Inspiring Students in Lifelong Engagement with Music

Artful Thinking Routines and the National Core Arts Standards

Inspiring Students in Lifelong Engagement with Music

By NAfME Member Lucia Schaefer


Imagine someone walking into your music classroom to observe your instruction, what would they see? In my classroom they would see students reading and notating melodic and rhythmic passages, singing songs from a variety of cultural backgrounds, adding instrumentation to known songs and literature, and maybe evening doing some improvisation or composition depending on the unit we are in. Of course there are many more amazing things music teachers do that I left out but generally speaking, this is the scene in most music classrooms in the United States. And this is great! If your students are reading, writing, singing, and performing that means you are accomplishing half of the National Core Arts Standards. Did you know you were such an amazing music teacher? The challenge now is to better integrate the other half of the National Core Arts Standards into your instruction.


History of the National Core Arts Standards

In May of 2010, the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics were about to be released and the National Organizations for Science and Social Studies were in the process of revising their own national standards. The National Arts Standards had not been revised since 1994 so the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) was created with the goal of spearheading this project.

Over the next three years, the NCCAS brought together national leaders and educators from Music, Theater, Visual Art, Media Arts, and Dance in order to draft what would eventually become the National Core Arts Standards. 1 In October of 2014, the NCCAS website was unveiled and with it came the ability for teachers to peruse the standards by grade and subject.


So what are the Core Arts Standards?


There are four Core Arts standards that revolve around the artistic process

  • Creating: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Performing/Presenting/Producing: Analyze, interpret, and select artistic work for presentation.
  • Responding: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Connecting: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.2

Remember when I said you were amazing for accomplishing half of the National Core Arts Standards? Take a look at the first two: Creating and Performing/Presenting/Producing. When your students read and notate music, compose an ostinato or orchestrate a piece of text, they are making creative decisions therefore satisfying the first standard. When your students then revise their work in order to perform, they are satisfying the second standard. From my own anecdotal evidence it seems to me that most music educators have the first two standards well represented in their classrooms. The tricky part now is how to consistently integrate the third and fourth standards.


Struggling with Responding and Connecting


The Responding and Connecting standards can be challenging for a number of reasons. With all of the concrete performance skills that have to have be taught, it can be difficult to find the time for extended listening or reflection activities. Additionally, it can be even more difficult for educators to figure out how to lead a discussion that allows students to make a personal connection to the work based on their unique life experiences. This is where Artful Thinking Routines come in to play.


Harvard’s Project Zero


Project Zero began in 1967 as a loose collective of Harvard research assistants and senior scholars that met regularly to discuss philosophical, psychological, and conceptual issues in the arts and art education. As the organization moved through the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the group turned their attention towards empirical research in cognitive and developmental psychology as it related to the arts. During this period, some of the researchers also became interested in researching issues such as problem solving, critical thinking, and brain organization through the lens of the arts.

From the ’80s into the early ’90s, Project Zero became much larger, hiring more staff members with backgrounds in education. Also at this time, Project Zero became involved with schools that utilized the multiple intelligences model in their instruction. From the ’90s through to today, Project Zero continues to research educational practices and work closely with schools in order to conduct case studies.3 Many educational strategies and best practices have emerged from Project Zero’s field research including Artful Thinking Routines.


Artful Thinking Routines


The Artful Thinking program was developed by Project Zero in collaboration with the Traverse City, Michigan Area Public Schools (TCAPS) with the goal of developing a model approach for integrating art into classroom instruction and to help teachers regularly use works of visual art and music to strengthen student thinking and learning.4 While the model was written with non-arts teachers in mind, that doesn’t mean that arts educators can’t use the routines to dig deeper into content and concepts.

The Project Zero Artful Thinking website is an excellent resource for learning about different routines and the thinking processes they best compliment. The website is organized into an “Artful Thinking Palette” where educators can explore various thinking dispositions and find activities that exercise the target cognitive skill. A screen shot of that homepage can be seen in Figure 1. All of the routines listed can be used as is or adapted for the music classroom in order to satisfy the third and fourth National Core Arts Standards.


fig 1

Figure 1: Artful Thinking Paelette5


Artful Thinking Routines and the National Core Arts Standards


Consider again the third and fourth National Core Arts Standards; Responding and Connecting. How can students be assessed in these categories in the music classroom? In the Responding standard, students must be able to perceive and analyze artistic works, interpret intent and meaning in an artistic work, and apply criteria to evaluate an artistic work. In the Artful Thinking Palette, these skills can be found in the Observing and Describing, Questioning & Investigating, Exploring Viewpoints, and Reasoning categories

Take, for example, a unit exploring the music of the Civil Rights Era. Students could explore the musical elements of the song We Shall Overcome by utilizing the “Listening: Ten Times Two” routine that I have adapted from visual art to music (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Listening: Ten Times Two6

Students could then explore various perspectives through the “Circle of Viewpoints” routine in order to derive intent and artistic meaning (Figure 3).


  1. Brainstorm a list of different perspectives.
  2. Choose one perspective to explore, using these sentence-starters:
  • I am thinking of…the topic … from the viewpoint of…the viewpoint you’ve chosen
  • I think…describe the topic from your viewpoint. Be an actor–take on the character of your viewpoint
  • A question I have from this viewpoint is…ask a question from this viewpoint


WHAT KIND OF THINKING DOES THIS ROUTINE ENCOURAGE? This routine helps students see and explore multiple perspectives. It helps them understand that different people can have different kinds of connections to the same thing, and that these different connections influence what people see and think.

WHEN AND WHERE CAN IT BE USED? The routine works well with topics and artworks that deal with complex issues. It also works well when students are having a hard time seeing other perspectives or when things seem like there are only two sides to an issue. The routine can be used to open discussions about dilemmas and other controversial issues.

Figure 3: Circle of Viewpoints7


A similar process can be used for the Connecting standard. The Comparing and Connecting category has excellent activities for this. To assist students in making a personal connect to We Shall Overcome, students could complete the Connect / Extend / Challenge routine (Figure 4).


  1. How is the artwork or object connected to something you know about?
  2. What new ideas or impressions do you have that extended your thinking in new directions?
  3. What is challenging or confusing? What do you wonder about?

WHAT KIND OF THINKING DOES THIS ROUTINE ENCOURAGE? The routine helps students make connections between new ideas and prior knowledge. It also encourages them to make a personal connection to an artwork or topic.

WHEN AND WHERE CAN IT BE USED? A natural place to use this routine is after students have experienced something new. The routine is broadly applicable: Use it after students have explored a work of art, or anything else newly introduced in he curriculum. Try it as a reflection during a lesson, after a longer project, or when completing a unit of study. Try using it after another routine!

Figure 4: Connect/Extend/Challenge8




There are so many thought provoking combinations of Artful Thinking Routines that will help both you and your students access those third and fourth National Core Arts Standards. While performance skills are vital to the success of all student musicians, critical thinking skills are essential to the lifelong engagement of students in the musical arts.

I hope to see some of you reading this at the session I am leading on this same topic at the NAfME National In-Service Conference in Grapevine, Texas, this November. In my session, I will model in more detail how to apply many more routines than were discussed here in the music classroom. I am looking forward to seeing you there!


Works Cited

  1. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2016, from
  2. National Core Arts Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2016, from
  3. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2016, from
  4. Overview : Artful Thinking. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2016, from
  5. Thinking Palette : Artful Thinking. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2016, from
  6. Listening: Ten Times Two. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2016, from
  7. Circle of Viewpoints. (n.d.) Retrieved June 15, 2016, from
  8. Connect/Extend/Challenge. (n.d.) Retrieved June 15, 2016, from


About the author:


Lucia Schaefer is in her fifth year teaching Pre-Kindergarten through 6th Grade General Music at Rosa Parks Elementary School in Prince George’s County, MD. She received her Bachelor of Music Education in 2011 and her Master of Arts in Teaching in 2012 from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. Ms. Schaefer has also received Kodaly Certification this past summer from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. Additionally, in 2014, Ms. Schaefer completed a graduate certificate program from the University of Maryland in Arts Integration and frequently leads sessions and workshops on the subject speaking to both arts and non-arts educators.

Lucia Schaefer
Vocal/General Music Leader Teacher
Rosa L. Parks Elementary School
Prince George’s County, Maryland
C: 703-244-9338


Lucia Schaefer will be presenting on her topic “Artful Thinking Routines and the National Core Arts Standards” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today! 

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