The Importance of Arts in the Curriculum

Since arts experiences offer other modes and ways of experiencing and learning,
children will have opportunities to think and feel as they explore, problem solve,
express, interpret, and evaluate the process and the results. To watch a child
completely engaged in an arts experience is to recognize that the brain is on, driven by the aesthetic and emotional imperative to make meaning, to say something, to represent what matters. (p. 15)
-Booth, D., & Hachiya, M., (Eds.). (2004). The arts go to school. Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers.

Education in the arts is essential to students’ intellectual, social, physical, and emotional growth and well-being. Experiences in the arts – in dance, drama, music, and visual arts – play a valuable role in helping students to achieve their potential as learners and to participate fully in their community and in society as a whole. The arts provide a natural vehicle through which students can explore and express themselves and through which they can discover and interpret the world around them. Participation in the arts contributes in important ways to students’ lives and learning – it involves intense engagement, development of motivation and confidence, and the use of creative and dynamic ways of thinking and knowing. It is well documented that the intellectual and emotional development of children is enhanced through study of the arts. Through the study of dance, drama, music, and visual arts, students develop the ability to think creatively and critically. The arts nourish and stimulate the imagination, and provide students with an expanded range of tools, techniques, and skills to help them gain insights into the world around them and to represent their understandings in various ways. Study of the arts also provides opportunities for differentiation of both instruction and learning environments.

Participation in the arts and learning about the arts can also broaden students’ horizons in various ways. Through study of the arts, students learn about some of the diverse artistic practices, both traditional and contemporary, of a variety of cultures. They learn that they are part of a living and changing culture. They also learn to appreciate the similarities and differences among the various forms of artistic expression of people around the world. The arts offer students unique opportunities to engage in imaginative and innovative thought and action and to develop the ability to communicate and represent their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in numerous ways.

The Ontario Curriculum, The Arts, Grades 1 – 8, 2009, p. 3


Note: Growing Success (2010) is a Ministry of Education document introduced in September, 2010 to aid in the implementation of the revised assessment, evaluation, and reporting framework for Ontario schools. The policies and practices within this document serve as the structure in which the assessment and evaluation components of school arts programs are developed and implemented.

Assessment is the process of gathering information that accurately reflects how well a student is achieving the curriculum expectations in a subject or course. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning. Assessment for the purpose of improving student learning is seen as both “assessment for learning” and “assessment as learning”. As part of assessment for learning, teachers provide students with descriptive feedback and coaching for improvement. Teachers engage in assessment as learning by helping all students develop their capacity to be independent, autonomous learners who are able to set individual goals, monitor their own progress, determine next steps, and reflect on their thinking and learning. . . .

Teachers will obtain assessment information through a variety of means, which may include formal and informal observations, discussions, learning conversations, questioning, conferences, homework, tasks done in groups, demonstrations, projects, portfolios, developmental continua, performances, peer- and self-assessments, self-reflections, essays, and tests.

For Grades 1 to 12, assessment is based on evidence of student achievement of the provincial curriculum expectations. Teachers will ensure that students’ demonstration of their achievement is assessed in a balanced manner with respect to the four categories of the achievement chart, and that achievement of particular expectations is considered within the appropriate categories. All specific expectations must be accounted for in instruction and assessment.

As essential steps in assessment for learning and as learning, teachers need to:
⦁ plan assessment concurrently and integrate it seamlessly with instruction;
⦁ share learning goals and success criteria with students at the outset of learning to ensure that students and teachers have a common and shared understanding of these goals and criteria as learning progresses;
⦁ gather information about student learning before, during, and at or near the end of a period of instruction, using a variety of assessment strategies and tools;
⦁ use assessment to inform instruction, guide next steps, and help students monitor their progress towards achieving their learning goals;
⦁ analyse and interpret evidence of learning;
⦁ give and receive specific and timely descriptive feedback about student learning;
⦁ help students to develop skills of peer- and self-assessment.

Teachers will also ensure that they assess students’ development of learning skills and work habits in Grades 1 to 12, as set out in Chapter 2 of this document, using the assessment approaches described above to gather information and provide feedback to students. (Growing Success, 2010, pp. 28-29).

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Assessment. The process of gathering, from a variety of sources, information that accurately reflects how well a student is achieving the curriculum expectations in a subject or course.

• Assessment as learning. The process of developing and supporting student metacognition. Students are actively engaged in this assessment process: that is, they monitor their own learning; use assessment feedback from teacher, self, and peers to determine next steps; and set individual learning goals. Assessment as learning requires students to have a clear understanding of the learning goals and the success criteria. Assessment as learning focuses on the role of the student as the critical connector between assessment and learning. (Adapted from Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Education, 2006, p. 41.)

• Assessment for learning. The ongoing process of gathering and interpreting evidence about student learning for the purpose of determining where students are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there. The information gathered is used by teachers to provide feedback and adjust instruction and by students to focus their learning. Assessment for learning is a high-yield instructional strategy that takes place while the student is still learning and serves to promote learning. (Adapted from Assessment Reform Group, 2002.)

• Assessment of learning. The process of collecting and interpreting evidence for the purpose of summarizing learning at a given point in time, to make judgements about the quality of student learning on the basis of established criteria, and to assign a value to represent that quality. The information gathered may be used to communicate the student’s achievement to parents, other teachers, students themselves, and others. It occurs at or near the end of a cycle of learning. (Growing Success, 2010, pp. 143-144)

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The primary purpose of assessment and evaluation is to improve student learning. Information gathered through assessment helps teachers to determine students’ strengths and weaknesses in their achievement of the curriculum expectations in each subject in each grade. This information also serves to guide teachers in adapting curriculum and instructional approaches to students’ needs and in assessing the overall effectiveness of programs and classroom practices.

Assessment is the process of gathering information from a variety of sources (including assignments, day-to-day observations, conversations or conferences, demonstrations, projects, performances, and tests) that accurately reflects how well a student is achieving the curriculum expectations in a subject. As part of assessment, teachers provide students with descriptive feedback that guides their efforts towards improvement. Evaluation refers to the process of judging the quality of student work on the basis of established criteria, and assigning a value to represent that quality. In Ontario elementary schools, the value assigned will be in the form of a letter grade for Grades 1 to 6 and a percentage grade for Grades 7 and 8.
The Ontario Curriculum, The Arts, Grades 1 – 8, (2009), p. 29


All curriculum expectations must be accounted for in instruction, but evaluation focuses on students’ achievement of the overall expectations. A student’s achievement of the overall expectations is evaluated on the basis of his or her achievement of related specific expectations. The overall expectations are broad in nature, and the specific expectations define the particular content or scope of the knowledge and skills referred to in the overall expectations. Teachers will use their professional judgement to determine which specific expectations should be used to evaluate achievement of the overall expectations, and which ones will be covered in instruction and assessment (e.g., through direct observation) but not necessarily evaluated.
The Ontario Curriculum, The Arts, Grades 1 – 8, (2009), p. 30


The characteristics given in the Achievement Chart (The Ontario Curriculum, The Arts, Grades 1 – 8, (2009), pages 34–35) for Level 3 represent the “provincial standard” for achievement of the expectations. A complete picture of achievement at Level 3 in the arts can be constructed by reading from top to bottom in the shaded column of the Achievement Chart, headed “Level 3”. Parents of students achieving at Level 3 can be confident that their children will be prepared for work in the next grade.

Level 1 identifies achievement that falls much below the provincial standard, while still reflecting a passing grade. Level 2 identifies achievement that approaches the standard. Level 4 identifies achievement that surpasses the standard. It should be noted that achievement at Level 4 does not mean that the student has achieved expectations beyond those specified for a particular grade. It indicates that the student has achieved all or almost all of the expectations for that grade, and that he or she demonstrates the ability to use the knowledge and skills specified for that grade in more sophisticated ways than a student achieving at Level 3.
The Ontario Curriculum, The Arts, Grades 1 – 8, (2009), p. 30


The categories, defined by clear criteria, represent four broad areas of knowledge and skills within which the subject expectations for any given grade are organized. The four categories should be considered as interrelated, reflecting the wholeness and interconnectedness of learning.

These are the categories of knowledge and skills:

Knowledge and Understanding. Subject-specific content acquired in each grade (knowledge), and the comprehension of its meaning and significance (understanding).
Thinking. The use of critical and creative thinking skills and/or processes.
Communication. The conveying of meaning through various forms.
Application. The use of knowledge and skills to make connections within and between various contexts.

Teachers will ensure that student work is assessed and/or evaluated in a balanced manner with respect to the four categories, and that achievement of particular expectations is considered within the appropriate categories.
The Ontario Curriculum, The Arts, Grades 1 – 8, (2009), p. 31



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