Developing Goals and Objectives for the Music Curriculum

2011Symposium_1_2With this post, I continue my series in music curriculum writing. From the title, you may notice the phrase “goals and objectives” indicating that there is a difference between the two. Goals are open-ended, long-range general statements that provide direction for the entire music education program, PK-12. Goals indicate the broad areas of learning the students will encounter every year they are in the program. Goals tend to include concepts, such as rhythm, pitch, and meter, and general topics as in the statement “students will understand the music of diverse cultures and musical genres.” Goals are sometimes referred to as over arching statements because of their general and long-range nature. Well written goals help teachers, administrators and others understand a concise overview of the PK-12 program.

To aid in this, goals are limited in number, and easily understood and remembered. Other characteristics of well-written goals are that they provide for continued growth through the program and beyond into adulthood, grow logically out of the music education philosophy, links concisely to a district goal, include the outcomes of music education suggested by the philosophy, are sufficiently comprehensive to form the basis for a quality PK-12 music program, provide for a lifetime of involvement with music, are realistic, manageable in number, and are conducive to generating one or more objectives.

So far, we have developed a philosophy statement, and goals which are built upon it. Next we have objectives, which are generated out of the goals. Objectives are clear, measurable statements of what students should be able to do by the end of a particular grade level or course. These objectives are not to be confused with those teachers write as part of their daily lesson plans. The later are incremental implementations of the longer-term curricular objectives. The objectives in a curriculum are end points or culminating objectives toward which the daily objectives in lesson plans help students progress. ExpectationsBecause curriculum objectives are less general than goals, they should not contain general verbs such as “understand” or “experience.” Instead, objectives should more precisely describe student behaviors; that is, things that can be observed and assessed. Verbs appropriate for use in objectives can be taken from the artistic processes, and include “describe,” “create,” “perform,” and “analyze.” Because objective describe student behavior, or what the student will do, objectives often describe the assessment that will be used when determining if students have achieved the objective.

Qualities of well written objectives are that each objective, describes observable student behaviors in assessable terms, or is paired with an existing and effective assessment strategy, is linked with a program goal and the overall philosophy, provides or is coupled with an assessment strategy, evolves sequentially from one grade level or course to the next, is attainable by most students in the grade for which it is written, and is realistic in terms of resources. There should be at least one objective for every program goal, and the number of objectives should be manageable.

Objectives should flow comfortably from one grade to the next. To achieve this, it is helpful when writing program objectives to start with grade 8 objectives. This level is a natural culminating point for the program, as students complete middle school and prepare to enter high school. It is a good point to have targets set for student learning in music. For those who elect not to take music electives in high school, grade 8 is the point at which all students have received a music education that will carry forward into their high school and adult lives. For those who do elect to take music electives in high school, the music choosing-beautiful-musicprogram at the grade 8 point should have prepared all students to pursue any musical interest they may have. Setting grade 8 as a target year puts the focus on achieving program objectives by that point. It is therefore appropriate to establish the target first, so that curriculum writers then know what they are shooting for in all the preceding grades. After grade 8, the next grade that should be completed is grade 4, because this is a mid-way point. Grade 4 is a good point at which student progress toward the grade 8 objectives can be evaluated. If the grade 4 objectives are written with this in mind, it will help keep the whole program on track. If students are on track to meet the grade 8 objectives, they should be meeting grade 4 objectives on time. After grade 8 and grade 4 objectives are written, objectives for the other grades can then be filled in more easily.

There are a few options for how to approach writing the other objectives. One is to write three sets of objectives; PK-3, 5-7, and 9-12, including separate objectives for electives such as band, chorus, orchestra, etc. This approach gives teacher multiple years to reach the objectives, and encourages reinforcing and revisiting content on more sophisticated levels from year to year. Spiral curriculum approaches are well suited to this approach. The second approach is to write a number of units designed to lead toward meeting the anchor objectives in grade 4 and grade 8 and then assign each unit to an appropriate grade level. A third approach is to combine the first two, first writing objectives for each grade or grade range, and then writing at least one common unit for each grade. While teachers would have freedom to design units and lessons throughout each year, they also would be required to teach the common units at some point in the designated grade.

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