New tool shows how arts education boosts 21st century skills

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.

“The examples in this map illustrate how the arts promote habits that cultivate curiosity, imagination, creativity, and evaluation skills, as well as all the essential skills that students need to be successful in today’s world,” said Blakeslee. “This document demonstrates that the arts are among today’s most compelling and effective paths for ensuring 21st-century readiness for every student.”

Blakeslee also said that map, though extensive, is really just the tip of the iceberg for what can be done with the arts in schools.

“We see this [map] as a guide for how teachers can truly change their their practice to include 21st century skills, and what will be interesting going forward is working with these ideas to impact overall teacher behavior and curriculum design, and turn these changes into best practices.”

According to the map, anyone who has ever seen a student become excited, energized, and confident through artistic exploration has seen first-hand how arts education engages children and contributes to their overall development.

“The arts … are recognized as ‘core academic subjects’ in federal law, as well as in state statutes and core educational documents (i.e., No Child Left Behind),” states the map. “While each of the arts disciplines has its own unique set of knowledge, skills, and processes, the arts share common characteristics that make arts education powerful preparation for college, career, and a fulfilling life.”

The map was formally released July 15 on Capitol Hill with representatives from P21, as well as various arts organizations and art students in attendance.


P21 Map for the Arts (PDF)


National Association for Music Education (MENC)

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Measuring 21st-century skills resource center. Graduates who enter the workplace with a solid grasp of 21st-century skills bring value to both the workplace and global marketplace. Go to:

Measuring 21st-century skills

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