New State Standards Expand Focus of Local Arts Curriculum
March 20, 2018
Tilting the doughy, unset cup at an angle, art teacher Heather Palmer pressed a rounded clay arch against its side.
“You want to make sure that the handle is straight because it’s easy to put it on and you get stuck with a shape here, but you’re not really looking at whether it’s functional,” she explained to senior Tanner Lant.
Handing the cup back to the International Baccalaureate art student, Palmer sent him off with etching tool in hand and a confident smile on his face.
The ability to refine artistic work such as Lant’s unfinished pottery is just one of several standards outlined in the New York State Learning Standards for the Arts. Those standards spell out the skills and knowledge that students should acquire as they move through their school careers. Last fall, the New York State Board of Regents approved new learning standards for the arts for the first time in 20 years.
Uniting Art Disciplines
The new standards recognize five arts disciplines: dance, music, theater, visual arts and now media arts as a stand-alone discipline.
For all five disciplines, there are common artistic processes related to creating new artistic ideas and work; performing (music, dance, theater), presenting (visual arts) or producing (media arts) art; responding to how the arts convey meaning; and connecting art with personal meaning and external context.
“We are looking to have students who are well rounded in all disciplines, seeing them not in isolation, but in their total interconnectedness with other disciplines,” said Palmer, who has instructed young artists in Queensbury schools since 2000.
There are also standards specific to each discipline, and unlike in the past, the standards are now outlined by grade level instead of by bands of grades. (Visit www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/arts/standards/ for more details).
“The old standards directly looked at skill sets necessary for each level, yet did not address creative problem solving. Many find the standards to be broad and yet, for us, it is refreshing to allow students to focus on a nice balance of process, experimentation, research, problem solving, production, reflection, interpretation and connections,” she said.
Informing Local Curriculum
Palmer chairs the Queensbury Art Department, which develops local arts curriculum to help students meet state standards. In addition to reviewing the latest state guidance, they also engage in a curriculum renewal process every five years.
“Even before the state rolled out the new standards, our district has supported our efforts in keeping the program updated and relevant,” she said, pointing to the implementation of digital art portfolios at the elementary and secondary grade levels as one example.
“Skill building continues to be an important part of our curriculum, and we have always considered craftsmanship, the elements and principles of design and the use of appropriate materials to enhance the works of our students. The new standards have provided us the time to focus on original works that highlight the vision of our students and ways to get them thinking through overriding topics and themes,” she said.
Shaping Future Teachers
In addition to her classroom and curriculum roles, Palmer also was selected to join the Arts Framework Committee for the New York State Teacher Certification Examinations. She will help review the design and framework for the visual arts content speciality test for new teachers, in light of the new standards.
“As we revamp some of the old standards, there is no better time to look at what it is that we are envisioning as a standard for future educators,” she said.