TAMPA – The students in Nicole Carpenter’s Photography 1 class at Plant City High School may not have not heard much about the Common Core State Standards. But they do know they are spending more time learning how to think deeper and more critically, even in their art classes.
The Common Core lays out goals for students in language arts and math, but Hillsborough County school district teachers of non-core subjects – like Carpenter – are using the standards in their classes, too.
The state adopted the educational goals for students in 2010 and renamed them the Florida Standards last month. And over the summer, district art teachers – as well as teachers of other electives such as music, physical education and drama – received Common Core training.
Carpenter is embracing the standards, which supporters say are more rigorous and will better help students prepare for college and careers. In fact, she said they reaffirm some of the methods she was already using, such as teaching students to find a deeper meaning when observing others’ artwork.
“I think people get the idea that because it has the word ‘core’ in it, that it’s not stuff that we do,” said Carpenter, who has taught for 16 years. “It’s the opposite. So many of the expectations in Common Core are deeply rooted in our arts curriculum. We look at a piece of art and say, ‘What was going on financially and politically?’ We make those cross-curricular connections all the time.”
Carpenter works the standards into her photography classes, as well as her drawing, painting and studio classes. She uses more words with her students that Common Core emphasizes, such as “evidence.” She also is adjusting to carving out time for more class discussion.
“There are days we may not be making art,” she said. “Maybe, we are spending the whole day doing a close reading. It might take a whole class to do it effectively.”
“Close reading” exercises – or reading something multiple times – are frequently done in language arts classes.
In her second-period photography class on Friday, Carpenter split the students into groups of three and four to analyze a photograph called “House of Hysteria,” taken in 1941 by Clarence John Laughlin and depicting a decrepit building in Louisiana with no roof, a girl and a hand reaching in from the corner.
The class is studying shadows, which are prominent in the photograph.
“Write any word that comes to mind when you’re looking at that image,” Carpenter said. “Second, look at the image and tell me what mood or feeling you get when you look at it.”
The students got to work, first writing down their own answers and then discussing them with their groups.
Words that came to mind: creepy, sketchy, depressing, disorienting.
Then, they wrote down art-related vocabulary words they thought of when looking at the image: value, space and texture.
Finally, Carpenter asked the students what message they thought the photographer was trying to send.
One group thought the photographer was trying to convey something that happened in the past that still affects him. Another suggested that the outstretched hand in the photograph was meant to show that “in the midst of hysteria, there’s always hope.”
“The artist was trying to express the craziness of modern life,” Carpenter explained, at the end of the lesson, which took up the majority of the 50-minute class. “He’s saying, ‘this is what’s happening now in our society.’”
Freshman Celia Adams, 15, said she doesn’t know much about Florida’s education standards, but she enjoys the way Carpenter conducts her class.
“It’s one of my favorite classes,” she said. “You learn things you use in other classes and real life.”
Rylie Seda, 14, agrees.
“I’ve always wanted to be a photographer,” she said. “Being in this class has made me want to more. She actually shows examples.”
Across the county, at Gorrie Elementary School in Hyde Park, students are also getting a taste of the new standards in their art classes.
There, art teacher Karen Barmore has her students “read” artwork they are studying. She has them describe, analyze, interpret and judge each piece.
“I have children tell me all the time, ‘I didn’t like that painting in the beginning, but now that I saw the meaning I’m looking at it differently,’” said Barmore, who was a finalist for the county’s teacher of the year. “It’s very Common Core. Teaching children to look deeper, not just on the surface, is important.”