Susan Riley | September 2013

Shaking Student Growth through the Arts

Two summers ago, I experienced my first earthquake.  The whole building where I was working shuddered and the ground shifted.  It was my first earthquake (we don’t get many of these in Maryland). Because of this, my whole being went into panic mode.  By the time I had made it outside for our evacuation, however, I catalogued everything around me to ensure that while the earth had moved, the center of my world had remained still.

This year, many districts are moving to Student Learning Objectives or Student Growth Targets as a part of their teacher evaluation for use with Common Core.  And as I have made my way around the country speaking with Arts educators, I have noticed that same panicky feeling I had from the earthquake.  Everything is shifting and arts educators don’t know what to hold onto for safety.

Any change or massive disruption can leave us feeling this way.

Whether you agree or disagree with these new measures of student growth, one thing is clear: we need to understand what true growth looks like and how to measure it as authentically as possible.  Please keep in mind that these are different than typical “objectives”.  We’re not talking about the basic pedagogical objective that is a part of any good lesson – I think this is an area of confusion for many teachers.  I’ve seen so many sites out there offering sessions on SLOs and causing more harm than good.  What is being required by many districts now goes much deeper and is often tied to teacher evaluation.  These SLOs are fully developed plans addressing an area of need for a selected group of students. Also, it contains data to support that need and an action plan to address moving student growth forward.

The good news is that this offers us all a choice.

No longer are we as arts educators required to simply be focused on a random score all students in the school need to meet for math or reading which has nothing to do with our arts classroom.  Now, we can choose the area where we know our students struggle in our own content. Thus, effectively allowing us to create a goal for raising their success in this area.

Should it connect to Common Core?  Yes.  Does this need to be difficult?  No!  It’s all about finding the natural inroads between Common Core standards and the Arts. Then, pairing them effectively to both identify, measure, and assess student growth.  The key lies in recognizing that we are already doing much of what is being asked, and now all that’s being required is documenting our process.

Let’s start with a few questions

  • Do you pre-assess your students to determine their prior knowledge?
  • Is there a goal you have in mind for each student in your class based upon their own starting point?
  • Do you differentiate your instruction to actively help students to achieve their own personal best?
  • Do you assess a final project?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you already have 90% of the frame for a high-quality Student Learning Objective or Student Growth Target.  We use all of these pieces as part of data that we analyze to make a decision about where we want to help our students grow and how we plan to get them there.

A Few Suggestions for Starting 

Here are a few tips for getting started with writing Student Learning Objectives or Student Growth Targets in the Arts:

Work as a team.

Try to work either in a team with other arts educators, cultural arts team, or as part of a grade-level team.  SLOs/SGTs are much more valid and cohesive when you develop and implement them collectively.

Try starting with an Arts standard first.

Pick an Arts standard challenging for most of your students. One where you know you could focus some energy and innovative lesson instruction to move their growth forward.

Choose a Common Core standard. 

If you can’t find a natural fit with an Arts standard to the Common Core, or if you are working with a team that has a wide variety of foci (art, pe, music, drama teachers or an arts teacher with a grade-level team), then try starting with one of these Common Core standard groups: Text Complexity, Argumentative Writing, Speaking/Listening, or Math Practices 1, 3 or 5.  Each of these areas offer many ways for arts educators to find natural connections to their own content.

Looking for More?

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these complicated new data documentation systems.  If you’re looking for more practical ideas, templates, and samples, be sure to register for our new SLO/SGT Master Class on October 10th at 7PM EST.  The 45 minute class is FREE to all registered participants and will allow you the option to purchase the exclusive materials for only $15.  To find out more and to register, visit our Master Class page.

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan