Notes for a Successful Artist Residency

Visiting arts instructors play a major role in Chicago Public Schools arts education programs. Certain ideas and principles described below will help you design an effective residency that satisfies both your goals and those of the school you’ll be working in.

Making Connections with Schools

Residencies can take many forms, but whether you’re proposing a single project, a lecture-demonstration, or a multi-week unit, it’s important to keep the school’s needs in mind. Many visiting artists develop longterm relationships with a particular school, returning year after year. In proposing the initial residency, be clear about your objectives and how you intend to accomplish them. Explain, for instance, how you might adapt your existing practice into lessons that work in 45-minute blocks of time. Get a sense of what prior experience the students—and their teachers—have had. Look at the school’s other arts programs and see how your residency might best fit the curriculum, with an eye toward continuity. Ask teachers for a sample list of projects students have already completed. If your residency is short, consider pulling together some additional activities a classroom teacher can use for follow-up. If you’re in the school for a week or more, use the scope and sequence to help you plot out daily lesson plans that build on each other.

Many state and local agencies fund artists’ residencies in Chicago Public Schools. For a list of funders, see the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Chicago Artists Resource Web site at

In the Classroom

Some residencies have the goal of integrating the arts into academic subjects, such as language arts, social studies, math, and science. If this is the case, consider how your lesson might relate to other aspects of the curriculum. For example, if elementary students are writing stories, you might teach them the theater technique of making storyboards to illustrate events in the story.

Students have different ways of learning and different backgrounds that influence how they express themselves. Some students may not feel comfortable sharing in a group or asking questions. Learn as much as you can about the students you’ll encounter—their backgrounds, individual learning styles, and prior experiences. Work with the classroom teacher to establish clear guidelines about how teaching artists should interact with students so that you, the classroom teacher, and the students know what to expect. Communicate with the school leadership about the rules and procedures for student behavior, and establish a clear understanding with the classroom teacher about the roles both the teacher and the teaching artist will play in classroom management.

Understanding Standards and Curriculum

The National Standards for Arts Education provide general guidelines about what students should study and be able to achieve in four arts disciplines: music, visual art, dance, and theater. The standards explain the appropriate benchmarks and objectives by broad grade-level groups. The Illinois Learning Standards for Fine Arts are based on the national standards.

As a teaching artist, you represent both your organization and your discipline. You are responsible for providing clear and comprehensive instruction. So it’s important to prepare a detailed lesson plan in advance of your residency.

A scope and sequence, which is an outline of learning goals organized by grade level, can be useful both in planning a lesson with a specific outcome in mind and as an assessment tool. The scope and sequence created for this Guide is organized into four thematically driven “strands”: Arts Making, Arts Literacy, Interpretation and Evaluation, and Making Connections. Each strand itemizes learning benchmarks for each grade. For example, the scope and sequence for sixth grade music lists this benchmark in the Music Making strand: “Sight read simple melodies in the treble and bass clef.” You can use this as both a starting point for writing a lesson plan and a means of assessing student performance. At the end of the lesson, verify that the students accomplished the learning goal.

It’s important not to overlook this final step. Teachers and principals need to be able to track students’ progress in the context of state and national standards, and, just as importantly, you’ll need to quantify the effects of your residency for your funders. Evaluate students’ work on a regular basis, and keep a record of these assessments throughout your residency.

On pages 10–13, you will find more specific instruction about how to use the scope and sequence to write lesson and unit plans.