Major Mind Shift- IB to NCAS!
Before accepting my current job at Shanghai American School I had been teaching the IB program at NIST International School in Bangkok, at the International School of Indiana in the US, and at Shekou International School in China. I had gathered some experience in all three sections: PYP, MYP, and Diploma, but focused mainly on MYP and DP in the secondary sections. After several years of swimming in the IB soup I was starting to consider myself an expert, especially in MYP as I had also started Moderating MYP portfolios from other schools around the world.
Then, life changed. My husband and I accepted jobs at Shanghai American School and with this exciting new adventure comes a new curriculum to learn and teach. SAS has just adopted the new National Core Arts Standards, which are, very, very hot off the presses. As I have started to unpack these new standards with my colleagues at SAS this year I have developed some conclusions, some potential resources, and as always, some wonderings about where this journey will lead.
My first thoughts while reading about the NCAS Standards was that they are a fantastic step forward for American Arts education. I know that things have changed in the US since I left teaching Public School in Texas in 2009, but, based on what I remember and what my art teachers friends continue to relay to me, art education is still very much focused on making pretty pictures for display, winning awards for your school, and teaching step by step instructions leading toward a uniform product. These standards render that approach unacceptable. The shift toward creative and conceptual development, making deep and personal connections with your learning, responding to art using evaluative and critical processes, and encouraging student ownership and responsibility over how their work is presented are all down right revolutionary compared to what was and is still, in many places, the norm in art classrooms in the US.
When introducing these new standards to my middle school students at SAS I attempted to break them down into student friendly terms. See below.
Putting these standards into practice, after have taught MYP for so many years, was difficult in some ways and easy in others.
The lack of available resources was a challenge. Where were the sample rubrics? Where were the sample units? The examples on the NCAS website were not exactly what I was looking for and just weren't inspiring to me. Where were the Global Contexts? Where were the IDU samples? Many of my guiding tools from the IB were gone and `I felt a bit adrift at times during my planning.
The easy part of the transition was the fact that UBD, (Understanding By Design), and Creativity were easy fits. The new standards come with suggested Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions which are extremely helpful when creating a Concept based art curriculum. Creativity, although not mentioned specifically as much as I would like in the new standards, seems to be embedded in the Creating and Connecting descriptors. Anything that places an emphasis on process rather than product is a positive for me and my students. It's also nice to see that these standards, like the MYP arts standards, are for ALL of the Arts. This could and should lead to collaboration between the arts in a school.
Some wonderings I have after having used these Standards, in their infancy, so far this year are:
As a middle school at SAS we have been working hard to narrow down the benchmarks into priority standards that we will focus on in our teaching. It's all been a part of our initiative to make a more well-defined and viable curriculum for our students. Trying to teach all of what is written with these standards is madness, there just isn't enough time in our school day or year for that. We went through a rigorous process of parsing out what the most important and essential standards would be, aiming for 8 per grade level. The remaining standards were not disregarded, just not formally assessed. This has made a huge difference in our ability to plan, teach and assess student work successfully at our school.
An example for one of the main standards and the priority standards that we narrowed in on is below.
Overall, the new standards seem like a first draft in search of talented, smart and creative arts educators for editing. The philosophy is sound, the execution still a bit clunky. I'm not ready to throw them away in lieu of another imperfect, packaged curriculum but I certainly think that there is value in considering the best of what other curriculums have to offer and making a hybrid that's the best fit for our students.