(This essay was originally featured in TCG’s Special Report on Education 2012: Arts Education at the Core (PDF). That report shares findings from the over 100 theatres that participated in the TCG Education Survey 2012, along with essays from leading theatre education directors on the impact of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on arts education, and CCSS resources from the past year. If you have your own arts education/CCSS story to share, please email Gus Schulenburg to learn how to participate.)
Question: How will you align your theatre’s education work and curriculum connections to the new Common Core?
Answer: Texas is one of 6 states and territories that have chosen not to participate, so Dallas Children’s Theater (DCT) will not do this. As a matter of fact, the Texas Legislature approved a House Bill amending the state education code to bar the state board of education or local district boards from adopting “national curriculum standards.” In case that reference wasn’t clear enough, the bill goes on to say that such standards “include any curriculum standards endorsed, approved, sanctioned or promoted by the United States Department of Education, the National Governors Association, or the Council of Chief State School Officers.”
So what’s an education director to do?
DCT is very familiar with aligning our theatre’s education work with curriculum connections because of the Texas State Standards—TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). Our Study Guides for School Day Matinees always list the Fine Arts and Theater TEKS that are covered when a student sees a play at DCT. These include very simple standards such as: # 4.5—Response/evaluation. The student responds to and evaluates theatre and theatrical performances.
Additionally, Dallas Children’s Theater has a unique in-school residency program called Curtains Up on Reading, which is a multi-sensory approach to learning bringing classroom curriculum to life. Our Teaching Artists integrate dramatic activities with subjects such as Texas History for 4th grade and American History for 5th grade. So when we work in these subject areas we can align the curriculum to three types of TEKS including Theater and Fine Arts, English Language Arts, and Socials Studies standards.
One Social Studies Standard is: # 4.23—Social studies skills. The student uses problem-solving and decision-making skills, working independently and with others, in a variety of settings. For example, a teaching artist can have small groups work on short scenes that depict a historical event from Texas History.
We can even get more specific with a Geography Standard such as: # 4.7—Geography. The student understands the concept of regions. Just this week I had a Teaching Artist who helped students understand the regions of Texas by creating and laying out a large Texas Map on the auditorium stage and then using levels (steps, choir risers and carpeted areas of the auditorium) to have students move in the spaces and regions of the state. This was a multi-sensory experience tied directly to the Texas State Standard. This is a lesson that the 4th grade teachers repeatedly request that the DCT Teaching Artist include in their classroom visit because it is so successful.
So with or without the Common Core, we have our own State Standards to adhere to. We need a relationship and a buy-in from the schools so we do our best to show them that we offer opportunities to teach the curriculum in theatrical, creative and sensory rich ways. We also believe strongly that the schools need us, especially when so many of them have cut arts programming. We know our residencies, performances and study guides offer young people another dimension to the learning process, which is both engaging and enriching for students and teachers alike. And if we’re lucky, a love of theatre begins.
Nancy Schaeffer has been a member of the DCT resident staff since the Theater’s inception in 1984. As DCT Education Director, Ms. Schaeffer directs the year-round DCT Theater Academy and Arts-in-Education activities. She directs and choreographs several DCT Mainstage shows each year. Some of her past directing credits include: The Secret Life of Girls, dont u luv me?, EAT: It’s Not About Food, Go, Dog. Go!, Junie B. Jones, Stuart Little, Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, If You Give a Pig a Party, Honk!, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, The Boxcar Children, Bunnicula, Babe, Miss Nelson is Missing, The Stinky Cheese Man, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.