Highlights from the National Arts Standards Framework for Use in Music Curriculum Writing

2011Symposium_1_2Any curriculum writing that music educators do going forward need to be grounded in the core arts standards for music. These standards were intentionally written to be highly compatible with the common core standards while maintaining crucial distinctive for arts education. The major emphasis is on the four artistic processes of performing, creating, responding and connecting, and developing artistic literacy is prominent throughout. This is important, because literacy is key to the common core standards. Establishing artistic literacy as part of literacy as it exists in common core is key, because a text can be a musical score as well as linguistic text.

A good place to start in wrapping our curricula around these new standards is the statement “Foundations of Artistic Literacy” that begins section two of the framework for the standards. The authors began this section by establishing that, “Artistic literacy is the knowledge and understanding required to participate authentically in the arts. Fluency in the language(s) of the arts is the ability to create, perform/produce/present, respond, and connect through symbolic and metaphoric forms that are unique to the arts. It is embodied in specific philosophical foundations and lifelong goals that enable an artistically literate person to transfer arts knowledge, skills, and capacities to other subjects, settings, and contexts.”

The authors went on to explain that “artistic literacy requires that [students] engage in artistic creation processes directly through the use of appropriate materials  and in appropriate spaces.” For authentic practice to occur in music classrooms, “teachers and students must participate fully and jointly in activities where they can exercise the creative practices of imagine, investigate, construct, and reflect as unique beings committed to giving meaning to their experiences. In our increasingly multi-media age, where information  is communicated less through numeracy and the written word, these meta-cognitive activities are critical to student learning and achievement across the arts and other academic disciplines.”

There is much in this paragraph for curriculum writers to discuss and distill into their documents. For the present, I would like Expectationsto draw your attention to the phrase “creative practices” and the instances of them, namely imagine, investigate, construct, and reflect. This language is directly drawn from common core, and gives substantial weight to the arts standards. The authors of the framework explain the creative practices this way:

A student engaged in creative practices:
• Imagines a mental image or concept.
• Investigates and studies through exploration or examination.
• Constructs a product by combining or arranging a series of elements. • Reflects and thinks deeply about his or her work.

Creative practices:
• Evoke deep, meaningful engagement in the arts.
• Can be fluid, though there is purpose and meaning to the order in which they occur. • Vary from person to person, project to project, and moment to moment.
• Require intense cognition that can be developed through arts engagement.

Notice the depth and rigor that music education has when it is framed in this way. Music programs that engage students in imagining, investigating, exploring, examining, constructing, combining, arranging and reflecting go way beyond preparing concerts and learning folk songs and dances. A music program steeped in the creative practices is every bit as academic and demanding as any language arts, math, or science program while maintaining the essence of the arts through creative processes.

Lest anyone think that the music program I am describing is too exclusive to music performance and creation, remember that responding and connecting is also part of the standards. These processes are addressed in what the authors call “contextual awareness. “Contextual awareness in arts learning arises as an indirect result and appreciation of art making. Through arts teaching, students view, make, and discuss art works, and come to realize that the arts exist not in isolation, but within the multiple dimensions of time, space, culture, and history. These intrinsic aspects of art making informs students’ relationship with art and how such experiences can influence their daily life. For example, contextual awareness in the arts allows a student to:

• Absorb meaningful information through the senses.
• Develop openness in apprehension and push boundaries.
• Effectively construct artistic meaning within their cultural milieu.
• Grasp the nature and evolution of history.
• Communicate effectively within variable situations and for diverse audiences. • Navigate the intricacies of emerging digital and global environments.

Through developing contextual awareness, students perceive, appreciate, challenge, construct meaning, identify cultural influences, and correctly place music in its cultural and historical context. These are things all students should be able to do (hence they are contained in standards), but are doubly important for students who are only minimally performers. These students are every bit as much in need of music education as the music geeks, and can find their opportunities to engage with music and become musically literate through teaching and learning that develops contextual awareness.

I have discussed elements of the national arts standards for the benefit of those who are or will be writing music curricula. Remember, standards explain what every student is expected to be able to do, while a curriculum explains how a specific student population will meet the standards. My hope is that you will take what I have written here and explain in your curriculum document how students in your district will meet the national standards–what they will do, what teachers will teach, what materials will be needed, and how learning will be assessed. Do not think that simply copying the standards into your document will leave you with a curriculum–it will not. The standards must be implemented in the curriculum. Good luck as you pilot your music program through curriculum writing.

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