NCCAS Verb Analysis

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve been closely analyzing the new draft national standards for music education. I truly feel that this is such an important undertaking that we cannot allow it to pass by without giving our full feedback. Even though I have already filled out the survey form, my analysis continues to evolve through reading, discussion, and reflection.

In one of the FaceBook groups I am chatting with (search for musicpln), the discussion turned to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Both sides of the argument felt that Bloom’s supported their opinion of the draft document. Since most of the info I can find on Bloom’s categorizes skills by action verbs, I decided to take a look at the action verbs in the document, K-5 (those are my grades, sorry, someone else will have to expand).

The chart below shows all action verbs as they appear in the grade-specific boxes of each standard. The number in parentheses are the times that each word appears. The top number in brackets is how many words total at that level of the Taxonomy. At the bottom I have counted all verbs for that grade level, and then counted the number of active music-making verbs for that grade level.

(If you can’t scroll this on your device, click here to open the pdf.

I did not include “Develop” and “Generate” as active music-making verbs, because they normally refer to creating a plan, not creating actual music. Even if you include these in the music-making list, it does not greatly change the weight of over 50% non-music verbs at most grades. If you take these music-making words out, you get this list:

  • Combine
  • Develop
  • Refine
  • Say/Speak
  • Describe
  • Evaluate
  • Identify
  • Explain
  • Write
  • Select
  • Document
  • Cite
  • Justify
  • Analyze

Looking at this majority list of verbs, would you know this was a music class? I understand the goal here, which is to align verb usage with the Common Core in all subject areas. I think alignment is great where it works seamlessly. What I don’t like is the feeling that the alignment has just trumped the content of our subject. If these generic verbs are truly the goal, why even teach music? We can teach the same verbs in any other subject and eliminate costly music programs. It is ONLY the active music-making verbs, and the generalized skills that bloom from them, that make what we do unique and vital to children.

Here are some music verbs not used as action verbs:

  • Sing
  • Play
  • Listen
  • Move
  • Read
  • Notate
  • React

To be fair, several of these do appear as reference, but are not the action verb of the sentence. Also, the preface material to the draft (and Scott Shuler’s letter to me) state that future versions of the documents will include skills, vocabulary, and repertoire. Also note from the table that there are absolutely no memorization skills listed, so this additional material will be quite necessary to fill that gap.

Some will argue about my placement of words against the Bloom’s Taxonomy. Whenever possible, I used an online chart that had a list of words, and matched them there, to avoid bias. Some will argue that the word Perform actually belongs in the “Creating” row at the top, due to the interpretive and creative nature of performing. I won’t dispute this argument, but I think for my purposes it is irrelevant to the bottom line.

If there is no fundamental conceptual Knowledge, Understanding, and Application of knowledge, there can be no true analysis, evaluation, or creation happening. It is imperative that the National Standards for Music Education show a new music teacher, an administrator, and a parent what makes music music. Only after this established foundation can we afford to focus on higher ordered skills and Common Core language. If it takes me a week of deep analysis to understand this document, then it has a ways to go to be clear, concise, and meaningful to those who need it. I wish the NCCAS music writing team the best of luck in their revision process, and will anxiously await their final product!

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