Australian Curriculum Draft Arts Shape Paper: First Impressions

Post updated 25 October, 2010.

On Friday 8 October, the much anticipated draft of the new Australian Curriculum’s Shape Paper for The Arts was released by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

The final Shape Paper will inform the writers of The Arts curriculum K-12 for Australian schools, with the intention of implementing this in K-10 in 2012.

The five defined art forms for the Australian Curriculum are:

  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Media arts
  • Music
  • Visual arts

It has to be said at the outset that writing this document must have been a difficult task. Not only are some art forms, particularly Dance and Drama, younger and less instilled in some state curricular across Australia, these are also viewed in some states as more co-curricular art forms and less classroom-based disciplines. Add to this, the issue where terminology in the arts differs from state to state curriculum, no doubt making it a bit of a nightmare issuing terminology in this Draft Shape Paper on a national level, labeling various concepts and practices.

Rationale

The draft Shape Paper has a sound rationale, stating

The Arts are fundamental to the learning of all young Australians. The Arts make distinct and unique contributions to each young person’s ability to perceive, imagine, create, think, feel, symbolise, communicate, understand and become confident and creative individuals. The Arts in this Australian curriculum will provide all young Australians with the opportunity to imagine and creatively engage, personally and collectively within their real and imagined worlds.

Definitions

“The Arts” is defined in the paper, acknowledging “Each art form is recognisably distinct”, while at the same time realising “the Arts are organically connected”. The relationship between imagination, creativity and design in the Arts is outlined, as is the intimate connection between the Arts and culture in Australian society.

“Drama” is defined in a succinct paragraph. I have a couple of concerns here. Firstly, the paper states “Drama is a collaborative performing art”. Not always! My perspectives come from the Victorian school curriculum and may be different to teachers reading this from interstate, or even internationally. But when a student creates a script-based monologue or self-devised solo performance, apart from some assistance from the classroom teacher, the task is largely an individual and not a collaborative one. The Arts Draft Shape Paper should have noted that occasionally, drama in education can also be an individual performing art.

My second concern is “Drama becomes theatre when it is acted by participants for an audience other than themselves”. This is an acceptable definition but the paper uses the term inconsistently. Stating “Students learn that as an art form drama draws on play, theatre and performance” is confusing if the previous definition implies theatre is performance.

Bands

The Arts in the draft Shape Paper for Australian Curriculum are divided into the following bands:

  • K-2
  • Years 3-8
  • Years 9-10
  • Years 11-12

Early in the draft Shape Paper for The Arts, the document states the K-8 curriculum will be offered in bands K-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8. Yet the majority of the paper then describes curriculum content in all five art forms in bands K-2 and 3-8, only. Why doesn’t the draft of the Shape Paper offer curriculum information in the bands ACARA intends to use in the final curriculum documents? This is structurally confusing, ambiguous and inconsistent. Having a single paragraph in the draft Shape Paper for six year levels of curriculum (3-8) is too broad. I don’t think a non-specialist primary drama teacher would be thrilled with a draft curriculum document such as this describing skill levels and activities the same for a Year 3 student as they are for a Year 8 student, and vice versa with a secondary teacher at Year 8.

Having all students study each of the five art forms in K-8, with an integrated approach in K-2, is welcomed, but will test the resources (both teaching and physical) in many schools of Australia. The paper then reflects specialisiation in one or more of the five art forms, and also within each art form, in Years 9-10, and a solidification and extension of these skills in Years 11-12, which makes perfect sense.

Strands

Key to The Arts curriculum are the three strands of:

  • Generating
  • Realizing
  • Responding

“Generating” is defined as “using the elements of the art form to imagine and design artwork from an expressive or imaginative impulse, an idea, an intention or a stimulus”.

“Realizing” (why the American spelling?) is defined as artists “managing with imagination the materials, instruments and media of the art form, to communicate artwork for audiences to experience”.

“Responding”refers to “the two complementary processes of apprehending and comprehending artwork”. “Students learn to apprehend the artwork by experiencing it through the three dimensions of perception and relating them to the three world perspectives”.

Firstly, curriculum documents should always be written in plain language. “Apprehending” is not, in my opinion, a plain language term. This will result in training arts educators across the country new terminology.

Secondly, it took me a while to discover what exactly the paper was referring to as the “three dimensions of perception”? A scour through the 26-page document reveals these as the “sensory, cognitive and affective dimensions of perception” defined in a different section. Similarly, the “three world perspectives” must be referring to the “three realms of experience” (personal, others in society we experience and things beyond our direct experience). These should have been connected better in the draft shape paper. Trying to connect the dots in a curriculum document is frustrating.

Close attention by Drama teachers across Australia should be given to the table in The Arts draft Shape Paper. The “Realizing” strand, for instance, will include both rehearsing and performing in Drama, whereas some states may have current terminology that implies “realizing” may only involve an actual performance.

Finally, it is great to see a glossary of several terms used throughout the paper, but I do not understand the definition for “realizing” as “real-ize meaning to make real, in contrast to realise – to be fully aware of”. Is it a difference in spelling from “realize” (American) to “realise” (International) that alters the meaning of the word? I use “realise” to mean either definition, depending on the context, but without changing the spelling of the word to denote the difference in meaning.

Formal feedback on the draft Shape Paper for The Arts can be submitted via the ACARA website until 17 December 2010.

I’d be interested in other drama educators opinions on this document. Please add comments below and perhaps tell everyone which state of Australia you are from when you comment.

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3 Responses

  1. Grace says:

    Hi Just a note about “realizing” being an American spelling. I went to school in Scotland in 1962/63 and was taught to spell with a ‘z’ in my words so I would not necessarily say that this is Americanized. Some very good comments though about the Draft curriculum doc.

    Cheers,

  2. Michael says:

    Where does Theatre studies fit in to all of this? I have the same concerns in my other subject Media, which does not exist in some other states. I am going along to the feedback session in November and will be interested to see what others think.

  3. Borbs says:

    The interesting detail for me was the inclusion of what I gather is a minimum of 160 hours of study for a two year ‘band’ (i.e. years 7-8) for all of the ‘5 major art forms’. That is essentially 1 hour a week for a semester for Drama. Some schools (including mine) do not offer this in their current curriculum. In my case, my school doesn’t offer Drama until year 8. This will cause a major stir, particularly in schools where Drama is not offered at all. The strage thing is, the shape paper implies that this is true for all the Arts. Does this mean that an all boy Catholic school will have to have Dance as part of their curriculum because the N.C. prescribes it? How does this work? Have I got the wrong end of the stick?

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