3 Ways for Teachers To Integrate the New National Core Arts Standards with Ford's Theatre

The concept of academic standards for any content area might seem like a bland subject to blog about, but we at Ford’s find it quite exciting.

Why, you might ask? Well, we’re happy to tell you. It’s because the new National Core Arts Standards, just released on June 4, align well with the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts and the components of historical thinking: this makes our work at Ford’s all the more useful for educators.

Students practice oratory skills in Ford's Theatre education programs.

Ford's Theatre programs live at the intersection of history education, the arts and leadership, so having national learning standards that address and support that work is incredibly valuable. These standards help to clarify and put weight behind our work.

The new standards divide theatre education into four distinct strands: Creating, Performing, Responding to and Connecting to artistic work. All the strands (particularly those for Connecting and Responding) in some way align with learning traditional content in an English/language arts or history/social studies classroom. When paired with the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts, the theatre education standards become the perfect ingredients to creating dynamic and engaging opportunities for student learning.

So now, you’re thinking, “Ooh, tell me more! I never knew standards could be so interesting!” Happy to oblige! Performance and public-speaking strategies offer students the chance to dive deeply into traditional content, to explore multiple points of view and to develop empathy for the people they are studying. These approaches to learning also prompt students to consider, organize and communicate their own opinions and ideas about what they’ve learned. Essentially, these approaches bring the content to life for students.

Photo by Gary Erskine.

You’re hooked, right? And you’re wondering, “If performance and oratory are not already a part of my teaching practice, how can they become a part of it?” Now we’re at the good part, the part where we tell you how we here in the Ford’s Education Department can help you do it:

1. Our Oratory Residency and Festival offers D.C.-metro-area educators in upper-elementary, middle and high school classrooms a chance to dip their toes into oratory and performance. A Ford’s Theatre Teaching Artist teaches a classroom of students, assisting them as they learn a speech by President Abraham Lincoln and helping them to prepare the speech for performance on the historic Ford’s Theatre stage. Working with their Teaching Artist and classroom teacher, students decide how they want to stage the speech to best convey their understanding of the words.

Essentially treating the speech as a theatrical piece, the program addresses the theatre education standards under the “performing” strand as students answer for themselves, “Why are strong choices essential to interpreting a drama or theatre piece?”  They learn that the better they understand the history, context and words of the speech, the better they are able to communicate their understanding through movement, voice and staging.

Distance learning programs are available through the Ford's Theatre education team.

2. For those middle and high school educators who want to take on something meatier, we offer the National Oratory Fellows program. In this year-long professional development program, educators are paired with a Ford’s Teaching Artist to design and implement an oratory- or performance-integrated unit. This often includes a study of historic speeches as a foundation for students to write original persuasive speeches, or as a model text to write an original monologue.

The National Oratory Fellows program touches upon all four strands of the theatre education standards, as educators learn strategies that prompt students to create, perform, connect to and respond to artistic or historic work.

3. Finally, our website offers a variety of digital resources for oratory and performance integration that will support teaching that addresses theatre education standards. Our Podium Points and oratory tips and tricks videos will help any teacher who wishes to break down public-speaking and performance skills into easily digestible bites, and a variety of graphic organizers and templates are available for guidance with responding and connecting to artistic work.

So as you plan units for the coming school year, give oratory and performance integration a whirl! The new national arts standards are a great place to start, and the Ford’s Theatre Education Department is here to carry you the rest of the way.

Seriously, give it a try! You’ll be amazed and impressed with the results, and your students will be too.

Cynthia Gertsen is Associate Director for Arts Education at Ford’s Theatre.