Arts in the PYP

How arts practices are changing

Structured, purposeful inquiry is the main approach to teaching and learning arts in the PYP. However, it is recognized that many educational innovations (or, more accurately, educational reworkings) suffer from the advocacy of a narrow, exclusive approach. The PYP represents an approach to teaching that is broad and inclusive in that it provides a context within which a wide variety of teaching strategies and styles can be accommodated, provided that they are driven by a spirit of inquiry and a clear sense of purpose.

The degree of change needed to teach arts in this way will depend on the individual teacher. For those teachers who have grown weary of imposed change for which they see little point, it should be stressed that teachers are not expected to discard years of hard-earned skill and experience in favour of someone else’s ideas on good teaching. It is suggested, rather, that teachers engage in reflection on their own practice, both individually and in collaboration with colleagues, with a view to sharing ideas and strengths, and with the primary aim of improving their teaching to improve student learning. In doing so, they will be modelling the skills and attitudes that have been identified as essential for students.

As an aid to reflection, the following set of subject-specific examples of good practice has been produced. It is believed that these examples are worthy of consideration by anyone committed to continuous improvement.

Arts strands

What do we want students to know?


The process of responding provides students with opportunities to respond to their own and other artists’ works and processes, and in so doing develop the skills of critical analysis, interpretation, evaluation, reflection and communication. Students will demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the concepts, methods and elements of dance, drama, music and visual arts, including using specialized language. Students consider their own and other artists’ works in context and from different perspectives in order to construct meaning and inform their own future works and processes.

The responding strand is not simply about reflecting; responding may include creative acts and encompasses presenting, sharing and communicating one’s own understanding. By responding to their own artwork and that of others, students become more mindful of their own artistic development and the role that arts play in the world around them.


The process of creating provides students with opportunities to communicate distinctive forms of meaning, develop their technical skills, take creative risks, solve problems and visualize consequences. Students are encouraged to draw on their imagination, experiences and knowledge of materials and processes as starting points for creative exploration. They can make connections between their work and that of other artists to inform their thinking and to provide inspiration. Both independently and collaboratively, students participate in creative processes through which they can communicate ideas and express feelings. The creating strand provides opportunities for students to explore their personal interests, beliefs and values and to engage in a personal artistic journey.



Dance is an integral part of many cultures. Dance plays an important role in society as it brings people and communities together. As an art form, dance explores how we express ourselves through movement. To understand and respond to dance, students need to understand how dance is used in cultural, ritual and social contexts. Students need opportunities to view a wide variety of dance from various sources, such as live performance, peer choreography, guest dance artists, and recordings. Dance as an art form has evolved considerably over the past century. Exploring dance in a historical and cultural context, and in a variety of genres, enriches the student’s experience in creating and responding to dance.

Creating dance involves inquiring into the rhythm of music, the natural rhythms of our bodies, and the environment around us. Students should have the opportunity to discover their own motivations and influences to inspire their movements. Through ensemble work, students can develop their ability to cooperate with others.

Dance uses the body as the medium of expression. Students need to develop confidence in their personal physicality through body awareness, balance, coordination, flexibility and strength. The physical nature of dance creates a strong link with the strands in the Personal, social and physical education scope and sequence (2009).

Teachers can offer students experiences that may provoke and inspire them through exposing them to dance performance. By creating a safe environment for students to express themselves, teachers can draw on their students’ creativity with movement. Dance should be woven throughout the curriculum as a visual language and kinesthetic medium for students.

Dance is a living expression that takes place in the present. However, whenever possible it is important to document the inspiration and the process of creating movement. Digital recording can be used to capture moving images of dance. Photographs and sketches can be used as tools for planning a dance project. Building a dance vocabulary to describe movement can help to document the dance process verbally or through notation.

Information and communication technology (ICT) can be used to document the process of creating dance as well as to enhance the performance. Designing the stage with lighting and integrating video with live performance can add dimension to a dance project. Using a variety of tools, students can create their own music or generate and record sounds and words.

Dance requires a physical space in which to move. More importantly, it needs a trusting and positive environment. Nurturing physical confidence calls for an atmosphere where students feel safe to engage fully their minds and bodies.


Drama explores how we express ourselves physically and vocally. In creating, students should explore the use of facial expressions, gestures, movement, posture and vocal techniques to convey emotional or cultural meaning to both characters and stories. It is important that students are exposed to a variety of dramatic forms including creative movement, impersonation, improvisation, mask work, mime, musical, role play, pantomime, puppetry, re-enactment, scripted drama, and skit. In responding, students should experience a wide variety of scripts and stories from different times, cultures and places and, where possible, access live theatre performances and presentations. Students should have opportunities to present their creative work to an audience, to witness their peers in performance and through this become critically aware audience members.

In drama, documenting the individual’s learning process is integral. Drama is an active and transitory discipline, thus digitally recording performances or class project work provides both the student and teacher with tools for reflection. Through carefully planned exercises students can creatively explore personal interests and begin to develop their own style. Journal work (whether scrapbook-style or written), illustrating storylines, scriptwriting, set designs and costume choices are indicators of students’ dramatic development and can provide an informative record of their personal creative journey.

All dramatic activities require room to move. An adequately large, clear space is required to explore movement and drama games. This space allows the class the freedom to create make-believe environments through the manipulation of objects, including sounds and lights. Thus access to an inventory of craft material, props, costumes, set pieces, rostrums and lighting would be beneficial to the creative experience.

ICT can be used in drama settings as a tool to enhance the creative experience. Word processing, scriptwriting and storyboarding programs can help the student to develop scenes and write plays. Students can also mix sound effects and music on audio programs to create soundtracks for performances. Dramatic work can be filmed and uploaded to a computer to be edited using video-editing software.


Music enables students to communicate in ways that go beyond their oral language abilities. Music delights and stimulates, soothes and comforts us; music allows students to communicate in a unique way. Musical experiences and learning begin with the voice. It is important that students are given opportunities to discover a broad range of music experiences including classifying and analysing sounds, composing, exploring body music, harmonizing, listening, playing instruments, singing, notation, reading music, songwriting and recording. In creating, students use their imagination and musical experiences to organize sounds—natural and technological—into various forms that communicate specific ideas or moods. In responding, students are given the opportunity to respond to different styles of music, as well as to music from different times and cultures. Individually and collaboratively, students should have the opportunity to create and respond to music ideas. By exposing students to a wide and varied repertoire of musical styles, they can begin to construct an understanding of their environment, their surroundings and structures, and begin to develop personal connections with them.

Music is a part of everyday life. Listening to and performing music can be a social activity. The development of listening skills, an important aspect of all learning, is constantly reinforced. Teachers should be aware that music plays an important part in the language learning process. Through songs and rhymes, students can hear patterns and develop a sense of the rhythm that applies to languages. This can be especially apparent when learning a new language because the meaning of the words is not necessarily understood, and so students concentrate on the rhythms and patterns they hear. Wherever possible, teachers should try to include rhymes and songs in their teaching activities, not just in designated music classes.

Music is both an active and reflective process when making and listening to it. Students can draw on a wide range of sources in their music learning: music composed by themselves and other students; music composed by musicians; literature; paintings; dance; their own imagination; real-life experiences; feelings; values and beliefs. They should be exposed to live performances as well as recordings. Additionally, the opportunity to participate in live performances—informal as well as formal—allows students to work collaboratively and gain awareness of the audience.

A PYP music classroom provides an environment that stimulates and challenges students. It is well resourced with an extensive range of music recordings, videos and instruments. Students have the opportunity to explore home-made as well as manufactured instruments from a variety of countries and cultures. ICT can influence and enhance learning in music by allowing students to create, compose and record their work as well as listen to, observe and share music through the use of CDs and music files.

Visual arts

The term “visual arts” is used to describe practices that have been more traditionally described in education as “art, craft and design”. It is important that students are exposed to a broad range of experiences that illustrate the field of visual arts, including architecture, bookmaking, ceramics, collage, costume design, drawing, graphic design, film, illustration, industrial design, installation, jewellery, land art, mask making, metalwork, painting, papermaking, performance art, photography, printmaking, sculpture, set design, textiles and woodwork.

Wherever possible, students should have the opportunity to experience visual arts beyond their own initial involvement. This may be achieved by inviting artists into the school, or by visiting art galleries, museums, artists’ and designers’ studios, exhibitions, films sets and/or theatres. Students will begin to appreciate the depth and breadth of the field by experiencing visual arts created by diverse artists—locally and globally, now and in the past, by women and men, and by people of different backgrounds.

In visual arts, the role of the sketchbook is integral to this process. The sketchbook provides a space for students to take ownership of their learning, to creatively explore personal interests and to develop their own style. The PYP recognizes the range of forms a sketchbook may take, reaching beyond the physical book to possibly include new media, sound and film.

ICT can be used in the visual arts classroom as a tool to enhance the creative experience. Photo and film editing, animation, web design, drawing, computer-aided design, audio and word processing programs can be used as tools to engage students with the conceptual understandings detailed in the continuums.

Visual arts activities require space, tools, materials and ICT tools. Ideally, an adequately large, well-resourced environment is desirable to explore a range of visual arts practices. Beyond the physical space, it is important to establish a constructive and positive learning environment conducive to the creative experience.

Overall expectations in arts

The Arts scope and sequence (2009) has been designed to recognize that learning in arts is a developmental process and that the phases through which a learner passes are not always linear or age related. For this reason the content is presented in continuums for each of the two strands of arts: responding and creating. For each of the strands there is a strand description and a set of overall expectations. The overall expectations provide a summary of the understandings and subsequent learning being developed in each phase within a strand.

The content of each continuum has been organized into four phases of development that aim to describe arts learning relevant to students in a PYP school. It is acknowledged that there are earlier and later phases than those described in this document. Teachers should ensure that they continue to build on understanding developed in the earlier phases while introducing the new concepts, knowledge and skills detailed in the later phases.

The continuums make explicit the conceptual understandings that are being developed at each phase. The development of these understandings is supported by the learning outcomes associated with each phase. The learning outcomes are written as observable behaviours or actions that will indicate to teachers how students are constructing, creating and sharing meaning through arts. They are, therefore, both diagnostic tools and a means of informing planning for further development.

The scope and sequence also identifies the overall expectations considered appropriate in the PYP. These overall expectations (outlined here) are not a requirement of the programme. However, schools need to be mindful of practice C1.23 in the IB Programme standards and practices (2005) that states “If the school adapts, or develops, its own scope and sequence documents for each PYP subject area, the level of overall expectation regarding student achievement expressed in these documents at least matches that expressed in the PYP scope and sequence documents.” To arrive at such a judgment, and given that the overall expectations in the Arts scope and sequence (2009) are presented as broad generalities, it is recommended that schools undertake a careful consideration of their own scope and sequence document in order to identify the overall expectations in arts for their students.


Phase 1

Learners show an understanding that the different forms of arts are forms of expression to be enjoyed. They know that dance, drama, music and visual arts use symbols and representations to convey meaning. They have a concept of being an audience of different art forms and display awareness of sharing art with others. They are able to interpret and respond to different art forms, including their own work and that of others.

Phase 2

Learners show an understanding that ideas, feelings and experiences can be communicated through arts. They recognize that their own art practices and artwork may be different from others. They are beginning to reflect on and learn from their own stages of creating artworks. They are aware that arts may be created with a specific audience in mind.

Phase 3

Learners show an understanding that issues, beliefs and values can be explored in arts. They demonstrate an understanding that there are similarities and differences between different cultures, places and times. They analyse their own work and identify areas to revise to improve its quality. They use strategies, based on what they know, to interpret arts and understand the role of arts in our world.

Phase 4

Learners show an understanding that throughout different cultures, places and times, people have innovated and created new modes in arts. They can analyse different art forms and identify common or recurring themes or issues. They recognize that there are many ways to enjoy and interpret arts. They accept feedback from others.


Phase 1

Learners show an understanding that they can express themselves by creating artworks in dance, drama, music and visual arts. They know that creating in arts can be done on their own or with others. They are aware that inspiration to create in arts comes from their own experiences and imagination. They recognize that they use symbols and representations to convey meaning in their work.

Phase 2

Learners show an understanding that they can use arts to communicate their ideas, feelings and experiences. They use strategies in their work to enhance the meaning conveyed and to make it more enjoyable for others. They are aware that their work can provoke different responses from others. They understand the value of working individually and collaboratively when creating different art forms.

Phase 3

Learners show that, as artists, they can influence thinking and behaviour through the arts they create. They think critically about their work and recognize that their personal interests, beliefs and values can inform their creative work. They show an understanding of the relationships between their work and that of others.

Phase 4

Learners show an understanding that their own creative work in dance, drama, music and visual arts can be interpreted and appreciated in different ways. They explore different media and begin to innovate in arts. They consider the feedback from others in improving their work. They recognize that creating in arts provides a sense of accomplishment, not only in the process, but also in providing them with a way to understand the world.

Source: Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education (2009)           


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