At my state art ed conference I was reminded that many art teachers around the state do not have a local art curriculum. With recently revised state standards and new National Arts Standards, a teacher in this situation might wonder why they would want such a thing. Well, all you have to do is ask a teacher who has one.
All public school systems in the state are expected to teach the state standards of learning, and this certainly serves as a limited curriculum map to teachers who need to know what to teach, but school systems that have developed their own curriculum have distinct advantages to developing high quality art instruction. State SOLs are written very carefully to be flexible, with an effort to provide some specific guidance while not being overly prescriptive. This is important from the state level since the SOLs have to be interpreted and implemented in a broad range of situations. The national standards have the same challenge, but compounded many times over. In short, state and national level curricula leave to many holes, and too many uncertainties to guide a teacher to delivering outstanding art instruction to their students.
At the VAEA conference, I was part of a conversation in which a new art supervisor asked how to go about unifying instruction in her district. Her comments suggested not only that art teachers were doing their own thing, but also that any efforts thus far had revealed little interest or willingness to change or align their teaching. Teachers were connecting to SOLs, but their approaches to doing so varied so much that it diminished the districts ability to ensure any consistant learning, or consistant experience for the students.
I immediately suggested that she begin a process to develop a local curriculum, involving the art teachers in her district in the process. Giving the teachers an active role in reviewing educational research, contributing to decisions about what is best for their students, and helping to write a local set of standards and benchmarks can be a powerful way to develop a curriculum that is more specific than any state or national standards, and unify the teachers behind a common purpose.
We are very proud of our art curriculum in our district. Over the years, it has been the responsibility of teams of art teachers to write and revise the document to meet current trends and the needs of our schools. Our curriculum meets all of the state SOLs (as any local curriculum should) but has a unique flavor of it’s own. Maybe it’s because we are art people that we especially appreciate that.
If you think you should have a local art curriculum, talk with your art supervisor, or if you don’t have one, find a way to collaborate with the other art teachers in your district to begin developing your ideas. If you need some guidance or advise, I’d be happy to help!