Brianne Gidcumb | October 2014

Common Core and the Arts: Teaching and Learning in Harmony

Teaching and Learning in Harmony

Harmony: the combination of different musical notes played or sung at the same time to produce a pleasing sound; a pleasing combination or arrangement of different things.  As I think about making natural connections between Common Core Standards and the arts, harmony is the word I keep coming back to. The arts and the Common Core can, and should, work in harmony.  So how does this work?  What are the connections between Common Core and the arts, and does Common Core have a place in the arts classroom?  Does this relationship benefit one content more than another?

You Can’t Get Harmony with Just One Note: Making Connections

Content areas do not appear exclusively and without connection in our daily lives: natural connections are all around us. If we teach in a manner of separating content areas, keeping them independent from one another, are we preparing our students to function and thrive in a world that encourages us to think outside the box and celebrates creativity and connection?

The Common Core Standards themselves encourage an interdisciplinary approach. There are explicit references to the arts already present in the standards, particularly in English Language Arts. Here are just a few examples:

–       CCSS.ELA.RL.4.2: Describe how words and phrase (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.

–       CCSS.ELA.RL.7.4: Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.

–       CCSS.ELA.SL.4.2: Create audio recordings of stories or poems; add drawings or other visual displays to stories or recounts of experiences when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

Beyond these explicit references, connection is implicit in many of the standards.  If ELA teachers expand their definition of “text” to include works of art, whether it be in music, visual art, dance, drama, or media arts, the arts can be easily integrated into the Common Core.  Moreover, connections exist between the arts and the Anchor Standards for ELA and the Mathematical Practices.  The new National Core Arts Standards are based in practices- the “big ideas” of what it is to think artfully. Susan has created a fantastic infographic of how the Anchor Standards for the Arts naturally connect to those for ELA and for the Standards of Mathematical Practice. The anchor processes of the Core Arts Standards (creating, performing/presenting/producing, responding, and connecting), which require students to be able to analyze the creative process of others, the contexts in which works of art are created, as well as their own process in creating a work of art, are absolutely aligned to the processes of the Common Core.

Inversion: Connection is a Two-Way Street

The Common Core Standards invite arts connections, and as an arts educator, this is quite exciting. If arts teachers and advocates hope for Common Core content to welcome and celebrate the arts, we should reciprocate by welcoming and celebrating natural Common Core connections in arts classrooms. Connection should not be a one-way street, and if we rely on these natural alignments to guide us, we can integrate Common Core practices, processes, and objectives without sacrificing the integrity of the arts themselves.

The New York State Education Department released a document of guiding principles, developed by David Coleman, one of the authors of the Common Core State Standards, aimed to connect the goals of the new National Core Arts Standards with the goals of Common Core.  These principles draw parallels between the process of reading and understanding of a text with the observation of a piece of art. Just as ELA teachers can use a piece of music or visual art as a “text,” we can apply the processes and purpose behind those ELA standards to the process of analyzing the details of a piece of art.  This practice of deeply and intentionally examining studying works of art will not only enhance literacy skills and develop their literacy in the arts themselves, but will also help develop artistic skills and processes by providing a model for students’ work.

Although the Common Core Standards are clear in design and meticulously organized in terms of what is to be taught, the how is intentionally left undefined.  The CCSS actually state, “Teachers are free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards” (CCSS ELA Standards, p. 4).  This freedom allows us to explore the interconnectedness of content areas in a way that is mutually beneficial to those contents, strengthening students’ ability to think critically, creatively, and artistically.

Check out the Pocket PD opportunity on Common Core and the Arts at EdCloset’s Learning Studios!

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: