Common Core and the New Music Standards

ImageThe Common Core Standards have generated numerous fears and apprehensions on the part of many teachers, including language arts and math teachers, and music teachers. Language arts and math teachers are concerned about suddenly raising reading levels on students who are already struggling, and on successfully teaching with more rigor and depth while still including all units in their curriculums. Music teachers are concerned that higher expectations, rigor and depth will further crowd music classes out of a sometimes already tenuous position in school and personal schedules.

While many or even all of these concerns may turn out to be realistic, for music educators there are advantages to the current educational climate the Common Core Standards are driving. New music standards are in an advanced stage of development, and draft copies have been available for public review for some time. The most significant difference between the original content standards and the new ones is a shift in emphasis from product to process. Whereas the original standards emphasized what would be created, responded to, or performed, the new standards, while retaining product goals, add process-oriented goals that provide a platform for providing instruction that is more meaningful and relevant to students without abandoning long-valued content such as Western art music.

The standards are organized under artistic processes. These processes are creating, performing, responding, and connecting. The first three, creating, performing, and responding, are divided into three anchor standards. For creating, they are imagine, which is the generating of musical ideas, plan & make, and evaluate, refine, and present For performing, the anchor standards are select, analyze, and interpret, rehearse, evaluate & refine, and present. For responding, they are select and analyze, interpret, and evaluate.

Notice that “select” is an anchor standard for performing and responding. Students will be expected to select the music they perform and listen to based on criteria they develop based on ability, interests, knowledge, and context. The student analyzes possible works for style, difficulty, and context, building knowledge about the piece that develops or coincides with their own personal interests. Of course the music educator must teach students how to do these kinds of analysis, and may also need to convince students that it is their job and not the teacher’s to select music with which they will work. The benefit is that students are invested in the material, and are given the opportunity to develop as musicians according to their personal interests and strengths, which should result in more motivated learners, and more commitment to music later in life, both welcome and worthy outcomes of successful music programs.

In the process of selecting, students will be analyzing, as discussed above, and interpreting. Interpretation in this context involves learning what the composer’s intent was, and learning how to express that intent through performance, or respond to that intent through another’s performance.

Finally, there is an evaluation anchor standard attached to each of these three standards. The cycle of rehearse, evaluate, and refine places metacognition and self-evaluation ahead of merely making corrections dictated by the teacher. This is the essence of gaining depth in instruction—teaching students that the most meaningful learning is to be found in the struggle of problem identification and problem solving. The struggle establishes the belief that it is alright to fail within the process of moving toward meeting a goal, and that there is more to be learned from those failures and the problem solving that they initiate, than from just taking someone else’s word for it that thus and such corrections need to be made.

Honing in on these processes places music education right in the thick of meeting Common Core objectives, while ot sacrificing any music program integrity. Because of this, though Common Core may present new challenges to already challenged music programs, it does, I believe, give music educators firmer ground than ever to stand on in establishing music programs at the very heart of education. Lesson plans that emphasize these new anchor standards will not only serve students well, but will demonstrate a commitment to the overall educational success of school in which music educators work, and that is worth much.

To see the new music standards, follow this link to the file on the nccas website.

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