Today, I will begin a discussion on how to put together a music curriculum using the core arts standards for music. If you haven’t yet done so, you might want to read my recent posts on the four artistic processes, because they are integral to the standards, and will be needed to write a music curriculum. See the archives for July for those four posts.
A well done curriculum guide will describe and explain what students are expected to know and be able to do as a result of instruction, why these things students are expected to know and do are important according to a stated philosophy of music education and overarching goals, and how student learning will be assessed. A well done curriculum will also be flexible enough to allow for experimentation and innovation without abandoning the expectations. Curriculums are necessary in order that students may have a systematic and equitable program that is designed to provide rigor and consistency throughout a district, and organizes instruction in a logical and sequential manner throughout each year, and from year to year. These should be the overriding goals of the curriculum writing committee. The committee itself should be comprised of music teachers from within the district led by someone who is expert in music and music education. The guide should be by design a kindergarten through grade 12 document, and never designed in separate parts that are intended to be connected or brought together later. The curriculum must flow from one year to the next with no gaps or abrupt shifts from one year to the next. Writing curriculum needs to be done during large blocks of time, so releasing the committee for hours at a time is more productive than trying to complete the task during many short sessions.
The first part of the curriculum development process is to collect information about the current program. Before a new curriculum is begun, it is important to know what the successes and shortcomings of the current program are, and what needs will have to be addressed in the new curriculum. For example, it is likely that there is an imbalance in the emphasis being placed on the four artistic processes. Perhaps most music teachers in the district are spending 80-percent of class time on performance or responding, 15 percent on creating, and barely spending any time with the connecting artistic process. It may further be learned that the reason for this is because teachers in the district feel most comfortable teaching children to sing and play instruments, but are uncertain how to facilitate students connecting music they sing and play to the other arts, to other disciplines, or even to their own personal lives. This would motivate the committee not only to make sure connecting received enough attention in the new curriculum, but also that teachers in the district received training in teaching with the connecting artistic process.
Once this evaluation of the current program is completed, and it may take a full year to complete, then the committee can begin meeting to write the curriculum guide. First, the committee will develop a philosophy. The philosophy statement will appear at the beginning of the guide, and it will direct all subsequent work. For this reason, it is important to do this first. In future posts, I will explain each step in more detail, but for now, the philosophy statement must only make claims that are supportable, it must be one that the entire music faculty can be fully committed to and invested in, it links naturally with the district’s philosophy of education, it includes the most important rationales for music education, and provides a sound foundation for a comprehensive K-12 music goals and program. In addition, the philosophy statement must be useful, clear, and understandable to parents and other non-educators.
After the philosophy statement is completed, next comes the developing of program goals. These are long-range, overarching, general statement that flow from the philosophy and give direction for the entire music education program K-12. Goals should help people maintain a concise overview of the district’s music program. To this end, they should be few in number, perhaps 5-8, presented in list format, and easily remembered.
The next step is to develop objectives, assessments, and content. Objectives are clear measurable statements of what students should be able to do by the end of a particular grade or course.These are not daily plans, but describe end points toward which all instruction assists students in reaching. At the end of the grade or course, if the objectives have been written well, the teacher will be able to examine student work and know if he or she has met the objective based on what they have done. Objectives may include the assessment, as in the goal “students will compare popular dance music from two specific cultures, using music vocabulary to describe the qualities that are common and different.” This would be a goal within the connecting artistic process, and would be assessed using the descriptions given. This step, developing objectives, assessments, and content, is the most time consuming, and is where the heart of the curriculum is found.
When this step is done, necessary resources must be identified, Whatever equipment, materials, and other resources will be needed to meet the developed objectives should be identified. The committee should carefully think through what students will be asked to do, and carefully identify everything they will need in order to meet expectations.
The final two steps in the curriculum development process are to develop a plan for implementation, including piloting if new initiatives are being introduced, and identifying any teacher training that will be needed. After all the work and thought that goes into developing a quality curriculum resource guide, the project must not be allowed to fail because these last two steps were not treated with care. Don’t just give a speech and hand out the document and think the work is done. Take the time to try it out, make adjustments, and train people properly to do exactly what was envisioned.