Proposed National Arts Standards Drafts: Heavy Thoughts on a Heavy Subject

As you most likely know by now, a coalition of various arts education organizations formed to review and propose new national standards. 

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards began organizing in 2009 to formulate standards to revise and serve as a "re-imaging" for the 1994 Arts Standards (NCCAS Conceptual Framework. )

Drafts for each arts standards was up for review last summer and apparently met with some strong opposition, based on what I had seen on music education Facebook groups. New draft previews were just launched on February 14, with comments closed on March 1. 

My thoughts? Well, my friend Tim Purdum highlighted my concerns very well (and probably more eloquently than I can!). This is a good read, but I will go ahead and voice my concerns as well (a little more colloquially, to be sure, but it's from the heart, as I listen to the Lenscrafters commercial, where the background music is "Street Song" from Music for Children Volume 3, Murray edition!):

  • As most of you know, I am working on my PhD. Now, readings for PhD sometimes take 2-3 rounds before the concepts sink in. Unfortunately, I had to apply this same process to these standards drafts. I'm an experienced teacher of 20 years, many hours of PD trainings, and becoming extremely experienced in the art of research. If these standards confuse ME, what would they do to a new teacher? What teacher, even an experienced one, is going to have this kind of time deciphering these between incorporating Common Core into music, working on programs, turning in lesson plans, doing grades, being a counselor, working on after school groups, and being a regular member of his/her family?
  • Where are the regular objectives? Why is it so difficult to decipher what were the original 9 music standards, so simply stated and so eloquently to the point. Would not composition and improvisation satisfy the higher order thinking and thought processes? 
  •  If a committee of teachers meet state-wide to draft new state standards, where is the independence for each state? It's not supposed to happen. Which leads me to the next bullet...
  • Not all music programs are created equal. Some teachers are lucky (like me when I am in my regular teaching position) and can see students 30 minutes every other day. Some teachers are lucky if they see their kids 30 minutes once a week. With holidays and snow days, many teachers don't see their kids at all. Some teachers see combined classes. Some music classes are taught by non-specialists. As desirable as it would be to have arts programs more equitable, it still isn't there. While we are still fighting for music programs all over the country, adding these standards and hoping they will be adopted will make a frustrating situation even more frustrating. Leading to yet another bullet point:
  • I am concerned that the true purpose of these standards is to "prove" that we teach higher level thinking. I'm really tired of "proving" ourselves. I feel I have proven myself to my students, my parents, and most of my colleagues, who acknowledge the importance of and a love for the arts. I am also concerned about the potential for forced assessment. I do not wish to be mandated as to which higher level skill is assessed, and HOW I do it. This is taking the autonomy away from the teacher. Classroom teachers are facing this more and more, and now, in classes that are havens for students away from this hardcore drilling, the shadow looms again. 
  • Like the Common Core standards, are all of these standards age-appropriate based on child development and again, amount of time in music class (called experience, review, and recall time?)
  • It is obvious from the title of my blog that I am not TOTALLY anti-higher order thinking and anti-Common Core, at what I consider the heart of the matter: cross-curricular at all levels to show how all learning disciplines are connected directly and indirectly AND teaching our students how to think for themselves. But when I have students ask me what time it is when the clock is right above them (and these are intermediate-aged students), it becomes apparent to me that students want answers given to them, which I believe is a side-product of too much teaching to the test. It is NOT the fault of the classroom teachers. It is NOT the fault of administrators, even. They are mandated these stipulations from those in government who have no idea what a child stage is like. I don't want our coalition of arts educators to feel they need to join in lock-step in order to save jobs.
  • I wish I had known about this coalition and volunteers. Somehow, I missed it. But, I feel these standards can meet the goals and desires of 21st Century Learning without being so vague, so difficult to read, and so esoteric.
But that's my opinion. Check out the standards for yourself and see what you think. Remember, preview and opinions are due by March 1. Please feel free to comment your concerns or accolades if you agree with the standards here as well. We learn from each other. I am always open to seeing possibilities in a different light, and I believe, as educators, most of my readers might be as well if explained in a thoughtful manner.

On to positive topics: Brace yourself for a Teachers Pay Teachers sale! More later......

Newest product at the Musical Cure for the Common Cure Store:
Sneaky way to get in some of that math Common Core using a popular folk song.


We are teachers. We like STUFF. I'm going to take the opportunity to present some items that can help you with your Common Core integration and some that are just plain old fun.

When you are looking for items for teaching, a great place to start, of course, is Teachers Pay Teachers. Besides my store, there are other great teacher stores with items that can make your teaching to the Core a breeze. Case in point:

  • Aileen Miracle is a popular TpT seller with a great product for kindergarten:
    Teaching Common Core through Music-Kindergarten. The kit can be used by both music teachers and classroom teachers and includes language arts and math integration with singing and movement. 
  • Cori Bloom's listening activity, Love Songs Music Listening Activity provides great writing opportunities for grades 2-3. Students have the opportunity to write and journal about the songs they hear.
  • I Am Bully-Proof Music provides many songs on character education, which are great segues writing 
     and critical thinking on facing life's challenges as a kid, such as Einstein.    
  • Tracy King is no longer known just for her great bulletin boards. She now has a wonderful exit ticket packet, which is an easy way to complete formative assessment.The packet includes tickets on assorted music objectives. Makes assessment more simple.
  • Highlighting one of mine:
    The Subject/Predicate Activity Game is a fun way to reinforce the LA objectives of sentence forms, while incorporating creative, higher order music/movement thinking. Students group together to form whacky sentences that can be creatively performed through vocalizing, movement.....for the rest of the class to guess!
Throwing in one more fun activity: my blogger friend Lindsay Jervis at The Pursuit of Joyfulness invited us to post about our favorite manipulatives. Well, I can get a little weird about that. When I want my kids to use something in a tactile manner, I often connect it with movement or games. One of my favorite activities is a note identification game popping balloons in Smartnotebook with a Koosh ball:

Good thing Smartboards are tough! (Games will be coming up in the store in the future.)

I also learned a great ball bouncing activity from my Level III Orff training at VanderCook University from Jean Hersey. The activity involves handballs, kids in a group, and numbering. 
The kids in each group are numbered, but they cannot be numbered in order. For instance, Kid 1 should NOT be next to Kid 2. Playing a work with a strong downbeat (I used "Thriller" by Michael Jackson), each student bounces the ball to the student with the next consecutive number. Sounds easy, right? Not when you start adding balls to the groups. <insert evil laugh here>. I took my fifth graders outside last year with my trusty sound cart and let them go. I think I got all my handballs back............

Thanks to all of you who participated in the comments about your requirement documentations and activities on Common Core. The insight is wonderful. I love hearing from you! I feel it is important that we understand what is going on from state to state so we can help each other out.