July 24, 2016

Aligning Instruction in Music, Art, and PE with the CCSS

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When the Common Core State Standards were first introduced, the rollout was accompanied by six instructional shifts. The second shift, “knowledge in the disciplines, ” popularized the idea that all teachers–including music, art, and PE teachers–are responsible for contributing to a child’s growth and development in literacy. These six shifts have since been condensed to three; however, with language such as “reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from the text” and “building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction,” even these shifts allude to the role that special area teachers can play in developing children’s growth and development as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners.

In spite of the fact that there is an expectation that all teachers contribute to students’ literacy, how to address aligning instruction with the Common Core in content areas such as music, art, and PE has not been widely discussed leaving many teachers in these disciplines wondering what to do.  Many have been instructed  to have students “closely and carefully” read short texts about art and music history or sports articles from the newspaper.  As you can imagine, this causes great angst amongst special area teachers and students. For special area teachers, their time with students is already limited to one, sometimes two, forty minute periods and introducing close, careful readings feels like a new and extra layer that they don’t have time for.  Students, on the other hand, generally embrace music, art, and PE because of the break it offers them from traditional classroom practices and when this coveted time begins to feel more like an extension of regular class time and less “special”, they feel resentful.

This conundrum illuminates the need to think carefully about how to preserve the best aspects of music, art, and PE while at the same time honoring both the spirit and letter of the Common Core Standards. To help shed some light on this, we offer you the following things to think about:

1. The Common Core Standards cast a wide net when defining text.

Reading anchor standard seven expects that students learn to “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively.” In thinking about how this could apply to special areas like music, art, and PE, we believe that this standard makes room to closely and carefully read things like musical compositions, paintings, or videos of game winning plays of major sporting events.

2. There are six standards for speaking and listening. 

Special areas offer students lots of different lenses for viewing the world, thereby providing ample opportunity for them to form new ideas and perspectives.  These perspectives can and should be shared through rich conversations that allow students “build on other’s ideas” and “evaluate speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence.”   Encouraging lots of turn and talk is as important in music, art, and PE as it is in the classroom.

3. There are six language standards in the Common Core.

While the first three language standards seem more related to writing, the last three are all about expanding children’s vocabulary.  Music, art, and PE are rich with content-specific vocabulary like crescendo and texture and coordination which means that special area teachers can help students seize opportunities to “apply knowledge of language…in different contexts” and “acquire and use a range of general academic and domain specific words.”  When it comes to aligning special area instruction with the Common Core standards, goals for developing word knowledge can and should be an instructional priority.




  1. Theresa G. says:

    I could not agree more! We have been working very hard in our region to help these teachers find ways that are practical and relevant to participate in creating a literacy culture within their buildings/districts. It starts with thinking about what “literacy” means in the context of the discipline and feeling comfortable enough to think about being literacy teachers within that discipline. With regional collaboration and support, our teachers are developing lessons and units that not only engage their students but are engaging the teachers in learning again! Here is an example from our blog: http://engagee2ccb.weebly.com/1/post/2013/12/the-creative-voice-is-not-silenced.html

    We need to celebrate these content areas and what they bring to our students and professional development should be specialized for them!

    • Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris says:

      Thanks Theresa for sharing! As we continue to think about the Common Core standards and their implementation, we realized that music, art, and PE have not been a part of our public discussion at all and in too many of the schools which we work, teachers in these disciplines are feeling lost and left out! This conversation is long overdue!

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