One of the hats I wear as an independent arts consultant, is that of Project Manager for the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE). One of my most interesting assignments for SEADAE was to support SEADAE involvement with the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) and the writing of the new National Core Arts Standards. This exciting work eventually led to adding another hat, as Project Manager for the piloting and benchmarking work that followed publication of the new National Core Arts Standards in June of 2014. Recently I was honored to represent the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education and the National Core Arts Standards at the Common Core MENA conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on October 16th and 17th, 2015. The conference was hosted by Know, Do, Serve, Learn, an educational consultant group offering professional development to educators in the Middle East and Africa regions. I took a few moments to blog about the sessions and what I learned there from a group of dedicated educators and administrators making schools better across the Middle East and Africa.
Interest in the new arts standards in the Middle East was sparked by a proclamation in January of 2015 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Emir of Dubai . Sheikh Mohammed declared 2015 the Year of Innovation in the UAE, launching a seven year national innovation strategy with the goal of propelling the United Arab Emirates into a leadership role as one of the world’s most innovative nations. The plan places an emphasis on education as one of the key factors. In conjunction with this launch Sheik Mohammed came out with a strong statement for arts education in the schools, driving the interest in the new arts standards.
Ayesha Almazroui quotes Sheik Mohammed in a news article written for the Emirates newspaper:
“Today, more than any other time, we need to boost innovation among young people,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, prime minister and Ruler of Dubai, during the Cabinet meeting in November. How about we start by adding strong and solid arts education programmes to the school curriculum?” –Sheik Mohammed
(as quoted in the article “In the UAE’s year of innovation, don’t forget the arts” – The National online, January 25, 2015.)
Currently few schools in Dubai have specialists in arts education or feature arts education within the curriculum; therefore visionary educator Kevin Simpson, Managing Director of KDSL Global Education Services, reached out to SEADAE for a source of professional development in the new National Core Arts Standards for the October conference. SEADAE will also be facilitating online workshops for KDSL in the spring of 2016.
It is important to note that education reform within the UAE places a great emphasis on high standards and American curriculum schools with curriculum aligned to American national standards are very popular, with many using the Common Core standards for ELA and Mathematics. Responding to the needs of educators teaching American curriculum, KDSL began an annual conference bringing together teachers of American curriculum schools across the Middle East and North Africa to share strategies and attend workshops with keynote speakers on the cutting edge of issues in education. In year one, KDSL focused on Common Core implementation, in year two they added the national science standards, and this year, which marked the third annual Common Core MENA conference; KDSL added the arts to featured presentations.
The conference was structured with a morning keynote followed by concurrent sessions with late afternoon “unconference” times held open for informal sharing and planning. Workshop presenters made themselves available to the over 200 participants during for the last open sessions of the day for informal conferencing and mentoring. On the first day of the conference I presented a modified version of the standards orientation developed by Marcia McCaffrey for SEADAE. The goal was to introduce the participants to the structure of the National Core Arts Standards and teach them how to access the standards on the National Core Arts Standards website. I was also asked to point out possible connecting points for alignment with Common Core standards along the way; which I did by comparing the Common Core ELA anchor standards and Math practices with the National Core Arts Standards anchor standards. By identifying the large overarching concepts present in all, we were able to quickly make connections between the habits of art making and skills needed to problem solve and learn in other discipline areas.
Sessions on the second day of the conference placed an emphasis on hands on help with curriculum planning. Arts education is just emerging in the area, and often delivered as arts integrated activities by the general classroom teacher. For this reason, I was charged with presenting a session specific to finding alignment with Common Core. I asked them to start with what they were currently doing; to think about what their curriculum currently looks like and what they would teach on Monday. Next I challenged them to identify how their curriculum and Monday’s lesson plan, might connect with (for classroom teachers interested in arts integration) or align to (for arts specialists) the National Core Arts Standards. Thanks to our partners at the National Art Education Association, I had a fabulous graphic tool to utilize as a focus. Dennis Inhulsen, NAEA Chief Learning Officer, gave permission for me to utilize a modified version of the NAEA lesson design challenge tool in my workshop.
Starting with the artistic processes; I asked the educators to identify ways these might be habits of mind for artmaking and points of transfer of learning. Comparing anchor standards in the arts to anchor standards in the Common Core ELA and Math, we looked for connections in cognitive processing. We were not interested in reading and doing math in the arts classroom, but instead considered what happens when works of art become “text” for literacy and the cognitive processes in arts making are articulated to cross over to mathematical practices as problem solving skills. After identifying artistic processes and anchor standards, we drilled down to discipline specific grade by grade performance standards.
Although few in number, the arts educators who attended the sessions were mighty! I found them so eager for the information, that we began conducting ad hoc sessions in and around the other conference sessions, over and above my scheduled workshops. Two types of educators were drawn to the arts sessions; either administrators who were looking to start or reinforce arts offerings, or arts specialists teaching visual arts, theatre or music. (Dance is often culturally forbidden in public so dance education is rare). The administrators were excited about the possible alignment with the Common Core – they saw the connections in cognitive functions and were convinced of the value of the arts and arts integration to invigorate their curriculum and engage students in higher order thinking skills. The arts educators were hungry for discipline specific guidance in standards based curriculum planning.
Not only was I able to provide professional development, but I also received professional development. I found myself engaged and invigorated by listening to the conference keynotes. Dr. Norman Webb, Wisconsin Center for Education Products and Services presented an eye opening session on the intent, application and meaning of his Depth of Knowledge and Nicole Zdeb, Senior Director of Academic Services for the Northwest Evaluation Association inspired me with her work on literacy and the Common Core ELA standards. Most importantly I got to mentor and engage with some dynamic young teachers who are paving the way for high quality, standards based arts education across the UAE, the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Want to learn more about arts education and the UAE?
Education UAE – United Arab Emirates Embassy
In the Year of Innovation, Don’t Forget the Arts by Ayesha Almazroui – The National online
American Education in the UAE – Teach Magazine