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Originally, when I began including the “why’s” behind my art lessons, it was simply to coax my seventh graders into deeper levels of engagement. Yet while all fully participated, had fun, and mastered the rubric objectives, my kiddos could not independently recall or apply the learned content in the next lesson. In trying to prompt recall, I’d say, “Do you remember what we learned about color schemes?” In response, as if hearing the words for the first time, their puzzled expressions spoke volumes. When I began to acknowledge their struggle for basic understanding, it was then I realized the greater importance of “why”: the facilitation of transfer.

The difference between my students knowing visual art concepts (like color schemes) and understanding them is their ability to transfer that knowledge to new experiences and disciplines, to explain the concept in their own words, or to even teach it to another. If my aim is for learners to integrate artistic learning as they move through different art classes, or more important, throughout life, I had to ask myself, “Do my assessments really prompt students to think critically and make connections that show true understanding?”

Olivia Gude noted, “Many in the field of art education have perhaps become too complacent about using the finished artwork as the only evidence of student learning” (Sweeny, 2014, p.10). Given our national standards history, our coziness with assessment denoting mastery of knowledge and skills is understandable. However, our new standards offer pathways to artistic ways of thinking — creating, presenting, responding, and connecting — that require us to shift from product-based experiences to process-based ones.

Unpacking Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards

If our “why” is to cultivate makers and problem-solvers able to respond to and appreciate the world around them, we must acknowledge the need for multiple assessments that reflect the layered and integrated, process-based nature of art production. We value what we assess, and what we assess communicates to students (and other stakeholders) its importance. As content advocates, we can attest to our disciplines’ potential to teach connective knowledge and skills related to academic success, but what evidence do we actually gather to reflect and nurture the transfer of big idea outcomes needed in life?

These big idea teachings that foster Artistic Literacy are found within Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards’ Enduring Understandings (EU) and Essential Questions (EQ). EU’s are the long-term outcomes sustaining the whole-child focus of our work. EQ’s promote thoughtful inquiry and “conceptual connections” that deepen learning and facilitate transfer of these outcomes.

In creating curriculum and assessment to aid acquisition of big idea outcomes, I determined to unpack standards while linking skill development to its EU’s and EQ’s. I found using the “Inside Out” Method, a resource offered on the Iowa Fine Arts website, allowed me to both clarify my thinking about transfer goals and envision multiple activities throughout the production process. As a result, my unit performance tasks not only encouraged and examined what learners could do, it also promoted transfer by helping learners understand and articulate why artistic learning is important to them.

Using the “Inside Out” Method Worksheet

As noted in both the National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) Conceptual Framework and in our Department of Education Fine Arts Standards Guidance Document, use of McTighe’s and Wiggins’s Understanding by Design (UbD) Framework® can guide us in determining outcomes, evidence and performance tasks through a backward-thinking approach to curriculum planning. The Understanding by Design (UbD) Unpacking Standards “Inside Out” Method worksheet utilizes a three-stage process to “carefully think through what will count as evidence of real learning” (McTighe & Wiggins, 2012, Module A: The Big Ideas of UBD. Good Design = ”Backward” Design section, para 6).

To illustrate how I used this tool to promote teaching of big idea outcomes, and therefore the facilitation of transfer, let me review the “Inside Out” Method steps used to create the linked Visual Art and Theatre examples.

VA-Cr.1.1.7a Unpacked
TH-Cr.1.1.7a Unpacked

  • In stage one, I identified desired results by asking questions like “What is the ultimate transfer wanted as a result of this unit?” [This is the Anchor Standard.] “What should students know, understand, and be able to do?” [This is the Grade / Proficiency-Level Performance Standard.] “What enduring understandings are desired?” [This is the EU.] What essential questions will be explored in-depth and provide focus to all learning? [This is the EQ.]” After recording the Iowa Fine Arts Standards information in the appropriate worksheet sections, I analyzed the standard to note nouns (for what), the verbs (for action) and adjectives/adverbs (for clarity).
    Then, I pulled together the standard, EU and EQ to articulate and summarize the transfer goal (indicated in blue text) by asking “What should a student be able to do independently when the learning is done?”
  • In stage two, I began thinking of performance tasks and assessment evidence by asking questions like “How will I know if students have achieved the desired results?” “What evidence will I want to see of students’ understanding and their ability to use (or transfer) their learning in new situations?
    With a goal to push past the art product towards transfer and acquisition of artistic processes, I created multi-part learning experiences that allowed students to actively construct meaning of big idea outcomes.
  • To complete the UbD Framework, in stage three (not reflected in the worksheet examples), I would next create the learning experiences and instructional plan.

Iowa’s Fine Art Standards conceptual structure (Artistic Processes, Anchor Standards, and Performance Standards) and its philosophical foundations (Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions) make big idea outcomes attainable. And, with our rotation schedules and class offerings resulting in fine arts programs of 30 to 60 days, masterful teaching and learning that can make day-to-day, week-to-week, and year-to year connections that grow in sophistication, is vital. 

Use of the UbD Unpacking Standards “Inside Out” Method worksheet can both advance the teaching of the knowledge and skills developed throughout process-based experiences and the learner’s understanding of its value. More important, it does this while gathering evidence about the profound, whole child development that results from education in the arts.  Unpacking standards has strengthened my practice as an art educator. It has been exhilarating to witness my students deepen their understanding, grow more engaged, and make insightful connections as a result.

Each of us are in different places in regards to our understanding and comfort with the new standards. To learn more about teaching Iowa’s Fine Art Standards, take advantage of five new self-paced modules now offered via AEA Learning Online that can be bundled together for license renewal credit or purposely selected to differentiate your own professional development. The module topics include: Overview of Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, Understanding Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, Applying and Connecting Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, Assessing Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, and Resources for Implementing Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards. You can access them here. I encourage you to investigate enrollment with your Personal Learning Community (PLCs) or independently to enhance your own teaching and learning potential.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach me at


McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2004). Introduction: The logic of backward design. In ASCD, Understanding by Design professional development workbook. (pp. ?-?). Retrieved June 6, 2018, from ASCD:

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by Design framework [White Paper]. Retrieved June 6, 2018, from ASCD:
McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Module A: the big ideas of UbD. In ASCD, Understanding by Design, guide to creating high-quality units (pp. ?-?). Retrieved June 6, 2018 from ASCD:
Marilyn G. Stewart (2014) Enduring Understandings, Artistic Processes, and the New Visual Arts Standards: A Close-Up Consideration for Curriculum Planning, Art Education, 67:5, 6-11, DOI: 10.1080/00043125.2014.11519285
National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, (nd). National core arts standards: A conceptual framework of arts learning (pp. 1-27). Retrieved June 8, 2018 from NCAS:
Robert Sweeny (2014) Assessment and Next Generation Standards: An Interview with Olivia Gude, Art Education, 67:1, 6-12, DOI: 10.1080/00043125.2014.11519252

Additional Learning Resources

Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the creation of mind. In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press.

Poulin, J. (June 4, 2014) What You Need to Know About the New National Core Arts Standards. Retrieved June 25, 2018 from Americans for the Arts Blog:

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by Design guide to advanced concepts in creating and reviewing units (pp. ?-?). Retrieved June 6, 2018 from ASCD: (this is where I found the 2.0 version of unpacking worksheet)

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2007). Moving Forward with Understanding by Design User Guide (pp. ?-?). Retrieved June 6, 2018 from ASCD:

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