In my alternative certification program there was a course entitled Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum. In this course we were asked to review the STAAR exam. Although many of the teachers in this course were core subject educators, there were many elective teachers including fine arts. The importance of this section was to highlight the importance of reading and writing in all subjects and how developing students’ reading and writing in one subject will aid the students in other subjects as well as on the STAAR exam.
During this course all teachers were asked to examine their STAAR test or one that closely aligns to our content area. I reviewed the 2017 U.S. History and English II tests since I include many aspects of history, analysis and critique into my studio arts classes. What I found from my analysis is that student will benefit most from increasing their analytic skills and their technical writing skills.
When I reviewed the U.S. History exam; I was surprised that the majority of the questions were relatively simple, with non-complex language and included a few graphs, maps, historical photographs and propaganda artworks. Only a few of the questions were lengthy due to the inclusion of historical text. For the history exam, I noticed that students will benefit from some route memorization of major world events and specific vocabulary relating to these events. For example, the very first question asks students to identify how “the Progressive goal to implement women’s suffrage” was accomplished. Students should have the background information regarding this event in history as well as knowledge of the meaning of suffrage. If students are only able to recall the meaning of suffrage, students would be able to infer the correct answer. Since, suffrage refers to voting rights, students could infer that the correct answer relates to the U.S. constitution, since the constitution guarantees civil rights and liberties. Another example is question four of the history exam; the question begins with a passage from NASA explaining the “heat shield material [is] designed to act as an insulating barrier…”. Using only the information provided, students should be able to infer that the correct answer must also relate to heat. Since the only one of the answer choices relates to heat, students would be able to arrive at the correct answer.
When I reviewed the English II exam and was surprised by the lengthiness of the stories and of the exam itself, at least in comparison to the history exam. The other significant difference I noticed is that the English II exam is broken into three parts: technical writing, composition and literary analysis. I noticed that the first and the third section are multiple choice where the students must analyze the passages provided and answer test generated questions; whereas the second section is an examination prompt asking the students to generate a written composition. Both the first and the third section of the exam can be seen as “skill building”. Students are asked to use their knowledge of grammar and syntax in first section and their reading comprehension skills in the third section. The second section of the exam can be seen as “applied learning” since students are asked to illustrate their comprehensive understanding of English by composing a well supported, well structured essay. For these reasons I will explain my findings in the order of first, third and second sections of the exam.
In the first portion of the exam, students need a strong grasp of grammatical skills and syntax in order to be able to identify the correct answers to the questions such as identifying effective syntactical revisions, more desirable organizational transitions and even identify grammatical errors such as “it” verses “they”, or “it’s” verses “its”.
The third section of the exam focuses on reading comprehension, students must know relevant vocabulary, such as theme and main idea, as well as analytic skills to identify the correct answers for questions involving theme, main idea and passage summary. Students’ analytic skills are used for questions such as 19 and 41, in which students are asked to define passage vocabulary. Even if students do not know the definitions for these terms, “clambered" and “mettle”, using inferencing skills students should be able to use context clues to identify the correct answers.
In the second section of the English II exam students must demonstrate their wholistic understanding of English to compose a personal essay. In order to do so, students must combine the technical aspects of writing, with clear, concise content. This section of the exam is the most complex because students must not only be able to use higher level skills, but also demonstrate application of these skills in their compositions verses use critical thinking to analyze provided essays.
In summary, after reviewing the STAAR tests and reviewing the skills students will need in order to be successful, I have a more informed perspective of the importance of reading and writing across all curriculum. As mentioned, I will be teaching art at the high school level. It is a misinformed opinion to view the visual arts as nothing more than simply “making pretty pictures”. Both studio arts and art history involve an extensive amount of in-depth critical analysis, not just in creating artworks, but in studying prominent artists, art movements and art theories. Art students, whether studio arts or art history, must be introduced to the full array of complexities involved in the creative process. Students are not just “making pretty pictures”. Students are engaged in the in-depth study of aesthetics, theory and critique that involves a considerable amount of thorough research and comprehensive writing. In partaking in these activities, students are not only becoming more informed about historical and contemporary art, but also in their artistic decisions when creating artworks. As an art teacher, I will incorporate the full complexities of the art making process, including developing students’ reading and writing skills.
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