Friday, May 5, 2017

Write a Visual Arts Curriculum: Breaking the Cycle of "What am I Going to Teach on Monday?"


Fortunately, I already had this blog entry ready. ;)

It’s a fair question, and it has a semi-complicated answer. Last July, I accepted a position as a Visual and Performing Arts and STEAM Coordinator with a county office of education in California. It’s awesome and a dream job for me. There is not a one-sentence description for my job, but a lot of it surrounds designing and delivering professional development for General Education and VAPA teachers regarding visual and performing arts in the classroom.  Frequently, I design lessons and/or presentations that are customized to the needs and wants of school districts in my county.

And, therein lies the crux of my lack of blogging: Where does my professional life end and my blogging life begin? Technically and ethically, what I create in my capacity as a coordinator belongs to my county office. The ethics of sharing it on Artful Artsy Amy get blurred. What I have shared on here since July, I have actually asked (and received permission) to share with you.

I haven’t shared much in recent months, because I am in the process of designing and writing a Visual Arts curriculum for K-6th grade General Education teachers integrating English Language Arts curriculum (and connecting to Science, Social Studies and Math as appropriate). This curriculum encompasses 70 visual arts lessons from start to finish (visual how-to steps, pre-planning information, background information, videos, texts, and rubrics for assessment); it’s keeping me more than busy. My employer owns the curriculum I create (and we intend to sell it), so sharing it on Artful Artsy Amy isn’t appropriate (at this time). I AM hoping that once this curriculum is completed, it is something I can share with you and/or give you a link to where you can purchase it from my county office (and trust me y’all; it’s affordable!).

Proof Copy Cover of the 6th Grade Visual Arts Integrated Curriculum 
In the meantime, I thought I would share with you the process of developing and designing a curriculum for Visual Arts, and why you should consider doing it for yourself and your students.

As a visual arts educator, you probably enjoy the fact that our discipline has no set curriculum or textbook beyond your site or state standards. The classroom-learning-creation-from-scratch daily life of an arts educator is something most general education teachers fear. Arts educators love the fact we get to create every day, and that daily creation is incredibly intimidating to others. Anytime, there is talk about developing set curriculum for Visual Arts teachers in a district and/or purchasing set curriculum for Visual Art teachers in a district, those Visual Arts teachers hotly and swiftly shut that down. We know what is relevant, working, and meaningful to students in one school is often not the same for another. We love developing our programs with our own trademarks. And, we LOVE the freedom to swiftly replace a project that is not working with one that does. So, you don’t often see set Visual Art curriculum in that is universal in a district.

Uncomfortable Truth #1: You should adopt a curriculum.
I’m sure that is not a popular statement, and I know why. Here are some of the statements contesting set curriculum in Visual Art:
1.       I don’t want to do the same thing every year; doing the same thing every year is boring
2.       Those people [curriculum authors] don’t know my kids
3.       The curriculum isn’t inclusive of the materials to which I have access
4.       Most curriculum is really watered down compared to what I can do
5.       The curriculum doesn’t have enough [media of choice] in it
6.       I don’t know how to use my kiln / I don’t have a kiln; I can’t teach clay
7.       I teach whatever I want right now; it works for me
8.       My administrators have no idea what the standards for Visual Art look like in a classroom. As such, I can teach whatever I want with none of that “core curriculum” and testing nonsense. Basically, I teach art however I want.

Uncomfortable Truth #2: If you’re not mapping your curriculum ahead of the year, planning around thematic units, making a plan for STEAM and/or TAB in your classroom before the year starts, you’re not teaching art; you’re just doing artsy stuff. You’re undermining your own career path and the career paths of others. It is hard for administrators to respect arts educators because all too often they see us as the “fun time craft time” people. When you don’t pre-plan what you are going to teach (with a school-year concept in view) you are just having fun with art. Don’t be that person.

It’s all great and fine for me to recommend a curriculum adoption for visual arts, but which one is good and how do I know if it is good?

Uncomfortable Truth #3: The best curriculum for visual arts is the one you design.

You know your students, school environment, administration, and stakeholders. You already have a strong idea of what does and does not work at your school site. You probably have projects that are “famous” and students look forward to doing that project when they are in that grade. You already have the skeleton of a curriculum.

But, like, HOW do you design a curriculum? 

Uncomfortable Truth #4: There is no right way or easy starting point for designing a curriculum.

I’m going to share my process for the curriculum I am currently writing. But, keep in mind, my audience is General Education and not Visual Arts teachers. And, almost all of the students in my county do not have consistent access to Visual Arts until middle school (I know!!).

Curriculum map, ELA text, and Science standards are open my desk. The Visual Arts standards and the PPT for the lesson are open my computer. 

My Curriculum Writing Process
1.       What is my goal for this curriculum?
a.       To expose as many students to a variety of visual arts media over the course of a school year
b.      To integrate Visual Arts projects and activities to existing English Language Arts curriculum. .BUT,  still maintain an art-centric viewpoint regarding lesson/unit design
c.       To incorporate standards from Science, Social Studies, and Math as appropriate
2.       Do I want to integrate other curricula? If so, which ones?
a.       Integrate ELA curriculum as it is thematic and is a natural starting point for Visual Art
b.      My county’s schools have recently adopted new ELA curriculum, and this is a great time to inject Visual Art into the classroom (i.e. there is not pre-existing structure for this curriculum, and I can make art a part of the structure from day one)
3.       How are the Visual Arts standards structured? How will I use this structure?
a.       There are 5 Visual Arts standards strands (artistic perception, creative expression, historical context, aesthetic valuing, connections, and applications)
b.      There are 10 thematic ELA units per grade level in the new curricula
c.       10 Visual Arts integrated lessons per grade level per year
4.       How will I start writing?
a.       Make a spreadsheet with 10 empty projects (units) for each grade level
b.      Put in the essential questions/theme (from ELA text) for each unit
c.       Examine the ELA text for each unit
                                                               i.      Which Visual Arts standards would naturally fit best with the unit?
                                                             ii.      What Science, Social Studies, and/or Math standards could also be incorporated?
                                                            iii.      What kind of project could encompass i and ii?
d.      Research inspirational projects, concepts, and/or inspirational artwork via
                                                               i.      Google keyword search
                                                             ii.      thesmARTteacher.com
                                                            iii.      Artsonia
                                                           iv.      Art of Ed
                                                             v.      Google Arts and Culture project
                                                           vi.      Pinterest
e.      Consider how I can take the inspirational work from above and make it rigorous enough for my curriculum, students, and standards.
                                                               i.      No copying existing projects exactly (I just like this challenge)
                                                             ii.      Important to remember rigor and fidelity regarding standards
f.        Finish the curriculum map
g.       Begin writing the lessons
                                                               i.      Use the same format if publishing
                                                             ii.      Handy to have from year-to-year and for potential interviews etc.
                                                            iii.      Excellent for explaining to admin what is going on, and for showing connections to other subjects

Curriculum map open (with thumbnail reminders of my inspirational images)
This brings me back to Visual Arts curriculum adoption naysayers:
1.        I don’t want to do the same thing every year; doing the same thing every year is boring!
-Most schools don’t adopt a curriculum for life. They adopt it for about 6-8 years. At the end of year 5, they started researching what they will do next. You’re not stuck with it forever.

2.       Those people [curriculum authors] don’t know my kids.
-If you write your own curriculum; you can write it for your kids.

3.       The curriculum isn’t inclusive of the materials to which I have access.
-If you write your own curriculum, you can write it based on your materials.

4.       Most curricula are really watered down compared to what I can do.
-If you write your own curriculum, you can write it based on your strengths.

5.       The curriculum doesn’t have enough [media of choice] in it.
-If you write your own curriculum, you can write it based on your strengths.

6.       I don’t know how to use my kiln / I don’t have a kiln; I can’t teach clay.
-If you write your own curriculum, you can write it based on your strengths.

7.       I teach whatever I want right now; it works for me.
-It’s not working for you as well as you think. You’re frequently stressed about “what to teach on Monday,” bored of teaching the same thing because you don’t have time to plan something new, have no creative juice to design anything new, are deploying lessons that aren’t fully conceptualized and aren’t as rigorous as they could be with pre-planning.

8.       My administrators have no idea what the standards for Visual Art look like in a classroom. As such, I can teach whatever I want with none of that “core curriculum” and testing nonsense. Basically, I teach art however I want.
-Dude. That’s fun-time art doing; you’re not teaching art. You gotta step it up.

How amazing would it be to start in the fall and know you have your WHOLE YEAR planned out?! This doesn’t mean you can’t change lessons or swap out units (or even not do a few units), but you have a quality structure. How much more meaningful will the learning be for your students when you don’t have to make connections and/or problem solve on the fly? How nice would it be to know you have this same “map” for the next five years? How much more could you build your program if you weren’t mired down every week trying to figure out, “What am I teaching on Monday?”


Writing a curriculum will take you to the next level professionally in and out of the classroom. It also injects more relevancy into your art classroom. We all love to “make art for art’s sake.” I’m not saying to never make art for the sake of art (ever). But, art isn’t created in a vacuum. Your students are already learning about other stuff at school; why not use that foundational learning and reinforce it in your class? That doesn’t mean Art should exist as a supplement to Science, (for example), but you can have meaningful “conversations” between art Art and another subject and meet the objectives of both!


Do you write your own curriculum? Do you think you want to try? Let me know! I’m always here to help!

1 comment:

  1. Omg your curriculum documents look great! I'm in the middle of rewriting the k-5 visual arts curriculum for my district as my master's capstone and I keep getting stuck on the formatting! Any advice?

    ReplyDelete