Arts guide aims to improve teaching, integrate arts with core subjects

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Over the coming year, CPS will roll out a snazzy, four-color curriculum guide that they hope will move dance, art, music and drama from step-child status to center stage as an important part of education.

 

Over the coming year, CPS will roll out a snazzy, four-color curriculum guide that they hope will move dance, art, music and drama from step-child status to center stage as an important part of education.

“We are sitting at the same table as literacy and math,” says David Roche, the head of the Office of Arts Education, who notes that this will be the first widely-released curriculum guide on arts education in CPS. The curriculum guide has been in the works since Roche joined the district in 2007. His office was created in partnership with the non-profit Arts Education Initiative led by the Chicago Community Trust; the initiative aims to transform how CPS teaches the arts and to expand arts education in schools.

Specifically, the guide spells out what students should know and be able to do in dance, art, music and theater at each grade, as well as student projects, how to evaluate student work and how to make connections from the discipline to other subjects.

The goal is to have teachers and teaching artists become familiar with the curriculum and use it in the schools. Roche’s department is also creating an interactive website on which instructors can share lesson plans.

Next school year, the department will pilot the curriculum in select schools. The pilot program is still being developed, Roche says.

Ultimately, the office aims to create a community of arts teachers who can collaborate because they are teaching similar subjects at particular grade levels.

“We want all the instructors to be referencing the same point and using the same vocabulary,” Roche says. “We do not want arts education to happen in a vacuum.”

Still, many elementary schools for years have had a deficit of teachers in the arts. The board pays for only a half-time art or music teacher at elementary schools with fewer than 750 students; schools with more than 750 students get one full-time position in either category.

 

“If the school has more than that, then they’re pulling that money out of discretionary funds,” Roche says. “The majority of schools are under that figure.”

 

This week, the Office of Arts Education is presenting the guide to arts organizations in the city that work with schools. Next year, teachers will get related professional development, and each school will receive a copy of the guide.

Portions of the guide draw on inspiration from similar guides in other states, says Emily Hooper Lansana, the theater and literary arts curriculum supervisor for CPS. By making the dance curriculum more regimented in North Carolina and Utah, for instance, those states produced better live performances, linked dance with physical education and set higher learning standards, she says.