You heard me!  I just implied that the Common Core can be inspiring.

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I was reading a few things online where the CC was, well, basically being put down and the implications were that teachers see the CC standards and think (sarcastically), “Great!  Something new for me to learn and do.”

Woah!  Please, fellow educators, beware.  Remember who we are and what we do.  Be careful not to get sucked into that mentality.  We are educators and the content we deliver to students comes from the written standards.

I realize that not everything is perfect and with new standards comes a boatload of work.  There is quite an adjustment period too.  It’s change!  But we can do it!

I remember getting emails all last year and the year prior from people and institutions I can’t even remember anymore, but the gist of those emails was that the Common Core was being written and if you have something to share, share it.  There were drafts of the standards that we could look up and comment on.  Our principal encouraged us to do so, stating, “This is coming.  Our standards will be changing.  Your voice needs to be heard.”

(Sidenote – Yes, I did glance at the standards but, no, I didn’t chime in with any suggestions.  I just tended to trust the educators that were creating them.)

The Common Core at First Site

My first real look at the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) happened at the beginning of last year.  It was a preview year.  In other words we were give them to study and work with them, but weren’t being held accountable to them.

This is going to sound edu-dorky, but the truth is, that as I thumbed through the books of standards, I was actually kind of excited.  There were so many parallels to the arts and art processes that I thought maybe this was the beginning of something great.

Making notes among the standards, I started to see the possibilities of how arts integration could play into the teaching of these standards.  I noticed it wasn’t simply about making sure kids could read and write, but making sure they understand the processes by which they do those things.  And every single art form works their way through similar processes.

In my opinion, using those parallels and teaching them to students is a great way to help them understand the processes of math and literacy!

Parallel Processes

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English Language Arts

Taking a look at the English Language Arts Standards, I saw so many parallels to what artists.  From evaluating text and discovering theme to analyzing the structure of texts and making logical inferences.  In some cases, this may be difficult to see at first.  The trick is to not take the Common Core language literally and allow yourself to see the arts as an extension of a concept.

For example, the fifth reading anchor standard in “Craft and Structure” states, “Analyze the structure of text, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text relate to each other and the whole.”  If you only think of text as a string of words, you are limiting yourself.  Consider the parallel to music which would be the structure of composition.  Instead of sentences and paragraphs, you would be listening for verses and repeating phrases.  In dance, “text” would take the form of movements and how they are linked together in a sequence to form a composition in movement.

The reading anchor standard in “Key Ideas and Details” is cited in much of my work with integrating the works of Norman Rockwell into literacy.  It states, “Analyze how and why individuals, events and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.”  Here, the students can use drama to address this standard as they create tableau modeled after Rockwell’s paintings.  The “text” however will not be in writing.  Instead the students will be studying the characters and setting in a painting.



The wording of the CC certainly lends itself to students learning by doing and through a process as opposed to learning by rote.  In math,the Standards for Mathematical Practice have some amazing overlaps with the innate standards we understand through the education and integration of art.  The Common Core states,

The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students. These practices rest on important “processes and proficiencies” with longstanding importance in mathematics education.

Here are the standards with a look at what the arts can bring to them.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

When art students practice arts skills or ways to use the arts, they are doing this same thing.  A musician is constantly working through new scores or compositions and must persevere in order to work near perfection.  I can’t tell you now many math students have trouble sticking with a problem in order to find the solution.  However, those who are budding artists show more capabilities in this.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

Here is the wording from the Common Core.  It blatantly describes what an artist can do.  “Mathematically proficient students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations. They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems involving quantitative relationships: the ability to decontextualize—to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved. Quantitative reasoning entails habits of creating a coherent representation of the problem at hand; considering the units involved; attending to the meaning of quantities, not just how to compute them; and knowing and flexibly using different properties of operations and objects.”

The CCSS want students to not only be able to do, but to understand.  And in math, that means being able to model and represent what the numbers truly mean.  This is a deeper level of mathematical thinking and one that the arts can support.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

By taking what you know and what you have experienced, you can make a viable argument and in order to do just that, you must fully understand the processes and patterns you have lived through and discovered.  The CCSS want students to be able to do this with math and I say this is what happens in art too.  In art you are constantly questioning and challenging yourself and others in a constructive and meaningful way.  In conclusion to this Practice Standard, the CC states, “Students at all grades can listen or read the arguments of others, decide whether they make sense, and ask useful questions to clarify or improve the arguments.”


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CCSS.Math.Practice.MP4 Model with mathematics.

Creating models of mathematical concepts is a large part of the CCSS.  Students are asked to create bar models, number lines, area models and other such models to show the visual representation of the concept.  I am finding that this new and heavy focus on modeling is greatly helping the visual learners in my classroom.  Then, using these models, students can “are able to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas. They can analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions. They routinely interpret their mathematical results in the context of the situation and reflect on whether the results make sense, possibly improving the model if it has not served its purpose.”  This idea that you are never truly done, that you can always come back to what you work on, improve it and/or modify it is a concept that lives deep within the arts.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP5 Use appropriate tools strategically.

Consider the choices artists make when the work on a project.  Color, medium, canvas; pitch, tempo and dynamics; time, space and energy: These are the tools of an artist, musician and dancer used to create something meaningful.  In math, the same thing occurs.  A proficiant mathematical student considers all the tools that are available from paper and pencil to protractor to calculator to spreadsheet.  Math students, as with art students, must know the capabilities of their tools and choose them carefully.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP6 Attend to precision.

When I think of precision, I go back to studying the piano.  Musicians need precision.  A great guitar solo would be a disaster without precision.  In visual art, even the most seemingly random strokes on paper are often made with precision.  Dancers are precise with every inch of themselves from head to toe in order to create that movement they desire.  And actors must be precise in their stance, expression and voice in order to convey the moment in which they live.  The arts attend to precision through patience and practice.  This is a skill that transfers naturally to mathematics.

CCSS.math.Practice.MP7 Look for and make use of structure.

For this Practice Standard, the CC states, “Mathematically proficient students look closely to discern a pattern or structure.”  Noticing these are essential for mathematical understanding.  The same is true for all artists.  Musical scores are riddled with patterns and structure, many of them utilized by a variety of composers and songwriters.  And visual learners are great at noticing patterns in math through models and examples as if they are unlocking the visual code.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP8 Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Again, I go back to studying piano and learning my scales and cadences.  Once I discovered the patterns in how to build these, I was better able to use and memorize them.  Before I knew it, I was playing any scale and cadence sequence with ease.  Students in math do the same thing.  “Mathematically proficient students notice if calculations are repeated, and look both for general methods and for shortcuts.”

Common Core and Arts Integration

The Common Core seems to focus more on process, learning skills to become “College and Career Ready” and understanding concepts at a much deeper level.  Arts education and integration is a natural way to get students to that deeper level.

In my new book, Studio Days, I introduce each arts lesson with both National Arts Standards and Common Core Standards.  Susan Riley of Education Closet also works with arts integration and the Common Core in particular with her new book, Steam Point.

(Sidenote: Be on the lookout for a special giveaway on Friday!)

Furthermore, the CCSS tend to encourage the integration of subject matter.  YAY!  It’s  not about compartmentalizing subject areas anymore.  (Like it really ever was…)  Instead, it’s about LEARNING!

The Common Core as a Framework

Freedom in Structure – Back in April of 2010, I launched a blog series entitled, Freedom in Structure.  I encourage you to check out some of those posts as this concept comes up a lot here at The Inspired Classroom.  In particular, my guest blogger of that month and wonderful colleague, Beth Cavalier, wrote a few posts that month focusing on the curriculum.  In one post, Freedom in Curriculum Development, she states, “I rarely feel constrained by my district’s curriculum.”

Nor should we feel constrained or strained by the Common Core.  They are a framework by which we have the freedom to develop and implement the lessons and activities for our students.  Through district and school-wide curriculum work, we can devise the most appropriate ways to do this.  And in our classrooms too, as we know our groups of students best, we can work to meet the needs of our students, capture current events and teach the standards all at the same time.

There’s a lot to be said about the Common Core State Standards.  We want to hear from you!  Do you think they can actually be inspiring?