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Using the Common Core to Integrate the Arts into the ELA Classroom

I first became acquainted with the Common Core Standards a few years ago and I could not comprehend all the fuss.

We are delighted to bring you a post from Phyllis Magold, an accomplished educator and engaging author, who discusses her reluctant adoption of the Common Core and how she came to develop an exemplary Common Core resource.

I first became acquainted with the Common Core Standards a few years ago and I could not comprehend all the fuss. Twenty years of teaching, numerous educational recognitions, and a stint in administration afforded me a comfort zone in which I thought aligning my lessons to standards was a waste of time. After all, the standards simply articulate what we are already doing in our classrooms - yes?

Yes! ... and ummmm ... no.

When I agreed to succumb to what I thought of as the educational buzz trends of the day: align my units; create essential questions; devise formative and summative assessments, etc., I began to observe and feel something wonderfully painful. The lessons that I thought were perfect, could be improved – significantly. Alignment, essential questions and authentic assessments are not just buzz words, they are the crux of good teaching.

The details of this epiphany are for another time, but the situation is a prelude to the primary reason for this essay.

Shortly after I retired from teaching, into my life came a gem of a book and a gem of a man: Moving to Higher Ground; How Jazz can Change your Life, by Wynton Marsalis. I met Mr. Marsalis through our school's band director, and we had several conversations about art and education. We discussed the possibility of teaching his books in English classes and he was interested in my spearheading a project. The project would embody his quest to tell the stories of artistic expression and to connect people, young and old, to the spirit of the arts; the spirit that he believes is the absolute essence of humanity.

It took three years to create the first study guide in Arts, Rhetoric, and Swing, designed for high school English teachers in conjunction with Moving to Higher Ground; How Jazz Can Change Your Life. The guide helps teachers and students explore the essence of jazz and the arts within the academic standards of secondary Language Arts curriculum.

One of Mr. Marsalis's goals is to shift the paradigms of educational systems so that students can more readily engage in creative, artistic, communal, and scholarly pursuits. One of my goals is to provide a resource for teachers that contains all of the components of an outstanding, researched, unit plan where everything is presented but still offers the freedom and creativity to adjust to individual classroom needs. Arts, Rhetoric, and Swing is a culmination of these goals. The following are a few of the resources that Arts, Rhetoric, and Swing provides Language Arts teachers:

  • Contemporary, relevant non-fiction
  • Common Core State Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy alignment
  • Ready-made lesson plans and activities - all CCSS aligned
  • Authentic formative and summative assessments including suggestions for differentiation, AP and IB testing
  • Multimedia supplements such as a video of Mr. Marsalis discussing his writing and audio samples of music referred to in the text

Marsalis's writing is both practical and profound; the study guides complement both the practicality and the profundity. The website artsrhetoricandswing.com offers a more detailed description and examples of how the Common Core State Standards can integrate and enhance teaching and learning in the Language Arts classroom.

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