe unique classroom environments where creativity, imagination, thinking and risk taking are promoted and reinforced. Beyond teaching their subjects, these teachers facilitate the development of self-discipline, self-motivation, self-esteem, social interaction and strong character. Effective arts teachers portray a tolerance and/or acceptance of diversity, the unusual or different, and teach that this is to be expected and valued. They are energetic personalities that are sensitive to the human drama that takes place during learning and are continuously reflecting on the performance they and their students are delivering to one another as teacher and student. The quality of the interaction that occurs when teachers teach and students learn will always determine the impact instruction will have on student success and achievement.
Classrooms Should Operate As A Community
Other things also contribute to the success of arts education programs.
Good arts education teachers often create classrooms that operate as a community where no student is disenfranchised from other students. This is especially true of at-risk students who often find the arts education classroom a place where they can take chances and/or operate in significantly different ways and still enjoy success. In many cases, these students' problems or differences are looked upon as being attributes that are part of the student but do not define the student. Students' problems or differences are often perceived as learning opportunities for everyone in the class or as assets that only need to be used or redirected. Because of the very individual and personal instruction that is often necessary to teach the arts, effective arts teachers are accustomed to designing and structuring instruction or learning experiences for specific students. Likewise, they try to be aware of how this will impact other students and find ways to consistently make all students in the classroom realize that they are a part of a larger classroom society which must be sensitive to and interact appropriately with one another.
Students Understand And Know About The Subject Area And How It Relates To Life And Life-Long Learning
In arts education classrooms, emphasis should be on understanding and knowing about the subject area and, more importantly, how it relates to life and life-long learning. It is important that students understand the relationship of what they learn in arts classes to that which they learn in other classes and recognize how the knowledge and processes learned in arts classes can be applied or used throughout life. Study in the arts should never be considered as worthwhile only to those students who plan to pursue the arts as a vocation. Arts study has relevance for all learning and for all students.
Because learning in the arts must also be demonstrated through practical application either through performance or making a product, that which is learned while in arts classes is usually retained at a higher level. This makes it possible to apply knowledge and skills learned in arts classes long after the actual learning has taken place. Since learning in the arts covers a myriad of processes, concepts, topics, knowledge, skills, countries, times, people, etc., there is a wealth of learning that has implications for and relevance to much of life and life's work.
Production Or Performance Should Be Only Part Of The End Result In Arts Classes
The production or performance should be only part of the end result in arts classes. This should be where students actually practice and apply what they have learned through instruction. Students should learn through performance or production more than to perform or produce. The real value in learning through the process is in the process itself. It is during the process where problem identification and problem solving, thinking, creating, intuiting, imagining and other types of intellectual learning take place. In fact the performance or product is almost always of a higher quality when students arrive at it having become informed as to what they are doing, why they are doing it, and understanding what relationship this all has to them and to their lives and the lives of others both before and after them. These students are better informed and able to operate on a much higher level because they have the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills to function at a high level rather than merely having to only follow directions or perfect something to a standard that they may not necessarily understand.
Classes Should Teach And Reinforce Reading, Writing And Mathematics
As in all subject areas, arts education classes should teach and reinforce reading, writing and mathematics whenever possible and plausible. Furthermore, they should integrate all learning and make real-world connections whenever possible. Arts educators should view themselves as being full partners in the academic community and their programs fundamental to the total school curriculum.
Classes Should Make Use Of Technologies
Arts education classes should make use of appropriate and effective technologies. These should be integrated into the instructional program instead of being used as ends in themselves. Technologies should help provide students the opportunity to explore and grow in their understanding of the art form rather than simply leading to the production of a product. Technology should include the use of things beyond just electronic equipment such as theatrical lighting boards, kilns, music instruments, or video clips used as part of a dance performance.
Appropriate Facilities, Materials And Equipment Should Be Adequate To Support The Size Of The Program
Appropriate facilities, materials and equipment adequate to support the size of the program should be provided. Each of the four programs has different requirements, depending on the grade level being taught. The classroom and laboratory spaces vary depending on the grade levels, scope and magnitude of the programs, and available funds and resources. Some of the elements that may comprise an arts facility are display and storage spaces, appropriate work surfaces to include table and floor finishes, utilities such as water and special lighting, specially designed equipment such as a kiln or theatrical lighting control board, and specifically designed rehearsal and performance spaces like rooms with appropriate sound treatment, tiered or suspension wood floors or complete theatrical stages with auxiliary dressing, makeup and scenery construction rooms. Adequate outlets and other connections along with the appropriate technological equipment to include computers and audio-visual equipment should be provided. The vast and varied amount and types of consumable and non-consumable items to include tools and instruments for study in the different arts areas are vital for the teaching and practical application of skills taught in the classroom to occur. There should also be appropriate textbooks for classroom use and research resources available for each program.
Because programs in arts education disciplines are often not broadly conceptualized, arts education classes may be taught by instructors whose preparation and orientation may be varied.
Teachers Who Have Been Trained As Performers Or In Another Subject
In some instances, persons who have been trained as performers in an arts area are employed as teachers because of their content knowledge of the field. However, it is possible that these individuals may have insufficient understanding of how to operate the program in schools and how to work with schedules, student development, educational expectations, and the like. In other circumstances, it is possible that an English teacher may be assigned to theatre arts or a physical education instructor to dance. Requiring instructors to teach areas that are quite different in many aspects from their training can create a variety of difficulties for both teacher and student and, when the classes are not successful, do damage to the school and public perception of arts education.
There are many itinerant arts education teachers. These teachers often have exhausting schedules that involve travel during the school day and a multitude of short classes that may meet in different locations throughout the school. Added to the difficulty of the schedule is the fact they must transport materials and equipment as well as try to create conductive learning environments in makeshift locations. Under these circumstances, it is hard to provide effective instruction and this disjointed existence, more often than not, contributes to loss of quality instruction for students, early teacher burnout, and teachers leaving the profession.
Many arts teachers are assigned student loads which mitigate against the development of the program described in the North Carolina Arts Education Standard Course of Study Frameworks and Teacher Handbook Arts Education K- 12. It is not at all uncommon for teachers at the elementary level to have loads ranging from 600 to over 1000 students, which can be met for a minimum of once a week to once every three weeks for a half-hour class period.
Extended Teaching Day
Another more significant difficulty is encountered when the instructors are expected to teach a full day and then must coach students or conduct rehearsals well beyond the school day. Many arts education teachers feel they are expected to teach a full day and then work an evening shift filled with rehearsals and production supervision throughout the school year. Even where teachers are well prepared in the area of their assignment, additional pressures to exceed previous performance levels and to become the public relations arm of the school may lead to early burnout and loss of effectiveness.
Often, arts programs are seen as a viable way of promoting the school to the community. Teachers as well as students find themselves involved in preparing activities, performances, exhibits, celebrations and other publicity events that consume valuable instructional time and may not necessarily contribute to student learning. Community relations are a valid part of arts education programs in the schools, but these programs should not be seen as existing primarily to serve this purpose.
Teachers who are trained and certified to teach in the area of assignment (dance, music, theatre arts, and visual arts) should teach arts education. A teacher who has been trained in one of the areas of arts education is not necessarily prepared to teach in another arts education area. For example, a music teacher is not usually trained to teach dance, theatre arts or visual art s. In addition, all arts education teachers should have duties and schedules that do not exceed that of other subject area teachers.
Teachers who make arts education programs happen in truly significant ways are naturally those who feel a responsibility to do their job well. However, the definition of doing a good job may vary, and to be really successful, it must include fundamentally liking children and the use of best practices. If it is defined as "covering the material," the teacher may really be trying to do an excellent job and, at the same time, conducting classes that are not relevant to students and fail to involve them in real growth. It may also be limited only to some phases of the program and thus not be comprehensive. An example of this is a class devoted to performance where students learn little of the material except what the instructor deems necessary to produce the kind of performance being sought.
A critical aspect of the good teacher is the use of "best practices" which address different learning styles. This approach is based on involving students directly in the work and implies an ongoing practice of listening to students, being concerned for them, asking them what the class work means to them, caring about them personally, and the like. Teachers who combine best practices with genuinely liking children and an understanding of the comprehensive nature of an arts program are the ones who really make arts education function at its highest level. This is often the case, even when students are not necessarily the "brightest and best" as evidenced by their overall school record.
Arts education classes and after school activities provide a myriad of learning and experiential opportunities for students not only to learn about the arts but to learn about working, living, and surviving in this ever changing world. Many students from diverse backgrounds are drawn to arts education classes not just because of their interest in the subject but because they sense the instructional and personal experiences in these classes are significantly different from those had in other subjects. Both high academic achievers and students at risk often find arts education classes a viable haven from the rest of the school day and a place where they can, based on hard work and dedication, enjoy approval and success.
By their very nature, the arts embrace and impact on everyone. With the widespread availability of radio, television, computers, and advertising and product design, the arts in some form are accessible in varying degrees to almost all students in their daily lives. The arts celebrate creativity, diversity, and thinking in new ways. The arts evolve as a result of artists pushing boundaries and searching for new ways to perceive and communicate thoughts about the life experience. Good arts education classes offer this same opportunity to students in a safe, challenging, and nurturing atmosphere. Students flourish in an atmosphere where: being wrong is a natural part of discovering how or what is right or better, asking simple and complex questions is standard procedure, anything different is to be learned about and valued, possibilities are only limited by their own thoughts, they not only learn something but then have to do something with what they have learned, progress is evaluated in an ongoing fashion and success is evident and rewarded, and everyone with their individual abilities and talents is considered to be of absolute and ultimate worth. The fact that there are many different venues which may be studied in each of the four arts areas means there are many ways for students to approach the arts and a wide variety of opportunities to succeed depending on each individual's capabilities, interests and desires.
One of the primary reasons arts education classes appeal to students is that they allow for individual adaptation. Students often discover that good arts classes offer many ways to learn the same thing and to demonstrate they know or can do something. In classes where performance or technical assistance is part of instruction, students have substantial choices as to how they will demonstrate their ability and what they have learned. The numerous roles, responsibilities and duties students can take on as part of being involved in production or performance make it possible for them to find opportunities that suit their personal circumstances and personality traits and that are compatible with their current needs to find satisfaction and success in learning.
Personal, Intellectual, And Physical Involvement
Arts instruction requires a tremendous amount of personal, intellectual and physical involvement. You cannot be involved in arts study without applying the knowledge and skills and practicing the processes learned during instruction. It is not just enough to learn about the arts. To truly know and understand the arts, one must actively do them. In fact, much of the assessment in arts classes is done through evaluation of performances, processes, or arts products on a daily basis. In performance, the overall success of everyone is often dependent on the efforts of all involved and because both teachers and students expect students to actively be involved in the learning process, the level of commitment and allegiance is often much higher. For those students who do become involved in arts study, these classes and experiences often become their first taste of success and a compelling reason to stay in school and attempt achievement in other areas of learning.
Likewise, by their nature, arts classes and instruction always have some purpose as the end result. Students are consistently encouraged to strive for a goal or to go beyond the original desire or intention when performing or accomplishing a task. This prevailing sense of purpose gives students who might not otherwise have a sense of direction a reason for staying and functioning in the school environment. It is not uncommon for some arts education students to say that the only reason they come to school and attend all classes is so that they can participate in arts classes and/or activities.
Since most arts classes as part of instruction produce work that can be exhibited or performances and/or productions that will be seen by others, arts students operate in an environment that is often emotionally charged and filled with energetic effort. The anticipation of creating something which will be viewed and judged often beyond the school population raises the anticipation and, thus, the stakes involved in studying and working in the arts. This dynamic situation inherently creates a high level of excitement about and for learning and intensifies the passion which students feel for their work and the quality of that work. This excitement can be pleasurable and frequently heightens the quality and quantity of work produced. Students become committed to learning and enjoy the rewards that come from learning and producing in the arts. Their sense of well being increases and they experience greater confidence, all of which helps make the student a more capable person and a more receptive learner.
Students' originality, expressiveness and imagination are keys to functioning in arts classes. Their creativity, no matter how different or unusual, is accepted as their perceived thought and the resulting art as the manifestation of their perceiving and thinking. Many young people spend much of their time thinking and imagining. Because we all want to be accepted and appreciated for what we are and what we think, students often find they can express themselves through and during study in the arts and that they and their art are respected and valued. For many students, the creative outlet is the primary way they survive their day-today life. It is no wonder that students often find arts classes safe and comfortable places where they can be themselves, enjoy self esteem, and even find that some of what they are about is revered by their teacher and other students.
Expansion Of Horizons
Many arts classes are designed to push boundaries and expand horizons. Students are challenged to go beyond the ordinary or the pre-established goal. The idea that we as humans are limited only by our ability to imagine possibilities and then act upon what we have imagined is generic to study in the arts. Students often find they are able to explore and/or act upon their feelings and thoughts through study in arts education. It is not uncommon for students to analyze personal situations and consider possible solutions either while thinking about, viewing, or doing art. Much of learning in the arts centers on what it means to be human and the joy and peril often associated with life. As a result, students often find the arts a way of learning about life's circumstances, hypothesizing solutions, and even trying out solutions in a preliminary setting before taking them into the outside world. This is especially possible when students role play in performance, take on leadership positions during productions, or perhaps draw or paint their thoughts and ideas regarding an issue or concern. Arts classes have a tendency to be rehearsals for life that can happen in a nurturing and safe environment.
In keeping with the need for accountability, the following checklist may be used to assure quality in the design and evaluation of arts education programs:
The teaching of any arts education area takes thoughtful consideration and planning and requires a tremendous amount of energy and stamina. Administrators and arts educators need to remain aware that learning and being able to use what one has learned are the ultimate goals of study in arts education for students. Each curriculum represents a separate discipline that encompasses a broad scope of knowledge and skills and a distinct approach to learning. Each has integrity and represents the best thinking of many and varied arts educators. Each has a valid basis for existing as it is and it is vital that the entire curriculum be taught if the arts are to be fully accepted as part of the academic program.
Students must always come first in the classroom. Teaching is not an exact science. The personal background, education and experiences of each teacher inevitably impact what kind of teacher he or she will be. Arts educators who find it difficult to balance the role of teacher against that of professional artist, choreographer, conductor, or director may find that the latter choices do not always serve the best interests of students. Teachers need to be careful to make a clear distinction between the needs of students and that of their own needs as artists.
The products of successful arts education programs often tend to be entertaining and it is easy for the public and school administrators to confuse entertainment with valid learning. Arts instruction needs to be educationally based rather than "show biz" based. Students are naturally attracted to a "show biz" approach to the arts, but while this may be exciting, the knowledge and skills obtained from this instructional strategy are often limited in substance and magnitude. Because a high degree of repetition is frequently necessary to achieve the desired results, much of the students' time ends up being devoted to replication rather than creation, learning, or development of deeper understanding. This is not to say that much valid learning does not happen during the production process. However, a balance that is beneficial to student learning should be maintained between sheer production and worthwhile instructional time. It is important that administrators support teachers in balancing the instructional program and not place disproportionate emphasis on schoolwide and public performance or exhibition.
While arts education should result in quality learning for students, it is critical not to confuse achievement of quality in production or performance with level of difficulty. It is a common misconception that a quality arts education program requires students to always be working at the edge of their capability. Students naturally should be challenged to constantly grow and improve their capabilities, but it is also extremely important for them to have the opportunity to mature their understanding and to achieve as much control as possible over their own growth in the arts without having to feel they must produce at their peak level all the time. Considerable growth in learning can occur when students are engaged in exploration or creation, but this may not necessarily happen with the psychological stress and mental tension that often exist when trying to work at the peak level. Again, there needs to be a balance between the push for quality in production or performance and the need to make instruction and learning challenging.
Although all elements of the four K-12 arts education programs are not currently present in local school systems, this document outlines how they should be structured and conducted. Until all aspects of arts education programs become consistently balanced in schools across the state, the four areas will not be viewed as being in the mainstream of education. Dance, music, theatre arts and visual arts programs and the teaching of these programs should reflect what has been affirmed by the State Board of Education in the North Carolina Arts Education Standard Course of Study Frameworks which establish the state education initiative.
Carolina Department of Public Instruction