Opinion
Teaching Profession CTQ Collaboratory

Bringing the Arts Into Core Instruction

By Rachel Losch — February 11, 2014 4 min read
Visual arts teacher Rachel Losch uses masterpieces like Georges Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" as part of interdisciplinary units.

Sneak peeks are fun, especially when you get to have a say in the final product.

Maybe that’s why, as an elementary visual arts specialist, I am enjoying the chance to approach the language arts standards using the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. I look forward to February 14, when public commentary on the new draft will open.

The NCCAS calls for arts teachers to collaborate more closely than ever with their colleagues in other disciplines. Some may shudder at this, preferring to remain safely siloed as teachers of electives. To be honest, teaching art for art’s sake is my first priority, too. I want to expose my students to as many forms of the visual arts as possible before they move onto middle school.

But I am thrilled at the prospect of the endangered arts’ legitimate inclusion in schools’ efforts to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century.

Critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration are at the heart of what I teach, and it only makes sense to integrate the arts with students’ other educational experiences whenever possible.

Artistic Masterworks as Connection Points

What will the standards look like in practice? Examination of artistic masterworks will play a significant role, helping students sharpen critical thinking and research skills while building connections to other academic disciplines.

Close study of carefully selected works can activate students’ background knowledge, accelerate further learning, deepen understanding, and facilitate the transfer and application of knowledge. Using a masterwork as the focal point of integrated units has the potential to develop more well-rounded, critical thinkers who can accelerate their learning.

I collaborate with classroom teachers to link unit content to robust, age-level appropriate masterworks. Each masterwork should have an intrinsic interest, represent its genre well, and take students to higher levels of learning and understanding. When selecting a masterwork, it’s important to keep your own interests and passions in mind; your students will “catch” your enthusiasm.

Here are examples of robust masterworks with cross-curricular connections:

The 1st grade teachers in my school were developing a unit on traditions—and I suggested we link learning to contemporary artist Carmen Lomas Garza’s painting Empanadas (1991). After discussing the piece, students created a tableau. Each student copied the position of a person or animal in the masterwork and froze like a statue in the same position. When I tapped each student’s shoulder, they said what they imagined their character might have said. After reenacting the masterwork, students then sketched out a family tradition of their own, also writing about their experiences.

I’ve also introduced students to Diego Rivera’s La Piñata (1953) for units that deal with bullying. This brightly colored painting reminds us of happy times, but when we take a closer look, we can identify the bully in the party and examine how he is busting his way through the group of children to get more candy. Students can identify with the image and it is an easy one to use as a springboard for discussion and activities that support their mastery of language arts standards.

One 4th grade, arts-integrated unit focused on patterns in art and music that included two masterworks: Vincent Van Gogh’s The Mulberry Tree (1889) and composer Antonio Vivaldi’s musical work “The Four Seasons” (1723). While from different eras, both pieces were innovative for their time, blowing away people’s notions of what art and music were supposed to be. (Students appreciated this intersection of innovation. One sighed and said, “Ahhh, I see what makes the artwork by Vincent Van Gogh even more beautiful; it is music. I have never heard Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” before and it makes the artwork come alive!”)

Recently, 5th graders were studying the masterwork Catlin Painting the Portrait of Mah-to-tah-pa—Mandan (1861-9) in conjunction with a cross-curricular unit about the relationships that formed within different cultural groups in 19th-century America. One of my students gasped when he saw the painting and exclaimed, “I know this one! We studied the George Catlin painting in social studies.” Granted—this particular connection was a happy accident—but it’s exactly the kind of cross-curricular experience I’m committed to creating. After examining the painting, students selected a 19th-century identity to explore, used iPads to research their clothing and environment, then rendered their own self-portraits as if they were individuals living in 19th-century America.

Two of the other rich masterworks I’ve used when developing units with colleagues are Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) and Edward Hicks’ The Peaceable Kingdom (~1833). As an art teacher, it’s a thrill to use Seurat’s timeless painting (the first created entirely in pointillism) to address relational prepositions, pointillism, juxtaposition, proportion, perspective, brush strokes, color mixing, characters, and Hicks’ painting offers rich fodder for students to observe, think critically, and provide evidence for claims.

Using a masterwork as the focal point of integrated units develops well-rounded, critical thinkers who can accelerate their learning through natural content connections. Visual arts specialists play a critical role in the customized selection of age-appropriate masterworks that connect to content—and that also expose students to significant pieces of art. My public comment on the core arts standards is simple: Two paint-stained thumbs up.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Nearly 9 in 10 Teachers Willing to Work in Schools Once Vaccinated, Survey Finds
Nearly half of educators who belong to the National Education Association have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site set up for teachers and school staff in Reading, Pa., on March 15.
Matt Rourke/AP
Teaching Profession Q&A Nation's Top Teachers Discuss the Post-Pandemic Future of the Profession
Despite the difficulties this school year brought, the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award say they're hopeful.
11 min read
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
Courtesy of CCSSO
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It's Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.
7 min read
Image of exit doors.
pavel_balanenko/iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion Should Teachers Be Prioritized for the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Not all states are moving teachers to the front of the vaccination line. Researchers discuss the implications for in-person learning.
6 min read
Teacher Lizbeth Osuna from Cooper Elementary receives the Moderna vaccine at a CPS vaccination site at Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Chicago public school teacher Lizbeth Osuna receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a school vaccination site last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP