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New tool shows how arts education boosts 21st century skills

P21 maps various aspects of arts education to the skills they reinforce—complete with project examples

The map was formally released on Capitol Hill.

The map comes at a critical time for arts education in schools.

Working with national arts organizations, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has developed a first-of-its-kind Arts skills map that clearly defines how arts education promotes key 21st-century skills.

The map, the fifth in a series of core content maps from P21 (others include Geography, Science, Social Studies, and English), gives examples how critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (P21’s “four Cs”) can be fused within arts curricula (including dance, music, theater, and visual and media arts).

The map comes at a critical time for arts education in schools, which often are the first programs to be cut when budgets are tight. Having an outline of how arts education can reinforce skills that are viewed as critical for success in the new global economy could help keep arts programs in schools.

“We think that this map will work as a motivator for administrators, as well as funders, when considering art programs in today’s schools,” said Michael Blakeslee, senior deputy executive director of MENC, in an interview with eSchool News.

Arts organizations, such as the American Alliance for Theatre & Education, the Educational Theatre Association, the National Art Education Association, the National Association for Music Education (MENC), the National Dance Association, and the National Dance Education Organization, all participated to help P21 craft the map.

“I commend America’s leading arts education professional associations for joining forces to create a tool that illustrates how the four Cs can be fused with arts education,” said Kathy Hurley, senior vice president of strategic partnerships for Pearson and a P21 executive board member. “This new document … provides practical examples that educators can model as they work to ensure 21st-century readiness for every student.”

Along with the four Cs, the map includes skills such as information literacy; media literacy; information and communications technology (ICT) literacy; flexibility and adaptability; initiative and self-direction; social and cross-cultural skills; productivity and accountability; and leadership and responsibility. Each skill includes a definition.

For each skill, the map cites specific student outcomes and provides examples of projects for grades four, eight, and 12. Each example is marked with a symbol, allowing readers to know whether the example is for visual arts, dance, music, or theater.

Each example also has the option to include interdisciplinary themes, such as global awareness; civic literacy; financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy; health literacy; and environmental literacy.

Some examples include:

Skill: Innovation; Grade Level: 4; Art: Theatre; Interdisciplinary Theme: Global Awareness; Example: Students read or view multiple versions of a traditional folk tale before writing, performing, and video recording their own adaptation set in a radically different culture, historical period, or contemporary context. They review their adaptation, discuss creative choices, and reflect on ways the story stayed the same or changed.

Skill: Social and Cross-cultural skills; Grade Level: 8; Art: Music; Interdisciplinary Theme: Global Awareness; Example: Students trained in music of one cultural style join an ensemble that performs music from a distinct culture, and learn to adapt their existing musical skills and understanding to the demands of the new context (i.e., classical musicians play jazz, a koto player takes up western guitar, or a fiddle player performs in a classical orchestra). The students then interact, either virtually or live, with native performers of the new musical genre to better understand the cultural context and appropriate practices of that genre.

Skill: Media Literacy; Grade Level: 12; Art: Visual Arts; Interdisciplinary Theme: Financial Literacy and Civic Literacy; Example: Students use current technologies to produce an advertisement or web page that demonstrates their understanding of media’s ability to influence the viewer’s perception of a social issue of their choice, such as environmental awareness, mass transit, or the economy.

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