Letter from Scott Shuler

UPDATE: Scott has also updated the downloadable draft standards to include a refined version of what he wrote here. If you haven’t participated, visit nccas.wikispaces.com to review.

UPDATE: My response is at the bottom.

Just received this thorough reply to an email message with my previous post. Thanks, Scott, for being so responsive!

Thanks, Tim.

I just read your blog and the subsequent postings. Thank you for sharing your ideas. They are very helpful in helping us design an introduction to the material that will avert the kinds of misunderstandings, based on incomplete information, that tend to inflame the blogosphere. For example, some band directors have decried the lack of band standards, not understanding that this particular draft is intended for PreK-8 general music classes.

Because NAfME and the music writing team is working in collaboration with leaders in other art forms, we were limited in the amount of music-specific detail that we could provide in our original posting. However, based on reading your blog and several other early responses, I’ve crafted the following overview that should clear up several of the most common misconceptions. This is still in draft form, and will therefore be refined further, but you can feel free to post it on your site as a draft. Watch for regular updates, on the survey site and/or wiki site.

What

  • THESE DRAFT PERFORMANCE STANDARDS ONLY ADDRESS PREK-8 GENERAL MUSIC.
  • Through the Philosophy, Goals, Artistic Processes and Enduring Understandings, the final standards will not only outline the skills that are the traditional emphasis of music classrooms, but also the purpose of music education: to foster the kind of independent musicianship that will enable students to continue their involvement beyond graduation.
  • These draft standards are INCOMPLETE, but have been released to provide the field with an early preview and an opportunity to provide input:
    • Specialized subcommittees are working on standards for other common music course sequences: theory/composition, guitar/keyboard, traditional ensembles (band, orchestra, choir), and emerging ensembles (mariachi, rock, steel pan, jazz, etc.).
    • Each Anchor Standard and Performance Standard begins with the implied words “Students will…”. These standards are descriptions of what students should learn to do, not how teachers should teach. They are deliberately written to avoid dictating methodology or endorsing any particular pedagogy (Orff, Kodaly, etc.).
    • While the new National Core Music Standards will call for students in every music class to learn at least something about all three artistic processes – creating, performing, and responding – standards for specialized course sequences will recognize key differences among types of music classes. For example, ensemble standards will place greater emphasis on performing, and composition standards will place greater emphasis on creating.
    • All final standards will eventually provide ADDITIONAL key material – including SKILLS, vocabulary and concepts, and possible repertoire – as well as key traits for evaluating student work and model cornerstone assessments. (See the Framework document for more details.) Vocabulary and concepts will include the elements of music, as well as other terms used in the standards themselves.
    • Final standards will also include a clear description of the instructional delivery system (amount of instructional time, expert certified music teachers, etc.) on which the standards are based. Language will make it clear that teachers should not be held accountable for quality learning if they have not been provided with quality instructional time and other resources.

Who

  • Before the standards writing team, subcommittee members, and reviewers were identified, NAfME distributed a call to music educators across the country, inviting interested teachers to submit a letter of interest, resume, and other supporting materials. More than 300 responded. Each applicant who signed the necessary confidentiality agreement was offered some role as either a writing team member, a subcommittee member, or a reviewer.The majority of writing team members are current or recent district music supervisors who were also teachers, with experience at all grade levels and specialty areas. Several are current or recent university music education faculty. All members work with music teachers on a regular basis. Several have been co-authors of major music textbook series.
  • Subcommittees writing specific standards consist entirely of current teachers, former teachers working at the university level, and district supervisors.
  • The majority of subcommittee members are current teachers, who are experimenting in their own classrooms with draft standards ideas before the standards are finalized.
  • Each subcommittee also includes a research advisor, who has access to complete reviews of existing research on students’ musical development at various ages and in various specialties within music education. These research advisors ensure that each standard is developmentally appropriate. Eventually, they will also guide the development and classroom piloting of model cornerstone assessments.
  • These PreK-8 draft standards are the product not only of the writing team, but also of expert grade level (PreK-2, 3-5, and 6-8) subcommittees. These standards have already been reviewed by a number of music teachers who applied to serve as confidential advisors.

You are a thoughtful processor of the information you have, Tim. You now know that a number of your original impressions and assumptions about process, writers, etc. were based on incomplete information. Incomplete information typically leads to misunderstanding, and thence to inaccurate conclusions. I hope that you will feel better informed now, and remain flexible enough to revise any inaccurate conclusions that you and some of your bloggers originally drew. In many cases – such as our continuing commitment to reaching out to all students, and our systematic inclusion of practicing teachers on subcommittees representing all of the major approaches to music pedagogy that you list – those conclusions are the direct opposite of reality.

You may also wish to reread some of the MEJ columns I wrote as NAfME president to get a clearer sense of the vision you seek. Note my mention of the myths of talent, the emphasis on reaching all students, the empowerment of students as decision-makers and doers, etc.

You now know that skills WILL be a part of the new standards. One key point of apparent disagreement about skills: they are not the ends, they are means. They are essential building blocks for literacy, defined (read the Philosophy and Goals in the framework carefully) as the tools for satisfying, lifelong music-making … as long as they are combined with the necessary understandings and independence to apply them in satisfying ways.

Scott

Scott C. Shuler, Ph.D.

Arts Consultant

Academic Office

Standards, Curriculum & Instruction

Connecticut State Department of Education

165 Capitol Ave., Room 227

Hartford, CT 06106

E-mail: scott.shuler@ct.gov

Phone: (860) 713-6746

Fax: (860) 713-7018

CSDE Arts Web Page: Standards, Guide, Common Assessments, Advocacy, Survey, etc.

Model Units/Tasks: www.CTcurriculum.org

Immediate Past-President

NAfME: The National Association for Music Education (formerly MENC)

www.nafme.org

 

Scott,

Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my post and email. I appreciate your commitment to open dialogue and feedback!

Let me start by acknowledging what I learned from your email. First, I must admit to being heavily involved in AOSA and Iowa state standards development over the past decade (and job-hunting as I lost two positions), and have not been actively involved by requesting to be on a writing team. I am grateful to everyone that did.

Second, I do understand now that many of the subcommittees that filled in the grade level matrix for each standard were practicing teachers who responded to this call. I believe I am correct in stating that the Anchor Standards themselves were written by the primary writing team, which as you have confirmed, are not practicing K-8 educators. It would be interesting to know how many have taught at that age range, especially in general music.

Third, there is a lot more to come after this draft, including standards specific for different courses and connections to specific skills, vocabulary, and concepts.

Fourth, I understand that you agree with my concerns about talent vs. skill and lifelong music-making, although we differ on the semantics of skills as means or end. If you reread my message, you will see that I stated that “making music” was the point, not “skills.” I don’t disagree that understanding music is important as well.

Some of my concerns were not addressed, which I will assume means that you are considering these issues for the revision process. The draft standards as now written appear to elevate analytical skills from a very young age, while relegating performance and literacy skills to supplementary documents. When I speak of not teaching all children to make music due to time constraints, I am speaking of what I would see as the effect of this structure, not necessarily as the intent (although, despite your personal assurances, I would not assume that everyone has the same mindset).

Whether intended or not, the Performing and Responding processes will be read as sequences, beginning with student selection, and only the PreK-Kdg descriptions include the words “guidance” or “support.” It would not be possible to teach my children the rich, multicultural, historical, and varied stylistic repertoire that I use in the classroom if I do not make decisions concerning repertoire selection. The Rehearse and Present standards as written now will be read in context of the Select standard, and not as independently important standards.

Likewise, the Creating process will be seen as a sequence, even though I believe it is flawed to assume that the students will control each aspect of this process with minimal guidance. For example, a common lesson I use is to take the structure (phrase form) from a familiar folk song and have the students create improvisations or compositions based on this phrase form. I use similar lessons to explore new pitches, rhythms, etc. These actively involve the students in the creative process, yet do not fit the criteria described in Imagine or Plan, as I am giving them building blocks to manipulate.

The draft standards read as high-level assessment guidelines. If they were presented as such, I would think they were awesome! But the shift from 1994 to now gives me concern about what the word “standard” truly means.

One final note, about inflaming the blogosphere. I am merely stating my one personal viewpoint, based on experience and understanding. I would assume that people who are interested in my viewpoint would then think for themselves and participate in the NCCAS survey. I hope by sharing my viewpoint I get more people off the sidelines and involved in the process!

Tim Purdum
tim@cedarrivermusic.com

Vision for Music Education

I have spent the past two days reading, discussing, and writing about the new draft music standards from the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. What strikes me most as missing from these standards, unlike the specific list in my previous post, is understanding, experience, and vision.

The core writing team that developed this draft is mostly dedicated music educators. However, not a single member of the team is currently working in a PreK-8 setting, and some of them have never taught at this level, or been trained in one of the leading philosophies surrounding this discipline (Orff Schulwerk, Kodaly, Dalcroze-Eurhythmics, Music Learning Theory). The team includes high school teachers, collegiate professors, fine arts district supervisors, and fine arts state DOE coordinators. This is not a team with understanding, experience, and standing to speak to for our field of K-8 music educators.

What I do think this writing team has is a vision of what music education in the future would look like. I just don’t think that it looks like my vision. Sure, we have a lot in common, but I feel they are missing some big picture items in their vision:

Making Music is for Everyone

Sure, these new standards are written for teaching music to all children K-8. And they include creating and performing standards. But the vast majority of the standards, even categorized under creating and performing, are actually about analyzing, discussing, reflecting, justifying, and documenting. Those are their verbs, by the way. Yes, it’s a selective list, and there are better verbs in there (demonstrating) but they are in the minority, which proves my point. These standards are about understanding music, not making music. Making music is seen as a means to an end, rather than the actual point of the subject.

I’ve seen this before. Many people unfortunately still believe that making music is all or in a large part a “talent,” and that most students will therefore not be performers throughout their lives. Speaking as an experienced and trained music educator and as a father, I can assure you that, while talent exists, it is dwarfed by the regular skill-building process that all children use to learn to walk, speak, do math, etc. Music is a set of skills first and foremost. Some are talented at quickly learning those skills, but everyone (barring learning disabilities) can achieve them. The Zimbabwean proverb is familiar to most Orff teachers: “If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing.” Making music is part of the human experience.

Making Music is the Foundation for Understanding and Appreciation

With a strong foundation in music-making skills, and literacy skills to support the music-making, students will inherently have an appreciation for music and desire to learn more. In the new draft standards, rehearsing and presenting a performance come after selecting, analyzing, and interpreting the music. I get why this was done. First music must be selected, then as it is taught, skills and details should be highlighted through analysis and interpretation (although isn’t this part of rehearsal?), and finally it is polished and performed. The problem is that the selecting skill talks solely about the students making the selections, never the teacher. So to follow this “process,” you can’t get to the performance (even in-class performances) without first turning over selection of repertoire to the children. Wait, how do they know which music to select if they haven’t performed any of it yet?!

Allowing students to have input on the selection process is a wonderful learning tool and standard. It just doesn’t belong in it’s elevated spot, implying that this is the primary or only source for repertoire to be performed. It also misses the bigger picture of time and skills. Students must learn first by doing. They perform first, then they have the skills necessary to speak intelligently about their choices and preferences.

The third Artistic Process in the new draft standards is Responding, and here too, they begin with students making a selection, before any analysis or interpretation has taken place. Also, there are certainly active music-making skills that can be used to respond to and learn about music while listening, such as moving/dancing to the music, performing with a recording (body percussion), conducting, or listening and then recreating. These are downplayed with the single verb “demonstrate,” which is then only used through second grade. So 3rd-5th grade students are implicitly expected to do the selecting, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating all in a passive manner.

Music Education is about Elements, Repertoire, and Media, not just Process

In my book Creative Sequence, I show teachers how to build their own curriculum around the Elements of music (rhythm, melody, harmony, form, etc.), varied relevant and culturally diverse Repertoire, and using multiple Media (singing, speaking, moving, playing). We then tie this all together in each lesson using a Process for teaching, which includes experience, analyze, and create strands.

Most of what I have discussed so far about these draft standards is the skewed perspective of their process. However, in the big picture, shouldn’t elements, repertoire, and media be addressed in national standards?! They were all there in the previous 1994 standards. Most people I have worked with on standards development would say the standard should show you what to teach, not how to teach it. This draft does the opposite. It doesn’t tell us at all what skills or knowledge to give students (except high-level thinking skills with no foundation), but it certainly prescribes a process, the “how.”

Vision for the Future

Where are we going? I envision a future where every adult in this country is moderately fluent in making music. Families and friends would think nothing of bursting into song during a conversation, gathering around a piano, or sitting on the porch with a guitar. Community get-togethers in the park would feature spontaneous or planned folk dancing, and most of the visitors would be participants, not observers. Many of our ancestors had these skills, do we want to be less alive and musical than they were? Our children love these activities, and it is slowly beat out of them by our culture’s cool attitude towards public performance by “amateurs.” Music is too important to be left up to the professionals (I think I stole that last quote, but don’t know who to attribute it to).

This to me is the reason for music education. How do we get there? Not by making higher-order thinkers who have limited experience in the craft. We get there by first sharing and training students to make and love making music. If we have time and can skillfully include analysis and reflection into our teaching, great! But this should be the icing, not the cake. If we don’t get to every advanced process by the end of fifth grade, have we done our students a disservice? Or have we equipped them with the age-appropriate experiences to allow later exploration and analysis of music?

What’s your vision?

New NCCAS National Core Music Standards

UPDATE: Creative Sequence Alignment post is now available for more info on national draft standards.

The new National Core Arts Standards have been released today for a public review process that will last until July 15. The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, comprised of representatives from various Arts Education organizations, including the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME), wrote the new standards as an update to the 1994 National Standards. So I spent most of the day today poring over the new draft music standards, and I have to admit, I’m not excited. There are many glaring structural problems with the new standards. But first, the good points.

Clear “Artistic Process” Umbrella

In order to align all the arts in a cohesive manner, the writers chose three to four very simple, clear Artistic Processes to categorize all the standards under.

  • Creating – same across all disciplines
  • Performing/Presenting/Producingperforming for music
  • Responding – same across all discipliness
  • Connecting – used by dance, media arts, and theater, but considered integrated into the other processes for music

By using this simple structure, you can see that what was nine national standards in the past, can now be quickly remember by a simple three: create, perform, respond. Creating covers old standards #3-4, improvising and composing/arranging. Performing covers old standards #1-2, singing and playing. Responding covers #6-9, which include listening, evaluating, analyzing, and connecting to history, culture, and other disciplines.

Heightened Placement for Creative Process

As an Orff Schulwerk-trained teacher, I was of course thrilled to see the very first process to be Creating! Far too many music teachers do not believe in the creative potential of their students (or even themselves), and see music as merely a re-creative art.

Connections to 21st Century Skills and Common Core Language

I have been involved in the process to get the fine arts added to the Iowa Core Curriculum. During this process, I have learned a lot about 21st Century Skills. The universal skills like collaboration, flexibility, and productivity are great ways of thinking about cross-curricular success for our students. So I was pleased to see this kind of newer language infusing its way into the new arts standards.

NOW THE BAD NEWS

So, I was really excited by all of this, and was looking forward to a day of nodding my head emphatically. Instead, I am left with a deep pit in my stomach.

No Listed Essential Music Skills

  • The new standards do not require students to sing. They do not have to match pitch.
  • The new standards do not require learning to play instruments, or even keep a beat. However, they do require students to perform music. They just don’t explain what this means.
  • The new standards do not require students to read music. However, they do briefy mention writing/notating music, to record and share compositions.

No Elements of Music

  • The new standards barely refer to the elements. Free improvisation in grades K-2 mention “tonal and rhythmic” patterns.
  • Performances and listening examples are to be “analyzed” for musical elements, but these musical elements are never listed or described beyond single examples (i.e., form).
  • Not surprisingly, since notation literacy is not mentioned, there is no expectation in the standards for students to read a specific rhythm, identify pitches, etc.

Too Much Emphasis on Student Production

  • Students in the new standards are expected to not only improvise and compose, but to first create their own improvisatory vocabulary through “free improvisation,” and then map out a “plan” of how they will improvise or compose. The teacher is not mentioned as having any input in this process, beyond words like “guidance” and “support”” (only used in Kdg and 1st Grade).
  • Students are expected to choose their own repertoire for performing and listening to. No mention of allowing the teacher to choose or influence repertoire choices.
  • Students are expected to analyze their compositions, their performances, and listening examples. While this is important work, given the skills and concepts missing from these standards, it points to an imbalanced, discussion/writing/listening based class, where active music-making suffers.

As you can see, I am deeply concerned about the direction these new standards are taking. I feel that the effort to align and make ourselves “relevant” is backfiring by eroding the core of what makes music education important. The bottom line is that these standards do not accurately represent what I believe a music education should look like.

Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, please take the time to visit https://nccass.wikispaces.com/ and share your thoughts with the writing team. This is an opportunity that the last generation did not have to such an extent, and we need to make our voices heard!

Fine Arts & the Iowa Core

This month I have had the opportunity to travel the state and visit several Area Education Agencies (branches of the DOE). Rosanne Malek at the Dept. of Ed. has organized these meetings to share information about Fine Arts and the Iowa Core Curriculum. Members of the Fine Arts curriculum-writing teams, including myself, were invited to present to teachers at the breakout sessions, where the general (elementary/middle school) music teachers meet to discuss our documents.

The General Music Iowa Core “Companion” (more on that later) document is organized much like the National Standards for Music Education, on which it was based. To make the list manageable, we shrunk the list from nine national standards to seven. We also added in a few things not in the national standards, such as movement, speech, and body percussion. On number seven, we included the language “while preserving the integrity of an authentic musical learning experience” to protect teachers from having music education watered down in a misguided attempt for cross-curricular teaching.

The bullet points under each skill are NOT a list of all that is possible. These are the examples the writing team came up with for K-2 grades. They are not meant to be comprehensive.

General Music Skills & Concepts

  1. Uses song, speech, and movement to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • shows ability to employ a singing voice by singing responses to questions that are sung in the context of singing games
    • develops pitch matching skills, alone and in groups
    • creates expressive movement to accompany a song or recording
    • uses expressive speech and articulation to tell a story
    • practices creative movement alone and in groups
    • develops a movement vocabulary
  2. Uses instruments and body percussion to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • performs with the group by maintaining the beat shared by the group
    • explores various levels of body percussion (claps, snaps, pats, stamps)
    • performs steady beat and simple rhythmic patterns on untuned percussion
  3. Creates music and movement using critical thinking to improvise and compose through a collaborative and flexible process.
    • improvises musical answers by singing or playing instruments in response to musical questions
    • organizes familiar rhythmic and melodic elements into original patterns, using speech and graphic notation
    • transfers creations to an instrument and/or voice
  4. Demonstrates literacy by reading and notating music fluently using appropriate processes and systems.
    • uses an established notation system to read and notate simple rhythm patterns
    • uses a staff to read and notate simple melodies with a controlled number of pitches
    • uses iconic notation to help tell a story, providing sounds that are appropriate to the icons
  5. Listens, responds, describes, analyzes and evaluates music critically.
    • creates a dance based on the form of a simple ABA musical example
    • compares and contrasts two performances of the same song, and is able to articulate how they are the same or different
    • describes the mood or purpose of a song by drawing conclusions based on knowledge of musical style—for example, is able to articulate why a song is a good lullaby
    • expresses preference for songs using musical terms
  6. Recognizes and respects the commonality and diversity among the cultures and histories of the world through musical experiences.
    • performs music from a variety of world cultures in an authentic manner
    • performs music from different cultures, and is able to articulate how the songs are alike and different
    • listens to music from various cultures: Mexico, Japan, Africa, etc.
    • identifies the likely origin of the music, using musical terms
  7. Connects music with other disciplines while preserving the integrity of authentic musical learning experiences.
    • incorporates drama and visual arts into a performance
    • incorporates iconic symbols and other discipline connections

The Fine Arts writing teams were also charged with aligning the new skills and concepts with Universal Constructs that are now part of the Iowa Core Curriculum. Below are the Universal Constructs, and how the various music skills and concepts align (again, not a comprehensive list of all possible alignment).

Universal Constructs

  1. Critical Thinking
    • Creates music and movement using critical thinking to improvise and compose through a collaborative and flexible process.
    • Listens, responds, describes, analyzes and evaluates music critically.
    • Connects music with other disciplines while preserving the integrity of authentic musical learning experiences
  2. Complex Communication
    • Uses song, speech, and movement to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • Uses instruments and body percussion to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • Demonstrates literacy by reading and notating music fluently using appropriate processes and systems.
    • Recognizes and respects the commonality and diversity among the cultures and histories of the world through musical experiences.
  3. Creativity
    • Uses song, speech, and movement to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • Uses instruments and body percussion to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • Creates music and movement using critical thinking to improvise and compose through a collaborative and flexible process.
    • Listens, responds, describes, analyzes and evaluates music critically.
  4. Collaboration
    • Uses song, speech, and movement to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • Uses instruments and body percussion to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • Creates music and movement using critical thinking to improvise and compose through a collaborative and flexible process.
    • Demonstrates literacy by reading and notating music fluently using appropriate processes and systems.
    • Listens, responds, describes, analyzes and evaluates music critically.
  5. Flexibility & Adaptability
    • Creates music and movement using critical thinking to improvise and compose through a collaborative and flexible process.
    • Recognizes and respects the commonality and diversity among the cultures and histories of the world through musical experiences.
    • Connects music with other disciplines while preserving the integrity of authentic musical learning experiences
  6. Productivity & Accountability
    • Uses song, speech, and movement to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • Uses instruments and body percussion to effectively communicate, collaborate with a group, and produce a musical product.
    • Creates music and movement using critical thinking to improvise and compose through a collaborative and flexible process.
    • Demonstrates literacy by reading and notating music fluently using appropriate processes and systems.
    • Listens, responds, describes, analyzes and evaluates music critically.

Right now, these documents are being shared across the state. They can be used, implemented, and referenced by music teachers and their administrators. The DOE is promoting their use. However, the DOE cannot mandate their use, because they have not been (yet) included in the legislation that describes the Iowa Core Curriculum. This is why they are referred to as “Companion” documents. There will surely be much confusion about this until they are legislated, but this should not hold us back from using the above information to guide our teaching and promote our value in the schools. The Universal Constructs are part of the actual Core, so you can see how easy it is to defend what we do based on these constructs.

For more on state and national standards, skills, and 21st century learning, check out my Creative Sequence blog post, or join us at First Iowa Orff next January 11, where I will be presenting a whole workshop on curriculum writing!

Cedar River Music – new venture

I’m launching a new business venture, Cedar River Music. CRM will offer two unique offerings, one local and one worldwide: 1. Creative Music Offerings for the Cedar Valley (Orff Schulwerk-inspired activities) – Summer camps for children – Evening creative music classes for children during the school year – Adult and Community-oriented creative music sessions 2. Online Resources for Music Educators – Downloadable Content – lesson plans, videos, scores, etc. – Online Courses for Professional Development We are starting off with a summer camp right away this year! June 4-8, Cedar River Music’s Camp Creativity. For more information, go to the Camp Creativity webpage. Stay tuned for more info!

Iowa Core K-8 Music Guidelines

The Iowa Department of Education has posted guidelines for K-8 Music Education aligned to the Iowa Core Curriculum!

Arts and the Iowa Core

Notice that K-8 music was the first fine arts area to complete their work and have it approved by the DOE! A direct link to the document is here.

I’m very excited to have been a part of this writing process. It was an excellent chance to work with some fabulous minds, including Esther D’Agrosa and Linda Murphy, who spearheaded the process, Tom Sletto from Drake who brought in lots of Kodaly experience, and of course my good local colleague Aaron Hansen, who is an amazing Orff Schulwerk teacher. There were many others on our committee as well (listed at the top of the document), and we represented a diverse set of teachers from around the state.

This past week was the Iowa Music Educators’ Association annual conference. The conference takes place at Iowa State University in conjunction with the OPUS Honor Choirs (5-9 grade) and All-State festival for choir, band, and orchestra. I had two students participating: one in the 5-6 Elementary OPUS Choir, and one in the high school All-State Choir. Both students really enjoyed the experience, and represented our school well!

During the conference, while not shepherding students around, I was able to attend several sessions on general music and choral topics. One was a choral reading session based on multicultural music from around the world. I really enjoy reading sessions where you get to keep copies of all of the music, because then you can really take it home and look through it at your own pace.

I also spent time in three different sessions by Kodaly-trained teachers. I really appreciate their organization and focus on sequential instruction. Tom Mahalek, one of the presenters, made a great comment about Orff and Kodaly teachers. He said (paraphrase):

Come January 15, if it suddenly starts snowing outside, the Orff teacher throws open the curtains, maybe throws on the coats, dances in the snow, writes a poem about snow, and creates a snow-themed performance. The Kodaly teacher closes the curtains and continues with the planned lesson, which happens to be about rain.

I love this story. Of course, I have never had any official Kodaly training, but my natural tendency is to be more like the Kodaly teacher in this story than the Orff teacher. I think that’s why Orff Schulwerk has spoken so much to me over the years. When I see teachers and students who can create a meaningful, aesthetic, learning experience out of practically anything, I am in awe. And I know, for me at least, this will always be a bigger and more important challenge than making sure that my fourth graders can read every combination of sixteenth and eighth notes perfectly.

That being said, in the past few years, I have definitely strayed (probably too far) away from a clear, sequential curriculum. Partly this has been due to circumstance: I began my current position at Malcolm Price Laboratory School only one year ago, and it includes two multi-level groups of classes (PreK-K and 1St/2nd). Anytime you start a new position, it’s starting over from square zero, spending a lot of time finding out what the students already know/don’t know. The multi-age classes have the added effect of making a single-year, repertoire-based curriculum obsolete after one year. Sure, a bit of review in repertoire is expected and enjoyed. But the kids would get pretty bored if I taught everything the same way for the second year in a row.

Besides, is a standardized repertoire really what I want for my students, or for myself? There will always be more cultures, styles, and individual pieces of music (and dances) than I can ever hope to teach to all of my children. Likewise, each curricular goal in melody, rhythm, form, etc., can be achieved with a wide variety of pieces and activities. Sure, I might have some favorites that I believe all of my students should learn. But most importantly, I want them to value music so much that they continue to make it and learn about it for the rest of their lives.

I think where I’m heading (and where I was at my last job)
is a sequential curriculum based on grade level expectations of skills, and experiences, combined with a large database of songs and activities, catalogued by all their possible curricular uses. Of course, I have this started in about twelve different formats. I want something that’s digital, easily accessible, easily editable, and thorough in its content.

What do you think? Should I start an online database of songs, dances, and activities, open to the public online for viewing and adding? There are very few such repositories in existence. I really think, if our goal is improving education for children, then we need to share our resources.