Arts Curriculum Framework


Republished in this protected area for the purpose of curriculum development.
Author: Massachusetts Department of Education, HTML Template for Documents
Date: October 17, 1995

Thinking and Responding Strand

As students create, perform, and respond to works of art, they develop thinking skills. Imaginative, reflective, analytical, and critical thinking unite the practice of creating with the process of inquiry. The preschool child who tells a story about a mass of lines and shapes he has created with chalk is reflecting on his experience in exploring materials. When first graders shake a tambourine and a gourd rattle, they find the instruments make different sounds, a discovery they can apply imaginatively as they improvise music with their teacher. As sixth graders compare examples of classic Mayan and twentieth century European sculpture, they look for distinguishing characteristics that will enable them to generalize about the concept of style in visual art. When high school students design a production of Antigone, they weigh the possibilities of how an audience will respond to a production in Greek costumes and masks compared with a production in contemporary dress.

Imaginative and reflective thinking is often inspired by playful experimentation with materials, processes, and ideas. As student create, interpret, adapt, and perform artistic works, they use reflective and analytical thinking to plan, make choices, and assess work. Each alteration in a painting, poem, or improvisation, each rehearsal of a choral or orchestral work stimulates the need to reconsider the work as an aesthetic whole, to imagine afresh what it might become, and to make further revisions, or "fine tunings."

Comprehensive and sequential arts programs introduce students to a variety of artists' and performers' work chosen to be appropriate to students' developmental levels. As they respond to these works, learners develop analytical and critical thinking skills. These skills enable learners to go beyond simple likes and dislikes and to make judgments based upon their knowledge of the elements, principles, processes, and techniques of each discipline.

Learning in the arts through Thinking and Responding is represented by two Learning Standards:

Learning Standard 3

Students will use imaginative and reflective thinking during all phases of creating and performing.

As students perform and create, they make use of imagination (the ability to form mental /dowhile/physical/projects/k12/images) and reflection (the ability to synthesize ideas). They demonstrate imagination and reflection by their approach to artistic work and can communicate awareness of these thinking processes orally and in writing. Essential Questions they explore are:

PreK-4 Standards

1. In dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, use imagination to create a work and explain choices made at several points in the process.

2. In dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, devise multiple solutions to an artistic task.


1. PreK-2: Students invent written symbols to convey musical sounds, and explain how their own symbols convey ideas differently from conventional notation. (connects with English Language Arts)

3-4: Students draw inventions to improve transportation, and describe where their ideas for better systems originated. (connects with Science and Technology, Social Studies)

2. PreK-2: Using blocks, a student constructs two buildings that look different from one another. (connects with Mathematics)

3-4: Students brainstorm and act out ways to show the qualities of ferocious and timid animals through movement and sound. (connects with Science and Technology, English Language Arts)

Grades 5-8 Standards

Continue the PreK-4 Standards and:

3. In at least three of the arts -- dance, music, theatre and visual arts, demonstrate the ability to develop an artistic idea from imagination into a finished form and explain how the finished work relates to the original concept.

4. In the performing arts -- dance, music, and theatre -- create or perform two or more interpretations, variations, adaptations, or arrangements of existing works, and explain how the versions differ.


3. Fifth graders write, rehearse and present a play set in an imaginary country, keeping journals to record the evolution of the project. (connects with English Language Arts, Social Studies)

4. Middle school chorus members learn to sing a song from another country in its original language and in English, discussing the effect of translation on meaning and patterns of sound. (connects with World Languages)

Grades 9-10 Standards

Continue the PreK-8 Standards and:

5. In at least one of the arts--dance, music, theatre, or visual arts--use prior knowledge and imagination to extend an idea into a novel variation or interpretation.

6. Describe how familiarity with imaginative works in at least one of the arts--dance, music, theatre, and visual arts-- has influenced one's own artistic development and interests.


5. Students in a vocational school architectural design class draw plans and elevations for their ideal house. During the project, they explain how their plans reflect the experience of living in an ordinary structure and their desire to improve it. (Science and Technology)

6. As part of his portfolio, a dance student describes and analyzes parallels in subject matter, style and approach in his work and the works of mature artists in his field.

Grades 11-12 Standards

Continue the PreK-10 Standards and:

7. In at least one of the arts--dance, music, theatre, or visual arts--perform or create original work, explaining personally successful approaches to working methods, composition, rehearsal, or performance.

8. In at least one of the arts--dance, music, theatre, or visual arts-- perform or create works using recurring themes, symbols or metaphors, and explain their significance.


7. A high school percussionist composes music and writes about the role of her music teacher in developing her ability to create jazz improvisations.

8. A visual art student creates a series of works about bridges, and explains how and why he uses the bridge as a metaphor for communication.

How It Looks in the Classroom:

Second graders invent notation, such as in the excerpt below, and use it to write musical compositions for classroom instruments. Working in pairs, they interpret and play each other's compositions, and share their work with the class. As a class, the students reflect on the music they produced, make a recording, and assemble their written scores in a collaborative book. (Example from Rena Upitis, Can You Play My Song? 1992)

Many people know the theme songs from popular movies, but may be less familiar with the creative process of writing a film score. To help his eighth graders understand this kind of work, a music teacher presents a soundless excerpt of action from a film. Students analyze the events and discuss how they would use music to heighten the effect of the visual imagery. After selecting and combining music for an alternative soundtrack, they view the film again, listening to its original score, and contrasting the two versions. Their teacher invites a musician who has composed sound and music for advertising, theatre, and television to critique student work and talk about his career.

How do artists use imagination to create and revise their work? High school dance students demonstrate how movement phrases respond to different pieces of music. They incorporate movements to explore themes of opposition or harmony and evaluate how the music and movement combine to affect the emotional, physical and mental response of the audience and performer.

For her application to an art college, a senior uses evidence from an interdisciplinary portfolio assembled throughout high school to create a visual statement and essay about her potential for artistic growth.

Where do artistic ideas come from? Reflecting on memories of their homeland and their first days as immigrants to the United States, students in an Adult Basic Education class find common themes in their experiences. They work in pairs to develop characters and dialogue, and collaborate to produce a play which they perform at a community cultural center.

How can I communicate my experiences as a creator and performer? Because she expects her students to keep journals and reflect on their work, a music teacher keeps her own journal in which she documents and speculates on her teaching and performing experience; she shares her thoughts from the journal with colleagues in her study group and with her students.

Learning Standard 4

Lifelong learners use analytical and critical thinking to respond to works of art.

Using insights from the practice of creating, learners develop standards of aesthetic quality and apply these standards to their own work and the work of others. Throughout their education, learners develop a vocabulary for describing, analyzing, and evaluating works of art so that they can clearly communicate their opinions and responses orally and in writing. As students learn about the tradition of critique in the arts they explore Essential Questions such as these:

PreK-4 Standards

1. Demonstrate the ability to follow a sequential process of creating, rehearsing, and presenting works of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts and communicate that process to others.

2. Express and justify opinions about works of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, using age-appropriate vocabulary to describe elements of the works, as well as materials, instruments, techniques and processes involved.


1. PreK-2: In their native language, students in an English as a Second Language class describe percussion instruments, the kinds of sounds they make, and how they have used them in music class. (connects with English Language Arts, World Languages)

3-4: Students write journal entries describing the steps in the printmaking process, or teach printmaking by demonstration to younger students. (connects with English Language Arts)

2. PreK-2: In a dance class, a student develops original written symbols to record simple choreography sequences that all members of the class can understand, agree upon and perform. (connects with English Language Arts)

3-4: Students watch a play presented by middle school students and write letters to the older children describing what they liked about the plot, characters, costumes, lighting, and sets. (connects with English Language Arts)

Grades 5-8 Standards

Continue the Pre K-4 Standards and:

3. For at least three of the arts--dance, music, theatre, and visual arts--develop criteria for evaluating classroom projects and performances, and use those criteria as a basis for group and self-assessment.

4. Demonstrate the ability to use basic concepts and terminology to describe and analyze works of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts.*


3. At the beginning of a geometrical design project, students and their teacher discuss the important dimensions of the assignment and decide upon criteria for assessing quality. They agree on the following dimensions: originality of ideas, use of materials, and application of the principles of repetition, balance and contrast of color and shape. They revisit this discussion as works near completion, and each student uses these criteria to assess his or her achievement. (connects with Mathematics)

4. Orally or in writing, students describe and analyze characteristics of acting, direction, and design elements in a filmed or live performance of a play. (connects with English Language Arts)

* Basic concepts and terminology include:

Dance: characteristics of movement, group formation in terms of shape and line, relationship of choreography to music, style and subject matter of dance, symbolism, stage directions;

Music: Melody, tempo, rhythm, harmony, timbre or tone color, dynamics, texture, form, types of instruments, voice categories, reading and writing music notation symbols, conductor's cues, styles and types of musical composition;

Visual arts: Unity, contrast, emphasis, balance, repetition, symmetry, line, color, form, shape, texture, space, style and subject matter, symbolism, distinctive qualities of art materials and techniques;

Theatre: Characteristics of acting, playmaking, directing, technical design and management, style and subject matter of scripts or performances.

Grades 9-10 Standards

Continue the Pre K-8 Standards and:

5. Apply appropriate arts concepts and terminology* to the description, analysis, comparison, and evaluation of existing works in all four arts disciplines--dance, music, theatre, and visual arts.

6. Apply appropriate arts concepts and terminology* to the description, analysis, and evaluation of one's own and peers' work in progress in at least one of the arts -- dance, music theatre or visual arts.


5. Students listen to two recorded interpretations of the same song or orchestral work and compare their similarities and differences in tempo, rhythm, dynamics, tone color, and style. (connects with English Language Arts)

6. As an ongoing part of a clothing design and construction class, students participate in oral critiques of one another's work, focusing on use of color, texture, line, and construction technique. (connects with Health, English Language Arts)

* Basic arts concepts and terminology are listed under the Grades 5-8 Learning Standards

How It Looks in the Classroom:

How can we make judgments about quality in creative work? Students read the story of The Nutcracker, listen to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, and make drawings of the characters before attending a live performance of the ballet. After they have seen the performance, the students discuss their reactions. Were the characters like the ones they had drawn? How did the music suggest what the dancers might look like or do? Students then watch excerpts from two filmed versions of the ballet, Rudolf Nureyev's traditional Paris Opera Ballet version and Mark Morris' modern ballet version, The Hard Nut, and discuss the differences in interpretation, using basic dance concepts and terminology. Students make a short presentation about which version they liked best, citing reasons for their judgments.

Grades 11-12 Standards

Continue the Pre K-10 Standards and:

7. Make and express judgments about works of at least one of the arts--dance, music, theatre, or visual arts--substantiating opinion with analysis based on basic concepts and terminology, and references to personal experiences in creating or performing.*

8. In at least one of the arts--dance, music, theatre or visual arts--draw conclusions about an individual artist's ideas and working methods from examining or listening to several examples of his or her work, and/or reading, listening to, or watching interviews with the artist.


7. Students write or present oral reviews of contemporary music, justifying their opinions on the basis of the composer's or performer's use of musical techniques, and relating these to their experiences in composing or performing. (connects with English Language Arts)

8. Students view tapes of Twyla Tharp's dances, and listen to interviews in which she discusses her work prior to attending a live performance featuring a work she has choreographed. They write or present oral reviews that evaluate the new work in the context of their knowledge of choreography and movement, and their knowledge of Tharp's career. (connects with English Language Arts)

How It Looks in the Classroom:

Why do opinions about works of art change over time? Massachusetts residents have the opportunity to see a variety of architecture from the 1630s to the present. On a walking tour in and near Copley Square in Boston, vocational school students in an architectural design and construction class visit and sketch H. H. Richardson's Trinity Church(1872-77), McKim, Mead, and White's Boston Public library (1887-1895) and Philip Johnson's 1971 addition, I. M. Pei's John Hancock Tower (1972-75), and The Architects Collaborative's planned commercial development, Copley Place (1980-84). They contrast the styles of the buildings, consider their functions, read contemporaneous newspaper reviews, and hypothesize why buildings built a century apart should look so different.

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