Curriculum Design

What Does Unpacking the National Core Arts Standards Look Like?

inspiration chalkboard sign

Art teachers are experts at coming up with lesson plans that are creative and engaging. You may be required to align your lessons with state, national, or district standards. Understanding the National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) will inform planning curriculum and instruction for your art program and prepare your students to be lifelong learners.

Let’s explore the National Core Arts Standards together to better equip us as art teachers and our students as artists.

Before we jump in, here is a handy download that provides an overview of the standards. For more resources like this, check out the Pack, Implementing the National Art Standards in PRO Learning.

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Implementing the NCAS encourages lifelong learning.

The National Core Arts Standards are aligned with the four artistic processes: Creating, Presenting, Responding, and Connecting. These processes build artistic literacy in your art students.  The updated national standards focus on creating artistic literacy to support common values that connect the arts and lifelong learning. The National Core Arts Standards: A Conceptual Framework, or NCAS, recognizes that the arts serve to encourage “communication,” “creative personal realization,” cultural and historical awareness, relationships and connections, “well-being,” and “community engagement.” These are valuable life skills that go beyond the art room. We can plant the seeds at a young age through a quality arts education.

According to The Artistic Literacy Institute, artistic literacy is “a human right and a teachable skill. It is the ability to connect both personally and meaningfully to works of art and, through this process, to forge connections to our humanity and the humanity of others.” When you consider how you create those types of connections in your art room, you can use the national standards to strengthen your existing curriculum and dive deeper into the artistic process.

Strengthen the artistic experience for all of your students by starting with these four processes.

Creating artwork or inspiring others to do the same may have led you into art education. When you engage in artmaking, you generate ideas, make meaningful connections, reflect, and possibly share your work with others. As you read about each of the four processes, think about how your practice of creating art aligns with the processes and how you can help guide your students through them.

art supply list by student

1. Creating

The process focused on Creating may be the one thing (creating artwork) that most people associate with visual arts. As art teachers, we know that a lot goes into the creation process. From coming up with ideas to completing the artwork, creating can cover it all.

There are three anchor standards for Creating:

  1. Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  2. Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  3. Anchor Standard 3: Refine and complete artistic work.

What does Creating look like in the art room?

The National Core Arts Standards: A Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning defines Creating as “conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.” The anchor standards listed above can guide you as you compose learning objectives aligned with the creative process. They are also expectations for what art teachers should look for in their students’ learning. You can easily place phrases such as, “The students will” or “The students will be able to” in front of each anchor standard and use it as a learning objective to help you in lesson planning. To dig more into this, make sure to watch Identifying Essential Content and Objectives Pack in PRO Learning.

As you begin planning your lessons, consider the definition of creating: “conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.” How are you already fostering original and meaningful thinking in your students? You may already be using brainstorming, writing prompts, creativity exercises, and offering themes and choices in subject matter to guide your students towards generating their own ideas. Developing those ideas into artwork involves exploring materials, media, and techniques. It is a good practice to periodically reflect on what strategies are in place in your teaching. For more ideas and resources on this, watch the Pack Generating Ideas for Art in PRO Learning.

Planning artwork can include thumbnail sketches, boot camps, sketchbooks, or collaborative activities. As your students work through the creative process, a lot of reflection may need to happen for them to refine and complete their artwork. Reflection can occur at any point during the creative process. You can help your students reflect by having them participate in gallery walks, peer feedback, self-reflection, critiques, or show-and-tell style presentations. Creating and reflecting may take many forms, and it can be helpful to take a step back and write down what these look like in your art room. Looking for more ideas and resources for planning artwork? Check out the following Packs in PRO Learning: Helping Students Plan Artwork, Sketchbook Ideas that Really Work, and Finding Success with Collaboration at the Elementary Level.

student painting with watercolor

2. Presenting

The national standard for Presenting artwork encompasses performing, presenting, and producing. When considering the definition of this standard, the NCAS emphasizes “realizing,” “interpreting,” and “presenting artistic ideas and work.” Let’s break down this standard and see what it means in the art room.

There are three anchor standards for Presenting:

  1. Anchor Standard 4: Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.
  2. Anchor Standard 5: Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.
  3. Anchor Standard 6: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.

What does Presenting look like in the art room?

Once the creative process begins, artwork has the potential to bring ideas from an internal thought to an external, visual form. Then the visual artwork is presented to the art teacher, peers, family, friends, or whoever the audience may be. Presentations can occur at any stage in the creation process. Art teachers can use presentations as learning experiences that are ongoing and reflective.

Presenting may naturally be connected to the physical display of finished artwork, but it is not limited to it. When you look at the anchor standards and even closer at the NCAS’s Visual Arts at a Glance matrix, there are opportunities to learn about the role of presentation as it relates to art. You may teach about venues for an exhibition, including museums, local galleries, or your classroom display. The Collection, Exploring Digital Museums in FLEX Curriculum has lessons from beginner to intermediate to help you get started.

Presenting provides opportunities to discover the relationships between artwork and storytelling, showing meaning and cultural illustrations of life and history. Another avenue to explore is providing the space for student autonomy in the presentation of their own artwork. Including students in the decision-making process when showing their work can be empowering. You can learn more about displaying artwork in the Showcasing Student Art Pack in PRO Learning.

student painting with watercolor

3. Responding

The National Core Arts Standards: A Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning states that the standard for Responding is “understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.” Responding relies heavily on thinking and communicating. It is an excellent starting point to develop or continue fostering creative and critical thinking skills.

There are three anchor standards for Responding:

  1. Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  2. Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  3. Anchor Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

What does Responding look like in the art room?

Have you ever thought about how you can increase learning through effective questioning and communication? When you look closely at the breakdown of grade-level standards, you may notice the sprinkling of verbs linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy. You may already be using those higher-order thinking verbs as you write your learning objectives and interact with your students. Dig deeper into questioning strategies in the Pack, Elevating Learning Through Effective Questioning Strategies in PRO Learning.

One common strategy you may be incorporating is critiquing artworks. Critiques come in a variety of forms and can be done at different stages of the creative process. It is a great way for students to self-assess their own artwork and introduce them to the artwork of others. Critiques can be formal, informal, diagnostic, formative, or summative activities. You can even create fun activities that are both entertaining and learning opportunities. Learn about more critique methods in the Critiques at Every Level Pack in PRO Learning.

4. Connecting

When exploring the standard of Connecting, the National Core Arts Standards: A Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning defines it as “relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.” You may tap into meaningful connections in your own artwork as an artist yourself. Because of this, the creation process becomes engaging for you from beginning to end. Through our own artmaking experiences, we are expert guides at helping our students find their own inspiration.

There are two anchor standards for Connecting:

  1. Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  2. Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

What does Connecting look like in the art room?

While Creating art with meaningful connections comes naturally for children, the traditional teacher-driven public education system may hinder creativity. Art teachers have the opportunity to teach creativity strategies and encourage skills that allow students to connect personal meaning, ideas, and experiences with artmaking and artwork. The art room is the perfect place to cultivate an environment that fuels creativity, and the best part is, you can start right now.

Making creativity a priority in your teaching and learning can be the direct route to meeting the Connecting standard. You can establish a creativity routine that exercises the imagination. For example, you can use prompts to bring awareness to your students’ personal experiences. Teaching for creativity through the artistic process can help students discover their own voices and express what is important to them. Brainstorming, timed thumbnail sketches, mind mapping, or collaborative activities can help students develop connections between personal ideas and visual artmaking.

inspiration chalkboard sign

After reading the National Core Arts Standards breakdown, you may feel more comfortable knowing that you are already practicing each of the processes and standards. Remember that you are an art teacher. You are familiar with the creative process and an expert at sharing your passion for artmaking with your students. Once you recognize this, you will find it easier to align your curriculum with the standards to guide your students’ learning.

Listen to these additional resources:

National Core Arts Standards (2015) National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. Rights Administered by the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education. Dover, DE, all rights reserved.

NCAS does not endorse or promote any goods or services offered by the Art of Education University.

What do the national standards look like in your art classroom?

How can you incorporate innovative teaching and learning strategies to foster artistic literacy and lifelong learning?

What questions do you still have about the National Core Arts Standards? 

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jessica Madenford

Jess Madenford, an art educator and department leader, is a former AOEU Writer. She believes in the magic of personal and professional development and coaches others to rise to their potential.

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