Category Archives: What we teach

Teaching Resources for Black History Month

black-history-month

Hello All!

A wonderful opportunity:

It’s Black History Month! A really exciting time to explicitly connect our contents to Social Justice, Civil Rights, and African American History (past, present, and future). While I know that we have been proactively including questions of social justice and a diversity of people, themes, and ideas in our unit plans, this is an incredible opportunity for us to collaborate school-wide on building student leadership, cultural competence, and critical consciousness through focusing on African American heritage and culture.

Indeed, I think this is a powerful chance for us to really live up to our Humanities Vision for Content fully.

We believe that the Humanities are critical contents in the actualization of Social Justice and Equity in students’ lives. We thus move students towards Humanities Achievement, Leadership, Critical Consciousness, and Cultural Competence.

As such, we act with the knowledge that every Humanities classroom must aggressively pursue the dismantling of systems of oppression through the provision of rigorous Humanities content and Culturally Responsive Teaching.

A significant challenge:

That said, we often face a real challenge when we start to plan for this month. Mainly, we risk compartmentalizing Black History to a “February thing” rather than an always thing. In addition, since many of us do not share all of the same background – racial, cultural, economic, educational – of all our students, we often also run the risk of telling students their own history, acting like the experts, or, perhaps worse, simply making a cursory attempt at focusing on some key African American role models. This, and more, can be part of the challenge. But it’s an important challenge to meet head-on.

What we hope to accomplish:

I would hope that all of us, ultimately, want to build student leadership this month. At the end of the day, we want our students feeling proud of who they are (whether they are Black or not), critical of current injustices, and united in their creative voice to take action: whether that be a celebration of African American heritage and history, or some other kind of civic engagement. We want to make sure we are learning about Black History alongside our students, in partnership with them and the community. We want to make sure to show that Black History is alive, powerful, and beautiful.

To that end…

Over the past couple years, I have worked with people on our TFA Team and among our Humanities teachers to compile resources for Black History Month that would provide (a) guidance on best approaches, and (b) examples of strong lesson plans and resources for us to use.

How it works:

  1. Read Teaching Tolerance’s “Do’s and Dont’s of Teaching Black History
  2. Go to this spreadsheet.
  3. Check out all the amazing resources!
  4. Have a resource worth sharing? Include it in the spreadsheet for others to use!
  5. Pair up with a buddy to share ideas and get feedback.
  6. Ask Jacob and/or your TLD Coach to see the awesome stuff you are working on.
  7. Teach your heart out 🙂

Have an amazing February!

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Great Unit Plans

It’s the first blog post of 2015! Time for some pump-up jams (OH NO! HAHAHA!!!), and to really dig in to the content with our students (seriously though, good message to that song). Did you know that it’s common teacher knowledge that the 3rd Quarter is the time when students experience the most academic growth all year? #un-researchedtruths #timetodropsomeknowledge

So, for our inaugural blast this year, I thought I would simply share some AWESOME Unit Plans that I have seen come out of each content over the past couple of years. Ultimately, Unit Planning is directly aligned with Priority 1 for this Quarter:

  • Students are… engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues.

  • Because teachers are… Planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.

Indeed, this MUST be Priority 1 for us this quarter, since at the moment this is where our students stand in terms of Engagement with Rigorous Content:

Table

We simply must ensure that our students start pushing towards higher levels of Analysis and Application, and the best way to do so is to plan for it. More on this in the post below!

Here is what this post contains:

1. Why Unit Plans Rock

2. What Makes a Great Unit Plan

3. Examples of Great Unit Plans

And here we go!

  1. Why Unit Plans Rock

  • For Students: 
    • Keeping them engaged: Unit Plans are great for students because they will ensure that students are engaged, and know what is expected of them for the next 2-6 weeks! How will we be assessed? What projects will we do? What big questions are we exploring? All these questions are answered the moment you step into the classroom with a great UP.
    • Meeting their needs: Unit Plans not only allow you to plan for remediation and differentiation, they also allow you to plan for more engaging projects that will meet different learning styles, AND it will allow you to adapt to your students’ interests, transforming your Unit About Hammurabi’s Code to one about what the basic rules of a society should or shouldn’t be!
    • Making it relevant: A Unit Plan also gives you the space to make connections between what you are learning, and what is happening in the world today. With the emphasis on theme and deeper understanding, you have more opportunity to add depth to learning, while still ensuring you get to all the content students need to know!
    • Researched Results: Studies show that backwards planning (which results in a Unit Plan), has direct achievement results for students. In particular, this is because they allow the time and planning of “assignments requiring more challenging intellectual work”… For more, here is a quote from Newmann, Bryk, & Nagaoka (2001):

Students who received assignments requiring more challenging intellectual work also achieved greater than average gains on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in reading and mathematics, and demonstrated higher performance in reading, mathematics, and writing on the Illinois Goals Assessment Program. Contrary to some expectations, we found high-quality assignments in some very disadvantaged Chicago classrooms and [found] that all students in these classes benefited from exposure to such instruction. We
conclude, therefore, [that] assignments calling for more authentic intellectual work actually improve student scores on conventional tests (p.29).

  • For You: 
  • Unit plans help you make the tough decisions about what to teach, and when to teach it! Diversions will be less attractive when you have clear goals in mind. This not only avoids going off-topic, it also will help you in recognizing that students need one piece of understanding before another – rather than running into that problem when it’s too late!
  • Unit Plans keep you on-pace. With a full calendar and a clear objective, it’s easier to adjust and be flexible, ensuring that the most important aspects of your unit get across, and your outcomes are always met!
  • Unit Plans increase your cognitive capacity.  Studies show that teachers are less effective when they don’t plan ahead because they are focused on both planning AND execution. That’s no good! We want to make sure you have energy as well as time to relax. The initial effort of a UP means you have more cognitive space and time to step back moving forward!

Pretty cool, huh? I bet you are feeling just as bewildered as this guy about how awesome UPs are!

2. What Makes a Great Unit Plan

There are a lot of things that make a great Unit Plan, but here are a few that I always look for, just to give you some headlines…

  • Engaging Essential Questions. You’ve probably heard enough of this by now, but I will say it again: Essential Questions can be genuinely engaging for students if introduced correctly in the classroom. For a great Unit Plan to be implemented in the classroom, you’ll want a variety of overarching and topical questions. In other words, you want to be asking both:
    • Overarching: What rules need to be in place for large groups of people to live in a society together?
    • Topical: What kind of society did the laws outlined in Hammurabi’s code generate? What were their implications?

The former captivates and engages students, while the latter focuses them in on the topic for the day or week! The interplay between “big picture” and “pieces of the puzzle” is what makes instruction effective!

  • Alignment to National and State Standards. Again, I imagine there are no surprises here, but we should always make sure that our students are getting what they SHOULD be getting. The best and only way to do that is to research what students are learning across our nation, as well as what they are required to learn in our state.
  • A Variety of Assessments. I think we often misunderstand assessments (and I will be writing a blog about them shortly) as exclusively pen-and-ink multiple choice or written assignments. That’s simply not the case! Assessments are happening ALL THE TIME in class – they are verbal, visual, and active. Indeed, the best units PLAN for these different kinds of assessments, including things like performance assessments (a speech or debate, a presentation, or a performance that shows understanding of the content).
  • A Daily Breakdown. Ultimately, all the teacher-facing benefits of a Unit Plan are for naught if they don’t help you breakdown your calendar and know what you are teaching, when.

Hopefully, you are still with me, and realizing – HEY! UPs are actually pretty decent!

3. Examples of Great Unit Plans

Simply put, the following are some GREAT Unit Plans I have happened upon or helped create in these past couple years. Check them out! Use them, modify them, or make them your inspiration!

If you have a great UP you want to share, please email it to Jacob or upload it to the Document Bucket for your content!

Social Studies Vision for Content

“A primary object…should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing…than…communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country.”
–George Washington

From the Outset:

In 2009, Leon Wieselter, editor of The New Republic (an admittedly opinionated website) responded to a New York Times article that claimed “In Tough Times, The Humanities Must Justify their Worth” as follows:

In tough times, of all times, the worth of the humanities needs no justifying. The reason is that it will take many kinds of sustenance to help people through these troubles. Many people will now have to fall back more on inner resources than on outer ones. They are in need of loans, but they are also in need of meanings…. We are in need of fiscal policy and spiritual policy. And spiritually speaking, literature is a bailout, and so is art, and philosophy, and history, and the rest.  … Regression analysis will not get us through the long night. We need to know more about the human heart than the study of consumer behavior can teach.

The words of Wieselter are remarkable because, rather than defend the worth of the Humanities when these are being questioned, he ultimately questions the purpose of studying everything else. What is its value if it does not impart meaning and spiritual growth? It is through the study of identity and history that we gather meaning and the reasoning abilities to move forward in times of crisis.

Developing Key Skills:

Research shows a positive correlation between an education in Social Studies and cross-disciplinary as well as life-long skills. Students who do not have the opportunity to engage in Social Studies education are often found to be at a disadvantage in the following pillars of learning (for more, see The Ohio Department of Education and Reading Quest):

  • Reading and Writing Readiness
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Classifying, Interpreting, Analyzing, and Evaluating Information
  • Decision-Making
  • Metacognition
  • Social and Political Participation
  • Social Development

Pathways to Opportunity:

While this logically follows from the development of key learning skills, it’s impressive to look more closely at how Social Studies affects future success. Life-long opportunities are at stake for our students.

  • Social and Political Participation: Studies have shown that children may learn to accept and embrace biases – such as racism – as early as 3 years of age. However, the same studies argue that there is hope: if the child can be introduced to environments in which new ways of thinking are fostered, these biases can be re-considered and dismantled. In addition, “a developed sense of justice and law” is a pre-requisite to being an activepatricipant in a democracy (for more, see Social Studies.org) and classrooms in which students must actively think and communicate about each other’s reasoning facilitate this type of growth.
  • College Applications: Should our students want to apply for any top-tier college or university, they will be expected to have a minimum (keeping in mind that applications are looked on more favorably when they exceed the minimum requirements) of 2-3 years of Social Studies classes. Whether or not our students decide to go to college, we must ensure they have access to these opportunities. Harvard, MIT, NYU, and Pomona all require at least two years in the Social Studies classroom.
  • Job Opportunities: The College Board has researched the job listings that their  Social Studies courses and tests make more accessible to students. They list over 130 career paths ranging from Acting to Legislators to Health Educators to News Analysts. Whether or not a student takes these specific courses of study, a Social Studies education will make these careers more available and real. Our students deserve to have these pathways available.

A National Problem

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), in 2010 only 24% of all graduating seniors were proficient or above in Civics. Breaking these numbers down by race, 30% of White students were proficient or above, and only 8% of Black students were proficient or above. These trends remain consistent across U.S. History, Geography, and Economics. Considering the extent to which this course is directly correlated with engagement in society, these statistics are at a massive detriment to our nation, and to minorities in particular. Most evidence points towards the fact that these are not required or prioritized contents: the Thomas Fordham Institute found that, between 1987 and 2003, the amount of instructional time dedicated to Social Studies in public schools decreased by 18 hours a year. This takes into account only the first year of No Child Left Behind, under which student assessments focused mainly on English/Language Arts and Math – the result being that schools struggling to make needed gains on the test often axed Social Studies instruction in favor of test-prep. And the effects are being felt: despite the election of 2008 being the highest voter turnout in years, only 58% of eligible voters showed, and the number of people who are writing letters to newspapers or to their Congressional representatives have declined by 15%.

Despite all this, there are some slight glimmers of hope. The NAEP also found that there has been a score increase since 2006 for Black and Hispanic eighth-graders on their Civic assessments. And, while there are some legitimate concerns towards the adoption of the Common Core curriculum, the requirements emphasize the importance of non-fiction even within the English/Language Arts classroom.

Social Studies in Mississippi

A recent study conducted by Paul Theobald and Kathy Wood, and featured in Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century, revealed that “rural students and adults alike seem to have learned that to be rural is to be sub-par, that the condition of living in a rural locale creates deficiencies of various kinds – an educational deficiency in particular” even if they are being offered an excellent education (18). The Thomas Fordham institute studied Mississippi’s state standards in social studies and rated them at a 1/7 for rigorous content, and a 1/3 for clarity and specificity. This is an obstacle to our teachers, students, and active participation in democracy. The effects of these mindsets – caused by genuine educational deficiencies – are manifest in the numbers: only 6.8% of adults in Mississippi hold a graduate degree, only 12.6% hold BAs, and only 37% of eligible voters showed up for the presidential elections (Measure of America, 2012). If our students are to succeed and become life-long learners, advocates for their own cause, we need to enact a cultural shift that places value on rural culture and cultural identity.

Given these studies as well as our own regional experiences…

We believe that a strong Social Studies Education is instrumental to overcoming educational inequality for our students in Mississippi. We know that our students deserve equal opportunities in education so that they may have equal opportunities in their futures. Social Studies set students up for those critical opportunities, and yet they are too often ignored, denying their civic power and future pathways. Our students deserve confidence in their cultural identity, and pride in their voice as world citizens and thinkers. They have the right to the long-term benefits of a strong Social Studies education.  They deserve to see Social Studies as providing them with viable pathways to opportunity, with a civic voice, and a knowledge-base of history with which to form their own opinions about the world today. 

It is no mystery that Mississippi is rich in culture, history, politics, and a need for civic engagement. From the birth of the Civil Rights movement to the recent ratification of the 13th amendment, Mississippi is brimming with beautiful and difficult history, as well as a long and challenging pathway forward. We need our students to be prepared and willing – or perhaps ready and compelled – to engage with it.

However, the fertile  grounds of Mississippi are seldom if ever exposed to our students. Comparing our students’ rural experiences to their urban counterparts, it is only logical that they have less access to museums, information, and civic venues where they can see history play out. The locations where Mississippi history is commemorated, celebrated, and criticized are few and far between for our most rural students. Even if they do get a solid Social Studies foundation, they have limited options in terms of real experiences or opportunities to compete on a national level. It is therefore instrumental that we begin such exposure in the classroom and draw upon the communities we work within to enact a paradigm-shift for Social Studies in Mississippi.

World Languages Vision For Content

Often, it is easy for us to look at the most complex reasonings and the hardest facts to explain why our work matters, and then get lost. Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois, Sandra Savignon, reminds us that the answer for why World Languages (WL) education matters is actually quite simple:

 Learning to speak another’s language means taking one’s place in the human community. It means reaching out to others across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Language is far more than a system to be explained. It is our most important link to the world around us. Language is culture in motion. It is people interacting with people.

Fundamentally, our students have the right to be a part of the larger human community as Savignon defines it. They deserve to bring their culture to others, and to experience new cultures in return. Perhaps more materialistically, as we consider our increasing need to compete – as individuals and as a nation – against international education and job markets, our students will require a WL education in order to be prepared and be genuinely competitive.

Developing Key Skills:

Research has found that the benefits of learning a WL in early childhood are significant and long-lasting. Students who do not have the opportunity to engage in a WL education are often found to be at a disadvantage or completely lacking in the following life-long skills (for more, please see The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and “Why Bilinguals are Smarter”):

  • Cognitive and academic abilities.
  • Language sensitivity
  • Increased vocabulary
  • Reading and listening competencies
  • Problem solving and reasoning
  • Engagement and persistence
  • Improves understanding of  native language.
  • Communication skills
  • Social behavior
  • Cultural awareness
  • Native-like accents

Pathways to Opportunity:

While this logically follows from the development of key learning skills, it’s impressive to look at the numbers for how WL learning can affect future success:

  • Academic Success: According to a study of 13,200 fifth graders in Louisiana public schools, students who had taken WL classes performed better on the English section of the Louisiana Basic Skills Test than those who did not. This was true regardless of race, gender, or academic levels of the students (Dumas 1999).
  • College-Readiness: Students who have studied a WL consistently perform better than their peers who have not, including on all sections of the SAT. The 2007 College Bound Seniors report (issued by the College Board) showed that students with four or more years of WL study score on average 140 points higher (out of 800) in the Critical Reading section, almost 140 points higher in the Math section, and over 150 points higher in the Writing section, than students with half a year or less in WL education. In addition, Horn & Kojaku found in 2001 that students who took three years of WL in high school were likely to earn better grades in college and were less likely to drop out. In addition, students with a strong WL background could save thousands of dollars by testing out of required college courses, and prioritize valuable study abroad experiences.
  • College Applications: Competitive colleges are increasingly requiring several years of WL courses at the high school level from its applicants. Most colleges require at least two years, but Stanford is recommending three or more, and Harvard urges four. With WL experience from an early age, we increase the likelihood of their fluency and confidence with languages in the future.
  • Job Opportunities: The College Board has researched the job listings that their AP WL classes make more accessible to students. They list over 100 career paths ranging from Curators to Editors to Teachers to Public Health Workers to Sociologists. Whether or not a student takes these specific courses of study, a WL education will make these careers more available and real. Our students deserve to have these pathways available.

A National Problem

Despite these wide-spread, consistent findings that participation in a WL education is life-changing for all students, regardless of their background, we are not providing sufficient opportunities to engage in second language acquisition to all our students. In fact, Curtain & Dahlberg found as recently as 2004 that “children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds make the greatest proportionate achievement gains from foreign language study.”  Nonetheless, particularly in low-income and minority school districts, these courses of study are often lacking. In Connecticut, for instance, WL instruction is offered in only one quarter of all urban public schools compared to two-thirds of suburban private schools (for more, see “The Benefits of Foreign Language Studies” on the Connecticut Department of Education website). As of 2003, “29 percent of public school principals in heavily minority school districts anticipated future decreases in instructional time for foreign languages.”

In the past decade, however, interest and support for WL education has been energized by an increasing recognition of a dangerous reality: only two in ten Americans speak a language in addition to English. A report from the Council of Foreign Relations, titled “U.S. Education Reform and National Security”, states that this lack of preparedness can lead to struggles in “economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion.” Besides the disadvantages we are generating through a lack of WL provision on an individual and on a community level, we have come to realize that these disadvantages will catch up to us on a national level as well. Hopefully, this is an indication of a tide turning towards a more holistic and comprehensive education for all students.

World Languages in Mississippi

A recent study conducted by Paul Theobald and Kathy Wood, and featured in Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century, revealed that “rural students and adults alike seem to have learned that to be rural is to be sub-par, that the condition of living in a rural locale creates deficiencies of various kinds – an educational deficiency in particular” even if they are being offered an excellent education (18). This opinion is reflected in the numbers: in the 2007-2008 school year, Mississippi was one of three states to enroll less than 10% of its students in an WL course, despite showing an increase in enrollment since previous years (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages). The education opportunities our students are receiving is less than satisfactory. Speaking more broadly, only 6.8% of adults in Mississippi hold a graduate degree, and only 12.6% hold BAs (Measure of America, 2012). The effects of this education are felt state-wide. If our students are to succeed and become life-long learners, we need to enact a cultural shift that places value on rural culture and cultural identity. We need to give our students a competitive and holistic education.

Given these studies as well as our own regional experiences…

.. We believe that a strong World Language Education is instrumental to overcoming educational inequality for our students in Mississippi. We know that our students deserve equal opportunities in education so that they may have equal opportunities in their futures. World Language learning is one of those critical opportunities, and one that is too often ignored. Our students deserve confidence in their cultural identity as well as the cognitive, economic, social, and linguistic advantages provided by a World Language Education. They have the right to these long-term benefits.  They deserve to see World Language as providing them with viable pathways to opportunity, both within and outside of their communities.

Comparing our students’ rural experiences to their urban counterparts, it is only logical that they have less access to new cultures, exposure to a diversity of languages, and the opportunities to experience how a second language can be beneficial. Even if our students do get a solid WL foundation, they have limited options in terms of real application, travel, or exchange with a native speaker of the language they are learning. It is therefore instrumental that we begin such exposure in the classroom and draw upon the communities we work within to enact a paradigm-shift for the World Languages in Mississippi.

What an World Language Education Looks Like for Us in the Classroom:

We have found that Total Physical Response (Storytelling) to be an extremely effective pedagogical framework and method for teaching WLs. While we encourage invention, creativity, and exploration of different pedagogies, we want to ensure that every classroom focuses on the following strands throughout the year:

Reading: Building literacy skills through stories. Reading comprehension cements language acquisition through the connections students build between stories and their personal emotions and experiences. How do we know if students are getting it? A Reading section on Regents-aligned assessments (you can find the New York State Standards for Foreign Language here).

Writing: Mastering grammar conventions and vocabulary by crafting stories that echo structures and motifs from their reading. How do we know if students are getting it? A Writing section on Regents-aligned assessments, measured against our Regents-aligned rubric.

Listening: Engaging all resources at our disposal, such as cognates and context clues to help interpret conversations at native speed. How do we know if students are getting it? A Listening section on Regents-aligned assessments

Speaking: Speaking fearlessly about the places and people students love. How do we know if students are getting it? A Speaking on Regents-aligned assessments, measured against our Regents-aligned rubric.

Culture: Taking the time to discuss the idea of culture and define culture in Mississippi so that it can be understood what it means to come from a different culture, to have a different perspective, and to celebrate a different history. How do we know if students are getting it? A Culture section on Regents-aligned assessments

Music Vision for Content

Our Vision for Content in Music

Children … come into the world … mindless. I know that must sound a bit strange to you. They do not come in without brains. Brains are biological; minds are cultural. Minds are a form of cultural achievement. And the kinds of minds children come to own is in the large measure influenced by the kinds of opportunities they have in their lives. And the kind of opportunities … is largely influenced by the kinds of programs and options that are made available to them in the course of their childhood. 

– Elliot Eisner, Professor of Art and Education at Stanford University

With the idea that “Brains are biological; minds are cultural,” we are confronted with the fundamental importance of ensuring our students have the highest quality and the greatest breadth of opportunity we can offer in the arts. To be cultural is to have firm grounding in your identity, to express yourself creatively and uniquely, to feel you have a voice and a critical mind. All of this, and more, can be provided by an arts education.

Developing Key Skills:

Research shows a positive correlation between arts education and cross-disciplinary skills. Students who do not have the opportunity to engage in arts education are often found to be at a disadvantage in the following pillars of learning (for more, see ArtsEdSearch.com):

  • Literacy and Language Development.
  • Reading and Writing Readiness.
  • Reading Comprehension.
  • Mathematics Achievement.
  • Creative Thinking.
  • Problem Solving and Reasoning.
  • Engagement and Persistence.
  • Positive Behavior.
  • Social Development.

Pathways to Opportunity:

While this logically follows from the development of key learning skills, it’s impressive to look at the numbers for how the arts affect future success. Life-long opportunities are at stake for our arts students.

  • College-Readiness: The College Board has examined the impact of arts education on SAT scores. Math  SAT scores improve by 41 points, and verbal scores improved by 57 points for students who benefit from a music education. Studying the arts for extended periods of time (four years or more) improved total SAT scores by 119 points (68 for verbal and 51 on math).
  • College Applications: Should our students want to apply for an Arts and Design College or Conservatory College, they will need to be prepared to speak cogently about their own development, exploration, and ideas on their artistic discipline. Whether heading to the Rhode Island School of Design, Julliard, Memphis College of Arts, or any other Arts institution, our students will need a transcript with competitive GPAs, high standardized test scores, writing samples, as well as a demonstration of their performance skills, and a portfolio that shows depth, research, and ideas. All of these materials – and the opportunities they make available – are correlated to and products of a strong arts education.
  • Job Opportunities: The College Board has also researched the job listings that their AP Studio Arts (2-D, 3-D, Drawing), their Art History, and their Music Theory classes make more accessible to students. They list over 100 career paths ranging from Aerospace Engineering to Composers to Computer Programmers to Editors to Fine Artists. Whether or not a student takes these specific courses of study, an arts education will make these careers more available and real. Our students deserve to have these pathways available.

A National Problem

Despite wide-spread, consistent findings that participation in the arts is correlated with higher academic achievement, the National Endowment for the Arts has found that the proportion of students receiving arts instruction has been in constant decline since 1985, especially among poor and minority students (see the NEA’s “Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation”). While the NEA, the Cultural Learning Alliance, and the Arts Education Partnership have all confirmed that “Low-income students that have the opportunity to engage in extensive contact with the arts are 12% more likely to earn a BA, 33% more likely to read the newspaper on a weekly basis, and 12% more likely to participate in student government at a college level”, it is these same students for whom arts education is least available. In fact, “arts instruction is often least prevalent in schools reporting large percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches,” and a study conducted in 2008 found that only 26% of African American 18-24 year-olds had received an arts education. As we undertake teaching art, we must consider not only how we can generate opportunities for our students this summer or this year, but how we can leave a legacy of change that makes a quality arts education the norm, and not the exception.

The Arts in Mississippi

A recent study conducted by Paul Theobald and Kathy Wood, and featured in Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century, revealed that “rural students and adults alike seem to have learned that to be rural is to be sub-par, that the condition of living in a rural locale creates deficiencies of various kinds – an educational deficiency in particular” even if they are being offered an excellent education (18). This holds true in the numbers: only 6.8% of adults in Mississippi hold a graduate degree, and only 12.6% hold BAs (Measure of America, 2012). If our students are to succeed and become life-long learners, we need to enact a cultural shift that places value on rural culture and cultural identity.

Given these studies as well as our own regional experiences…

… We believe that a strong Arts Education is instrumental to overcoming educational inequality for our students in Mississippi. We know that our students deserve equal opportunities in education so that they may have equal opportunities in their futures. The arts are one of those critical opportunities, and one that is too often ignored. Our students deserve confidence in their cultural identity, pride in their creative expression. They have the right to the long-term benefits of a strong arts-education.  They deserve to see the arts as providing them with viable pathways to opportunity, and engage with the arts in their own communities.

It is no mystery that Mississippi is rich in culture, history, art, and music. From entire musical genres such as the blues and jazz, to some of our nation’s most celebrated writers like Faulkner and Walker Percy, from the pottery of McCarty to the portraits of Chris Kruse, to the birth of the Civil Rights movement to the recent ratification of the 13th amendment, Mississippi is brimming with beautiful and difficult culture.

However, the fertile cultural grounds of Mississippi are seldom if ever exposed to our students. Most elementary schools in Mississippi offer arts instruction to their students on a weekly basis at best. In the Delta, where regulation is less consistent, students may not have an art or music class for years on end. While the arts have been federally recognized as a core subject, they are untested and therefore often left to the wayside. Comparing our students’ rural experiences to their urban counterparts, it is only logical that they have less access to museums and concert venues as well as exposure to art we take for granted: buskers, concerts, street art, and other cultural events. Even if they do get a solid arts foundation, they have limited options in terms of real performance venues or opportunities to compete on a national level. It is therefore instrumental that we begin such exposure in the classroom and draw upon the communities we work within to enact a paradigm-shift for the arts in Mississippi.

What an Arts Education Looks Like for Us in the Classroom:

We have found that Discipline-Based Arts Education to be a highly effective pedagogy and structure for ensuring our students receive a holistic Arts Education. While we encourage invention, creativity, and exploration of different pedagogies, we want to ensure that every classroom focuses on the following strands throughout the year :

Production: Creating or performing. How do we know if students are getting it?  Delta Music Performance Rubric

History/Culture: Encountering the historical and cultural background of works of art or music. How do we know if students are getting it?  Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Music Regents, performance reflections, and more.

Aesthetics: Discovering the nature and philosophy of art or music. How do we know if students are getting it? Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Music Regents, audible in discussions, performances, compositions, and more.

Criticism: Making informed judgments about art. How do we know if students are getting it? Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Music Regents, audible in discussions, performances, compositions, and more.

Art Vision for Content

Our Vision for Content in Art

Children … come into the world … mindless. I know that must sound a bit strange to you. They do not come in without brains. Brains are biological; minds are cultural. Minds are a form of cultural achievement. And the kinds of minds children come to own is in the large measure influenced by the kinds of opportunities they have in their lives. And the kind of opportunities … is largely influenced by the kinds of programs and options that are made available to them in the course of their childhood. 

– Elliot Eisner, Professor of Art and Education at Stanford University

With the idea that “Brains are biological; minds are cultural,” we are confronted with the fundamental importance of ensuring our students have the highest quality and the greatest breadth of opportunity we can offer in the arts. To be cultural is to have firm grounding in your identity, to express yourself creatively and uniquely, to feel you have a voice and a critical mind. All of this, and more, can be provided by an arts education.

Developing Key Skills:

Research shows a positive correlation between arts education and cross-disciplinary skills. Students who do not have the opportunity to engage in arts education are often found to be at a disadvantage in the following pillars of learning (for more, see ArtsEdSearch.com):

  • Literacy and Language Development.
  • Reading and Writing Readiness.
  • Reading Comprehension.
  • Mathematics Achievement.
  • Creative Thinking.
  • Problem Solving and Reasoning.
  • Engagement and Persistence.
  • Positive Behavior.
  • Social Development.

Pathways to Opportunity:

While this logically follows from the development of key learning skills, it’s impressive to look at the numbers for how the arts affect future success. Life-long opportunities are at stake for our arts students.

  • College-Readiness: The College Board has examined the impact of arts education on SAT scores. Math  SAT scores improve by 41 points, and verbal scores improved by 57 points for students who benefit from a music education. Studying the arts for extended periods of time (four years or more) improved total SAT scores by 119 points (68 for verbal and 51 on math).
  • College Applications: Should our students want to apply for an Arts and Design College or Conservatory College, they will need to be prepared to speak cogently about their own development, exploration, and ideas on their artistic discipline. Whether heading to the Rhode Island School of Design, Julliard, Memphis College of Arts, or any other Arts institution, our students will need a transcript with competitive GPAs, high standardized test scores, writing samples, as well as a demonstration of their performance skills, and a portfolio that shows depth, research, and ideas. All of these materials – and the opportunities they make available – are correlated to and products of a strong arts education.
  • Job Opportunities: The College Board has also researched the job listings that their AP Studio Arts (2-D, 3-D, Drawing), their Art History, and their Music Theory classes make more accessible to students. They list over 100 career paths ranging from Aerospace Engineering to Composers to Computer Programmers to Editors to Fine Artists. Whether or not a student takes these specific courses of study, an arts education will make these careers more available and real. Our students deserve to have these pathways available.

A National Problem

Despite wide-spread, consistent findings that participation in the arts is correlated with higher academic achievement, the National Endowment for the Arts has found that the proportion of students receiving arts instruction has been in constant decline since 1985, especially among poor and minority students (see the NEA’s “Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation”). While the NEA, the Cultural Learning Alliance, and the Arts Education Partnership have all confirmed that “Low-income students that have the opportunity to engage in extensive contact with the arts are 12% more likely to earn a BA, 33% more likely to read the newspaper on a weekly basis, and 12% more likely to participate in student government at a college level”, it is these same students for whom arts education is least available. In fact, “arts instruction is often least prevalent in schools reporting large percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches,” and a study conducted in 2008 found that only 26% of African American 18-24 year-olds had received an arts education. As we undertake teaching art, we must consider not only how we can generate opportunities for our students this summer or this year, but how we can leave a legacy of change that makes a quality arts education the norm, and not the exception.

The Arts in Mississippi

A recent study conducted by Paul Theobald and Kathy Wood, and featured in Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century, revealed that “rural students and adults alike seem to have learned that to be rural is to be sub-par, that the condition of living in a rural locale creates deficiencies of various kinds – an educational deficiency in particular” even if they are being offered an excellent education (18). This holds true in the numbers: only 6.8% of adults in Mississippi hold a graduate degree, and only 12.6% hold BAs (Measure of America, 2012). If our students are to succeed and become life-long learners, we need to enact a cultural shift that places value on rural culture and cultural identity.

Given these studies as well as our own regional experiences…

We believe that a strong Arts Education is instrumental to overcoming educational inequality for our students in Mississippi. We know that our students deserve equal opportunities in education so that they may have equal opportunities in their futures. The arts are one of those critical opportunities, and one that is too often ignored. Our students deserve confidence in their cultural identity, pride in their creative expression. They have the right to the long-term benefits of a strong arts-education.  They deserve to see the arts as providing them with viable pathways to opportunity, and engage with the arts in their own communities.

It is no mystery that Mississippi is rich in culture, history, art, and music. From entire musical genres such as the blues and jazz, to some of our nation’s most celebrated writers like Faulkner and Walker Percy, from the pottery of McCarty to the portraits of Chris Kruse, to the birth of the Civil Rights movement to the recent ratification of the 13th amendment, Mississippi is brimming with beautiful and difficult culture.

However, the fertile cultural grounds of Mississippi are seldom if ever exposed to our students. Most elementary schools in Mississippi offer arts instruction to their students on a weekly basis at best. In the Delta, where regulation is less consistent, students may not have an art or music class for years on end. While the arts have been federally recognized as a core subject, they are untested and therefore often left to the wayside. Comparing our students’ rural experiences to their urban counterparts, it is only logical that they have less access to museums and concert venues as well as exposure to art we take for granted: buskers, concerts, street art, and other cultural events. Even if they do get a solid arts foundation, they have limited options in terms of real performance venues or opportunities to compete on a national level. It is therefore instrumental that we begin such exposure in the classroom and draw upon the communities we work within to enact a paradigm-shift for the arts in Mississippi.

What an Arts Education Looks Like for Us in the Classroom:

We have found that Discipline-Based Arts Education to be a highly effective pedagogy and structure for ensuring our students receive a holistic Arts Education. While we encourage invention, creativity, and exploration of different pedagogies, we want to ensure that every classroom focuses on the following strands throughout the year :

Production: Creating or performing. How do we know if students are getting it?  Creation Rubrics (Elementary Childhood Education Rubric as well as the Delta Creation Rubrics).

History/Culture: Encountering the historical and cultural background of works of art or music. How do we know if students are getting it?  Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Art Regents, artist statements, and more.

Aesthetics: Discovering the nature and philosophy of art or music. How do we know if students are getting it? Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Art Regents, visible in artworks, artist statements, and more.

Criticism: Making informed judgments about art. How do we know if students are getting it? Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Art Regents, artist statements, and more.