Literacy, the Arts, and the Common Core 

 Numerous studies support an interdisciplinary approach to instruction, including The Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. In their publication, Authentic Connections: Interdisciplinary Work in the Arts (2002) they assert:

  • An interdisciplinary focus promotes learning by providing students with opportunities to solve problems and make meaningful connections within the arts and across disciplines; and
  • An interdisciplinary curriculum encourages students to generate new insights and to synthesize new relationships between ideas.

With the introduction of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers are being asked to take students to deeper understandings – beyond activities, and to embrace the responsibility of implementing them across their curriculum through the refinement of both instruction and assessment. These standards place stronger emphasis on higher-level comprehension skills and the integration of information across several types of texts through an emphasis on text complexity and ‘accountable-talk’ interactions. An interdisciplinary approach is called for, and the arts offer a perfect partnership in this endeavor.

Since the 2002 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) quality arts education has suffered a significant decline in schools as testing demanded that the curricula narrow toward more math and reading instruction – even though the arts were identified as “core academic subjects” (NCLB, 2001). The lines between arts exposure, arts entertainment, arts enrichment, and arts education have become increasingly blurred and the rise and popularity of arts integration has been a growing attempt to justify “using” the arts to supplement instruction in these more important school subjects (Richerme, Shuler, McCaffrey, Hansen, & Tuttle, 2012). The results have minimized arts opportunities for students that have often become shallow activities used as evidence of student engagement or non-arts learning.  

The arts and literacy share a number of common processes, embrace literacy in multiple forms, and offer students a wide variety of communication tools. When these subjects are taught through interdisciplinary inquiry students are prompted toward depth of understanding, cross-curricular achievement, and the transfer of knowledge.  An interdisciplinary construct promotes the “enhancement in our capacity to solve problems, produce explanations, create products, and raise questions – by means of bringing together bodies of knowledge and modes of thinking stemming from two or more disciplines” (Boix-Mansilla, 2006, p. 5). 

Through a generous grant provided by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Center has developed a course of instruction for teaching partners – both from the same school, and each with diverse expertise. They will be guided in a comparison of standards in the arts and the common core standards for their grade level. From this comparison, teachers will determine the conceptual grounding and interdisciplinary focus of an instructional unit of study to be designed and delivered by teaching partners in their own classrooms during the fall of 2014. During the five-day summer workshop, content experts will model arts-based teaching methodologies and techniques with students engaging participants in observation, analysis, and reflection of the lessons. Shared discussion and open input from teachers and workshop leaders will help each participant expand their understanding of how the arts and literacy can strengthen students’ potential for success in school and in life. Content experts will support the ongoing growth of teacher participants by coaching in their classrooms, and maintaining an active online community as the school year progresses.

Another significant component of the program is the introduction and modeled use of the Tennessee State Fine Arts Portfolio Model for student assessment. Teaching partners will be provided technology support such as Go-Pro cameras and instructional leadership in order to coach their progress in the design and capture of the implementation of authentic interdisciplinary arts and literacy projects for their students. Beyond program preparation, these assessment strategies endeavor to guide teachers to more clearly understand the progress their students are making in the arts and in literacy and, thus, build more effective instruction. 

We are delighted to be embarking on this exciting path, and invite you to consider participating. We’re looking forward to a rigorous and enriching study provocative in its design, robust in its content, and rich in collegial dialog and support. 


Dr. Susanne Burgess
Director of Music Education

Arts-Based Collaborative

Project Director - Literacy, the Arts, and the Common Core


Boix-Mansilla, V. (2006). Interdisciplinary work at the frontier: An empirical examination of expert interdisciplinary epistemologies. Issues in Integrative Studies, 24, 1-31. Retrieved from

Caulkins, L., Ehrenworth, M., and Lehman, C. (2012). Pathways to the common core Accelerating achievement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Press.

Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, (2002). Authentic Connections: Interdisciplinary Work in the Arts. Reston, VA: AATE, MENC, NAEA, NDEO.

Hill, D., Jeffrey, J., McWalters, P., Paliokas, K., Seagren, A., & Stumbo, C. (2010). Transforming teaching and leading: A vision for a high-quality educator development system. Washington, D.C.: Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from

Jacobs, H. (Ed.) (1989). Interdisciplinary curriculum design and implementation. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers, (2010). Common Core State Standards in Literacy. Retrieved from

Richerme, L. K., Shuler, S. C., McCaffrey, M., with Hansen, D. and Tuttle, L. (2012). Roles of certified arts educators, certified non-arts educators, & providers of supplemental arts instruction. State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE), Dover, DE.

U.S. Department of Education. (2002). No Child Left Behind: Public Law 107-110. Retrieved from