One of the most important things any teacher does is set an instructional objective for every class meeting. For music teachers, these goals ought to be tied to our profession’s content standards which will soon be the new NCCAS standards. Standards help teachers focus their planning and teaching on what has been identified as most important, such as essential questions and enduring understandings. Enduring understandings are those ideas and processes that are central to a discipline and have value beyond the classroom. For example, in the new music standards, there is an enduring understanding for interpreting music; “performers make interpretive decisions based on personal understanding of the work and the creator’s intent.” This leads to the essential question, “how do performers interpret music?” With these in hand, the music teacher can now plan lessons that teaches students how to understand a work, how to determine the composer’s intent for composing the work, and that provide practice in doing both. Cultural, stylistic and historical contexts would be brought in as well as appropriate performance practices, and information left by the composer. Once all of this is discovered, the student then identifies how he or she relates to the music: what emotions the music draws out in them, and how to express those emotions and the composer’s intent in a performance. The process of preparing to perform a musical work becomes a mix of composer and performer, with the musician attempting to be faithful to both.
Objectives for all of this might say,
- Students will describe the historical, cultural, and stylistic contexts of the the work.
- Students will describe the composer’s intent in composing the work.
- Students will identify the emotions that the work draws out in them.
- Students will explore ways to express those emotions, and demonstrate them through performance.
- Students will present the musical work, demonstrating in their performance appropriate style, and a balance between the composer’s intent and the performer’s emotional intent.
These five objectives are too much for one or even two classes, so the teacher would decide how to divide them into realistic goals for each class of a unit devoted to the work being studied. The unit would culminate in a performance of the work by students, and possibly a comparison of performances by different students or groups of students. Planning and teaching with these kinds of objectives provides rigor to the instruction, in a way that simply saying that “the student will learn to sing or play a song” cannot. The standard-based objectives answer critical questions such as, why will they learn to sing or play a song?, why will they learn to sing or play this song?, what will they learn from learning to sing or play this song?, and what will they learn about this song?
They also provide the basis for objective assessment of and data collection from music lessons. Students can be assessed on how well they employ each of the contexts and considerations in their interpretation, and how clearly and thorougly they present descriptions and explanations of each context and consideration. Apart from technical accuracy, the performance can then be assessed on these aspects as well. Giving students a specific focus for their class time through stated objectives and questions is providing them with a tool for higher achievement and more rewarding musical study.